Sunday, August 6, 2017

Mustard Seeds

Matthew 13: 31-33, 34-35   (NRSV)
31 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
34 Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. 35 This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth to speak in parables; I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.”

Sermon for La Mesa at United Church of Chapel Hill
Sunday July 30, 2017
Katherine Henderson

Our Scripture reading for today comes from the Gospel of Matthew. We will focus together on the story about the mustard seed.

Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven starts with a small seed, which is planted in a field. When the seed grows it becomes a large tree, big enough for birds to live in its branches.

Parables, as we know, are stories that Jesus used to communicate a lesson. Jesus said that he speaks in parables in order to “proclaim what has been hidden.” So we will look together for meaning on several levels.

Who has heard the mustard seed story before? What are the mustard seed and field are supposed to symbolize? (congregation offers answers)

In a general sense, this parable is about the contrast between small, humble beginnings and big, great endings. Jesus is an optimist. He tells a story about the fruits of faith. He says if we invest something small and precious, if we tend it with faith and love, then by the grace of God it will grow and multiply.

A traditional interpretation for this parable says that the mustard seed represents the growth of the church from small beginnings. Jesus is the planter and also the seed. He plants his faith and ministry in a field, which represents the hurting world.

Jesus was just one person. His life and ministry were tiny—like a mustard seed—compared to the vast political empire of his time. But his subversive truth, in which the powerless and the hurting are the closest to God, grew deep roots. Jesus died, but the seeds of his revolutionary love for the outcast, the forgotten, and the suffering grew strong.

The seed of Jesus’s life and teachings takes root and grows, first into a hardy little shrub—the early church. Then that shrub keeps growing into a great tree. We are part of that great tree, which is the Body of Christ—God’s hands and feet in the world.

Here’s another level of meaning to this parable. What if the mustard seed represents the divine spark of the Holy Spirit in each of us? The field is our own souls and bodies: yours, yours, yours, and mine.

If we tend to the Spirit within us, we grow our connection with the divine. This tending is a quiet, internal process. We water our Spirit with prayer and contemplation.

When we quiet our own ego, we might hear the whisper of the divine. We, each of us, contain this mustard seed: the seed of divine love and transformation.

This is like what Pastor David preached last week: that each of us is a living temple. Wherever we go is a holy place. The church is just a building; the people are holy, carrying the light of God within.

Elsewhere in the Bible, a kernel of mustard represents a small, powerful amount of faith that becomes something else. This concentrated little piece of faith has the power to transform, to evolve, into a new form.

What will you do with your divine mustard seed? How will it transform you?

If you are willing, close your eyes for a moment. Imagine the mustard seed of the Spirit within you. Does it have a shape, a color? Does it live in your heart, or run through your veins?

Breathe deeply. You contain the seeds of Jesus’s revolutionary love. It is powerful enough to hold all our suffering. Can you feel it?

Now imagine an answer to this question: what will this seed of divine Spirit grow in me? Maybe I will grow greater resilience, compassion, or gratitude. Maybe I will grow hope for myself, or my loved ones, or for the world.

Find a name for what you want to grow in the ground of your soul. This is your prayer; this is how the seed of God is working in you.

Open your eyes. Turn to the person next to you and tell them what you will grow.

Now we hold these prayers of transformation for ourselves and our friends.

When we are transformed by the divine, we know how to speak and act with compassion for ourselves and others. And then, when we come together as the church, we can truly be that great tree. Grounded in the God within, our collective roots will run deep and strong.

Together we are that great tree, our veins shining with divine love. Together we are strong enough to hold suffering. Together we can pursue God’s vision of justice and serve as God’s hands and feet in the world.

Each of us was made in the image of God. Each of us carries the seeds of divine transformation.

What will you do with your divine mustard seed? How will it transform you?

The mustard seed is within. It is the seed of divine love and transformation. Look within, water that seed, and prepare to grow. Amen.