"A Humble, Little, Mustard-Seed Sized Potential"
a sermon based on Luke 13: 18-21
The mustard seed is small and round, a tight little package. But, like dynamite, it can pack a real “whallop” when you bite into it: hot & spicy! Mostly we see mustard when it has been ground up, with a bit of vinegar & water added, suitable for spreading on hot dogs and hamburgers. It is potent as a spice, but, as a seed, it is quite insignificant… almost nothing.
So, when Jesus says: “What is the Kingdom of God like? To what should I compare it?” I doubt that anyone around him would have suggested the humble, little, perfectly ordinary, mustard seed! I’ll bet that most of his disciples and the crowd in the synagogue that Sabath day would have thought of bigger and better things than a measly mustard seed!
He went on to compare it with yeast! “It is like leaven (which is yeast) which a woman took and mixed into three measures of flour, until it was all leavened.” First, the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, then it’s like the yeast that rises in loaf of sourdough?
How about you compare God’s realm to a real kingdom, Jesus!? You know, something with the trappings of royalty and power, like Caesar’s Empire or Herod’s entourage. To what should you compare the kingdom of God? How about a KING!? I mean “DUH!” – Jesus, is that so far-fetched?
It had been traditional to speak of the Messiah – the Son of David, the Anointed One of God – as a royal figure.
God’s Realm was always thought of as something “high and lifted up.” Images of heaven were like the courts of old, with crowns and thrones, with royal servants and messenger-angels at your beck and call, with palaces & officials, with lords & ladies. That was the NORM. That’s what most folks thought of when they heard “Kingdom” of God.
But not in Jesus’ mind. He seems to prefer more humble and ordinary images from life – realistic snapshots from life, grassroots experiences like farming and baking – featuring real people you might meet on the street.
This week the kingdom of God is like a spicy little seed; next Sunday I will talk about the yeast spreading its ferment through the mixture of bread dough. But, think of it – a tiny single grain of mustard seed that’s been sown in a man’s garden; or a pinch of yeast that a woman has added to her bread flour! (?) I mean, how low will Jesus go to make God’s Kingdom “accessible” to the ordinary person?
Thinking about the spreading effect of the yeast (which we’ll talk about in more detail next week), caused me to notice something about the “mustard seed” symbol. It’s not the seed itself that is the Kingdom of God. (!) Here is what Jesus says: “It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.” So, the seed was planted in a garden, where it grew, where it changed; where it turned into something else: a shelter for the birds.
Think of it this way: the kingdom of God may be small, ordinary, and as insignificant as a seed at the start… but Jesus does not leave it there. It is the sowing of the seed, the growing of the seed, and the spreading of the mustard sprouts into a bush that eventually (in hyperbole) becomes a tree… that Jesus says is like God’s realm.