3 after Trinity Sermon


Trinity 3 – Mustard Seed Our gospel today takes me to my favourite place -the garden. Having recently had my first greenhouse, and presently basking in the success of my first ever seed sowing ( FYI cosmos, 94 plants from a single packet ready to plant in two weeks), this parable draws me in. It is recalled in 3 of the 4 gospels, only John leaves it out, and given the rural life of many of Jesus’s hearers and followers, a very apt story with which to keep an audience’s attention. Firstly the botanical – for us who most likely grew mustard seeds in a jar at school the idea that it would grow to the size that birds might nest in it sounds a little incredible. However, the plant referred to here is the Mediterranean Black Mustard, an annual which indeed can grow to around 9 feet, and so could indeed shelter small birds. The speed of its growth is significant, and it would be familiar to all Jesus’s audience. Rabbis of the time confirm that people of Jesus’s time did not keep gardens around their homes as we do, most likely because of the severe climate, and most of what they needed was grown in fields, His hearers would also be aware that black mustard was what can be called a thug, one of those plants that once introduced can rarely be easily eliminated however hard one tries. The early classical writer Pliny the Elder in his Natural History describes it as “"mustard... is extremely beneficial for the health. It grows entirely wild, though it is improved by being transplanted: but on the other hand when it has once been sown it is scarcely possible to get the place free of it, as the seed when it falls germinates at once." The gospel starts with the understandable awe that many of us have, and have no doubt always had at the extraordinary miracle of nature. We sow seed and then as we go about our business it germinates, and grows with vigor and determination we can scare believe. Cosmos show growth within a day or two, and every day as you check it develops at a speed you can’t believe – like mustard. It brings to life the promise in creation that God created an abundant world full of everything need for us to live well. We scarcely know how it happens, but at harvest we reap the benefits of nature, knowing that this feeds not just the body but the soul too. Only in recent times have we been brought up to face the harms we can do to the miracle of nature and creation, when we put obstacles in the way of the natural order of things, despoiling the great blessings of creation and God’s intention that we should live in a bountiful world. However, Jesus is telling a story a parable, using these everyday things we all understand to paint a much larger picture. Jesus asks ‘ what then should we say the Kingdom of God is like?’ Like a mustard seed which grows vigorously, and scarcely believably quickly, providing not only health and well-being, but large enough for protection and cover for small birds. Jesus when He speaks of the kingdom is speaking of the ultimate His ministry, to bring to earth the very qualities and life of heaven to earth. To establish among His believers a kingdom of peace and justice, equity and mercy, where love and kindness, in service of others over self leads to the abundant life God intends. As He peaches these things he is, as the famous parable of the sower reminds us, scattering seeds of truth, with a reckless abandon, knowing not all will fall on fertile soil, but trusting as His followers must that enough will take root so that they will in time take over the ungodly space the world left to its own devices becomes. And the Gospel writers are recounting these parables at the earliest Christian communities, urging them all to trust that as when we garden or farm we sow without fully knowing how our efforts will thrive and flourish, bit trusting that they will. The earliest Christians faced much hostility and violence, suffered and died for their faith, and must at times have despaired that their efforts would bear fruit. The same can be said of us too, for we often carry on our lives being faithful, attending worship, keeping our Christian witness year in and year out, but never knowing in truth what difference it might make, Jesus’s parable tells us to trust in the process, we cannot ever know what our actions or words done in the faithful spirit of following the Lord might achieve. We might think we have sown into stony ground, but who are we to tell. The truth is it is not our job to know, in an age obsessed by measuring results, quantifying success, and the church sadly is no exception presently we miss the point that it is not the counting of results which is our job, but the effort in sowing, and in bearing witness. I often find when taking funerals, and hearing a person described and appreciated by those who knew and loved them, that things are said of the results of the way in which they lived their life, that they would never have known. These are the fruits of faithfulness that it is not ours to reap, it is generosity of God’s harvest which makes our efforts worthwhile. A few years ago some friends very sadly lost their college age son in a tragic accident. He was fun and sporty, and very handsome, the kind of lad who was the school hero. At his funeral a young woman came to speak to his mother, he didn’t know her, but she said that when she went to sixth for college her son had befriended her, realizing that she wasn’t the in-crowd, not sporty or trendy and someone who struggled with their image and sense of self-worth. Despite being the leader of the col kids, he reached out to her, seeing no only what her struggles were, but why it was wrong to see only the outside of a person and not the whole being. They became very close and he protected and valued her and led her to see how she ought to be treated. As she said he didn’t need friends, and had no reason to want to place so much thought into her problems, but he did. His parents had no idea, and were so proud. It is one example of being generous, sowing love and care recklessly and not seeking reward or thanks. Only her desire to tell then ever brought it to light. So this simple familiar everyday story has huge implications. The Good News is to be shared without caution, not expecting to understand how God will cause its growth and vitality, but trusting that it is for the good of all. When it was first heard the church was small, under threat and its members fearful and persecuted. The message is to trust that the actions of each witness to the truth of Jesus will bear fruit in abundance, and although we may not know what it is ourselves, still it will happen for that is God’s will. And in time the church grew to become the dominant force for over two thousand years. Just maybe in these times when we seek not so much to sow, as to verify the results of our actions, we might take heed again. Do the right thing, bear witness to what you believe and above all live the truth of Jesus’s message, and after that you won’t need to count the attendance or measure your success, for as in the garden, we expend effort and God does he rest. Amen