“With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in it’s shade.” (Mark 4:30-32 NRSV)
What are you excited about today? Are you excited about the growth that is taking place in your life? Are you excited about the opportunities for service and good deeds that exist all around you in our church today? Are you excited about the variety of possibilities that the future holds for you? In other words, what gives your life energy and enthusiasm? The unfortunate fact is that a great many people are not excited about much of anything. In fact, many people are living lives that are crippled by cynicism, despair and depression.
Now, it would be incredibly naïve of me to suggest that there is nothing in the world to be depressed about today. That simply isn’t true. There are all kinds of things that can seriously undercut our enthusiasm and dampen the joy of living. There have been natural disasters. Hurricanes, fires, earthquakes. There’s been so much destruction, loss of property and life. And on a broader scale, the accumulating effects of global climate change continue weigh on our minds and darken the outlook for the future of our planet. And we see people, especially children, who are starving, suffering from curable disease, or homeless and living in the street. There are wars, genocide, threats of nuclear missiles being launched and all we hear are angry words being spouted and instead of the calm, slow, work of diplomacy; fear and saber-rattling rule the day. There’s much to be troubled about these days.
But it’s not just the international scene that can lead to despair about life and self. An illness that you thought was minor turns out to be life threatening. A parent that you thought was in good health is suddenly struck with a serious illness. A good friend dies in the prime of life. You reach out to those around you but no one reaches back, and you feel alone and disconnected. You do what you can to help others, but the very people you seek to help turn on you with judgment and rejection. We’ve all been there. It’s not hard to find a whole lot of evidence to justify being cynical, bitter or even depressed about life.
But here’s the thing. There’s another side to all this. Amid all this negative stuff, there’s the potential for something better; something great; something of God.
Let me give you an example of what I mean. A number of years ago, I was driving along a four lane highway, when, for stretch of several miles, I encountered the aftermath of a wildfire. The fire had claimed everything. No shrubs or undergrowth were left and only charred shells remained where a forest of towering oaks once stood. I remember being upset by this sight. All those beautiful oak trees gone, just like that.
Several years later, however, I found myself travelling that same route. Now, I had long since forgotten about that devastating fire but as I approached the affected area it all came back to me; the emotion, the sense of loss, maybe even a slight fear of seeing that sight again. At the time, I thought it was a really a strange reaction for a grown man to have about a bunch of burned up trees, but that’s how I felt as the forest quickly thinned and the scene of the fire appeared.
It was strange however. While there were still some of the “burned out” trees standing, the green undergrowth had come back, forming a lush meadow where the oaks once stood. But even more than that, I saw some thin shoots sprouting up among meadow grasses. Now, I wouldn’t suggest doing this when you’re travelling on an interstate, but I pulled over and went across the ditch to investigate these shoots. And do you know what they were? Oak trees. The fire that destroyed the mighty oaks was not able to vanquish the tiny acorns.
And that’s where today’s gospel lesson is taking us. It’s leading us from being mired in the depressing circumstances of our lives and the world around, to seeing things from a new perspective; from the perspective of potentiality
In our text, the people who heard and believed the good news of the gospel were liberated from the prison of a negative perspective and given instead a perspective of potentiality through the transforming power and liberating love of God. They were given a glimpse of what is possible when human beings overcome whatever stumbling block lies in their path and adopt a positive attitude. So, this concept of potentiality, in this context then, generally refers to any “possibility” that a thing can be said to have. And any potential, any of these possibilities, come not from of our own efforts, but because of the redemptive power of God.
When Jesus tells his listeners that the Kingdom of God is like a grain of mustard seed which is the smallest seed on earth but which has the potential to become the greatest of all shrubs he’s inviting men and women to look at the world with new eyes. In this very brief parable Jesus is saying, “This is the way God does things. God is like a sower who scatters seeds. The seeds may be tiny and invisible to the naked eye. Yet when the seed is planted, it has the potential to grow into a shrub that provides shelter for the creatures of this world. The Kingdom of God is like this. The initial evidence may be infinitesimal, but the ultimate results will be great.”
So, if you believe that this is how God does things, then what will you do? Well, you might begin to look for mustard seeds. You might look for the first signs of this kingdom with faith and optimism. Mahatma Gandhi said, “The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems.” Your faith may be no larger than a mustard seed, but if you take it seriously and use it, then you can move mountains. You can do great things if you are willing to offer yourself to one who has planted within you the tiny seeds of love and generosity, mercy and hope, justice and kindness.
Now, it’s possible to become so hardened in our living, that these seeds find no good ground in which to sprout. Thomas Merton reminds us of an important fact when he writes, “The mind that is the prisoner of conventional ideas cannot accept the seeds of an unfamiliar truth and supernatural desire…how can I receive the seeds of freedom if I am in love with slavery and how can I cherish the desire of God if I am filled with another and an opposite desire?”
When you became a member of the church through baptism, God recognized and blessed you. And the sacrament serves to remind you that you are somebody. You are special. You are a child of God. That’s the vision that God has given us here. A vision to “live out” this God-given potential that lies within us.
Mother Teresa, began her orphanage with such a vision. She told her superiors, “I have three pennies and a dream from God to build an orphanage.” A dream and three pennies represented resources as small as a mustard seed. “Mother Teresa,” her superiors gently said, “you cannot build an orphanage with three pennies…with three pennies you can’t do anything.” “I know,” she said, smiling, “but with God and three pennies I can do anything.”
My friends, Don’t give up on yourself, on others, on the church, or even on the world just because you see hate, greed, and brokenness. Rather, believe in God’s possibilities even if the evidence is as tiny as a mustard seed. Remember, it’s the creative potential itself, the creative potential that’s within each of us, that’s the image of God. The parable of the mustard seed reminds us that God’s beginnings may be small, but God’s results are great. The task of the church then, is to look for the signs of the kingdom which may be no larger than a mustard seed; to live and love with a new perspective; we are called to be the mighty oak that arises from a single acorn; and we are challenged to send forth new shoots. New shoots of love and justice, of equality and hope.
May it be so. Amen.