Sunday 27th September 2020

The Parables of the Growing Seed and Mustard Seed

Mark 4: 26-32

Last week, as we know, new Covid restrictions were put in place, we’ve been warned they may be with us for some time, and tighter rules may even be on the way. During this time of restrictions, do you ever find yourself thinking about all the big things you’d like to do when this is all over, or the big things you’d like to happen?

  • The big holiday you’d like to go on when it’s safe to do so – the trip of a lifetime,
  • Or the big sporting event you’d love to attend,
  • Or the big family get together you’d love to organise,

Or maybe as a church, as God’s people, you find yourself wanting God to do something big?

  • Sweep away this pandemic,
  • Revival to break out,
  • Big plans, big hopes, big dreams…

There’s nothing wrong with hoping for big things, planning for big things, longing for something ‘big’ to happen, but our text for today reminds us, in the middle of all that ‘big’ thinking, we shouldn’t forget or overlook the small things or even what we might think of as the insignificant things, and equally we don’t want to become so preoccupied with the future, that we forget about the here and now, why? For the best reason there is: the promise of Scripture that the ‘small’ and the ‘here and now’ are actually perfect growing conditions in God’s hands…The parables of the growing seed and the mustard seed, remind us and encourage us: God is at work in the here and now, and at work in the small things, so be assured, Covid restrictions are no barrier to the kingdom; the kingdom of God is growing, and in His kingdom, no matter how things look, the harvest will come…

Let’s take a moment to pray: Lord, we want to thank you for the beautiful season of autumn and how it points so wonderfully to You, the Creator God, filled as it is with pointers and reminders of You, Your kingdom, and how Your kingdom grows. Help us as we ponder these parables – may their images and word pictures of sowers, seeds and the harvest to come help us to understand the things of the kingdom and be more and more open to Your work in our lives. Speak to us now Lord we pray and give us ears to hear and hearts to respond in faith. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

If we think back to Jesus’ time, there were many who had their eye on the future. They were waiting for something big; something the Scriptures had been pointing to for centuries, and that something big, that someone big, was the Messiah, God’s promised Anointed One. When He came the belief was, He’d be One in the line of King David who would overthrow the Romans and in power and triumph would finally establish God’s kingdom; they were waiting, looking to the future, big times were ahead for God’s people…But there was also a rumour that the Messiah could already be amongst them, for there was a man, a teacher who it was thought by some could be God’s anointed, the One they were waiting for, and the rumour was that He was doing amazing things and He was talking about the kingdom…So, what was He saying?

  • Was He talking about power and triumph?
  • Was He going to be the One to overthrow the Romans?
  • Was He talking about ‘big’ things?

Well, no, that’s not what He seemed to be saying at all:

  • He was linking the kingdom with repentance, their repentance,
  • He did mention power and triumph but He also talked about servants and serving and the first being last,
  • He wasn’t just talking about the kingdom coming,
  • He was saying, ‘It’s here…the kingdom’s here…the time is now…’
  • And He linked the kingdom with ordinary things like sowers, seeds, weeds, yeast, pearls and nets,
  • And more than once, when speaking of the kingdom, He specifically compared it to the smallest of seeds, the mustard seed,
  • When it came to the Kingdom of God, this Teacher seemed to be saying some very surprising things…

Let’s leave that for a moment to think about those mustard seeds. What do we know about mustard seeds? Perhaps you are all mustard seed experts! I confess I’m not, so I’ve been looking up some bits and pieces, here’s what I’ve found out:

  • Mustard seeds are easy to grow and produce their own seeds in as few as 60 days.
  • The hotter and drier the weather the faster the plants will grow.
  • The green bits are edible, the yellow flowers attractive, and if the seeds are allowed to mature on the plant, they will self-sow and still provide plenty for mustard making.
  • The leaf contains calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and vitamin B…the calories are almost negligible. (Always good news!)
  • In vineyards in some countries mustard is often planted deliberately as a sort of ‘cover crop’ for the early stages of the vine growing, it can then be ploughed back into the soil adding valuable nutrients, or if allowed to grow repels some insects and attracts others that are beneficial to the vine.
  • There can be between a thousand and eight thousand seeds produced from each mature plant and all this from the tiniest of seeds.
  • It is a remarkable, hardy, productive little plant that, given the right conditions, can grow into a tree, and of this little plant Jesus said:

What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.” Mark 4:30-32

And Jesus also said: “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can move mountains…” Matthew 17:20

So, it seems there is something about the mustard seed, so small you could hardly see it, something about that image that’s very important for our understanding of the kingdom and how it grows and also of our understanding of the importance of faith. What is it? What’s so important for us to grasp? There can be little doubt this is a multi-layered teaching, a rich tapestry of encouragement:

  • Certainly, Jesus seems to be teaching about potential, the little seed having the potential, in the right conditions, to grow into something substantial and beautiful and useful. In the same way, Jesus could be reminding us all that our lives when lived in Him and for Him, no matter how small or even insignificant we might feel at times, our lives in Him are packed with potential.
  • And could the image of the seed also be a reminder that if we’re always looking for something big or spectacular to happen, we run the risk of missing something important, maybe crucially important, that’s happening right under our noses?
  • Jesus, in linking the mustard seed to the kingdom, seems to be saying loud and clear, the kingdom is here, all around us, the kingdom is growing, maybe quietly, maybe in unexpected places, maybe in the last place you would think to look, but it’s here…

So, when it comes to the Kingdom of God:

  • It’s not all about power and triumph, although power and triumph and ultimate victory are important,
  • It’s not all about the big things, although many big and dramatic things happen and will continue to happen in God’s kingdom,
  • The kingdom is also about the small things that have the potential to make a big difference, small things that you and I can do every day…

And think too how Jesus modelled this for us, for how did Jesus Himself come into this world? As a tiny baby, almost unnoticed, no riches, no fanfare, no armies, no attendants, seemingly no power, to many an insignificant event, but they couldn’t have been more wrong…And what about on Calvary’s hill? As the pivotal moment in the history of the world unfolded. No Sky TV news team caught the moment. No Middle Eastern correspondent announced, ‘This is history in the making…’ No, to all the world it just looked like someone from somewhere unimportant, with a bit of a following, had fallen foul of the authorities…But when Christ rose from the dead, again with no fanfare, and gave a mission and His Spirit to his followers, so the Church was born, and 2000+ years later, no matter how things look at times, the kingdom is still growing, one life at a time, and nothing can stop it, it grows day by day…

The image of the mustard seed reminds us not to become too preoccupied looking for something big in the future; there’s nothing wrong with looking to the future but we are not to spend all our time there, for the kingdom is growing and there is kingdom work to be done in the here and now…God’s greatest works are so often not on the grandiose scale, but in the ordinariness of everyday life, through people like you and me with perhaps what we may feel is just a mustard seed’s worth of faith, but is it enough, more than enough for our God to use and for the kingdom to grow:

  • Through a conversation,
  • A small act of kindness,
  • A word of encouragement,
  • A shared word from Scripture,
  • A whispered prayer…

Listen to these verses from Romans 12, the Apostle Paul writes: Here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life, your sleeping, eating, going to work and walking around life – and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him… Take your everyday, ordinary life…[restricted as our lives may be at the moment] but just the same, place it before God as an offering…

One final thought: do you remember earlier I was talking about the properties and uses of the mustard plant, and I said that in vineyards, mustard plants are often planted close to  vines – there’s a good picture and a good thought to keep in your mind. Jesus Himself said, ‘I am the vine’, so, like the mustard plant, stay close to the Vine, Jesus, in your everyday life, and He promises as you do so the seed of His Word will grow in and through your life; staying close to Jesus makes for the perfect growing conditions.

What shall we say the kingdom of God is like? It is like a mustard seed…which is the smallest of seeds…

The kingdom is here,

The kingdom is growing by the grace and power of God,

Nothing can stop it and there is a day coming when it will come in all its fullness, that great promised harvest, when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, and that will be a BIG day, it will be a greater day than you or I could ever imagine…But for now, remember the mustard seed, remember the importance of those little things that can make a big difference, and if you’re feeling low in your faith remember what God can do with just a mustard seed of faith, hold on to that, and God will bless you and He will use you, and to Him be the praise and glory. Amen.