The mustard seed

A sermon by Mother Katie.

Parable of the Mustard Seed Mark 4:24-36

The mustard seed is really small – but actually the Bible is wrong – it is not THE smallest – that honour belongs to the orchid – but size really does matter the parable is saying! And in a world where 9/10 we always know big is better – in the Kingdom God – God often chooses to start with the small, the least and the most insignificant.

Think of Moses verses the Pharaoh – David verses Goliath – Jonah surviving a whale – Elijah against all the armies and priests of Baal. A tiny nation of Israel against the world. A vulnerable baby born in a stable as the Messiah – soon to be a refugee but with a destiny to fight the greatest darkness – as a bleeding man on a cross.

From the tiny – the small – and seemingly insignificant – great things can come.

All the great children’s literature carries this basic truth too – so we see it in an orphan with a zig zag scar on his head – as he is locked in a cupboard under the stairs before finding out he is one of the greatest wizards ever, we hear it in a small boy whose 4 grandparents share one bed because they are so poor but despite this he wins the golden ticket to the chocolate factory, and in 4 refugee children who end up royalty by making their way through a wardrobe into a strange land.

And I think the stories resonate deeply across generations because they touch eternal truths; deep down we suspect there really is more to this world than the ordinary and small lives we often feel like we are living. Like the Doctor’s Tardis it might look small but the Kingdom of God is bigger on the inside – there is so much more if we will just open the door.

But the key to that door – to getting inside – to the spacious place – is not what we might think. And it is not easy.

As one writer puts it “for a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.” (Cynthia Occelli)

A seed before it blooms is first buried – covered in dirt and forgotten and ignored – it lies in the darkness for a long time and when it reaches the light again it is totally changed.

And this is the great theme of the New Testament – the theme which plays through every gospel and every letter – is that resurrection (or transformation) are promised to all who will die to self. And new life can come from what we think is dead if we place it into the hands of God.

The seed grows – night and day – simply by being placed in the right ground – and allowing itself to be broken.

The moments of weakness and humiliation will find you. The moments of darkness and coming undone will be the experience of us all at times. Our job is not to be like some sort of spiritual masochist to work for this or go looking for it – don’t worry it will find you. But neither is it our job to fear it –rather we must remind ourselves when it happens – in our own lives or the corporate life of the church – of the great theme of resurrection.

We must trust God enough to let the most difficult conditions grow us – let them become the things which give us the strongest roots from which we can grow into something that might produce fruit – and so we become a place where others can take shelter. Like a mustard seed into a mustard shrub – where the birds can make their nests.

Growth is a gospel imperative – we are called to be people who grow – and through growing provide stability and shelter for others. This past week in our book club we’ve been talking about stability, it is one of the vows Benedictine monks make.

And Cyprian Smith, our author, says that most of us consciously or unconsciously hanker after stability all our lives – but we only find it most profoundly only when we root ourselves in God alone. And that when we give God our weakness he is able to transform it by his hesed a Hebrew word meaning something close to steadfast love. The most sheltering love you could imagine that provides both the centre and circumference of a stable life.

This is what Cyrprian Smith says “God’s hesed, his unchanging determination to bring us to glory, creates for us an axis, a firm unchanging centre in a shifting, fluctuating world. (and) Whoever finds that centre, whoever puts down roots in it, will never be shaken or swept away by the changing tides of fortune.” P19

Evelyn Underhill – quoting Ignatius she says the 3 most important spiritual facts that create a stable spirit and peace of mind is the firm faith that we come from God, we belong to God and we are destined for God. That is what really matters most to our soul – all the rest is gravy. The meat that matters lies in those three things.

So as we look forward to the next year and make changes that are necessary due to our change in circumstances it is my prayer that we hold on to those things.

It seems to me that our work for God requires us to discern these things on a corporate as well individual level.

Where does the community of St James come from? Who does the church of St James belong to? And where are we destined to go next?

Those questions can only be answered in a healthy way when like a seed we die to self, allow some things to be broken and put down strong roots through prayer.

To help us as we take a year out to pray, reflect and experiment we have produced a questionnaire – available both online and at the back. It is anonymous – so please be honest – but please as you answer don’t just think about what suits you – but about what God might be calling us to grow into. The mustard seed that remains a mustard seed might be the most lovely seed in the world – but if it refuses to be planted it will never see its real potential – let’s have the courage to grow.