Bible Reference: Matthew 13:31, 32
When Jesus burst on the public scene after His baptism, He said the Kingdom of God is here. By His presence, Jesus brought the reign of God and established it in a whole new way. In much of His ministry, Jesus taught us about the Kingdom of God. It is a bold thought to say God reigns over this world, over the events of time and eternity, and over people of all nations and cultures. But what does it mean for us, as believers in Jesus, to know we are embedded into this world and part of God’s growing kingdom?
Using Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed, I’d like to explore a little bit about how what is tiny will become huge, how the kingdom is organic, how God calls us to a unique type of holiness, that the Kingdom is inclusive, and that the Kingdom offers the ultimate refuge in the tree outside Jerusalem’s Gates.
Jesus used the tiniest seed – the mustard seed – to illustrate how it becomes a large tree in the garden, where Jesus says even the birds find shelter and build a nest. The Kingdom of God might seem small or experiencing setbacks, but it’s going to grow huge.
In American business many stories exist of small, meager beginnings becoming huge. For instance, Walt Disney began sketching animated characters in his garage before giving birth to the vision of Disney World. Did you know an electronics hacker named Steve Wozniak and his longtime friend Steve Jobs started building personal computers in their garage in 1976? It exploded to become the company we call Apple.
Or that in 1891, a 29-year-old man named William Wrigley, Jr. moved from Philadelphia to Chicago and began selling soap, offering baking powder as an incentive. His baking powder was so popular that he shifted to offering chewing gum as an incentive. The popularity of the gum made him again switch so that in 1893 he produced Juicy Fruit, which became the number one chewing gum in the country. Now a baseball field in Chicago, where the lovable losers – the Chicago Cubs – play. Their field, Wrigley field, bears his name.
A newly-married couple, Ruth and Elliot Handler, founders of Mattel, began manufacturing picture frames and used the remnant wood to build dollhouse furniture. They soon discovered the toy niche was a much more lucrative place to invest their energy, so they began manufacturing dollhouse furniture. Eventually that endeavor led them to sponsor a TV program called the Mickey Mouse Club. Then, in 1955, they released their iconic toy, the Barbie doll, and it is just went huge!
Let’s apply small becoming huge to the followers of Jesus. A small handful of disciples has now become a worldwide Church, the Body of Jesus Christ. It all began when Andrew (who had been a disciple of John the Baptist), invited his brother, Simon (whom Jesus would call Peter), saying, We found the Messiah. Come and see. A small band of twelve motley fishermen and blue-collar boys and a few women began to share the Good News of the Kingdom of God in the name of Jesus the Messiah. It is a kingdom of grace, a kingdom of hope that has spread to people of every nation, culture, color, and language, worldwide. Small can become big.
I just returned from a week of vacation at Big Wolf Lake near Bemidji in northern Minnesota. Every time I go there, the chiggers, deer flies, and mosquitoes start salivating; they love to feast on the body of Lee Laaveg. Chiggers are especially a problem to my poor legs. They eat in Norwegian delicacy food from my calves, thighs, and feet. Those little chiggers are so small, your eyes can’t even see them, but they have an amazing impact, impossible to ignore. That is a negative impact of small with huge indications.
However, that same week in Minnesota, as I was putting my grandson to sleep one night, I sang to him, “Jesus wants me for a sunbeam to shine for him each day,” and it occurred to me that, while those insects have such a negative impact, the opposite could also be true. If every child could hear and understand the invitation of Jesus to shine like a little sunbeam of love and light in their circle of life, they could offer hope to the whole world.
Dear believers in Jesus Christ, Jesus invites you to be a little sunbeam of light, grace, and hope. If each of us who own the name of Jesus, would shine with that kind of love, it would have a worldwide impact. We look around us today and find much that discourages us. We wonder if the Christian Church, the Body of Christ, is going to lose. However, the message of this Mustard Seed Kingdom says no. What began small will spread to the world, and the reign of God will prevail. Jesus is Lord, and in the end, Jesus wins.
The Kingdom of God like a mustard seed; it is organic in life. It is continually growing and active. It is not always visible, but God’s Spirit – the power of life – is making it happen. It is not programmatic in technique. It’s not a political platform or agenda. The Kingdom of God cannot be established by military force or strength. You can’t legislate it. It’s like the mustard seed planted in the dirt. By the power of God’s Spirit, it emerges with life that cannot be suppressed. The Kingdom of Jesus Christ will grow. It is a power of life outside of human capacity. It is God’s power, and you cannot stop that which God gives life.
Third, God’s Mustard Seed Kingdom is the call of the Spirit to holiness, Qodesh. The ancient Jewish understanding of holiness had to do with separating. It’s understandable that God would want the tiny nation of Israel, which was sandwiched between great empires who wanted to swallow up and assimilate them, to be qodesh, separate, a distinctive identity crucial for their survival as God’s people. Eventually it led to a whole Jewish life permeated in purity codes. If you didn’t stay pure according to the legal code, you could no longer be part of the worshiping community.
But I believe Jesus ushered in a whole different understanding of holiness. I came to understand this new revelation as I read from the book, “If Grace Is True,” written by Quaker pastors Philip Gulley and James Mulholland. They write, “Holiness is God’s ability to confront evil without being defiled. God’s holiness doesn’t require him to keep people at arm’s length. In fact, evil cannot alter God’s love, for his gracious character is beyond corruption.
“That’s what it means to say God is holy. His love is incorruptible. Holiness and love are not competing commitments. God is love, and His love endures forever. That enduring love is what makes God holy. No manner of evil done to us or by us can separate us from God’s love. God transforms His morally imperfect children through the power of His perfect love. Our experience of God’s love inspires us to holiness. So when Jesus says, ‘Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect, He’s not talking about moral purity.
“In the same verses, Jesus says, ‘Love your enemy. So moral purity or holiness is not a demonstration of God’s character, rather His extravagant love. We are like God in holiness not when we are morally pure, but when we are extravagant and gracious in love.”
So the Parable of the Mustard Seed at heart is a teaching not about separation, but about radical inclusivity. It’s a parable about inviting all the barriers to come down and all people to be included. Jesus, remember, said that the mustard seed grows to be a mustard tree, and that all the birds find their shelter in its branches.
Israel, a nation of 70 x 270 miles, has 400 species of birds. Israel is in the main bird migration part of the world. I think of a phrase in the Psalms, “Yea, the sparrow has found her a place where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O Lord God of Hosts . . .” (Ps. 84:3).
So every species of bird (every person) is invited. We might find some birds to be attractive and desirable and some to be repulsive. If I say eagle, you think majestic, strong, wonderful. If I say vulture, you probably want to throw up. If I say hawk, you are attracted; if I say crow you’re repelled. If I say bluebird, robin, goldfinch, or lark you would say, Wonderful! Listen to their songs. But if I said grackle, you might say get hmm, get him out of here. We judge what is attractive and desirable, and what is not.
We do the same thing with people. We desire certain people to be welcomed into the Kingdom of God and some to be not. But just like the birds of the air, how many of them did God create? All, of course. How many of them does God love? All of them! Jesus says all the birds are welcome to find shelter in the branches of the mustard tree. All the species that migrate through Israel in their diversity, all can find shelter and refuge in the tree that begins with the most meager and tiny beginnings.
Jesus makes it clear that although the invitation is inclusive, it is exclusive in that it is in the name of Jesus we are all invited to be part of the Kingdom of God. Acts 4:12 tells us that there is no name given under heaven except the name of Jesus whereby people might be saved.
So it is in the profound truth of Jesus the Son of God coming to the world and being embedded into the evil and the dirt and the brokenness of this world that He Who is the Seed of Life gives birth to a new kingdom. The smallest of beginnings grows to the entirety of created order and is reconciled to God.
Ultimately I want to talk with you about another kind of tree that God has planted. That is the tree upon which the Son of God hung and died, where He bled to take away the sins of the world. “Cursed is the one who hangs upon the tree,” it says in Scripture. Jesus took the curse upon Himself, into His body as the Savior of the world. You need never carry your shame nor let your guilt or imperfection keep you from believing that in the invite of God’s love, you are safe in His arms.
It is on the cross of the tree of Calvary planted on a place called Golgotha outside the gates of Jerusalem that you’re invited. All people – no matter who you are, no matter where you’ve been, no matter what you’ve done – in the love of God, the cross of Jesus Christ rises up and towers over creation and eternity and all peoples. And Jesus on the cross opens His arms and extends them wide to say, “Whosoever will, come. Come unto me all who are weary and heavy laden. I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).
In the name of Jesus we find rest and grace and new life. In the name of Jesus, the blood spilled from Immanuel’s veins becomes the seed drops in the created soil that gives birth to the reconciliation of the whole world.
You are invited to find your hope in the tree of life, the cross of Calvary upon which the Prince of Glory died. His name is Jesus, and He has now been raised from the dead to offer you to come today and believe that, in Him, you have security and refuge and life.
May you believe in Jesus, and may you find refuge in Jesus forever. Amen.
Rev. Lee Laaveg