I Samuel 3:1-10, Matthew 13:31-35
August 19, 2012
It’s a funny thing about the Bible. And I know you’ve heard me say this before. You can read the same passage a hundred times, and then the one hundred and first time, the Holy Spirit can show you something in it that you never thought about before!
Actually, I’m grateful for both of those things. I’m grateful for those new insights the Spirit gives – sometimes when I least expect it. But I’m also grateful for the one hundred readings where the message seems to be the same. Because I don’t know about you, but I often need those hundred readings to get something through my head!
So I hope you appreciate that I’m not like some preachers. Some preachers think a sermon is only valuable if it gives you some kind of new thought or new approach. And that’s fine. But I also think there’s great valuing in hearing the familiar stories, and relearning some things we may have heard before. There’s great value in being “reminded” of some of the things we may have forgotten, or have failed to live effectively. And of course, you never know when that “one hundred and first time” might happen and the Holy Spirit might show you something new.
Well, this time for me was the hundred and first reading of this passage from Matthew. Because in reading it this time, the spirit planted some new thoughts about it in my head. As I’ve thought about this parable, the Parable of the Mustard Seed, I started wondering about the people to whom Jesus was speaking. And I started wondering if they aren’t a lot more like us than we might think.
We can easily think otherwise, can’t we? We can easily say to ourselves, “Hey, these guys are in the Bible!” “They must be people of great faith.” Or we think, “Wow! It must have been amazing for them to sit at the feet of Jesus Christ and learn from him!” It’s easy for us to see the crowds that way, isn’t it? Like I’ve said before, it’s easy for us to picture the disciples as holy people, with halos over their heads – like we see in all the paintings. We think of them that way, and then it seems strange to us when we find out differently, when we see that they often didn’t understand things, when we see that they often “didn’t get it!”
So, what about those people? What about the crowds who were listening to Jesus? Do we see them as understanding him? Do we see them accepting wholeheartedly what he was saying to them? Or do we see Jesus struggling with them, like he struggled with his disciples? Was he frustrated with them at times when they seemed to be missing the point he was trying to make. And of course, what about us? Would he have struggled with us if we had been there?
This is where I think we often have a disconnect ourselves. We think faith is hard to follow here in the 21st century. But if we had been there then, if we had seen Jesus himself, and heard him speak, and seen his miracles… having faith would be so much easier! But if you really think about it, that’s probably not the case. Just imagine those people hearing and seeing all this for the first time. Much of what Jesus said would have been hard for them to hear. And I think Jesus had many of the same frustrations with them as he had with his disciples, and as he would have had with us.
I think that’s really true when we look at this Parable of the Mustard Seed. Think for a moment about what Jesus was trying to tell these people. This parable actually comes in a series of parables all of which were about “sowing seeds.” The first one was the Parable of the Sower, which we looked at a couple of weeks ago. That was a good start for these parables, because it established in the people’s minds the idea of the word of God being that seed that’s planted and that grows (or doesn’t grow!) in people’s hearts. So that idea was already there when he came to this parable.
First, though, there was one other interesting little parable about the seed being planted in people’s hearts. But in this parable, someone comes along and sows thorns among the seed. And notice that Jesus has also already established that idea, too. The thorns are the “cares of the world and the love of riches.” So in this parable, the master instructs his servants not to pull the weeds, “lest they tear out some of the good roots with them.” “Instead,” he said, “Let them grow together until the harvest.” “Then we will separate the good from the bad.” Again, that’s another slightly different version of the same message. The message was that the word which is planted in our hearts is sometimes affected by things in our lives, things that threaten to restrict it’s growth.
So, then we come to this parable, and this is what I’ve been wondering about. I wonder if Jesus was now speaking about another difficulty of faith. I wonder if he is talking about a person whose faith was too small or too weak. That would make sense in this series of parables about things that make the growth of faith difficult. A faith that’s too small could easily be one of those difficulties! So, instead of this being a parable about the nature of faith itself and how it grows, it may well have been that Jesus was talking again about their faith. I wonder if he knew looking around him that day, that some of those people had “very little faith,” and he was trying to help them with that. He was trying to teach them that, though they had a weak faith, it could still grow, and they still had amazing potential.
Now, you may have thought of that before. But for me, that was my hundred and first reading of this. And that makes Jesus’ message slightly different, doesn’t it? Instead of the message being about faith, it was about them! It wasn’t so much “Your faith has great potential.” It was, “Look, I know some of you think your faith is too small. But don’t worry, there is still great potential for growth within you!”
Doesn’t that make for an even greater message? And isn’t that a message that’s more “down to earth” – more real to us! Think about it. Do you ever feel like you’re faith is too small, like that tiny seed? Do you ever feel like your faith is ‘weaker’ than everyone else’s? Do you ever feel like everyone else shows and lives their faith much better than you, and that you can never seem to “get on track” spiritually? If you do, then this parable, this message, is for you! Jesus looks to us and he says, “I know sometimes you don’t think very highly of your faith. I know you think you’re pretty ‘tiny’ in that department. But that doesn’t matter! Your faith still has a great potential!” If you plant it, and let it germinate, like the mustard seed, it can become the greatest of plants!”
That’s a great message! And the other thing that’s important to remember is that the growth of our faith is not just up to us. Yes, we have to do things in our faith. We have to seek God. We have to take steps to worship and pray and learn. But we don’t have to think that everything that happens is “on us.” It is God who gives the growth! Paul used the metaphor in I Corinthians 3. In talking about the people’s faith he said, “I planted the seed, another man (Apollos) watered it… But neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, because it is God who gives the growth.” (I Corinthians 3:6-7) That’s so important. We sometimes think that our faith isn’t strong because we aren’t strong. But when we trust God, then we can know that our faith can be strong because he is strong! I hope you see the difference!
Then, the other thing we need to think about in this story is that, besides the seeds of faith being planted in us, we too plant seeds in others. We all do that, don’t we? If you think about it, our words and our actions can plant different kinds of seeds in others’ lives. They can be good seeds and they can be bad seeds! We can plant seeds of hope, or we can plant seeds of doubt and despair. And I think Jesus would tell us that we need to take care as to which we are planting. We need to think, “Are we planting the good seed? Or are we planting those thorns?”
Then we need to know that when we plant that seed of faith within someone else, that seed, like the tiniest of mustard seeds, can have great potential. And again, just as it is with our own faith, it has potential because it is God, not us, who gives the growth. And we can trust God that the seeds we plant in others will grow, too. We don’t have to do all the watering and nurturing. Sometimes we feel like that. But we can trust that God will bring others along to do that nurture. But at the same time, we may be the “others” that he brings to along to nurture the seeds planted by someone else. So we need to look for opportunities to do that!
So think about the seed of faith planted within you. Is it being nurtured? Is it growing? Or do you think it’s too small? And what about the seeds we have planted in others? They too may be people who think they don’t have very much faith. We may need to encourage them, to inspire them in their growth. And we need to remember that it is God who gives the growth.
So think about this Parable of the Mustard Seed. Know that you are planting seeds. And no matter how small they may be, know that God is sufficient and because of him, those seeds have amazing potential! And if you think your faith is too small? Trust God. In us and in others, he will give the growth!
Help us when our faith is small. Let your Spirit grow among us and in us, that we may grow in our knowledge and love of you, and that our faith may grow like the mustard seed. Help us to plant seeds of faith in others, showing your love and grace in all that we do. For these things we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.