SUNDAY SERMON: The Mustard Seed

By Rev. Stephen Baldwin 

OT: Ezekiel 17.22-24

NT: Mark 4.26-34

In the course of a day, you help numerous people and you are helped by numerous people. It happens so often you don’t think about the seeds that are planted and what they could grow into someday. 

I was reminded of that this week while standing in line at Walmart. An employee came out of the deli with a cart of rotisserie chickens bound for the front checkouts. She smiled and said hello. I smiled and said hello. She said, “Do you remember me?”

I said, a little bit ashamed, “I’m sorry. I don’t, ma’am. How do we know each other?”

She said, “Your church brought me a hot meal when I was living in a hotel several years ago.” Then the light bulb went off. 

“Of course, I remember you,” I told her. “It was on Christmas Eve.” 

She smiled, and said, “Yes, it was. That’s when I hit rock bottom. Now I have my own place to live and this job, and I just wanted to say hello and thank your church.” 

 Jesus said, “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 its shade.”

Once you plant a seed, it’s hard to tell what it might grow into one day. Amen? Jesus came from an agricultural society. He talked about seeds and fruit and soil all the time. 

It was something his followers knew an awful lot about. So he uses an idea they’re familiar with to introduce a very strange notion. He may even have come over to their house and helped them sow seed a time or two.  I can just picture him out in the fields with his followers, sowing seed, saying, “When we sow seed, we’ve got to work to make sure it grows.  Water it, tend it, cultivate it.  But the seed that God sows is different.  It grows automatically.”  

Jesus tells them that the seeds are like the kingdom of God.  “The kingdom of God” is the idea that heaven isn’t just a faraway place where we want to go when we die.  Instead, heaven can happen here on earth as the kingdom of God.  It’s been planted here in our soil centuries ago, and it is growing automatically.  If we look closely, we can see glimpses of the way God intended life to be.  Tiny glimpses.  Tiny, like mustard seeds.  

I’ll never forget the story of Gracie, as told by the Rev. Joan Stewart who’s at Summersville Presbyterian Church. One of her members encouraged her to go  visit a woman named Gracie. She went to visit, just like she would visit any other person on any other day.  When Gracie opened the door, she hugged the pastor and began crying profusely.  They became quick friends, and the pastor helped Gracie make some small home repairs, because Gracie was 30 years old and caring for four handicapped adults…with no running water…no bathrooms…and holes in her roof.  Gracie’s dad had bought the house for $900 from a coal company.  $900 for a house.  Gracie had been valedictorian of her class and was accepted into WVU, but she wasn’t able to go because she had to take care of her family.  

Gracie’s relationship with the pastor grew.  She wanted to replace the roof.  They needed $3500.  They raised $5000.  So they replaced the porch too.  Then other churches wanted to help.  Workcamps came from all over the US.  They added new windows, appliances, and flooring.  

After all of the projects were complete, the pastor sat down with Gracie to enjoy the fruits of their labor.  And then Gracie told the pastor a secret.  The first day she had come to the house to visit, when Gracie had cried so profusely, was the day Gracie had decided to kill herself.  She had written a suicide note and left it in her car.  She planned to jump off the New River Gorge Bridge, because she had been trying to get someone to help her and her family for years and no one had even paid any attention.  She thought if she killed herself, then someone might notice enough to offer to help those that remained.  

That is what the mustard seed is all about.  Something small grows into something big.  A simple visit to Gracie’s house not only grew into a friendship and led to a respectable living situation, but it truly saved Gracie’s life. 

Parables are meant to shock us. They’re like a punchline that turns everything upside down you thought you knew. The shock in today’s parable is plain–the smallest seed can grow into the biggest shrub. Because that’s how it goes with God. 

The parable of the mustard seed reminds us that important things can come from simple beginnings.  Tiny seeds are growing into unexpected shrubs.  Simple visits grow into life-saving relationships.  The kingdom of God…IS growing.  Amen.  

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