Sermon for Second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 6)

Text: Mark 4:30-32
What shall we say the Kingdom of God is like?" asked Jesus. "What parable shall we use to explain it? It is like this. A man takes a mustard seed, the smallest in the world, and plants it in the ground. After a while, it grows up and becomes the biggest of all plants. It puts out such large branches that the birds come and make their nests in its shade."

God's mustard seeds

Who was Homan Walsh? In 1847, the people of the city of Niagara Falls decided a bridge spanning the gorge would boost the economy. They had the technology to build a bridge, but they couldn't figure out how to get the first line across the gorge. The steep cliffs, rapids, and winds hindered any conventional methods. They finally decided that if someone could fly a kite across the gorge they could get the first line in. A prize of $10 was offered to the person who could land a kite on the other side of the gorge. Ten-year-old Homan Walsh succeeded landing a kite on his second attempt.

To his kite string the engineers attached a rope and after that was pulled across the gorge, then a light cable and then a heavier one. On August 1 1848 the first bridge (though somewhat primitive) was completed. From this bridge a new double deck suspension bridge was built that carried both train and road traffic and the first train crossed in 1855. All this happened because of a small boy and his kite.

We know stories of how important people and big business are able to accomplish great things. But it also happens that small and insignificant people are able to do great things. It is just this that the Bible often focuses on especially when Jesus says, "The greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven is the one who humbles himself and becomes like this child" (Matthew 18:4) or "Many who are now first will be last, and many who are now last will be first" (Mark 10:31). Maybe if Jesus were here he would say, "Small boys like Homan Walsh are able to accomplish great things Ė thatís how it is in the Kingdom of Heaven."

The Old Testament reading has a similar theme. It is the surprising account of little David being chosen to be the King of Israel. All seven of Jesse's sons parade before Samuel, but he says, for all their fine, outward appearances, none of them is the one whom God has in mind to be the new king. Then after all of them have paraded past, there is no son left, at least no one but little David who is out keeping an eye on the sheep. Surprise. David is summoned and everyone gasps as God clearly announces to Samuel, "This is the one!"

Now why would God have chosen David?
Was it because David had great potential which his family hadn't recognised?
Was it because, as the youngest son, he had learned early to fend for himself, to take responsibility, to undertake difficult tasks (like shepherding!) which the older brothers dumped on him?
Was it because David was a little child and God saw in his heart the greatness that no one else could see?

We aren't told. God's choices are often unsearchable and beyond our ability to figure out. God chooses whom he will choose and David became the greatest King that Israel ever had. From the least came the greatest. But the important thing to remember about David is that it is God who makes this boy become a mighty king, it is God who gives this lad victory over Goliath and so on. God has taken the least, a young lad from the house of Jesse, and made him the greatest.

What shall we say the Kingdom of God is like?" Jesus asked one day. "The Kingdom of God is like, well, it's like a tiny mustard seed". That's what we heard in today's gospel. The Kingdom of God is like that tiny, insignificant mustard seed, the smallest in the world. But that tiny seed will germinate, grow and grow until it becomes a large bush.

A bush? The Kingdom of God is a mustard bush?

"Yes," continued Jesus, "a plant so impressive that small birds can perch in its branches and make nests in its shade."

Can you see what has happened here again? From something very small has grown a large bush. Evidently God looks at things differently from the way we look at things. From what we have heard today that comes as no great surprise. He chooses the least amongst Jesse's sons to be a king. He rescues the least among the nations to make them a great nation. And all of this of course points to the greatest example of all - Jesus and his cross. A man who appeared to be the least amongst all other men, despised, rejected, treated as a common criminal is the greatest of all. He is the Lord of all - the conqueror over sin, death and Satan - our Lord and Saviour. God chooses what is apparently weak to accomplish his purposes. Doesn't Paul say: God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong (1 Cor 1:27)?

One of the things that characterised Jesus was his ability to see beyond the outside appearance and to see the possibilities and potential of an individual. He viewed others, not so much as what they were, but what they could become.
An ordinary fishermen (Peter) became the rock on which the church is built.
A dishonest tax collector (Matthew) becomes a trusted friend and disciple.
An angry Pharisee (Paul) who is a persecutor of the church becomes the apostle to the gentiles. And again as we have seen before, it is not that these men were great in themselves, it is God who uses those small beginnings and does great things.

And that is what Jesus is saying in his parable. He is inviting us to look at the kingdom of God with new eyes. The outside appearance may seem insignificant and so small you can hardly see it but the results are great. If you believe that this is how God does things then you will not be too quick to dismiss the small and insignificant. You will not give up on yourself, on others, on the church, or even the world just because all you see are signs of weakness and insignificance. Rather you will believe that with God all things are possible, even if all that you see is a tiny mustard seed, something small and insignificant.

To believe this is to see yourself in a new light. Your faith may be as small as a mustard seed, but if you take it seriously and use it mountains can be moved. You can do great things for God if you are willing to offer your love, generosity, kindness and abilities as small and insignificant as you may think they are.

The winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, began an orphanage with such a vision. She told her superiors, "I have three pennies and a dream to build an orphanage."

"Mother Teresa," her superiors chided gently, "You cannot build an orphanage with three pennies ... with three pennies you canít do anything."

"I know," she said, smiling, "but with God and three pennies I can do anything."

The parable of the mustard seed reminds us that Godís beginnings may be small, but his results great.

That leads me to ask.
Why were you chosen by God to be a disciple of Jesus?
Why are you here?
Were you chosen to be a disciple of Christ because of your greatness or importance or because you are able to impress people with your skill and influence?
God's choices, as we have said, can be mighty puzzling at times, just as they seemed very difficult to understand when he chose a new king from among Jesse's sons. We are told in 1 Samuel that God doesn't look at outward appearances but looks at the heart. He has chosen you because he sees what we donít see. We tend to focus on what we canít do and what we believe is impossible for us. We quickly say that we canít do anything like that. We might believe we are just 3 pennies (as Mother Teresaís critics did) but God can use those insignificant 3 pennies and do great things.

Think about your life, the people you come into contact with each day, the things you do, the places you go. God has anointed you; he has baptised you. He has chosen you to be his representative in those places, among those people, so that they might see something of God in you.

There are pictures that Jesus uses to highlight how the least can bring about a great result. Think of Jesus words you are the salt of the earth. Just a small amount of salt gives flavour to a meal. Or those words of our Lord: You are the light of the world. Consider how small a car headlight is, but how great is the cone of light that cuts through the blackest night. Size is irrelevant, Jesus is saying, but what an effect they can have. In fact it is often the small things done by people that can have the greatest effect in the lives of people.

Someone once wrote:

Sometimes it may seem to us that there is no purpose in our lives, that going day after day for years to this office, or that factory is nothing else but waste and weariness. But it may be that God has sent us there because but for us, Christ would not be there. If our being there means that Christ is there, that alone makes it worthwhile.

I'm sure your experience can vouch for the accuracy of that statement. Haven't you been surprised by the overwhelming thanks of a person who is ever so grateful for the support and help that you gave. For a minute you have to stop and think, what was it that you did that was so valuable. But it was that small thing you did that has been transformed into something great and wonderful for the recipient. You could put it this way: You have sown the mustard seed and God did the rest and look what a bush it turned out to be.

A young father enrolling his son in a children's club asked if there was any way he could help. The leader gave him instructions and at the end of the night casually invited him and his family to church. That was the mustard seed. God did the rest. The family did turn up and from then on their whole lives were changed. Eventually they joined the church and their children were confirmed. It all started with a simple invitation to church.

But unfortunately too often we want things to work according to our plans and if we don't see immediate results we give up in despair. We lose the enthusiasm to be mustard seeds, and wonder if there is any purpose in venturing out because nothing seems to be happening. I think you would have to agree that our text today tells us quite clearly that the kingdom of God is built God's way according to God's plan and in God's time.
We need to confess our lack of confidence when it comes to planting mustard seed.
We confess that we forget that from the least God can do great things in his kingdom.
We confess that too often we have thought "What's the use!" and not done anything, not even the least.

You might say that your life is so ordinary and so is your commitment to following Jesus.
You say you donít even feel close to God.
You say too often you donít act like someone whom God has called.
While each of us would like to think that Jesus has especially chosen us because of something good in our lives, the truth of the matter is that God does not call us because of our feelings, our actions or our goodness.

You belong to Christ, he has saved you, he is your king and Lord, and he has chosen you as his disciple to be his representative at home, at work, in the community, wherever. Samuel anointed David, poured oil on little David's head as a sign of his divine choice. David was God's "messiah" - God's anointed one.

Tomorrow, at work, in the office, over the kitchen sink, in the playground, that's you - God's anointed one. Remember that you may be only small and seemingly insignificant, but in God's hands small things become great blessings.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
18th June, 2006

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