Saturday, 12 April 2014
Parable of the Mustard Seed
The parable of the mustard seed is a good example of how God works in the lives of ordinary people---specifically, how He uses us to fulfill His will. He places a tiny, tiny gem of an idea or command in us, and uses us along with His Will to take that tiny item and make it into something bigger and better.
Since God always does things in His own time and in His own way, we do not always know how or when that seed will be planted. It could be in the form of a thought, or a dream we have at night, or a conversation with a friend or family member. It could be in the form of our job, or our community work, or our church work. It could be in the form of the church minister or other member of the church family. The possibilities are endless, because with God anything is possible. We might not always know when God plants that seed, but when He reveals His plan for our lives at some point in the future, we often have an "AH HAH!" moment.
For example, if someone had told me in the year 2000 or earlier that I would one day be standing before this congregation as a Lay Reader, or serve as Parish Treasurer and QCAC Treasurer, or even volunteer with the local food bank, I might have been tempted to call a mental hospital!!! But then, my father got sick and died, and throughout his illness and passing the people of this congregation, along with our former Rector Father Ken, showed God's love and compassion by being there when the Condon family needed them, not only during our attendance at Sunday services, but with visits to the home and the hospital. I have often wondered if God was speaking to me and planting that mustard seed when I read a lesson at my father's funeral, because immediately afterward Father Ken put me on the list of people who read lessons during Sunday services, and a few months later he strongly encouraged me to enter lay ministry as a Lay Reader---and as the American commentator Paul Harvey would say, "...now you know............THE REST OF THE STORY".
When He plants that seed, we might not always understand what He wants us to do or become, but He will reveal His plan in his own time and in his own way. Some of us have been called by Him to ordained ministry, and others have been called to lay ministry. Some of us have been called to ministry in music (such as our organist and choir), and some of us have been called to minister to the young people in our congregation. Some of us have been called to ministry in the community through our work or studies, our community groups, family or friends. In each case, our ministry has its roots in the tiny seed God planted in each of us.
God also uses people from all walks of life to do His work when He plants that mustard seed. It doesn't matter if you're rich or poor, lower class or upper class, Caucasian, African-American, Asian, etc. If He decides to use you to fulfill His will, there's nothing that can stop you when you and God work as a team. In 1934, God took an ordinary farm boy from North Carolina, and over the course of time made that farm boy into one of the most famous evangelists of our time, while at the same time charging him with the responsibility of spreading the good news of salvation to the world. God also realized that this work would not be finished in the farm boy's lifetime in spite of being equipped with a team of associates chosen by God, so in July 1974, in a hotel room in Jerusalem, He also planted the same seed in the heart and soul of that farm boy's son. Today, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association stands as an example of the parable of the mustard seed. It started as something very tiny, but has blossomed into a worldwide mission of spreading the good news, thanks to that simple farm boy from North Carolina-Rev. Billy Graham-and his son Franklin.
When God decides to use you and plant that tiny seed, he doesn't care what you look like on the outside---He looks at what's on the inside, namely, what's in your heart and soul. Throughout the Bible the Lord showed more compassion for a lowly beggar lying on the side of the road wearing torn and dirty rags BUT WHO WAS FILLED WITH FAITH, then he ever did for all the rulers of the ancient world who were filled with wickedness and contempt. When God had Samuel anoint David with oil in our Old Testament reading this morning, He did not look at what David looked like on the outside---He looked at what was in David's heart and soul. When Samuel anointed David with oil and thus obeyed God's command, Samuel planted that tiny mustard seed into David's soul---and that seed blossomed into David the warrior who slew Goliath, David the Psalmist, and the House of the Great King David of Israel, the same house that Jesus came from.
God doesn't just plant seeds in people. He also plants seeds of growth and faith in churches and their congregations. When He does so, the process is not always easy-in fact, the process can be fatal like it was for Stephen, the first martyr of the church. Like the old cliché says, the process often involves "short-term pain for long-term gain", but that pain can and usually does lead to something even better that God has planned. The current process of discernment that our Parishes of Liverpool and Eagle Head are going through is a good example. The process of change is not easy and can be painful for some, but whatever the final result is, rest assured that it will be something better that God has planned for us. No one knows yet what that result will be, but as we will see, God will reveal His plan in His own time and in His own way.
When God plants that seed, He nurtures it and makes it grow, but He needs our help to do the job. When our thoughts and desires are in line with God's plan, that seed will grow, but if they don't agree with God's will, there is trouble on the horizon. For example, when we pray to God and ask for something, He might grant our wishes right away, He might also say "Not now", or He might also say "No, I have something even BETTER in mind for you". God's will takes priority if we let it. He gave us a choice-accept Him or reject Him. If we accept Him, that mustard seed will grow and flourish. If we reject Him, that seed will be like the seed that fell on rocky soil in another parable-it doesn't take root, and it dies. We do not always know what that seed will grow into, but God does, and He will reveal it to us in His own time and in His own way.
The story has been told of Marilyn King, former US Olympian. She was a member of the 1972 US pentathlon team at the Olympics in Munich, but the massacre of the Israeli athletes combined with an ankle injury led to a disappointing performance. At the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, she placed 13th, but she knew she could do better. During her training for the 1980 Olympics, she hurt her lower back in a car accident-an injury that forced her to stop her physical training. She started mental training by watching films of other pentathlon athletes and by picturing her performance in her mind. By the time the 1980 Olympic trials began, she was barely well enough to compete, but the seeds of faith and positive thinking that God planted in her grew into a second place finish.
God uses the tiny seed He plants to reward us for being faithful. Mary the mother of Jesus was a good example. She was a pious, faithful, simple, lower class young girl who was rewarded for her faith by being given the honor of bearing God's son. He also uses the tiny seed of sin to punish us when we disobey him. One only has to remember the downfall of evangelists Jim Baker and Jimmy Swaggart to realize that the tiny seed of sin-in this case, greed and immorality- can grow into pain, suffering and destruction.
God NEVER stops planting seeds. He doesn't just plant one seed and concentrate on growing and nurturing it. He is ALWAYS planting seeds in His people. Those who prepare sermons can testify to this. They often get several additional thoughts, ideas, insights, etc. with every draft they write-and sometimes they get additional thoughts as they are preaching. One can regard these thoughts as being the seeds of what God wants the person delivering the sermon to say.
God also uses the seed He plants to change behaviour that He doesn't like. Take the Gospel writer Paul, for example. God used a seed called blindness to change Saul from a man who hated and persecuted Christians. That seed blossomed into Paul, one of the most prolific and devoted apostles of the New Testament.
Perhaps the most potent use of the seed is to remind us that God is in charge. He uses our trials and tribulations to remind us to put our faith in him and not rely on our own human strengths. He often plants seeds when we suffer as a way of reminding us to be obedient to him. Many people have said that they have had near-death experiences, and that these experiences have been life-changing. He uses our friends and family to remind us of his presence during times of illness or death. The story of the footprints in the sand reminds us that God is always there and that He will give us strength in times of trouble---even to the point of carrying us through life's deep, dark valleys. God is in control, and if we let Him guide us in our life's journey, we will arrive at the great destination called Heaven. God plants the seed as a way of starting the journey, the road of life that we travel with Him is the growth of the mustard plant, and our arrival in Heaven is the ultimate blossoming of that tiny mustard seed. The road is long and not always easy, but the ultimate destination makes the process of planting and growth worthwhile.
Thanks be to God. AMEN