This morning I preached and lead worship at Trinity United Reformed Church in Upminster.
As the church follow a lectionary, I decided to use the gospel reading for the day and so I preached about Jesus comparing the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed.
Mark 4: 26:34
The Parable of the Growing Seed
26 He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain–first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
The Parable of the Mustard Seed
30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.” 33 With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. 34 He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.
How do you explain ideas and concepts to people who whilst trying to do understand you, just find it too difficult?
Personally I just wish that many years ago my A level maths teacher would have tried just a bit harder I might have understood calculus and not made such a spectacular failure!
Jesus however starts with what people already know and works from there.
So he starts small and works up using picture language.
Incidentally small is not always the right size even though there was the saying some years back that small is beautiful.
In the course of my ministry I visit many people and hear many stories. This was told to me by a former police officer.
Someone high up in the chain of command, the police had decided to go eco friendly and buy a Smart Car for use as a patrol car. The sort of car our local council use to enforce parking regulations and take photos of offending vehicles. The small two seat car was fitted out and presented to its crew. The crew looked it over and then asked a simple question “Where does the prisoner go?” “And what about the broom, shovel and warning cones and signs?”
In our passage Jesus firstly talks about a farmer sowing seed. He scatters the seed on the ground and leaves it. No matter what the man does now the seed germinates and grows. He doesn’t have to understand plant biology or biochemistry. The seed just does what it is designed to do.
Finally the harvest comes.
Each of us as a follower of Jesus should be going on our way scattering the gospel seed in what ever way we can. Sometimes it is through the conversations we have at the school gate or the office water cooler. Other times its chance meetings we have wherever we happen to be. Or maybe its through the way we treat people be it the cashiers in our local stores, or whoever.
Through my ministry I speak to approximately 14,000 people a year and hopefully some of the words I saw about God’s great love and compassion will be planted in their hearts and eventually grow.
It maybe that we never know the outcome of our conversations or our actions until we get to glory. We are not to worry as long as we have done what we can.
Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 3:6 – 8 “ I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labour. “
I understand that in 1934 the American evangelist Mordecai Ham had a crusade through the southern states of America and one of the few converted was a young lad. In numerical terms it wasn’t a great success. However God was in control of events as the young lad concerned was Billy Graham.
Our duty is to plant the seed and leave it to God to do the rest. Sometimes our job is to help the seeds planted by others to grow. Likewise others may be in the position to help and encourage those who journey of faith was started by what we said and did.
Its not just the job of the minister and the leadership team. We are all ministers of the gospel and Christ’s ambassadors.
Some 30 years ago when I was in banking I had a lady come to see me as I had turned her down for a personal loan. It just didn’t seem a realistic proposition. The lady told me the loan was for an operation for her teenage son which the NHS wouldn’t fund. She then said that she was a Christian and had been praying about the matter and felt God had said to apply for the loan as he would provide for her. At the time I was a “church goer” not a Christian. It amazed me that God wanted to be involved in the nuts and bolts of everyday life. I granted the loan application. The young man had his operation and is now involved with a youth ministry in his local church, and his son is an intern with a Christian Organisation, going about spreading the gospel seed wherever he is sent. And for me it was one of the stepping stones on my journey to faith. I later joined the church this lady attended and ministered alongside her for quite a few years in a prayer healing group.
Whenever we say the Lord’s prayer whether its on our own or in church we say these words “Your kingdom come, your will be done”
Do we know what we are saying?
What is the Kingdom of God?
Somewhere in the Middle ages people got it wrong and thought that it was a military kingdom or empire. Or they felt it was the Roman Catholic church ruled by the Pope. So there were the crusades and wars against those of other faiths and belief systems. And yet Paul in Ephesians 6:12 tells us who the enemies really are: “ For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
The Kingdom of God is where God rules in the hearts and minds of men and women and where his will is done. So in you and me, the kingdom of God came to be the moment we repented of our sins and accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour.
Each one of us has had a different journey of faith. For some the seed of faith was planted and germinated almost immediately and suddenly there we were a Christian, a new creation.
Others, the seed may have laid dormant for many years and to all intents and purposes we were lost for all eternity. But slowly the seed sprouted and our understanding grew until the point came where we realised the true about our lives and the changes we needed to make to be saved.
Either way the result is the same, some one saved and “born again” and destined for eternal life.
To try and help people understand Jesus likens the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed. The black mustard or “Brassica nigra” has seeds that are very small perhaps 1 or 2 mm in size. Yet when planted it germinates and grows quickly to about nine foot or 2.7 metres. So quite a sizeable plant.
The Roman author Pliny the elder writing in about 78AD said “”mustard… is extremely beneficial for the health. It grows entirely wild, though it is improved by being transplanted: but on the other hand when it has once been sown it is scarcely possible to get the place free of it, as the seed when it falls germinates at once.”
- Beneficial to mankind’s health
- It grows beyond man’s control
- Once started its difficult to stop
Many people over the last 2000 years have tried unsuccessfully to stop God’s kingdom growing on earth. The Roman emperors tried, the French Revolutionaries tried, the Nazis tried and the Communists tried. They have mostly gone but God’s kingdom continues in the hearts of men and women.
Despite more than 60 years of communist rule in China the number of Christians is growing and there is thought to be between 100 and 300 million believers in that country!
Back in 1949 a revival started in the Hebrides. It started small, two housebound elderly ladies who prayed into a promise God had given them and a small group of men praying in a barn night after night for months for a revival. God honoured their prayers and a revival came which swept though the Hebrides for three years.
See: http://www.holytrinitynewrochelle.org/yourti19195.html for a brief overview of what happened in the Hebrides. Its an amazing read.
Or going further back in history we read in Acts 2 of a small group of believers who through the power of the Holy Spirit started the early church. Seeds of the kingdom were sown and on that day of Pentecost 3000 people came to faith.
In Acts 8 we read about one of my favourite characters Philip. Having sown the gospel in Samaria and seen many come to faith, Philip keeps a God made appointment on the desert road with an Ethiopian. Someone else has clearly planted a seed in that man’s heart and Philip through the Holy Spirit is able to help the seed germinate and grow. The man is saved and according to legend goes back to Ethiopia and founds the church which is still there and growing 2000 years later.
The Kingdom of God has been spread like mustard seeds planted in the ground.
And today Jesus commands each and everyone of us to go out and spread the gospel, the good news of the kingdom. Like the farmer who sows the seed we are not to worry about the germination and growing process, that is up to God, but we are to plant the seed.
The results of our labours will astound us just as the fully grown mustard plant astounds those who have only seen the seed.
Our prayer today should be “Your kingdom come and let it start with me”. Amen.