Sunday, February 26, 2017

Parable: Mustard Seed & Yeast

I have been to Bahrain, Denmark, Japan, Kuwait, Morocco, the Netherlands, Norway, Saudi Arabia, and the United Kingdom.  I have been to many other countries as well, but these still in some regards consider themselves kingdoms.  Most function from constitutional governments of some sorts but others have powers residing in an Emir or King.

At the end of our revolutionary war, having defeated an unjust tyrant and proclaimed our liberty from England, many wanted to make George Washington a king.  The very thing that our forefathers despised so much—all power vested in a single person—was what many proposed.  It took more than a dozen years, but eventually our forefathers came up with a remarkable document that we know as the constitution. 

The Hebrew people, living in the Promised Land in a tribal manner, looked around and saw powerful nations that all had kings and decided that they needed one as well.  Even though they would pay dearly with their sons and daughters, land and livestock, and reliance upon human might instead of God’s righteousness, they insisted on a king.

God obliged them with Samuel, then David, the Solomon, then a divided kingdom.

You can’t blame the people for asking.  In God’s promise to Abraham, he told the father of all nations that kings would come from his lineage. 

Kingdoms are impressive things.  Kings have power and authority and armies and fortresses and wealth.  Kingdoms come with crowns and thrones, trumpets and attendants, and so many other things that say: “Look at how impressive I am.”

And so this guy who is talking to a large crowd, so large that he has to push away from shore in a boat so he is not crowded and can speak to everyone, he says that the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.
Are you kidding me?

The Kingdom of God has to be something bigger than any kingdom on earth.  Right?  But this guy in the boat makes a point of how small the seed is.  The kingdom of God is like the smallest of seeds.

We know the man in the boat to be Jesus and this to be a very, very short parable about the Kingdom of Heaven.  We don’t know exactly which plant that he was talking about.  It may not be the mustard plant that we know today.

What we do know is that tiny seed would grow into a plant large enough that birds would nest in it.  Birds generally don’t nest in shrubs where their offspring would become breakfast for wild animals that would pass by.  Small seed—big plant, that’s the parable.

The Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven is something that grows.  That probably stood in contrast to what people expected.  You would think if you had existed for all eternity, then you might have already established your kingdom.  But Jesus tells those who would listen that God’s kingdom would grow.

How exactly, is left to some interpretation.  Short parables sometimes leave much room for interpretation and discussion.  Many would say that from a handful of disciples it would spread and grow throughout the world.  That seems reasonable.  It is a historical perspective for sure.  We have witnessed that and in many parts of the world, we still witness fantastic growth once the gospel has been shared.

Jesus followed this short parable with an even shorter parable.  The Kingdom of Heaven is like a woman mixing yeast into dough.  Before you know it, it is working throughout the dough.

Maybe the Kingdom of God is at work inside of us. Maybe the Kingdom of Heaven is growing inside of us.  Maybe our images of worldly kingdoms have distorted the kingdom that God desires for us.

If we truly desire eyes to see and ears to hear, we will know that our profession of faith is not the finish line, but the beginning of an entirely new journey.  Our race has just begun.

The Holy Spirit resides within us and is ready for us to experience the Kingdom of God.  The question is:  “Are we ready?”

Are we ready to grow?  Jesus said, that’s the way the kingdom works.  It grows.

We describe our discipleship as a walk or a race or a journey, but we must realize that none of these metaphors describe tourists. 

Empowered by God’s Spirit living within us, we engage the world and we grow.  We grow in fellow believers and we grow in our spiritual maturity.

The kingdom grows both externally and internally, except when it doesn’t.  Why wouldn’t it?  Do things get in our way?

I pondered this question for a while this week and when I was through pondering the question; I googled it.  I should have stuck with my own meditative thoughts.  I couldn’t believe the volume of things that people are saying get in their way of spiritual growth, growing in grace, or growing as disciples.  There is some stuff getting in the way.  Maybe we should go back to the parable of the sower and start making lists of weeds choking out spiritual growth.

I found some that might hit home with most people, even those who picked up their cross and took on the yoke of Jesus decades ago.

Here is one—forgetting God.  How could a Christian forget God?  There is this almost humorous cycle that we go through called sleep.  Some get more of it than others, but eventually we all sleep.

Then we awaken.  Day after day, we awaken.  How long does it take us to get our hearts and minds focused on God every time that we awaken?  The phone rings early in the morning.  The alarm doesn’t go off and we are behind from the git-go; or nothing special happens and we just forget that God belongs first and foremost in everything that we do.
It happens.

Want another one?  Of course you don’t want another distractor from growth, but do you want to hear about another one?

Negativity and complaining seem truly invasive these days.  Everyone and everything seems overly subject to ridicule in this modern time.  And since when did complaining become a career choice?

Did we forget Paul’s counsel to the Philippians?  Try to do everything without complaining and arguing.

There are days that I am ready to cancel our satellite service.  Complain, argue, complain, argue, complain, argue, complain—that’s the model—and I pay for this stuff.  If I want something to grow I add water and fertilizer, not kerosene and toxic waste.

Here is one that gets some people—restlessness.  We want things and experiences that we don’t have.  We are not content in our circumstances.  We make senseless comparisons. 

Why?  We are not doing the things that we know to do—that God’s Spirit is leading us to do.  We want other things.  James counsels us that when we know what we ought to do and don’t do it, then it is sin.

Up for another one?  Not going “all in.”  Perhaps this is the most difficult, especially in a time and place where we have so much.  Even those who have little have much in this country, but are we willing to say, “It’s all yours, Lord?”  What if he wants me to give more money or go to Africa or Asia and spread the gospel, or worse, to the guy across the street?

Think about a farmer who plants his wheat field and three fourths of the seed decides, “I’m not sure about this season.”  What sort of crop do you expect when only 25% of your seed is “all in?”

But what if?  We can easily talk ourselves out just about anything.  We can “what if” ourselves out of growing in God’s grace.  But we forget that in God’s grace is truly the only safe place to grow.

Instead of the prohibitive “what if;” we should substitute, “I wonder what God has in store for me today!”

OK, one more:  Judging others.  Maybe we should skip that one.  The old lumberyard in the eye is alive and well in 2017.  For as much as we want to follow Jesus, our judgmental nature often gets in the way.  We are not talking about discernment, but condemnation.  Discernment comes when we leverage the wisdom that comes from God and when we apply it with mercy.  Condemnation of others is not something that belongs to us.  We may condemn practices but not people.

Having grasped the salvation that we cherish so much and for which we paid nothing (not that it was cheap but that we did not pay the high price by which it came),  we think that others should pay more, if they are even qualified at all.

If we find ourselves sitting in the judgment seat, get up.  First of all, it’s not our seat.  Second, we are not growing while we are seated there.

These two short parables tell us that we are meant to grow in grace and God’s kingdom is meant to grow in us and for us to do that, we must take on the yoke of our Master.

It is not too hard for us, but it is a deliberate and daily decision to follow Christ Jesus.  If we find that we are doing something or even just thinking something that gets us off track, we need to get rid of that something.

We are to strip off, cast off, get rid of anything that hinders as we follow Jesus.  We are to follow him.  We are to grow in God’s grace, and because of this, God’s kingdom will grow in us and in the world.

While we want God’s kingdom to grow in numbers in the world; we are told that the love of many will grow cold and people are just going to look for preachers who will tickle their ears as we grow near the end of this age.  We will do all that our Master asks of us to plant seeds of faith wherever we go and some will take root and produce a bountiful harvest, but all that we really can know about the growth of the Kingdom of Heaven is what transpires in us.

These are two very short parables but they both are anchored in a huge concept—growth.  We are made to grow in God’s grace and God’s kingdom will grow in us.

Each parable begins with someone beginning with something small—the farmer with the mustard seed or a woman with a little yeast—and continues with growth that people witnessed and accepted in their day.  Growth was not a novel concept.

The Kingdom of Heaven growing in them, well, that’s something that has to grow on you.  It surely took some thinking and discussion, and probably didn’t hit home right away.  We have the advantage of hindsight and a comprehensive Bible.  We should catch on more quickly than the original audience.

Listen to these two short parables once more.  This time in the New Living Translation.

Here is another illustration Jesus used: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in its branches.”

Jesus also used this illustration: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.”

As we grow in grace—and we have to be willing to grow—God’s kingdom grows in us.

As we take on the yoke of our Master and learn from him, the Kingdom of Heaven grows in and around us.

We must not focus on how small the seed or the amount of yeast seems in comparison to something else.  We know—because Jesus said so—that both will grow and spread and become the fullness that we need.

There is a Kingdom of Heaven that is surely beyond our comprehension in size, scope, and every human dimension.  God’s Kingdom will be something beyond our imagination.

Within it is our inheritance that’s been waiting on us since before the creation of the world.  It will surely contain what eye has not seen and ear has not heard but that the Lord, our God, has in store for us.

And for those who are worried that it will come under terrorist attack, there will surely be two United States Marines posted at the gates.

There is a kingdom that we will come to know in due time, but there is a kingdom that we are to come to know now.  I’m sure that it is one in the same, but while we live in these vessels of flesh and blood, the realization that the Holy Spirit lives within us is that the Kingdom of God is growing inside as well.

The invisible Spirit that was given to us when we professed Jesus as Lord is manifested in the growing of the kingdom inside of us.

The word of the week is GROW.  Let us grow in God’s grace.  Let God’s kingdom grow in us.


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