He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.” He also 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.” With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.[NRSV]
There was a time when the penny was made of copper and would buy small items in the store. Now it is simply the fraction of tax that helps us feel better about spending $39.99 instead of wasting 40 bucks. When I ran for the office of President of the United States in 2000 to celebrate my 35th birthday, one of my platform items was to only mint pennies for numismatists and casual coin collectors, so that we could conserve our copper supply, allow accountants to sleep at night and kids at fast food establishments could make change. What good is the penny?
The mighty penny might seem insignificant much like a tiny mustard seed in the text. There was a time where pennies were collected as the first apportionment in our Methodist tradition to build a church for worship. Together, the pennies added up to reach a common goal just as profit margins on gasoline and at grocery stores are volume types of business. But the adage that pennies add up to dollars is a good starting point for reading the parable from Jesus.
One year at Vacation Bible School we collected nickles to help the United Methodist Committee on Relief effort to respond to the victims of Katrina. Each day the children were invited to bring in nickles which were affixed to long strands of tape that wrapped around the sanctuary several time reflecting a couple hundred dollars of nickles. On the same week, the neighboring Baptist church held their VBS and agreed to pool our resources to the same effort. A great witness of cooperation, ecumenical effort and common sense. At the Baptist church they had asked the children to bring in one dollar bills each day that were taped together, end to end, and also wrapped around their sanctuary a few times. The differences was in the total. Nearly the same effort to give, the difference was their seed was larger.
Jesus is using a gardening and farming illustration to look at the effectiveness of broadcasting compared to targeted conversations of witness. In summary of the text: We do not know how or where one little seed of faith, grace, compassion, feeding, healing, forgiving, love, trusting, blessing will inspire fruitful faith of someone else. But the mustard bush is more of a weed. The text has a double depth of meaning if we read it hearing how God can make weeds we might cut down and discard something useful and necessary.
A second, and very Methodist part of the text, is Jesus’s description of a process of spiritual growth. We start with someone sowing a seed, but that is followed by power in God’s creation that has nothing to do with us beginning to germinate what one person beings. First the stalk, then the head and then the full grain. The structure or core support system comes first, then the evidence of the maturity and THEN follows the fruit of the whole process.
The nano-second world we fly through is reluctant to hand on for the process. Imagine yourself watching a beautiful large screen television with 4K resolution and super surround sound in a custom contour recliner with refreshment access. Some team of producers, directors, investors, designers, musicians, technicians, actors, marketers, promoters and accountants have spend months and millions of dollars to create a movie experience to entertain you. You hold in your hand the powerful remote control with fresh batteries. How long does it take for you to decide if you want to watch the two hours of drama, action, comedy or information that awaits you? It takes just a about one second for the image to change per remote click, (new remote reducing to .5 seconds). Average view spends ten minutes reviewing 200 channels during an average 2-3 hours of time watching per day. (10 out of 120 minutes surfing), but 80% of the time they revert to ten favorite channels.
Whether we are are overwhelmed by choice, attention defects, devote that kind of time to our decisions, or like the control part facet of operating a remote, I invite you to step back from this common practice and think about the tiny bits of time and information that are involved in this daily exercise. (It is humorous to talk use the word exercise when talking about tv remotes.) Nonetheless, small visual clues based on past experiences, current stimulus signals, small movements of the thumb or finger indicate how we will be informed or entertained, How we spend 2-3 hours of each 24 hours. 10% of that time in devoted to searching and scanning.
Transfer this set of skills and behaviors. If we spend 2-3 hours studying scripture and books of faith and inspiration, how different would our 24 hours be? 2-3 hours of faith driving content, music, videos, ebooks, etc. Imagine how this would shape our own faith identity, our church and the world.
Think back about the process describe in Jesus’ parable teaching: First the seed, time to develop a structure, following the structure produces maturity, maturity produces fruitful witness, life and relationships.
Take a double look and hear the God is at work even in the relationships we might write off as unimportant can become the place others thrive. So take care to grow more than you cut out.
We have the ability to make small actions of shaping our faith and the future of the church. The task is to be intentional.
INTENTIONAL SPIRITUAL GROWTH
- First the seed
- Then the stalk
- Then the head
- Then the full fruit
I would make a case that we allow our spiritual seeds to become “genetically modified” by those who use the church, rather than nurtured by the church. We have allowed the power of Christs presence for the shell of a body of tradition or a competitive entertainment . We need to get to the good seeds and scatter them far and near, and often We need to get back to sharing and planting and teaching the seeds of our faith.
- God loves us, unconditionally
- God has purpose for us, without doubt
- God is with us, the presence of God’s spirit
- God has made a way, Jesus and the cross
- God is seen, through the intentional fruits of the church
- God is real
- God wants our heart, our trust, our love
- God connects us
These are the seeds that we need to know, encourage and rely on in every day.
The seed is neither mighty nor the end of the story.. it is the continuous flow of starting points, that are repeated in every season.
- Plant seeds of faith, small ones, every day, every where, every one.
- Develop the stalk, don’t tear someone down, build the structure and support
- Start with the heart work toward the head, rather than reverse.. roots grow with stalk, not the fruit first
- Fruit is for sharing and enjoying and replanting