Seeds of Faith: the Parable of the Mustard Seed

Matthew 13:31-32

Parable of the mustard seed

31 He told another parable to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and planted in his field. 32  It’s the smallest of all seeds. But when it’s grown, it’s the largest of all vegetable plants. It becomes a tree so that the birds in the sky come and nest in its branches.”


Thoughts on the passage:

Usually when I start a sermon using just a couple of verses I get worried.  A preacher can do great damage by just working from a few verses because taken out of context a verse or two can be used to say almost anything.  Fortunately, our text today is both short but also meant to be self-contained.  In these two verses, Jesus gives us another way of thinking about the kingdom of heaven.  While this passage echoes themes from the passages around it, it is also meant to stand on its own as a clear message about the kingdom of heaven.

Despite its small size the parable has two big messages.  First it talks about the importance of the seed being planted.  Second it tells us what will happen when the seed is planted.  Each part is equally important when it comes to understanding the meaning behind this parable.

First, the seed is planted.  I think we cannot ignore this part of the passage.  The kingdom of heaven starts out as this small little seed and like any other seed, it needs some help to realize its potential.  The kingdom of heaven needs to be planted somewhere for it to begin its work.  Without that planting the kingdom is nothing more than potential, sitting and waiting until someone is ready to take action.

Second, when it is planted this small little seed becomes so much more.  Now the seed grows until suddenly it is this tree, a home for the birds.  The kingdom of heaven is meant to offer shelter to all who need it.  Maybe it is stretching the meaning, but I think it is also important to highlight that it is all birds who are able to find shelter and even more, the tree is offering shelter to the birds and not offering something to the person who planted the seed.

Jesus is trying to teach his disciples about the kingdom of heaven.  First he wants them to know that it is going to require action on their part.  This is not new.  As we talked about in the parable of the sower a couple of weeks ago, Jesus is already challenging his disciples to step into the role of a worker.  The Gospel of Matthew culminates after all in the Great Commission where the disciples are given the challenge to go forth and make disciples of all nations.  This parable is just one part of his larger challenge to them to do God’s work in the world.

Second, Jesus wants the disciples to understand what it is the kingdom of heaven offers.  The kingdom of heaven is place of shelter and refuge.  It is a place where people can feel safe and build a home.  While Christ’s inclusive message is more clearly stated in Luke, Matthew also focuses at times on the reminder that this Good News is meant for all people.  Once brought about the kingdom of heaven is not just for the chosen few, it is offering a place for all.

What does this parable have to offer us today?  Just as it was a call to action for the disciples I think it is a call to action for us.  Just as it was meant to challenge the disciples I think it is meant to challenge us.  As we read this passage we are called to think about what we are doing to plant the kingdom of heaven in the world.  We are also called to remember that the kingdom is something that does not just benefit us, it is meant for everyone.

When we think about what we need to do, I think we can take some comfort that what we are called to do is to start small.  The seed that gives birth to the kingdom is this tiny seed, so small you might not think it capable of much.  It is out of this tiny seed that great things will happen.  As disciples of Jesus and as a congregation, we too need to start by thinking about the little things we can do to make a difference.  Even the smallest actions can bring about great change.

Many years ago, a small seed was planted in this congregation.  The seed was this new idea of offering a free meal to anyone in the community who was hungry.  It was a small seed since the meal would only occur once a month and even as it started only a few people came to the meal.  Over time that seed sprouted and began to grow.  Last week we served over one hundred and fifty people at our Community Meal.  Not a record for us, but years later it is a strong reminder of the impact of that seed of an idea years ago.

Our Community Meals are like that mustard seed.  The small act of offering a meal and a place to gather has profound effects.  Through the meal we are helping to create community.  Group homes, where people are often isolated from the world are able to take their residents out to mingle with others and connect to the larger community.  Elderly people who might otherwise eat alone can share in a meal with friends and strangers.  People who are still struggling to get by can get a filling meal to help them make it through the month.  That tiny seed we planted offers some large branches for many people to call home.

Many years ago as well we planted another seed, the idea of reaching out to our Hispanic neighbors.  Through invitations and conversations, a bond was formed and now a Hispanic congregation worships in our Fellowship Hall every week.  The simple seed, opening our doors and being welcoming, allows a congregation to come to know God and to find a home in our church.  The kingdom of heaven has room for us all.

Finally, just two years ago we planted another seed.  Despite declining numbers of youth and a struggle to find funds, we hired a youth director.  Now we see more youth who are finding a home in our church.  Families can bring their children knowing that here they will be welcomed.  The seeds we planted are starting to grow and expand the kingdom of heaven.

We are planting new seeds as a congregation as well.  We are developing a nursery to reach our youngest members and offer a home for them.  We are building a playground to reach out to children in our congregation and the community who want a place to play.  We are partnering with local organizations to provide milk to families in need.  Each of these are just tiny seeds, but through them we are helping to build the kingdom of heaven.

Each of us is like that tiny seed as well.  We can feel like we have so little impact in the world.  “Never doubt that a few thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” (Margaret Mead)  We are tiny seeds but through us God wants to work to build the kingdom of heaven.  Maybe all we offer is a huge to a stranger who really needs it.  Maybe all we can offer is a smile to someone who is having a hard day.  The smallest actions on our part can make a world of difference to someone.  God is asking us to be those seeds that bring about great changes.  As disciples of Christ we are called to help bring about the kingdom of heaven.  As we prepare for Easter let us remember the greatest things can start from the smallest of actions.  With faith in God, we can move mountains.

Questions to Ponder:

What is one small thing you can do to make a difference in the church or the community?

What image would you use to describe the kingdom of heaven?

Who do you think God is calling us to offer hospitality to now or who can you reach out to and share God’s message of love?

Prayer: Spirit, stir in our hearts this Lenten journey.  Help us to till the soil of our lives and plant seeds of faith.  Water us with your grace that we might flourish in your name. AMEN