Last week we heard the parable of the weeds and I talked quite a bit about the need for us to recognize that sometimes the things that we think are weeds are in fact not. The parable led us to believe that the weeds are the undesirable things that have popped up in the Kingdom of God and that in the end God will decide who belongs and who doesn’t. This of course does not give us license to make that decision, it is God’s decision alone. I also talked about how the weeds we need to pay attention to are the weeds that are within us, the things that separate us from God, which are, by definition, sins. The parable of the mustard seed, which we heard just a little while ago, follows right behind the parable of the weeds and they are very much related. You see, in the ancient world mustard trees were not cultivated they, grew wild, so in effect they were weeds. The seeds were annoying because they were so small they would go unnoticed in the bags of wheat seeds and before the farmer new it they had a field full of wheat, mixed with little mustard trees; the mustard trees would take nutrients away from the beautiful and orderly rows of crops so lovingly planted by the farmer. So, if mustard seeds are so troubling to the ancient farmer, why then does Jesus tell us that the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed?
I think this is an interesting question to ponder and it gets at the heart of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, and I think we should begin by remembering that Kingdom living is the exception not the rule. The teachings of Jesus are contrary to human nature, which is what makes his message so radical. The purpose of kingdom of living is to remove the barriers between ourselves and God, which is really hard work because just when we make a breakthrough, something else takes its place. Let me give you an analogy. Some people, not me, like to have a beautiful lawn, with lush green grass and to achieve this they fertilize it, water it, treat the soil and cut it regularly to ensure that the grass looks perfect. Well, sometimes strange plants will appear in the middle of the grass and the owner will pull them out; but then a few days later another plant will appear, and they will once again remove it. This process repeats itself time and time again frustrating the owner because they are working so hard to achieve the perfect look, but they are never successful because the weeds keep coming. The homeowner is us, and the lawn, which we are so desperately trying to perfect, is our lives. We keep getting rid of the things that we believe do not belong, or that we don’t think we have time for, but in our zealousness to create a sense of perfection, we forget that we are not capable of perfection. You see the weed is God, continually pushing into the perfection we strive to create in our lives, perfection based on our own desires and our own sense of order, not God’s.
The parable of the mustard seed is trying to teach us several things. One is that God does things their own way, sometimes God will be mixed in with the things we think we are supposed to be doing, like the farmer who plants wheat and finds mustard trees, we strive to be people of faith, but sometimes we fall short, sometimes we forget that maintaining an ordered and controlled life may not actually be doing God’s work. The other thing that I think this parable teaches us is that faith starts small. At some point we all felt the presence of God in our lives and that is why we are here today, at least that is why I hope we are here today. The kingdom of God will not be built by following rules or by perfectly adhering to the daily office, it is built through relationships; both our relationships with God and our relationship with one another. Loving our neighbors means we must be in relationship with them. It means that we actively look for the mustard seed that God has planted in them so that we can do our part to help that seed grow into a strong tree of faith, that other people can then rely on. Jesus, of course, is the perfect example of this. He loved so much that we continue to turn to his teachings and his actions as an example of how we are to conduct ourselves. Jesus turned no one away, whether they believed his message or not, he treated everyone the same. The kingdom of heaven, like the mustard seed, invades the cultivated soil of our lives, it messes with the perfection we strive to create, and it grows in unexpected ways. It is not our place to determine how or where, or even when the kingdom of God will appear in someone else life. It is not our place to tell someone else how to cultivate their relationship with God, nor is it our place to judge them for any reason. God meets all people where they are and so must we. The most we can, or should do is cultivate our own relationship with God through the study of scripture, through prayer, and through active love; active love that embraces not only the people we meet in church, but even the people who resist the idea of God and then ask us to bury their parents. Our only job is to love them as God loves them, the rest is out of our control. Amen.