(Written for Scripture on 10/30/18)
Thomas ran into our room at 4:50 this morning, wide awake, his shirt and bed covered in pee pee. After sharing the story of his situation, stomping around the room seemed to him like a good activity. I suppose because an almost three year old has as much energy at 5am as 11am. In my fierce and bleary eyed commitment to keep Elizabeth asleep, I put on sweats and wrapped Thomas up, while Ian pulled the stroller from our garage. And out Thomas, our pitbull Honey, and I went for a very early morning walk.
We like to listen to a “song and story” in the morning on an app called Pray as You Go. I highly suggest if you haven’t heard of it. This app comes out of the UK, and provides about 10-15 minutes of prayer with beautiful music and reading/reflection on Scripture from the day.
After the “song” it was time for the “story,” and a lovely British man began to read today’s Gospel. It is a parable describing the Kingdom of God. In this Gospel, Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed that is planted and grows, and to yeast mixed with flour to become leavened dough.
My family grew up watching Saturday Night Live: The Best of Will Ferrell. My siblings and I would regularly pop in the DVD, and sit in our family room, laughing, repeating every word from our favorite skits. So, naturally, the first thing I thought of upon hearing this parable was Jeopardy with Will Ferrell as Alex Trebek.
Character, Turd Ferguson crudely misnames a category, and Alex Trebek frustratingly corrects him, “That’s Condiments for 400.”
Alex Trebek: “This condiment is made from mustard seeds.”
French Stewart: “The answer, of course, is onions.”
Alex Trebek: “That’s not the right answer… The answer was mustard. Mustard is made from mustard seeds.”
After hearing Will Ferrell repeat “mustard is made from mustard seeds” in my mind, and laughing to myself while pushing Thomas in the dark, I began reflect: What does a mustard seed reveal about how Jesus wants us to understand the Kingdom of God?
I remember holding a mustard seed once, and it is minuscule; smaller than a poppy seed. And, like other seeds, its appearance does not indicate all it will become. There is a sort of mystery to it. We did not create it, and are not totally in control it. There is a hidden potentiality to it that requires our cooperation, but is not of our imagining or design.
The Kingdom of God as a mustard seed begins in a form too small to matter to most, and becomes something too large to ignore, providing life, shelter, and safety to what surrounds it. “When it was fully grown, it became a large bush and ‘the birds of the sky dwelt in its branches’” (Lk 13:19). The kingdom of God is not stagnant, but teeming with life. When nourished, it grows not only for itself but also for the delight and service of all that surrounds it.
When I don’t think on it, I experience the phrase “the kingdom of God” as removed, nondescript, lacking in meaning, and disengaging. But, when it grows in my imagination as something living with hidden potential, something creative and beautiful, and something life-giving for me and those around me, it starts to take on some substance.
So, how can this manifest in my life?
First, I think I need to wake up a little to what surrounds me. If God dwells in things that can at first be hidden, God’s life is in people, places and experiences that I haven’t thought of or opened my heart to.
Second, God is always creating for our good. God is not in my control, and things around me are not in my total control. How can I open my life to something greater and more beautiful than what I have planned?
Finally, the Kingdom of God isn’t for itself, but for others. It encourages and sustains life. The mustard seed grows in order to be a nest for the “birds of the sky.” If I am going to be a dwelling place for God’s Kingdom, I am called to challenge myself every day to be a person of service, generosity, love, hope, and joy for others. Each of us are called in different ways, but we are all called to be for each other.
Do stories about mustard seeds and the Kingdom matter for our lives? I think they do, if we let them. If they open our minds to new ideas, engage us in caring for others, challenge us to become better versions of ourselves, ignite within us hope for something more beautiful than what we have planned or can see. If Jesus can describe the Kingdom of God using mustard seeds, imagine what he can do with us.