“Like a Mustard Seed”
Matthew 13: 31-33, July 26th, 2029
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now these two parables from these ancient words recorded in the gospel according to Matthew, chapter thirteen, verses thirty-one thru thirty-three.”
31 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” 33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
“Having heard these parables with our ears, let us now open our hearts as we consider how we can apply their intended meaning into our current times, in the here and now.”
“Like a Mustard Seed”
Understanding the parables of Jesus usually cause us to ask more questions… verses giving us the answers to questions we may have wanted clarity about. This is perhaps what makes the writings of Jesus so challenging to interpret. To truly get any clarity about these two short metaphors of Jesus’ we are going to need to launch a simple investigation into what we know; and then see if we can’t get more clarity, albeit we will need to use questions to get there. Our stories are about simple comparisons regarding things which are meant to help us clarify some questions most of us wonder about! Jesus leads off with a simple thought, “heaven is like a mustard seed.” Then he goes on to make a second comparison saying, “heaven is like yeast.” Of course, those two phrases are only the beginning of, two complex sentences that hopefully will give us more clues. The mustard seed, one of the tiniest of seeds, which when planted becomes a mighty shrub, and ultimately can grow into a tree. Jesus goes on to tell us that the birds made nests in the branches. OK, so what does this have to do with heaven? This is what we need to clarify. Now the yeast was used to make bread which is what pumps all that air into bread to make it ‘rise-up’, making big, fluffy, and nourishing bread! Again, how does this pertain to heaven? The key to unlocking these parables are still outside our grasp. Therefore, let us investigate and see what we can see!
Kyle Childress, a theologian, tells us, “God’s ‘Way’ is quiet, small, slow, and humble, yet persistent and unrelenting.” As I read her introductory thoughts about this scripture, I felt she was comparing the slow and methodical way a tiny mustard seed grows and grows… till it becomes a mighty bush, as our scripture tells us. Then we are told the bush becomes a tree. Logic tells us that this took a good long, long time! The irony is in how this theologian, refers to the ‘Way’ in which God does things; verses how you and I want things to be! If you and I are like average folks, we want a fast and quick solution to things, with a loud and powerful outcome and we want it now! Yet, history tells us this is not the way of it at all. Sure, there are many dramatic accounts within the pages of scripture, yet the prolog to such events usually has a long-time gap between the course of events.
Most of us know the story contained in the book of Exodus regarding how the Hebrews had become slaves, but then God sends Moses to lead them to freedom. We know the sequence of events, over a course of time, Moses led the people out of Egypt and out of bondage. (Do you remember how long that took?) It was a whole lot longer than the movie, “The Ten Commandments” in which Charlton Heston played the part of Moses took to make! When the people were finally set free to roam the dry wastelands, on their way to the promised land, it took a long time, the scriptures say. The Hebrew words said something like: “they wandered for a long, long time,” generally, interpreted as forty years! Generations came and went before they made it to the promised land. They traveled slowly as they encounter many obstacles along the way; they became humbled by the scorching heat of the desert wasteland. It was during their journey that they became honed, prepared, and perfected to be the people of God. Consequently, as hard as this is, we must look for the deeper meaning of things as God prepares us for the things ‘yet’ to be. We must humbly yield to the persistence of God’s unrelenting way.
We need to be prepared for the ‘long haul’, for we too are now journeying through unchartered wastelands. If we truly desire to learn what heaven is like, we shall need to persevere. As we continue on let us look deeper into what heaven is like. This is a question which is in the forefront of our scripture today. A lot has been written regarding heaven. Some say they have ‘actually’ made it to the gates of heaven and been sent back because it is not yet their time. Others tell stories of loved ones who have seen a bright white light which many believe – when their time on earth comes to an end – the light shall lead them to heaven. Others have spoken of having ‘visions’ of their loved ones speaking to them of their need to leave, even as they lay in critical condition in a hospital bed – strongly suggesting they knew to where they were going. There are many, many other accountings of heaven to be sure. Yet, none can tell us for certain what heaven shall be like.
Even more concerning, to a great many believers and non-believers alike, is the question regarding ‘who’ amongst us shall actually get a ticket to enter the gates of heaven. This is the billion-dollar question. Why a billion, you ask? Well it was the million-dollar question when my grandfather and my uncle preached this sermon… inflation has done the rest! Kind of like yeast that inflates the size of a loaf of bread, making it more appealing and enjoyable to eat! So, is it like so many have lightly jested; will Saint Peter greet us at the gate? We want to be greeted by someone who has gone before us, for sure. But most stories center around being greeted by beloved family members who have been lost and deeply missed. If heaven is going to be like a mustard seed, then our expectations need to grow and grow until our vision takes in all the saints who have gone before us! Right after we reunite with our personal loved ones, let us grow even move humble that God would and will meet this expectation! Or must our humility be puffed up, as yeast raises-up bread, making it very tasty and enjoyable as well as a staple in the average diet! With a deeper, stronger willingness to embrace heaven as God has envisioned it!
Heaven is perhaps one of the most mystical places ever imagined. I dare say that each of us have our own personal feelings about its location. Feelings, verses clear understandings about its precise location; and its footprint within the vast expanse of space and time within our hemisphere; or is it within the expanse of the universe in which we we need to consider. Where then is heaven? Even young children have been known to ask this question when given just a taste of our faith and beliefs, through scripture and our witness to God’s existence. Surely, the Lord’s prayer gives us a clue. “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come; thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Heaven is where God is! Heaven is projected to come; come where? Or are we to go to heaven as many believe? The prayer asks that the will of God be done, both on earth ‘as it is in’ heaven. This suggest that heaven shall be here on earth!
Many have pronounced, exclaimed even, that they have been to the other side of heaven. It is believed it is hotter there and most would testify it is a place of anguish and misery. Many would cause us to believe Satan’s mansion is here on earth already! Watching the news, we hear about: murder, mayhem, and disease of all types! Hunger and homelessness are on the rise! Racism, bigotry, and injustice are talked about at every level of society. Surely, heaven will be a place that puts an end to all of this! Which leads us to the next phase of our discussion. That is correct. We all want to know when is the time, when shall we get to experience the peace of which Christ is believed to have spoken of? When do we go to heaven? Some say it happens the moment we pass from this life to the next. Those who follow the Biblical accounts of scripture, like the book of Revelations, have come to think we get to heaven when the end of time comes. And heaven only knows when that will be! The scriptures speak or elude to heaven a lot. We are even told to get ready and be prepared. Yet, we are reminded, over, and over again, no one knows the day nor the hour in which we shall be ‘called’ home.
Why do we talk so much about heaven and why do we want to get there? Why would Jesus refer to a mustard seed and some yeast to speak of what it is like? Precisely because it is the place where folks would like to be and they, we would like to be there, as well! The Mustard seed “it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree.” “So that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” /Matthew 13:32/ Therefore, heaven is a place of comfort, a place where it is safe to have a home and bring up a family. We know that God gives the birds of the air a place to nest and raise their offspring. Surely, when we get to heaven all manner of God’s children shall be able to do likewise. When we reread this scripture, just before we fall off to sleep tonight, let us feel in our hears and see within the realms of our faith the “hope” which Jesus is offering to us today! Just as yeast raises-up bread, making it very tasty and enjoyable as well as a staple in the average diet, so too shall the love of God raise us up, nourishing us with all that we shall need and even more! If yeast is to be compared to what heaven is like, we may need to adjust to an afterlife that is pleasant and enjoyable; pleasing to the ‘mind’s-eye’ and an enjoyable place to reside through-out eternity!
Last, but not least, how do we get to heaven? Is it by God’s grace or is it through our deeds? Let us not get into this debate, a debate that has split and separated the church of Jesus Christ for over two millennia! Rather let us see how we can be part of the new church which is emerging. How can we be part of the movement which shall form the vision upon which we can see it grow like a mighty bush; spreading its branches for the children of God, to build a new church image where all people will be able to be at peace, as they build new families and a new ‘way’ – in the vision of Christ himself!
The Rev. Dr. Janet H. Hunt gives us something to ponder as we seek answers to our discussion surrounding heaven. “Consider setting aside a little time on each day in the days to come to meditate on each of these marvelous everyday images. Then think about ‘writing your own parable.’ How might you complete the sentence: ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like…’?” How would you finish this sentence? Heaven is like a freshly baked apple pie, your favorite, the very sight of which will make your heart sing and your taste buds will tingle with joy. At the very first taste of this scrumptious treat, as you ingest a forkful into your eagerly awaiting mouth! Perhaps you would prefer a light chiffon, or custard cream, or even a cherry pie! My wife would prefer a Lemon Meringue Pie, her favorite!
Our visions are the future. Heaven can be here on earth… if we have the courage to envision it! Are you the mustard seed that shall grow and grow as you allow the very Spirit of God to nourish you? Or are you the yeast which shall help ‘raise-up’ the hopes and dreams of others! Heaven is where the love of God resides! Heaven is in your heart!