“Nurturing the Mustard Seed”
July 16th, 2017
Matthew 13: 31-35
Sermon by Reverend Brian Devlin
Jesus teaches his disciples in the forms of stories aka parables, so that the everyday people can understand his message. When we begin to grow a garden, we start with a few basic items. These items are seeds, soil, and water. When we take the seed and plant it in soil and continuously give it water, it sprouts into a beautiful plant or tree. This is a continuous process, not just a onetime deal. The garden must be watered and nurtured constantly for the flowers to grow. The area around where the plant was planted has to be weeded so the weeds don’t choke out the plants and kills them.
The same principle holds true in our spiritual journey. Someone plants the seed of spirituality, and continuously waters and weeds it so that our spiritual life will continue to grow. The remarkable contrast between the small beginnings of the mustard seed and the final mustard plant earned it proverbial status in Judaism. The mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds in Palestine which grew into a tree which was about 8 to 12 feet tall. Israel, however, was not prepared for an insignificant beginning to the kingdom of God, so this image confused the people of the day. As people, we start out on a small scale and then end up with the larger ones. We start out small, as infants and blossom into large human beings, and the same holds true for the mustard seed. It starts out as a small seed and blossoms into a huge tree.
As Christian people, however, we are called to build the community that God started and to nurture one another. I remember sitting in a Mass many years ago, and the priest started the sermon with “Don’t keep the faith”, after a gasp by almost everyone in the church he said, “spread it”. We have all used the cliché: I’m going to plant a seed of a specific task and see what happens. This is how we get it done, after we’ve planted the seed, we encourage one another to get the task done and finally, the task gets done. I challenge each of us here today, that if there is a specific project that needs to be done, either here at church or at home, to plant that seed, encourage each other and get the job done.
I grew up in the Catholic Church, went to Mass every Sunday, was an altar boy etc., but wasn’t being nurtured. My faith, my spiritual life began to wither. It wasn’t until after a divorce and coming out of the closet as a gay man that I realized I wasn’t being nurtured on my journey. This mustard seed which God planted almost 60 years ago was not being watered and nurtured thus my journey didn’t grow. It wasn’t until May of 1997 that I got ordained into the Universal Life Church and began a public ministry.
I began this ministry by trying to plant the seed and hopefully nurturing it as well by conducting services in a local nursing home for a few years. It is my hope and prayer that the seeds that I planted and nurtured took root and helped the residents to grow.
A year ago, I became the Chaplain for PFLAG which stands for Parents, family, and friends of Lesbian and Gays. I know the seeds of faith have been planted there, and I am continuously working to nurture them for the youth. I remember receiving a phone call from someone whose son had come out of the closet and attempted suicide. I spoke with the person at length and brought them to the Rainbow Youth Group which is a social group where LGBTQ youth can be themselves and be around others with similar interests, and share ideas and support each other on issues relating to being LGBT. The difference this group can make is amazing. The seed is planted and nurtured here, The individual I mentioned has had a complete turnaround since I talked to him and I still keep in touch on a periodic basis.
Another way of nurturing the seed is by preaching the Word of God. Luke 17:5 tells us “ the apostles said to Jesus increase our faith” to which Jesus replied in verse 6 “ if you have the faith the size of a mustard seed you could say to this mulberry tree, be uprooted planted in the sea, and it would obey you”
There is such power in those words, For the apostles, obedience to God is a duty to be fulfilled and not an occasion for reward, the same holds true for us modern Christians.
In the words of Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, he defines champion as someone who does something superbly well. “A famous sports figure tells Dr. Peale how to achieve that—have a goal, make a sacrifice, discipline yourself and have faith in yourself which is made possible by faith in Jesus Christ” (author unknown). These motivational words could and should cause us to reflect on how we accomplish meeting the needs and goals of the community. I encourage us to find someone during this upcoming week and planting and nurture the seed by having a goal, and making the sacrifice, disciplining ourselves and having faith in ourselves that the goal can be accomplished.
Planting and nurturing the seed is not an easy task as we must be nurtured ourselves before we can go and work in the fields and nurture others. How do we nurture others? By coming to church, by listening to the preacher and putting into practice the words of the sermon. To go to God in prayer. These are just a few examples. There are many other things that can be added to this list as well. I challenge us each to add 1 thing to this list.
The parable of the mustard seed, is different from the other parables in that Jesus was using it to teach the apostles. These parables express the small beginnings of something new, and the large increase and growth, in this case, the kingdom of God. The kingdom grows believer by believer. And so, God describes what it is like. “the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a man planted in his field”. The phrase the “kingdom of heaven” refers to God’s rule over the earth. It is God’s program for building the church during the time in which we live, the period between Christ’s return to heaven and coming back to be with us. The man that sowed the seed is the Lord Jesus Christ, and the field in which God sowed is the world, or his church throughout the world.
The illustration using the mustard seed which is the smallest in Judea is used to express the small beginnings of the church; how it had its beginning through the word of God and by the action of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of God’s people, and how small their number was at first. In the beginning, the Gospel and preaching were like a grain of mustard seed, little, insignificant and even looked down on. And the circumstances surrounding the Gospel were very discouraging, because it was considered a novelty, lacking common sense and reason, and leading to depravity, Also, violent opposition and persecution came close on the heels of Gospel preaching and believing. This represents my earlier life as I saw it, discouraging, void of common sense and reason with opposition, and persecution. Coming out of the closet that I spoke of earlier and being ordained came with opposition and persecution. Many years ago, I was asked as a gay man how could I be a pastor by some of the opposition. Today LGBT people suffer persecution by not being nurtured in their faith. The mustard seed was planted and never nurtured and therefore it withered and died.
This parable can also be applied to the children of God, which is each and every one of us, as well as to the church. When a person first believes the word of God, their faith in Christ is very weak and small like the grain of the mustard seed. Imagine when we were children and that mustard seed was planted, the child is weak and must take small steps in faith in order to grow. Each step, though, makes us stronger as we grow in the faith and knowledge of God. Likewise experience in the love of God starts out small, the light of knowledge of God’s word is small. So, every child of God must experience growth. The church of God, which sprung up by the preaching of the word, and through the work of the Holy Spirit, was like a small mustard seed. God’s people were small in number in Christ’s time, and for a long time they struggled.
After God’s ascension, the early church made a very appalling figure, because of the persecutions they lived through, the outward poverty of the people etc., but the early Christians overcame the obstacles because they continued to believe in the faith and love of God.
In Conclusion, I would like to read a portion of a poem that has been around for a very long time. It also describes my own journey in attempting to plant and nurture the mustard seed. It also reminds me of how I overcome the day-to-day obstacles of everyday life and continue to grow in the knowledge and love of the Lord.
The poem is called “Footprints in the Sand”:
“Lord you said that once I decided to follow you, you’d walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, there is only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why then when I needed you most you would leave me. The Lord replied “My precious child, I love you and I would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.” (Author Unknown)