Mark 4:26-34; 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13; June 13, 2021
I invite you to pull out your bulletin for a moment. Let your eyes fall on any sentence and follow it to the end. Eventually you will find a sentence that ends in a period. Look at that period. A small dot with the power to stop your reading. At least if we follow the rules of grammar. But that isn’t the only amazing thing about that dot.
Look at that dot. There was once a time when you were no bigger thank this dot. In those cells no bigger than this dot, was contained all the genetic instructions necessary to direct the development of organs and tissues, bones and nerves, glands and blood, limbs and hair. When you were still this tiny, it was already determined whether you’d be male or female and what the color of your eyes, hair and skin would be. Can you imagine you were once this small? Think of this: at some point, we were all small enough that taken together the population of the world could easily fit inside this sanctuary!
I am not a biologist, I don’t know the exceptions to the rule, but from what little I know, we are not unique in this way. All living things and creatures begin their lives as a seed – one dot of a cell. We could draw a parallel with non-living creation: great masterpieces of literature, art, architecture, music inventions, the ways of thinking that direct our lives – all begin as an idea, a thought carefully worked upon, edited and redone many times before achieving their final form. So much comes from a speck, a thought, a dot a small seed.
Jesus asked, what shall we compare the kingdom of God? What did his listeners think? What were the popular answers in his day? Is it like the Temple in Jerusalem? Is it like a Roman fortress? The Davidic dynasty? Is it the restoration of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah?
No, it is like a mustard seed, Jesus said. Just like the period at the end of a sentence. How is this little seed a sign of God’s sovereignty? Why would God settle for that? But why did God settle for David, the youngest of the sons of Jesse, ignoring seven older, wiser, more seemingly capable brothers as we heard read from 1 Samuel this morning? Why in salvation history, did God choose the younger over the eldest: the offering of Abel over Cain, Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, Rachel over Leah, Joseph over his ten older brothers?
Jesus’ teachings are filled with images and reminders of what is small, little, frail and young. Did not Jesus say “let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.? Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:14) Jesus also said: “For the least among all of you is the greatest.” (Luke 9:47-48) and “The last shall be first.”
It’s an interesting theme that runs throughout the Bible -- this emphasis on the smallest, youngest, the weakest amidst all the pomp and glory. It’s what the Lord declared to Samuel: “we look on the outward appearance – the Lord looks upon the heart.” So the seed is an important reminder. The parable of the mustard seed, one of the shortest parables in the gospels, has one of the biggest messages of faith.
There is nothing more important than the mustard seed. The mustard seed is not only small, it can grow in just about any soil, and just about anywhere in the world. Once it gets started it is persistent, it grows and grows. So, to have a mustard seed faith means seeing as God sees. Believing in the potential and vision. It means to have that ability to look past all that on the outside and look upon the heart. To see within the seed the dominion of God – where the ordinary, small acts we do can be powerful and significant.
When a friend of mine, Chris, was a teenager, he was once in an accident. He had been hit by a car, thrown out of his shoes. His parents did not know where he was, because Chris had talked a friend into deceiving their parents so they could go to the movies. They missed their bus home and had to walk. Then the car hit him. Chris was bleeding profusely, and he was in shock. He thought he was going to die. As a crowd of strangers gathered. Then one woman, brought a blanket and covered him. She held him and talked to him, not knowing if he were going to die in her arms. Chris was taken to the hospital and recovered completely. But he never could find that woman again to thank her. He never learned her name. But Chris will always remember her. Chris credits this woman with leaving an indelible mark of grace on his soul -- with shaping the course of his life, toward faith and toward service, especially with homeless addicts. She planted a seed in Chris’ life.
Now, you may wonder, like me, this act wasn’t so small. It was significant. Or you may think, “I’ve never been called to save or change someone’s life like that.” But, how do you know? How do you know? We don’t usually see the long-term results of our acts toward others. Every act of goodness, every act of mercy matters to God, and God in turn uses for kingdom growth.
Hilde Back was a schoolteacher in Sweden, when she decided to sponsor one child’s education in Kenya. Hilde’s sponsorship of Chris Mburu cost about $15 per month. Thanks to Hilde’s generosity, Chris wound up graduating high school, going to University of Nairobi and then attending Harvard Law School. He became a U.N. Human Rights Advocate, and he started a charity. He petitioned the Swedish embassy to find the name of his anonymous sponsor. Then he named his nonprofit the Hilde Back Education Fund after the benefactor he never met.
The Fund pays tuition for deserving poor students in Kenya. Since the charity’s start, 847 children have been supported. That doesn’t even include the impact on their families. And who knows how many of these students will be inspired, as Chris was, to give back?
It’s interesting that the only reason Hilde Back was even alive to support Chris was because of a stranger’s kindness. Hilde was a Jewish child living in Germany during the Nazis’ reign. Both of her parents were killed in concentration camps, but a stranger helped her escape to Sweden. Hilde said that as a Jew, she wasn’t allowed to go to school in Germany. It seemed natural for her to sponsor schooling for someone who couldn’t otherwise attend. And so see pasted the seed on.
Little acts, that we take for granted, can and do have a significant, life- changing impact on people. An encouraging word. A hug. A favor done without reward. Getting involved. In the hands of God, they become powerful. What if Samuel had not listened, had chosen Jesse’s eldest, Eliab, instead of David? Imagine how different salvation history would have turned out. That woman with the blanket never knew how she changed the course of one life. How were those bystanders changed? How many lives here have been touched by Chris, thus indirectly by this woman? And what small acts of kindness shaped THAT woman that put her on the path through Chris, who by the way is now the Executive Director of Homestretch Inc. an award-winning program in Virginia that helps homeless families back on their feet. Over 2000 to date. Think of the ripple effect that those families and children have gone on to help.
Is a tiny, mustard seed significant? Do the little things we do have any impact? Does our life have importance in the large scheme of things? To our God who is all powerful, omnipotent, and omnipresent, who knows the number of hairs on our hand and the grains of sand on the beach, every tear we have shed, every seed of love planted, tended, watered, pruned, is a branch in the realm of God.
Be the seed. Remember what is important. Remember from where you came. A little seed. And countless seeds, sown by countless, unknown people, over countless years. Over centuries. Only God could orchestrate such a living tree, with roots and branches that stretch out over millennium, scattering seeds in every new generation.
One seed, one act at a time, over time. You are that seed God casts in this world. Cast yourself into the world, every day sharing the love of God in every way imaginable. You are that that seed, sown everyday. Tended everyday. Until the grain is ripe. The harvest is ready. Until the dominion of God is realized in our midst. Amen