The Rev. Rhoda Montgomery, D.Min.
6th Sunday after Pentecost, July 24, 2011
For a couple of weeks we have been in the section of the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus uses all kinds of metaphors to “explain” the kingdom of God and I use the term “explain” loosely. Good soil and bad, weeds and wheat, today we’ve got mustard and yeast, hidden treasure, pearls, good fish and bad fish. I hesitate to accuse anyone of lying, but in verse 51 of this part of Matthew when Jesus asks, “have you understood all of this and they answered yes”….somebody in that group was lying. Somebody was sitting in the back shaking her head yes, but mouthing the word, “no.”
Not only do I hesitate to accuse people of lying but I also try not to make assumptions, but I am assuming that you all would like to get on with your day rather than spend the next 5 hours talking about all of the symbols and metaphors that the Gospel throws at us in these verses. Nod if that’s true.
Well OK, then. Now because it is a rare and beautiful thing to be able to talk about irony, jewelry, and agronomy in the same breath, we’re going to focus on the mustard seed image.
If you were a young girl in the 1970s who loved Jesus…at least if you were a girl in the 70s who loved Jesus and lived in my part of Texas, you had one of those glass lockets that had a tiny little seed resting on some small bit of velvet. My older sister had such a necklace and so of course I wanted one too. Mustard seed necklaces were all the rage at church camp.
The popular girls got them as presents from boys. But mine was just as good… because my mom told me so. I saw online recently that you can still buy mustard seed necklaces. There was a 14 karat gold one on e-bay for “only” $149. I am confident that even the popular girls at church camp did not have $149 necklaces. And I am also confident that those of us who wore those necklaces so proudly didn’t really get the full power of the metaphor. At least I didn’t. And I’m still not sure that I fully appreciate the power of Jesus’ words.
You want a kingdom? Jesus asks. And some in the audience must surely have nodded their heads and thought about the glory days of King David when Israel was the most powerful nation in the known world. The words of the Psalmist ringing a distant bell, words like: the righteous shall flourish like the cedars of Lebanon. Tall… gorgeous… powerful.
But Jesus says the Kingdom of Heaven is like--- a mustard seed…that someone took and planted in his field…on purpose. You have lost me now Jesus. First of all mustard seeds are so tiny you can hardly see them so that seems like a lame image for a Kingdom and second of all once planted they are almost impossible to get rid of. Mustard bushes grow like wildfire in a drought… and they take over the field where they are planted. And on top of that, they smell kind of funny. I don’t know about you but, “join our movement we’ll take over and smell weird” does not seem like a good church motto.
Jesus must have been kidding right? This crazy mustard grows uncontrollably and I’m not sure I like that at all. I like order and structure and control. And that part about the birds nesting on the branches, well, that’s not really as sweet of a scene as you might think. Mustard bushes get big, but not really tall so they attract birds but not always the cute ones or the gentle ones. The cute ones are up in the tall trees far removed from the danger and dirt from down below. Mustard bushes attract birds that don’t mind the smell…don’t mind the risk of being low to the ground where the dangerous predators are. Birds that squawk and make messes. The kingdom of God is like an unpleasant smelling shrub that will take over the whole field and attract all sorts of birds, not just pretty songbirds. OK Jesus but that’s really going to be hard to market, are you sure?
But Jesus says yes. Jesus says yes because I’m not planting one particular church or even one popular idea…I’m planting the kingdom of God… a whole new vision of how life should be. A whole new definition of power and strength, and it’s like this small seed that grows and grows and becomes this mustard bush that never rises too far above the soil from which it sprouts…the soil of hard work and sacrifice…the soil of real love.
Not the kind of love that fades at the first sign of trouble, not the cute kind of love that ends when summer camp ends. Jesus is talking about a new kingdom, a kingdom built by the kind of love that has blisters on its hands, love that gets wrinkled and sweaty from hard work. Love, like the mustard bush, which cannot be eradicated once it takes root.
Love that welcomes in all the birds….the birds that aren’t pretty or can’t sing…the birds with broken wings that can’t make it up to the tall trees as well as the birds that are beautiful and strong. All are welcome on the arms of the mustard bush.
This is that kind of kingdom. This is that kind of love…love that cannot be eradicated by the flood of our selfishness or laziness nor eradicated by the drought of our despair or extinguished by carelessness or apathy. This crazy mustard bush of a Kingdom will not be choked out by our bickering nor will it shrivel up because of our mistakes, this mustard bush of a kingdom cannot even be silenced by the hammering of nails on a cross. And this crazy mustard bush can never fully be explained by a piece of jewelry no matter how cute or how expensive.
Come Jesus says. Come be part of this Kingdom. It’s not like anything you’ve ever seen before. Take this tiny little seed and watch it be stronger and bigger than any empire, or cedar tree, or building.
This Holy Mustard Bush will grow and grow and spread and spread but no matter how much it grows, no matter how much it spreads there will still always be room for you and me. The Kingdom Garden is big enough. No matter how much the mustard grows…no matter how many birds come join us…there is a place for you and for me.
Because the one who plants this mustard welcomes all of us and this mustard planting garden loving Kingdom creating One will not ever leave the Garden alone, never ever leave us. The ruler of this new Kingdom will not stop until each one of us is rooted in soil so rich so full of love and hope and desire that we cannot help but grow and grow and grow. And then one day, we shall all be wrapped in the greatest of holy ironies and we’ll see that what looks like the end…is merely the beginning…what looks like the smallest is the greatest…and what looks like death is life.