Trygve preaches on the parable of the mustard seed and the importance of the small things in a life of faith.
“He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 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.””
I. Starting Small
The large work of God often begins small. God takes a little – whatever we have – and makes a lot.
The Kingdom of God is counter-cultural. That is not an easy thing to get. We don’t get it right away. It’s subversive. Which is why Jesus teaches in a subversive way. He preaches in parables. Short stories. Pictures that work on our imagination to see reality – the reality of Jesus and his Kingdom on earth.
These parables teach us a fundamental lesson. They teach us that God is a God of abundance and not scarcity. They teach us that whatever we have to bring to God is enough. For the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed – the smallest of the seeds – but it grows into something large and beautiful.
Growing up, I used to think that the way God worked was in the big things. You go to the big conference – you hear the big name; God is most where all the crowds are gathering together. It’s in the big revival – or the extra-ordinary miracles – or the dramatic conversion – where we see God at work. But as I have grown older, and as I have listened to scripture more carefully, I think that instinct is wrong. God’s presence – the reign of God – the Kingdom of God, often shows itself first and powerfully in the little things.
The large work of God often begins small!
This is the spiritual principle of askesis. Askesis is a word derived from asceticism. It is not a word used in the biblical canon, but the early church Fathers and Mothers used it to make analogies between athletic training and spiritual development. Athletes Simone Biles, Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt are all extraordinary talents – true – but their talents are not enough. What we didn’t see was the sacrifice – the early morning workouts, the food they didn’t eat, the vacations and school events that were missed. Their great achievement was a result of the devoted commitment to their craft and art!
For Christians, askesis is to spirituality what a training program is to these athletes. It is the means by which we mature into holiness. Early church Christians used this word askesis to help them resist the seductive voices of their age. They knew that if they were going to experience real intimacy with God, it was going to require a particular kind of discipline. They had to embrace limits, trusting the paradox that a narrow gate would direct them into a larger world.
Theologian and pastor Eugene Peterson writes,
“(Askesis) is a spiritual equivalent to the old artistic idea that talent grows by its very confinement, that the genie’s strength comes from his confinement in the bottle. The creative artist and the praying (Christian) work common ground here. Without confinement, without the intensification resulting from compression, there is no energy worth speaking of,” (Under the Unpredictable Plant, 74-75).
True Christian spirituality, and witness, requires boundaries, boarders, inescapable limits. God says to them, “I’ve given you everything to eat, just don’t eat the fruit of this tree!” Jonah is swallowed in the belly of a whale. Moses calls the exodus people not to worship any God, but a particular God. Israel wanders in the wilderness for 40 years, learn obedience in austerity. Askesis is an old lesson, but sometimes the old lessons are the hardest to master. To get into the wide-open country of salvation, we first have to follow a difficult path that few find. We are told we have to lose our life to find it. To grow the soul, you first have to let the self-die. Askesis to God, not autonomy to self, is how we experience the real good stuff of life.
III. A Seed
Jesus says the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. A mustard-seed is small, finite, unassuming, seemingly worthless. Yet within its shell is a power to be unleashed that creates life. If planted, it will die to itself, and be transformed into something larger than itself – a seed sown – like the Word in the heart – will burgeon with energy inside, bubbling up, and bursting forth new a tree that provides shade and rest for the birds of the air, and the nations of the world. Jesus says that is what the kingdom of God is like. The Kingdom of God – where God reigns is immense, spacious, beautiful… yet it begins with something ordinary, plain, something seemingly unimportant. Small.
The large work of God often begins with something small.
I can’t help but wonder if in this parable Jesus is not talking about himself. Jesus is telling us a truth, but he’s telling it slant. The truth that he is the small mustard seed – the tiny life, planted in the soil of history, whose life, death, resurrection, and ascension erupts out of the darkness and into the dawn of a new epoch of human hope. Jesus is the seed – who dies and rises with new life – so that the Kingdom of God, through the Spirit, might bloom in us! Jesus is the key unlocking us from our confined and presumed world, where so many of us are trapped, and desperately want to flee – so that we might be free to experience the glory of a risen Son whose goodness intoxicates us with wonder.
In parables, Jesus is telling us some good news – that the Kingdom is not so much a place we find, but begins in a small step towards a person who finds us. For Jesus is not only the way into the Kingdom, he is also its destination. Jesus is God’s askesis. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14) Jesus is the infinite God who comes to us finite, so that we who are finite might experience the infinite God!
Maybe that is why God’s presence sometimes starts with the small things – the simple kindness, the competency of a trained doctor, the caring of a nurse. Don’t just look for God in the big things, look for God’s presence in the little things. Why? The biggest work of God often begins with something small.
This table is small, but its significance is immense. Here we find forgiveness because we are forgiven. Here in this small place, God meets us – feeds us – and allows us to begin again. To begin as people who are not our own, but who belong body and soul to our faithful savior – God’s askesis – Jesus Christ. Here we remember that we have been reconciled once and for all by Jesus’ blood on the cross – and that in him we are given a new peace to journey into the large reality of the Kingdom of God.
It begins here – at this table. So come… come to this table of communion with God!