The Parable of the Mustard Seed Part 2

  • Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” (Matthew chapter 13, verses 31-32)

    Listen to the full sermon here

    The bit that strikes me with the parable is the idea of birds coming and finding shelter in the branches. The Kingdom of God is something that grows as we sow it and birds come and find shelter there.

    One of my most longstanding friends isn’t a believer. But she occasionally texts me because she knows we have a prayer board. I’ve had texts when her Mum is going into hospital. I’ve had texts when her dog has been ill. These things matter to her.

    Sometimes people don’t have a faith of their own, but they find shelter in what you’ve sown. In the past few months some of my work colleagues have been bereaved or who have had difficult family news to deal with, and I’ve offered to pray for them. I have yet to have anyone say ‘No, thanks.’ Most people greatly appreciate it.

    That’s something we can do. If we are sowing the Kingdom, we should expect people to seek shelter in it.

    Why does Jesus talk about birds? Maybe because birds seem vulnerable. It’s a difficult existence. Things hunt them. People hunt them sometimes.

    In Matthew chapter 10, Jesus told his disciples how to react to people who would want to persecute them for being his followers.

    “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (verses 28-31)

    In Jesus’ time people used nets to catch small birds. They would be thrown over a flock of sparrows who had been lured in with crumbs, and as the sparrows tried to escape they would fall to the ground, trapped in the net. There isn’t much good eating on a sparrow, so they wouldn’t be worth much when sold in the market. In fact Jesus says they were two for a penny.

    Yet none of those sparrows were caught in the net and then sold in the market, without God knowing about it.

    A modern-day equivalent would be to say that God counts the eggs laid by every battery hen. God knows the unique feather pattern of every turkey that was eaten on Christmas Day.

    When we sow the Kingdom we find it attracts the vulnerable. The tree that grows from the seed we sow has many branches where ‘birds’ can come and find shelter; can find rest; can find safety.

    God knows the names of all the vulnerable people in your community: the homeless, the shut-ins, the desperate, the lonely.

    Some people think the way the mustard tree provides shelter is a symbol of the church. And how great would it be if this was what people thought of when they thought of this church – as a place of refuge and safety.

    A few years ago I went to the city of Durham in the north-east of England. There is a long Christian tradition in that city and high on one of the city’s hills is Durham Cathedral. And one feature of Durham Cathedral that is quite famous is what is known as the Sanctuary Knocker.

    It’s the door knocker on the big door of the Cathedral. And in the old days if someone was accused of a crime and a mob was chasing them, if they grabbed hold of the knocker on the door of the Cathedral, they were safe.

    When I was a kid we used to play tag in the playground and you would have bases were you were ‘safe’ and you couldn’t be tagged. This is like a much more serious version of that. When a person took hold of it they had 37 days in which to sort out their affairs and decide if they would stand trial or leave the country.

    In a lot of chapels the room with the pews and the pulpit in is called the Sanctuary, and this is a holdover from the idea that it was a special place; it was a safe place.

    There are birds who need branches and so we need to sow and allow the trees of the Kingdom to grow, to become a place of sanctuary for people.

    Missed part 1? Read it here.

    What next? Read Part 3 here

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