(given July 13, 2008)
During licensing school one assignment was to select a lectionary reading and complete a sermon with that set of scriptures. Two of the students in my small group selected today’s reading from Matthew. My first thought was how boring; but then as I began preparing for this week’s service, I found the message.
You might be curious as to why I would begin ministry at this time in my life, and in this parable I think I can show you the answer. You see it really began with a tiny little mustard seed in third grade.
My mom and her best friend taught the class, and I certainly do not remember anything about the material or how we conducted the class. I faintly can picture the room and where it was tucked away in the basement church, but that is just about all I can tell you. Except there is this one very special detail: the mustard seed necklace.
As we completed the class or maybe it was a Christmas gift, Mom and Jewel gave the girls in the class a little mustard seed necklace. Mine was one tiny seed encased in a small glass pendant, and I could not tell you what the guys got. But that little mustard seed necklace carried the message—if you had just the faith of a mustard seed, you could do anything.
Now I know that is not exactly how the parable goes or does not parallel the message in today’s parable, but for a third grader to hear that and to hold on to that idea for her entire life really shows how important some of our earliest church experiences really are. That little mustard seed means everything. And, what if that little mustard seed was one of those seeds sown in today’s parable.
Let’s look at that parable once more:
“What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road, and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled by the weeds. Some fell on good earth, and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams. –The Message
When Jesus was asked what the parable meant, he continues in Matthew about how it is important to tell his followers about God in ways that will not be clear to those who are not ready to hear the message. The parables were a means to talk openly without stirring up trouble.
And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand…But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.
Now how does this fit with my little mustard seed necklace. That necklace was a tiny little seed that was planted along the road of my personal spiritual journey. The seed fell but did not take root. My spiritual journey was just beginning, but the idea of serving God as a preacher was nowhere in my head nor would I really have expected it to since I was still in elementary school. At that age, kids really do not know what they will do as grown ups. As Jesus told his disciples, they may know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but was had not been granted that knowledge yet.
Still, I wore that necklace off and on throughout school. In fact, that necklace is in my senior picture. That necklace went to college with me and on those days when I had a test or a final, I wore that necklace. I knew that I had to have faith to be successful. Many days are tough, but the symbol and the meaning of that tiny mustard seed carried me through some very tough times in school.
Sadly, the seeds that kept falling onto the path of my spiritual journey did not take root and blossom into a career in the ministry. Instead, I just kept trying to satisfy that nagging ache by doing one thing after another. For instance, while in college, I worked two summers as a youth minister in the Bonne Terre region, also known as the Mineral Area. I thought that I was following what I was called to do, modeling the youth minister I had while I was in high school.
The seeds that were falling into my path were getting stronger, too. They would begin to grow and look pretty good, but then, as Jesus said, “it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots.” I continued with college. I had set a goal of earning a journalism degree and save the world by getting the truth out. I was somewhat disappointed when my assignment on the Columbia tribune was the church page! As I look back now, I realize that was one more seed that was planted along my spiritual journey. The seeds were beginning to grow, but then conditions just were not right yet. The planted idea of a career in ministry was not being identified.
Granted, part of the problem with acknowledging such a calling was timing. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a woman preacher was as rare as a woman journalist. I wanted to be a journalist and the one thing I was determined not to be was another teacher, even though I had been told over and over that I should be a teacher.
Today, I can see that time and time again the seeds God planted along my spiritual journey were not taking root. I was like those Jesus said that while seeing [I did] not see, and while hearing [I did] not hear, nor [did I[ understand. I took a different route and graduated from college, married, began working and that nagging ache hit again.
Now let’s talk about that nagging ache. For me, this was a physical pain that just landed in the center of my gut—right above the stomach, under the breast bone, maybe a little lower. I never thought about it being an honest to goodness symptom of God calling me. No one had ever suggested or even hinted that such a thing existed, and I certainly was not going around telling everybody that I had this weird ache. I just thought I was unhappy. When that ache hit, I would evaluate where I was in life and wonder what I was suppose to be doing. Then something would change in my life and I would take a new direction for a while. The ache would go away for a time, maybe even a few years. But it would return.
Those times when the ache hit, the change that seemed to develop always led me to another level of service. I ended up getting my teaching certificate. I got one job; then another job. I had kids. Another job began. A twist to the job developed and I went into an area of specialization. Each change caused the ache to subside. Those aches were seeds and my path was not fertile ground. I needed “good earth [to] produce a harvest beyond [my] wildest dreams.”
My story continues. Jesus’ parable did have an end. He moved from the parable of the seeds, on to other parables. He soon tells the parable of the mustard seed:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.”
The parable says nothing of having the faith of a mustard seed and you can do anything, but the third grade mind that heard that version of the message depended on it. Today that third grader has finally heard the call. Years and years of fighting that nagging ache, of going in and out of different jobs, trying to do all that I could through various church committees, offices, tasks, and even choir, has lead me to this pulpit.
I have finally found the soil that will sustain my life and I hope will help others to find their life in Christ. I might have been like the little mustard seed in third grade, but I know that Christ will take care of me. I pray that my spiritual journey can now flourish and become so deeply rooted that others will also hear the good news. I feel that when Jesus closed his parable, he now includes me when he said, “…but blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.
Dear Heavenly Father,
May the mustard seeds of our lives find the rich soil you have promised so that they may sprout, grow, thrive, and produce. May we who know your grace, your love, and your promise of eternal life work to reach others so that they may also become deeply rooted in faith. –Amen