Sunday 19th August 2012
At the service on 17th June, we thought about the nature of the Kingdom of God. One of the images Jesus used was the mustard seed which grew into a bush large enough for the birds of the air to rest in the shade.
The commentaries tell us that the mustard seed parable is something of an inside joke.
We hear 'mustard seed' and interpret it as a useful plant, used for seasoning, and for enhancing the flavour of our food - and cultivated as a herb for that purpose. But actually, the people listening to Jesus would not have thought of it like that. Because wild mustard is incredibly hard to control, and once it takes root it can take over a whole area. Mustard wasn't cultivated in the ancient world; more likely you would see it running wild over the side of an open hill or through abandoned field. It was considered a weed, and farmers dreaded it when mustard sprouted in their fields because it would be so pervasive that it would take over the crop.
Can Jesus really be saying that the Kingdom of God is like an untidy weed, which tends to take over where it is not wanted, which tends to get out of control, attracting birds to its shade, inside cultivated areas where they are not particularly welcome?
Perhaps that's the point: the Kingdom Jesus proclaims isn't something we can control. It extends far beyond what we think are its respectable religious boundaries. This kingdom comes to overturn, to take over, to transform the kingdoms of this world. So, if you happen to think that God is 'contained' neatly within the church or even within Christianity, or if you are happy with the way the world generally works, then Jesus' parable could be seen as rather subversive and even offensive to you. But to others who have been left out or left behind, or who believe the world can and should be a better place, this parable about a mustard seed that grows way beyond its size is not so much a warning but a promise.
And we begin to see that God's Kingdom infiltrating the kingdoms of our oppressed and beleaguered world, offers a word of hope. And hope does things. Hope creates faith in a better future and therefore leads one to act, to actually do something to bring about that better future. Whether it's through signing a petition, or through donating an additional item or three to the Foodbank (which is still short of the food it needs to open), or through encouraging someone who is going through a difficult time… you know what to do…
At the end of the service, I offered you a challenge for the summer. I invited you to look for those places where you see God's Kingdom mixing itself up with the kingdoms of the world; to notice those places where God is creating hope, places where you might sense God at work, even though it might not be all that obvious, nor particularly grand. Perhaps you could send in a photograph or a little write-up for the Herald over the next couple of months. I know that you will be able to find lots of examples when you begin to look.
Here's one to get you started:
The Jubilee Garden was the idea of one lady, who imagined that the piece of grass outside the Priorswood shops could be turned into a community garden, with fragrant borders, seating under the shade of the tree, and artwork contributed by local schools. She and her team were not discouraged by arguments that it would be a magnet for the vandals, and now there is a beautiful space for the whole community to enjoy.
Over to you…