The Mustard Seed Lifestyle

Today’s blog contains the sermon manuscript and video for a message preached June 21, 2015 at the Patterson Avenue Baptist Church, Richmond, VA.   You can also find an audio of this sermon by visiting the church website and subscribing to our podcast.  The sermon is titled:  “The Mustard Seed Lifestyle” based on Mark 4:26-34

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Seed and Soil:  The Mustard Seed Lifestyle – Mark 4:26-34


He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”


Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”


With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.


It took 37 years, but it finally happened.  On Saturday, June 6, American Pharaoh won the Belmont Stakes.  Having already won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, this made American Pharaoh the first horse since Secretariat in1973 to win the Triple Crown.


American Pharaoh’s story is interesting, but not nearly as inspiring as that of Secretariat.  Still, nothing compares with the story of Seabiscuit, a small horse who never actually competed in the Triple Crown races, but still became a symbol of hope millions during the days of the Great Depression.


The story of Secretariat has been made into a major motion picture.  Perhaps someday American Pharaoh’s story will hit the big screen (though I doubt it).  But if you really want to see a movie that will inspire leave you feeling good about life, I suggest you watch Seabiscuit.


The story is not just about the horse, but the people who surrounded the thoroughbred. We lead character is Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges). Howard was a successful American businessman who made his fortune as an automobile dealer . Some called him “the most successful Buick salesmen of all time.”


After the death of his young son in1926 in a racing car accident, Howard’s life began to fall apart. His first marriage fail and he began drinking heavily. He met another woman, remarried, and with her helped began to rebuild his life, starting by investing in  horse racing.  In time, he bought the undersized but soon-to-be-famous horse, Seabiscuit.


Howard hires Tom Smith (Chris Cooper) to manage his stables.  Smith was a trainer who specialized at rehabilitating injured and abused horses.  Smith got Howards attention when he said: “You don’t throw a whole life away just ’cause it’s banged up a little bit”.


Smith begins working with “Seabiscuit.” The little horse had been deemed “incorrigible” by past handlers.  He was eventually broken and trained to lose against bigger horses…horses better, stronger, and faster.    Red Pollard (Tobey Maguire) was hired to ride Seabiscuit.  Pollard himself was a bit “incorrigible/”  But Smith saw fight in the boy and notice he has a similar temperament to the feisty Seabiscuit.   As they train together, Pollard and Seabiscuit become close, overcoming obstacle such as a dismissive media, Pollard’s anger issues, and his blindness in one eye.  In the process Seabiscuit begins to earn considerable success.  He becomes a popular underdog and an inspiration to many affected by the Great Depression


Seabiscuit is a story about a horse and those around him – all considered as having little potential.  It a story of overcoming insecurity and the perception of insignificance.  The highpoint comes when they dare to challenge the most famed racing stallion of that time.  War Admiral was stronger and taller than the comparatively tiny Seabiscuit.  But Seabiscuit and War Admiral race, and Seabiscuit wins.


The tag line of the movie, which is featured prominently in its advertisements, was this:  “When a little guy doesn’t know he’s a little guy, he can do big things.”  


Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God in terms that make is seem like a small thing.  He speaks of it as a seed a farmer would sow in his field.  In fact, he speaks of the Kingdom of God as a mustard seed – the smallest seed a farmer might sow in Palestine.


Throughout the Bible, when the Spirit moves in transformational ways, it always seems to start like a mustard seed – in small and insignificant ways.


Noah hears a small voice telling him to build a boat in the desert because a huge flood was coming.  People thought Noah was crazy.


Abraham heard that same small voice, saying:  “Leave your home.  Depart from all your sources of personal security.  Head into the wilderness and I will give you a new home.  Your seed (your descendants) will become something big.” So for many decades Abraham wandered the wilderness with the faith that his seed would amount to something – and it did.  But that happened only after his bones had become brittle and were turning to dust in his grace.


The promise of God started out small and move slowing, at least from a human perspective.  But over the centuries it became something big.


Centuries later we meet Moses,  Moses hadlived the first half of his life with power, prestige, and massive wealth.  Then he stood against injustice and all that vanishes.  He was exiled in the wilderness and quietly tended sheep until he saw a tiny little bush burning out of the corner of his eye.


The Bible is filled with such story about like Sarah, Rachel, Ruth, Ester, Mary, and Lydia; about men like David, Isaiah, and Jeremiah; about communities like that which had gathered in the upper room on the occasion of Pentecost as recorded in the Book of Acts.  These were people of small beginning and often small ending, and yet the Kingdom of God was advanced as it took root in their lives.

Even Jesus fits into this category.  He was seldom on the big stage.  When he was it got him in trouble.  He did not speak of greatness in terms of authority, prestige, size and influence, but rather sacrifice and being a servant.  When he spoke about “being lifted up and drawing all people to his side,” it wasn’t reference to the glory of power, but rather the glory of God’s sacrificial love expressed  at the cross.  Of Jesus, Paul wrote:  “Being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross!”


More than that, it is the symbol of the cross that becomes the pattern of our witness and the seed of our discipleship.  Jesus said that those who would follow him would “take up the cross.” This was not a call to the glory of greatness, but of the sacrifice of love and the power of grace.  It is mustard seed living.


So in reflection may we never see ourselves as too small, too weak, too old, or too insignificant to be useful to God.  Let’s remember that when God’s Spirit takes root in our lives, it happens in small ways – and that small ways can make a difference.


When the seed of the Spirit takes root…


…an ordinary fisherman becomes Peter (the Rock)

…a dishonest tax collector becomes a trusted disciple.

…the broken and unclean are included and have a place.

…the hopelessly ill are made well again.

…the dead are brought back to life.

…a persecutor of the church become its greatest theologian


“When a little guy doesn’t know he’s a little guy, he can do big things.” 


This is how the Kingdom of God advances.  I know that sounds wacky, but then again, we are those crazy, wacky Christians.  We confess that when the Spirit gets involved, our lives are transformed in small ways that make a big impact.  Don’t ever yourself or this church as too small or  insignificant to make a difference.


“When a little guy doesn’t know he’s a little guy, he can do big things.” 


God’s Kingdom is advanced in small ways, like the MUSTARD SEED.  But those small seeds of service and sacrifice – those small actions that reveal love and grace – they are the craziness of God’s Kingdom transforming the world.


I heard something this past week that astounded me.  Do you know that our nation’s biggest purchasers of fog machines and pyrotechnics (fireworks) are the churches?    This morning all over our nation there are churches trying to attract attention making the most loudest noise and showing off the biggest flash.  Now let me tell you the rest of the story.  59% of those who worship each week attend congregations that range between 7 and 99 people in weekly attendance.  I can tell that these are not the congregations buying fireworks.  These are the small communities of faith that make up the bulk of Christ followers in our nation.  These will be the people among whom the next great spiritual awakening in our nation will occur – but only if they (only if WE) stop seeing ourselves as weak or insignificant, realizing that the mustard seed of God’s Kingdom has been planted in the soil of our lives.


“When a little guy doesn’t know he’s a little guy, he can do big things.” 


Look for the mustard seed.  Look for the roots of God’s Kingdom with faith and optimism.  Do not dismiss what seems things – the broken things.  Do not give up on yourself, on others, on the church, or even on the world.  God is still at work and most often revealed in the small things.   Believe in the possibilities that the Spirit brings, even when the evidence is small.


Now we are talking about the soil, aren’t we?  The Kingdom of God is evidence in the mustard seed.  But that seed takes root in the soil that is our lives.  We need to be the kind of soil that is open to receive the mustard seed of the Kingdom. What’s the refrain I’ve been repeating?  “When a little guy doesn’t know he’s a little guy, he can do big things.” 


Here’s the flip side of that statement.  When the little guy or gal sees themselves as weak and without value, they will not accomplish much of anything.


As soil for the seed, we need to receive the gift of a new perspective on ourselves.  We need to see ourselves differently, with the eyes of God’s grace. (HAVE EVERYONE MOVE TO THE CENTER)


Here’s the invitation to faith.  Let go of old perspective.  Allow the Spirit to give you a NEW vision.  Remember that vision starts small, but that small changes over time make a big difference.


Look for the seeds of the Kingdom and have faith to allow them to take root in your thoughts and imaginations.  Believe, depend, and trust in God.


I think I have told you this story before, but it’s good enough to repeat.  It’s about a Roman Catholic, but we are not the kind of Baptist for whom that is a problem. One day Mother Teresa went to her superiors with a vision she had received from God.  It was a mustard seed kind of VISION, but it had taken root in her heart.


“God is calling me to build an orphanage for the poor children in Calcutta,” she said.  “I have three pennies and a dream from God to build an orphanage.”


Her superiors chided her foolishness.  Remember, her superiors were church leaders and suppose to be people of faith.  They said to her:  “You can’t build an orphanage with three pennies.”


The tiny little nun agreed.  “You are correct, I cannot build a orphanage with three pennies.  But with God and three pennies I can do anything.”


“When a little guy doesn’t know he’s a little guy, he can do big things.” 


I know that sound crazy, but it is the gospel truth.

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