The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost: Year A

“Small Moments and the Kingdom of Heaven”

A sermon by Pastor Jane Jeuland

Today we hear Jesus explain that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed, “the smallest of all 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.”

So, I live in New Haven and we are really proud of our large and great Elm trees. We call ourselves the Elm City and there is a sense of strength looking at these tall, sprawling Elm Trees lining our streets. At the time that Jesus shared this parable – kingdoms and empires were also compared to mighty trees… and here Jesus describes the Kingdom of Heaven – the Kingdom of all Kingdoms – not as a majestic tree, but as a shrub. Why would he do this? Doesn’t it make the Kingdom of Heaven look a little lame?

Well it might sound like that, but a mustard seed is actually an annual herb that can grow up to 20 feet tall resembling a tree in just three months, which is much mightier than any other herb I have ever planted. It produces an abundance of seeds that birds particularly enjoy so in just a few short months this tiny seed can grow into a shrub that gives home to many birds. Because it is an annual, it will grow up the next year again not from the same original seed and roots like a perennial, but it will only grow again from seeds it has dropped on the ground so in fact one mustard plant may turn into 100 mustard plant seedlings the next year.

Isn’t the Kingdom of Heaven indeed more like this than a elm tree? An elm tree grows very slowly, each year gaining several inches, trying to reach higher and higher, remaining stalwart and in its same place year after year never growing anew, providing shelter for birds nests but no food for them… to change the landscape, the tree must be cut down at its trunk and its roots must be ground so that the soil can become smoothed again to grow grass or even build a house where it once stood.

Today Jesus explains that the Kingdom of Heaven is not so rigid, slow moving, stagnant and difficult to change. It does not continue to do things the way it always has done things… it grows anew from small places. The Kingdom of Heaven reinvents itself finding new ground and growing from new seeds again and again and again. And when it grows, it grows fast … giving home to birds and nourishing birds of all kinds.

Now the ancient Jews who heard this scripture likely would have heard the birds as a metaphor for the gentiles, the non-Jews. Gentiles were often portrayed as birds… So this tiny seed that can grow very tall in just a few short months gives a home and food not just for a certain select type of bird, but for birds of all kinds. This is the Kingdom of Heaven.

I think sometimes we can get so discouraged as kids, as adults, and even as a church and wonder what on earth do we have to offer? We feel small and believe that we are not enoug but Jesus says to us today you are enough whether you are 5 or 95 years old. You are enough whether you have 3,000 people in a stadium sized church or you are gathering 3-4 people every Sunday to worship and pray. Wherever you are the kingdom of heaven grows from the smallest of acts and these are new every moment… these small acts are not established committees that have been running for decades in the same way and are always trying to reach higher and be more successful. No the kingdom of heaven begins in these small acts created anew each moment and they are not acts to gain attention or success or fanfare. These acts are genuine and from the heart for the the sole purpose of love and support. And most often we do not see how our small acts grow the kingdom of Heaven. We have no idea how our smallness so quickly provides nourishment and a home in God’s arms for so, so many people.

I heard a story of a woman who has a special needs daughter. When her daughter was about six, she thought she might be ready to sit through a church service, so she mustered up the courage to take her to church. Her daughter was fidgety in her seat throughout the whole service. After the service a woman approached this mom and said, “You need to get better control of your daughter.”

Thank God her daughter did not hear this, but her mother was devastated. Holding back the tears, her mother drove her daughter home and vowed never to take her back to church, but her daughter asked her over and over again: “Mom can we please go back to church.” Wanting to protect her daughter, the mom told her that sometimes people at church can be mean so they were not going back to church, but the little girl would not relent and she kept asking her mother.

Finally she decided to take her daughter to a different church. They happened to sit down in a pew next to a teenager. She explained that she had music that she liked to sing in church and proceeded to hum the music throughout the service while rocking back and forth. The mom thought, “oh boy here we go again. Someone is going to get upset with this teenager and my daughter.” But the humming girl engaged her daughter. They sat happily together humming and learning christian songs, then at the peace several people approached the teenager with joy. They clearly knew her. Her mom was downstairs teaching Sunday school. The people in the church then introduced themselves to the new mom and her daughter, welcoming them into the church community. Again this mom was tearful, but this time it was with tears of relief and immense gratitude. Now she knew that there was a place for her and her daughter to go and worship the Lord. Three years later, this mom and daughter not only attend church every day, but the mom has also become a preacher and helps preach in a podcast that is broadcast worldwide.

I wonder what the parishioners thought after they introduced themselves to this mom and daughter. It was such a small, small act. I wonder if they were nervous. After church when the mom and daughter left, I wonder if these parishioners ever knew how much they impacted this mom and daughter and all the people that they now serve through their podcast. What a small act that was – just a simple welcome – and it had such a profound, fast, nourishing growth in the Kingdom of Heaven for people of all kinds.

So in the week ahead whether you are 10 or 50 years old, I encourage you to notice the small kingdom moments in your life. We often don’t see the impact they have on others, but take time to imagine not only how these small acts directly impacted people, but think about how those people then impacted other people and so on… think about the ripple effect of these small Kingdom producing moments and know that you are enough, St. Mark’s is enough, Christ Church is enough, we are more than enough… we are the seeds in this mighty Kingdom of Heaven.