Finding Shelter in the Mustard Shrubs

I preached this sermon this summer at Bay Lake Camp--and then another version of it for the mission developers training in Minneapolis a few days later. I made promises to people in both gatherings that I would post it. I know you were hoping I'd do it within 4 months. Jokes on you--I did it in 3. I"m also including the prayers of the people that Humble Walk people wrote for the mission developers.  

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

31 He put before them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all the 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." 33 He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened."

44 "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. 47 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48 when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 51 "Have you understood all this?" They answered, "Yes." 52 And he said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.

The KOG....God's new reality...or God's activity in the world.

Is like...mustard seeds. Raise your hand if you have any experience growing mustard? No? I come from a farming family. And over the 4th of July weekend, I asked one of my brothers if anyone grows mustard around there anymore. Growing up, I remember seeing mustard fields. My brother said that one or two farmers did it as a specialty crop. But hardly anyone. My brother's certainly don't. It's potatoes, soybeans and wheat for them.

What we know about mustard is that it grows easily. Like a weed. Mustard doesn't grow into big trees—like a pine, oak or birch. It's a substantial shrub. And it's wildly invasive. So Jesus is telling us that God moves in the world like a super invasive, frustrating weed.


Each Spring, we encounter a similar weed around here. Dandelions. Maybe you think they are beautiful. Maybe you gather them to make tea or jelly. Maybe you have one of those popper things that allows you to pull them out from the root. Maybe you spent a good couple hours on your hands and needs, pulling them up. At the end of those hours, you sit back. Deeply satisfied with your work. Your lawn is free and clear.

But then, you happen to glance over at your neighbors yard. And you witness the horror of a sea of dandelions gone to seed.

The Kingdom of God is like...mustard seed. Or like scattering dandelions around the neighborhood. It's like buckthorn. It's like introducing Asian Carp into the Mississippi River.

It's ridiculous. It's never something we would dream up. If we were in charge of the KOG, we would go for trusting, safe tomato plants. Something we can control. Something measurable and predictable. It stays where you plant it and doesn't spread to your neighbors yard.

But we are not God. God is way wilder. God says—I will love and move like mustard seed! And it is so. Sneaky. Ridiculous. Invasive. Sometimes hidden. Always surrounded in mystery. Unstoppable. Definitely NOT manageable.

God is moving in the world. It's happening all around us. Whether we see it or we not. Whether we can fully believe or not. Whether we trust it or not. God is at work—spreading tiny seeds of hope and love far wider than you can imagine.

What might prevent us from seeing this movement of God? Our own thoughts. Our own thoughts. Many of which are ruled by anxiety.

We worry that we aren't being good. Or good enough. When in truth, we rest in the love and care of God. Jesus is NOT asking you to be a tiny mustard seed that does great big things. I know it's easy and tempting to go there with this Gospel. Most of us are do-ers. We get stuff done. Important work! Like starting new communities of faith. It's easy to hear this parable as one more thing to put on our to-do lists. “Jesus said, be a mustard seed.”

(Mission developers...)Stop worrying about being a seed. That is God's work. It is God in Christ Jesus who scatters the seeds and provides the mustard shrub as shelter for us. The reason that Jesus spreads and moves like an invasive weed in our lives, in our neighborhoods, in our churches is so that we might find shelter together.

Hear this part of the Gospel again as a bird seeking shelter: The KOG is like "The kingdom of (heaven) is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the 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."

Your job, birds of the air, all you strange and wonderful birds, is find shelter in the branches of God's mustard shrubs. That's enough.

These prayers are written and shaped for you by the online community of HW.

God of creation, help us to hear that we are called to this work and that you walk with us through our joys and tribulations. And that you are already at work in our world. Sometimes, that work looks like church. But most of the time it's hard to tell what is what. In your mercy,

God of creation, help us adjust our expectations and definitions of "success" . Our entire culture (church included) is focused on growth and measurable goals. We are under a lot of pressure to be good stewards of resources and somehow in that we get bogged down by worries of having enough money, time, people. Give us wisdom to lead well. In your mercy,

Kids need a place in worship and adults need to feel comfortable letting their kids be kids... otherwise they end up like some on Sunday mornings... (choosing between trying to keep our kids quiet in worship or just giving up and going to the playground at the mall. We want our kids to learn how to worship around the table and font—help us make a space for them. In your mercy,

.Help us to delegate from the very beginning. Or at least from this day forward. We know it's important and biblical. But you know, we have the control thing. In your mercy,

We are going to do our best to turn this all into a competition. You know we will. Help us to find other ways to talk to one another other than rattling off the number of people in our worship spaces. Help us to build relationships with other leaders. We need each other. In your mercy,

God, this is all sort of hard. But, we can do hard things. In your mercy,

We lift these prayers and the prayers of our hearts to you, trusting in your mercy. Amen.