“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.”
Mustard is not a very nice plant.
It was not well liked in Jesus’ day.
It was like crabgrass or that terrible weed that I don’t know the name of that has those purple berries that tries to take over my entire yard every summer.
It was something to be gotten rid of.
And despite Jesus’ assertion that the small mustard seed grows into a tree, in reality it never became much more than a very large bush.
It is invasive and almost impossible to get rid of.
And Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to this?
It is difficult to comprehend.
Why didn’t Jesus compare the kingdom of heaven to the enormous and majestic cedars of Lebanon or the life-giving olive tree?
Why not compare the kingdom of heaven, God’s presence in the world, to something more attractive, more welcome, and more powerful?
Isn’t God the king of kings and lord of lords?
Isn’t God all-powerful?
Well, it seems that Jesus and therefore God are not that concerned with worldly majesty and power.
The God that sent Jesus into our world to show us God’s wishes for this world is not all that interested in dominating, impressing, or over-powering.
In fact it appears that God is interested in giving away control and power.
In other words, God is interested in love, for true love never seeks power.
True love never seeks control.
True love never seeks to dominate.
True love is humble.
This is actually a very important message for American Christians to hear today, for we are used to being the ones in power.
For the entire history of our nation, indeed for the entire span of time that northern Europeans have been living in North America, Christianity and political power have been considered to be one in the same.
Even today, when we have lost much of this dominance, it would most likely be impossible for a non-Christian to be elected president of the United States.
We are used to being the majority.
We are used to owning the finest real estate in town, located right in the center, with beautiful buildings to worship in.
We are perplexed and sometimes angry with those who don’t respect this dominance: those who don’t want prayer in school, or who wish us Happy Holidays at Christmastime rather than Merry Christmas.
And yet, the dominance of Christianity in this country grows less and less every day.
Both mainline and evangelical Christian communities are experiencing declining membership.
More and more churches are finding themselves financially unable to maintain the beautiful buildings located in the center of town.
And this scares us.
We struggle to keep things the way they have always been.
Church after church chooses to keep its building rather than pay for a clergy person to lead them.
Church after church seems to be choosing to die in their attempt to keep things like they have always been rather than continue to exist as a community that follows Christ in a new and different way.
We want to be the majestic cedars of Lebanon rather than the scrubby and invasive mustard bush.
We bemoan and lament our decline.
But I often wonder if God isn’t pleased with what is happening to American Christianity.
Perhaps we had become too comfortable, too satisfied, too associated with worldly power.
Remember, we worship a God who came into this world as a tiny and defenseless little baby: A baby born to a poor Jewish family living in a backwater province of the Roman Empire, a baby born into a situation of no power.
And when Jesus became an adult he did not join the Zealots, a group seeking to overthrow the Romans who were ruling them.
He did not become a Pharisee or a Sadducee, the religious leaders of his day.
No, Jesus became an itinerant preacher and teacher who owned nothing and relied on the generosity of others for his basic needs.
He walked and lived with the poor and the outcast.
He repeatedly broke laws because he saw that these laws were unjust. Jesus saw that many of the laws that were considered so moral and religious were a burden to the poor and the downtrodden.
Jesus had no respect for religious or political power.
And in the end, he is crucified for his disregard for the ways of the world.
Jesus was the mustard plant: small, invasive, and persistent.
Jesus was not seeking to be like the cedars of Lebanon: large, majestic and powerful.
Jesus was seeking to infect the hearts and minds of individuals.
He was seeking to invade the lives of those he met that they might come to understand true love, that they might come to understand that God was calling them to love not power and control.
And Jesus continues to seek to invade our lives in the same way.
Jesus is calling us to identify, walk with and seek to help those who are without power: the poor, the immigrant, the prisoner, the sick: in short anyone the world considers to be an outcast or a sinner.
I suspect that God isn’t all that concerned with the continued existence of the institutional church in this country.
I suspect that God doesn’t really care that much whether or not our buildings stand or crumble.
Those are things that matter greatly to us, but probably not greatly to God.
For the God that Jesus shows us again and again appears to have no interest in these things.
What the God that Jesus shows us does seem to care about is love, true love.
God cares about us creating Christian community in which the members support each other as we strive to show this love to one another and to carry it out into the world.
God knows that such communities can exist without buildings, without power, without control.
If the entire institutional church ceased to exist, I suspect that I would still seek to gather those who wished to follow Christ, even if it meant praying together on my living room couch or around my dining room table.
We are, each and every one of us who calls ourselves a Christian, called to be mustard seeds: persistent and invasive.
We are called not to power, control, and dominance but to love.
And we are to never give up hope.
We want a God who acts in powerful and magnificent ways, but this is not the way of God.
God works quietly, slowly, and also persistently and stubbornly.
We kill Jesus on the cross and God raises him again three days later.
For true love does not seek to dominate or control.
True love is humble and seeks only the good of the one who is loved. And God truly loves us. Amen.