Tom's Sermon: July 24, 2011

Behold the Mustard Seed
Scripture: Genesis 29:15–28, Psalm 105 VU 828, Romans 8:26–39, 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; 32it 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. ’Matthew 13:31-32

Everyone should have received a little baggy with your bulletin. At first it may look empty, but there is something in it, some very small thing. It is a mustard seed. Don’t try planting it like the gladiola corms you received on Easter, as I have had my jar of mustard seeds for many years, with the lectionary reading coming around to this passage every three years. Beside these were bought from a spice rack, rather than a seed store. The point is to notice the tiny size of the seed. Jesus spoke of the mustard seed being so small, yet it produced a plant – as it was in the middle-east 2,000 years ago -- large enough for birds to build their nest in its branches. He said faith is like that mustard seed, even though it is small it can grow to an amazing size.
The lectionary readings the last couple of weeks have talked about seeds, soils and weeds. The essential element to fulfill our God-given destiny is to have faith that will have a chance to grow and produce.
God will choose even unlikely people to grow their faith. Jacob was a schemer who quickly stole Esau’s birthright, then – by trickery – received his father’s blessing. His brother, Esau, and his father, Isaac, were so upset with him that he fled for his life. When he left the country, the first night he had the dream of the ladder going up to heaven with angels ascending and descending. It was the first time that a descendant of Abraham came to realize that God was not limited to the promised-land, but indeed was even in foreign places.
We discover in today’s lesson that Jacob was not the only schemer who manipulated things to his own advantage. His relative, Laban, was his match. Jacob, who was obviously completely besotted with Laban’s younger daughter, Rachel, worked for seven years to gain her in marriage, only to have Laban trick him into marrying the older, plainer, Leah. He had to commit himself to another seven years to gain Rachel. As was the fashion in those days, you could have more than one wife. Your wives’ hand maidens were also considered part of the harem, so Jacob eventually had twelve sons between his two wives and their hand maidens. Those twelve were to become the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel.
As we move through the Old Testament lectionary, we will be reminded again of Jacob’s spiritual discernment, in spite of his scheming mind. We will learn of his return to the promised-land and how he wrestled with God so hard that he dislocated his hip and walked with a limp the rest of his days. That is when his name changed and he became “Israel, one who wrestles with God”. Of course his sons had learned his scheming ways and were jealous of how much he loved Rebecca’s son more than the sons of the other three mothers, so they sold Joseph to slave traders to get rid of him, only to have Joseph’s great gifts eventually lead him into Pharaoh’s retinue until he became Prime Minister of Egypt. Joseph’s situation as a slave appeared intolerable, but God was with him and that little mustard seed of faith grew to produce way beyond what anyone dreamed could happen.
What does all of this ancient history of God’s people have to do with you and me in Lloydminster about 3,500 years later? It has a great deal to do with us. The condition of our building – with its leaking roof, its inefficient heating and cooling, its inability to use modern communications tools that would allow us to be paper free in worship, its restrictions for many uses -- is forcing us to take action. We have chosen to rebuild on this site, preserving – as far as practical – this existing sanctuary. A lot of people are excited about the prospects. A lot of people are worried about how we can afford re-development. Some wonder where we will worship during renovations. If we put our minds and concerns on the physical plant and on financial resources and costs, we might have reason for concerns. However, I believe God is giving us a wake-up call to consider a new vision of how we can be the church, be Christ’s body in a new age.
For almost a hundred years, churches in city centres have been re-developing to serve their both their own congregations and to become a catalyst for positive action in the community. I visited a church in downtown Chicago that redeveloped in the 1920’s. The ground level that went up about three stories high was a sanctuary. The next twenty some odd stories were offices for the church, the denomination, for community agencies, and for commercial offices. The second floor from the top was a manse for the minister, while the very top of the spire-like pointed roof was a chapel in the sky. Many years ago the United Church in Yellowknife developed a similar concept with church, offices, and community agencies located at ground level and about ten stories of seniors’ and I believe subsidized housing above that. A church in Hamilton was destroyed by fire, then redeveloped with high value commercial development at street level, a sanctuary and church office on the second level, and housing for many stories above that.
There are some real challenges in Lloydminster, including homelessness, hunger, and addictions, often inter-mixed with each other. Do we include reaching out in Christ’s love to help meet these or other needs? Could our re-design include drop-in facilities and programs for troubled people, for the lonely, for mothers of young children, and for seniors? Could our redeveloped centre provide a home for agencies that work with our people, agencies such as Habitat for Humanity? Can we become the centre for studies and courses about our faith – not only for the people of our congregation, but for the people of our community and the people of surrounding small churches?
If we believe that we are being called to new vision and action, even if our initial interest is as small as a mustard seed, it could grow into something beyond our imagination that would draw in people and agencies beyond our congregation to make the dream come alive. We would have to have the conviction that Paul wrote about in today’s epistle reading:
31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?...
37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
If we are treating the challenge of a redevelopment as refurbishing our clubhouse, we might have trouble with finances. If, however, we see it as God’s challenge to a new vision, and new ways to make God’s Word come alive in Lloydminster and district, we will be shown the way. If we have faith, even as small as a grain of mustard seed, it will blossom into something even beyond our dreams. Take your grain of mustard seed home and meditate on its meaning. Will our faith, individually and collectively, give growth to something that will provide a base for so many needs in our community? Let us pray that it does.