Mustard Seeds

weedlove

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 130; 148, Proverbs 23:19-21, 29—24:2, 1 Timothy 5:17-22 (23-25), Matthew 13:31-35


Have you ever heard someone say they love gardening because it brings them closer to nature? This is somewhat ironic, because manicured lawns and gardens are anything but natural. Nature is not tidy rows bent to human will; it is rambling and untamed. Gardeners fight nature with fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides to make sure desirable plants  thrive in an orderly fashion, and the plants they don’t value are removed or destroyed. Left to her own devices, nature would overrun most gardens and lawns with a beautiful and diverse ecosystem we call “weeds.”

When Jesus told the parable of the mustard seed – the tiny seed which grows into a great shrub to shelter birds – he wasn’t talking about mustard as a cultivated crop. In his culture, mustard was often a highly invasive plant species which was difficult to remove once it infested a field. Essentially, he was comparing his followers to a persistent nuisance – to weeds.

The Kingdom is all about the humble persistence of small acts of faith. As much as the world tries to insist its structures are the right way to do things, followers of Christ appear and reappear like weeds to defy its exclusionary boundaries. And try as we Christians might to impose order and uniformity through religion, visionaries and prophets spring up among us to remind us God’s vision can’t be contained within ours. In the parable of the mustard seed, it is the nuisance shrub which becomes a great sheltering tree for those needing a safe place to roost. Does that sound like the church today? Or are we busy balancing the soil pH for roses because dandelions are too common and don’t look as pretty?

Gardens aren’t bad. Genesis tells us humankind began in a garden. They can be beautiful, functional, and therapeutic. They can also be expensive, time-consuming, and exhausting. A worship service is like a garden – carefully selected blooms of song, prayer, and scripture to inspire and nourish us. But we can’t spend our entire lives inside church. The Kingdom grows in the wilderness, a sprawling tree for all who seek God’s shelter.

Comfort: Your life doesn’t have to be pretty to grow in the Kingdom.

Challenge: Regularly examine your expectations about church and faith, and ask yourself how God has defied them.

Prayer: God of the garden and the wilderness, I will worship you and spread your love in all places. Amen.

Discussion: What scares you about wandering in the (actual or metaphorical) wilderness?

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Kingdom Come

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 143; 147:12-20, Malachi 2:1-16, James 4:13-5:6, Luke 17:20-37


When it comes to the concept of “end times” Christians are all over the theological board, from people believing the Bible contains clues to the actual date, to believing it’s all a big metaphor, to countless subtle, overwrought positions between them. After two thousand years it’s hard to believe it’s just around the corner (as did many of his contemporaries), but Jesus talked about it too much to simply ignore it.

When the Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God was coming, he told them it was nothing that could be observed but “in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” So which is it – now or later?

He shared examples of what it would be like. Two in a bed, and one taken. Two grinding meal, one taken, the other left behind. Ordinary things. Things we’re not likely to be doing if we think the world is ending. Things we do every day, right now, even as the world ends for so many people caught in war, famine, and disaster.

When the kingdom arrives for you, maybe you’ll be in bed and startle awake with a gasp that feels like the first complete breath you’ve ever taken, a breath full of sorrow and hope that connects you to all the other breaths of the Kingdom. The person sleeping next to you, and their shallow breaths, will wake next to someone who understands why we do good to our enemies, and how forgiveness saves the world, and wonder why you can no longer share the same hate. The kingdoms you wander could suddenly not be more different.

Perhaps the kingdom will come in the middle of your daily grind, when a remembered verse about lilies in the field blooms large, and your fears are cast out. A new perspective, a focus on what’s eternally important rather than what’s mundanely urgent, now separates you from co-workers who look at you like you’re from another planet. Your sudden inability to share their worries confirms their suspicions.

Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done. That is when earth is like heaven.

Comfort: The kingdom is right here.

Challenge: Pick a random page in the newspaper (or your regular online news source) and ask yourself how residents of the kingdom might see the stories differently.

Prayer: Thank you, merciful God, for inviting me into your realm. Amen.

Discussion: Do you feel like part of the present kingdom?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group or follow @comf_and_chall on Twitter. You’ll  have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!