Thursday, 9 April 2015

Growing the kingdom

Jesus said, what shall we say the kingdom of God is like...? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when it is planted it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants... Mark 4:30-31

Mustard isn't something I get too excited about - to me it's just that little dollop of yellow stuff on the edge of your plate that tastes really bitter but gives flavour to meat. I sort of like it, as long as it's just in tiny quantities. (CS Lewis once said that one of the mysteries of life is that anybody could possibly enjoy eating mustard. Oh well...)

But Jesus speaks of it not regarding its taste, but its size. In his world the mustard seed was proverbial for its tininess. But the plant to which it eventually gives birth is, he says, big enough to give a perch to the birds.

And so we are reminded of the sheer miracle of growth - the acorn and the oak-tree, the embryo and the adult, the seed and the flower. Life is very wonderful, isn’t it?

Jesus loved these parables of growth. In this chapter, after the famous parable of the sower, he highlights two particular features of growth.

First, in verses 26-29, his emphasis is on how growth is secret and mysterious.

The man who plants the seed hasn’t a clue how it germinates and develops. All he knows is that it does, and that’s enough for him, thank you very much.

And this is what God's kingdom is like, Jesus says: growing quietly and often out of sight. So we can be encouraged to keep sowing the seed of the gospel, confident that our sowing is not in vain: the seed will bear fruit, though we will never understand the whole process, and though we may never see in our own life-time the fruit of the seed we have sown.

Second, in verses 30-32, the seed grows massively.

Yes, that Sunday school lesson you taught - perhaps thinking you didn't do a very good job - may be remembered in thirty years' time. It may be instrumental in changing a child's very life. That word of witness you spoke to someone at work - a word you thought they had completely forgotten or even ignored - may figure one day when they stand up to give their testimony before being baptised. That card you sent... that leaflet you dropped... that smile you gave... that sermon you preached... that prayer you offered... that conversation you had... Who knows what they might lead to?

Not long ago I had a hacking session in our garden (I would be embarrassed to dignify it with the word "gardening"). Things were getting really out of hand, so out I marched to do battle, armed with choppers and secateurs and mower and trimmer. Oh well, with luck that should keep the garden out of the house for another week or two. And again I was struck by the miracle of growth, even when it can be rather annoying.

And then I look at the church. And I am encouraged to think of what God is doing secretly in people's hearts and even in the lives of nations. We are often discouraged by the smallness of the church, the fact that the kingdom of God seems far from dominant on the earth.

But that day will come.

In the last book of the Bible, Revelation, that strange collection of pictures and images, the sowing/reaping theme surfaces again (14:14-16). The person "like a son of man" (guess who that is?) is told: " 'Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe'. So he swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested."

That day will come. The question is, Are we preparing for it? Are we sowing the seed of the word of God?

And let's not forget - we don't have to wait for the end to share in the reaping. Who knows, God may be calling us to do some reaping even today.

I think that Paul had got hold of Jesus’ message - look at 1 Corinthians 15:58. After nearly sixty verses of marvellous teaching about the resurrection, he comes right back down to earth with these bracing words: “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.”

A word for you today?

Lord God, thank you for the people who sowed the seed of the gospel in my life, and for the massive change it has made to me. Help me, day by day, to be an eager sower, and always ready also to look for opportunities to reap. Amen.

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