The Holy Gospel according to Matthew, the 13th chapter.
Glory to you, O Lord.
31 He (Jesus) 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. 49So 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 Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
This week we continue with a series of parables from Jesus. A couple of weeks ago, we heard the parable of the sower. We learned that we are different kinds of soil at different times in our lives.
Last week we heard the parable of the wheat and the weeds and found out that even when we are good soil, weeds can grow in our garden.
This week we have a series of short parables. This group is more like a series of analogies, than stories. I would like to continue with the theme of things that grow and focus today on the first parable I read you, the story of the mustard seed.
Jesus tells us that we are meant to grow.
It has been said that growth is the primary sign of life. We are meant to grow. Most of us were baptized as baby Christians. But we aren’t supposed to stay like that, as infants in our faith. God made us to grow into mature Christians.
Today we heard the story about the mustard seed and how big it grows. In our first lesson from First Kings, we heard the story of Solomon and his request that God give him a wise and discerning mind. Wisdom is a sign of growth and maturity.
In the final verse of our gospel, Jesus tells us that treasures are both old and new. Respecting the things that are old, and welcoming the things that are new are signs of wisdom and discernment.
In the familiar parable of the mustard seed, the kingdom of God is compared to this tiny little mustard seed that grows into a great shrub, big enough for birds to make nests in it.
What can we learn about growing into a mature Christian from these stories?
First of all, God is the one who starts the process. Nothing grows unless God provides the seed. Nothing grows unless God provides the soil and the water and the sunshine. God plants us in places where our growth in faith will be obvious to others. We are not supposed to hide our faith. We are called to let our light shine.
What does Christian growth look like? How do you know a mature Christian when you see one? How do you know if you are growing in your faith?
A few years ago, in an issue of Christianity Today, the cover story was titled, "When Are We Going to Grow Up?" The author, Thomas Berger, stated that American Christianity has become a juvenile religion. By this he means that the religious beliefs and practices of adolescents have become accepted for adults. He says that we are often acting like teenagers in our faith.
He traces the problem back to the 1930's and 1940's. Back then, the churches became worried about losing the youth. Evangelical churches and mainline Protestants like us and the Presbyterians and Methodists began active youth ministry programs. These programs were very successful and helped the churches grow. Church members were pleased with the growth and many youth ministry ideas became accepted as normal for adults.
During this time, American society changed too. We had the Great Depression, World War II, and then the Cold War. Society began to recognize the category of teenagers.
Some characteristics of teenagers have not changed since then. They still want to live their own lives, have fun, and not be in a hurry to grow up and be serious about life.
Back in the 1930’s and 40’s, adulthood meant being responsible. It meant self-denial and service to others. Until the 1950's and 1960's being an adult usually meant getting married, getting a job, and having children. Since the 60's though, being an adult in our society has placed less emphasis on obligations and responsibilities, and more on individual needs and wants.
This immature adulthood has worked with the youth culture of the church and made many of us into adolescents in our faith. People who are adolescent in their faith see God as a means to personal fulfillment. They want their faith to help them feel better and be happy.
People who are adolescent in their faith want to be good people. They want the church to help them live moral lives. But since you can live a basically moral life without religion, they see the church as one of many options available.
People who are adolescent in their faith see God in the background of their lives, always watching over them, ready to help, but not the center of their lives. They believe that God, faith, and the church exist to help them with their problems.
Youth ministry and adolescent faith are for teenagers though. We are meant to grow. God did not make us so that we could stay in adolescence. God means for us to grow up.
What does a mature Christian look like?
Let's go back to the mustard plant in the story. The mustard plant grows tall. It can be seen by everyone. It becomes the greatest shrub in the garden. It is an example for all the other plants in the field.
Mature Christians stand tall and set an example for others. They don't hide who they are, but they aren't prideful either. They boldly proclaim that all that they are comes from God. All who see them will know the LORD.
Mature Christians know they need to stay connected to the house of the LORD. They know that the church and the community of faith are their source of life. They know that we don't retire from serving God.
Mature Christians realize that others will know them by their fruits and they continue to serve God and neighbors willingly.
Mature Christians know that everyone who is in God is a new creation. They value the old, the traditions of the faith. But, they also embrace newness as a gift from God.
Mature Christians know that forgiveness and love come from God.They try to see others from God's point of view and not from a human point of view.
Mature Christians know that even small seeds grow into large trees. They know that even small things done in God's name can help others grow in faith.
Mature Christians are like the large trees, they can provide a place to nurture those who are young in their faith, just as the birds make nests in the large mustard tree.
Mature Christians know something else about mustard seeds. They know mustard grows like a weed. It would invade the wheat and barley fields and take over. There were strict laws in Jesus' time about where it could be planted.
When I read about mustard seeds I always think of the thorny honey locust trees that grew at our house in Lincoln. They volunteered in our yard and grew rapidly. Within a year or two, they made a nice shade and the birds made nests there. They have lots of seeds though, and they spread rapidly throughout the yard from both the seeds and the root system.
The new plants literally grew at least a foot each week, way faster than the grass. So within a few days after we would mow, there would be dozens of tall thorny switches sticking out of the lawn.
The Kingdom of heaven is like those thorny honey locust trees. It spreads like weeds, and sometimes it is inconvenient for us. Mature Christians have the kind of faith that spreads like weeds.
Mature Christians know that following Christ can be inconvenient sometimes. It requires sacrifice. There are obligations and responsibilities.
Mature Christians are the ones who know best that their faith is a gift from God. They know that all that they have and all that they are comes from the free gift of grace.
Mature Christians never tire of hearing the old, old story of Jesus and his love. Mature Christians rejoice in the gift of grace that is ours through the death and resurrection of Jesus our Lord.
Mature Christians celebrate the new life that is ours in Christ.
God plants us here and means for us to grow into mature Christians. When we stay connected to God's house, hearing the Word, sharing in the meal, God provides all that we need to grow and bear fruit.
Then all who see us will know that God is the LORD. Amen.