The mighty mustard seed

Good morning, Friends! Welcome to worship at Springfield.

I want to share something as we get started this morning. For years, I always wanted to do something special here at Springfield. It’s something I’ve done at other churches I’ve served.

I was going to get up early Sunday morning, and lock the doors on the building. I was going to put chairs out front, and when everybody arrived, I was going to tell people we had to worship outside that day.

When I did this before, I told people that it’s important for us to remember our religious freedom. Because in the past, Quakers were often persecuted.

It was illegal to worship in the way that we wanted. Quakers were arrested and sent to prison for the kind of worship that we have every week, because the government wanted people only to worship one way, using the same prayers, and with officially appointed ministers.

Quakers resisted that. Our meetinghouses were chained shut. And do you know what happened? The Quakers met outside, in the street.

Wow! We just went back in time, almost 400 years!

In several instances, all the adult members of an entire Quaker meeting were arrested. And you know what happened? Their children came on Sunday, and the children showed up and held worship, just as if their parents were there. The children kept the meeting going.

In at least one place, an angry mob came and burned down the meetinghouse. And you know what happened? The Quakers showed up and met on top of the ashes.

We couldn’t be stopped. We couldn’t be discouraged. We were locked out. We were arrested. We were burned out. But we kept on worshiping.

When I did this before, with other Friends meetings, I did it to remind everyone that it doesn’t matter where we get together. God is still here. God hasn’t abandoned us.

I’ve been at Quaker worship in so many places. In homes. In hospital rooms and prisons. Around campfires.

I remember going to a Quaker meeting in Africa where they met outdoors under the trees, because the people were so poor that they couldn’t afford any kind of a building. But God was still there in their meeting. They sang and rejoiced and gave thanks to God for beng there. It was amazing.

Two or three years ago, when I brought up the idea of holding outdoor worship at Springfield, as a lesson in religious freedom, some leaders said, “No. That’s too inconvenient for us. It’ll be hot and uncomfortable. There’s no way we would do something like that!”

Well, today we’re meeting outdoors for a different reason. It’s not because of persecution. It’s to protect everyone’s health, and to keep people safe. We know there’s this epidemic disease, so we’re following the best medical advice we can, because we care for each other. We want everyone to stay healthy, and everyone to live through this.

Funny, how we can do the same thing, for a different reason. We can do the same thing, but we need to learn a different lesson.

Jesus put before them another parable: “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.”

Then Jesus 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.”

Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; indeed, without a parable he told them nothing.

Matthew 13:31-34

One of the most important things we can learn in life, is that great things often have small beginnings.

I’m glad we’re here outdoors this morning, because if we were indoors, I could talk for hours about how great God is, and how beautiful God’s world is. I could talk about that for hours – but out here, all you need is look around for just a few moments, and see it for yourself.

All this beauty. All this life. The blessing of these living things all around us. Everything green that you see, that renews the oxygen and provides the very air we breathe at every moment.
That’s God’s hand at work.

Take a look at these giant trees. They weren’t even here that long ago. These trees out front were planted during the lifetime of people who are still alive here at Springfield.

Do you know how each of these giant oak trees got started? Each one of them came from a single acorn, a single seed.
Look again. All this, from just one seed.

Each seed carries, deep inside it, the blueprint for one of these giant trees. It’s a mystery to me, how that happens. I know all about the science, but it’s still a mystery, every time I see it.

Jesus says that God’s kingdom is just like that. It’s seeds. It’s yeast. It’s tiny things, which grow into great things. The smallest things we can possibly imagine – smaller than seeds, even smaller than cells – work together to create – all this.

If that’s not a miracle, I don’t know what one is. I’m glad we’re worshiping outside today! We get to look at miracles, as far as the eye can see.

Last summer, there was a big wind storm came through. It did a lot of damage. Knocked down a few trees here at Springfield.

One tree in particular I really felt sad about – it’s the big oak over on the far side of the cemetery. It’s more than 300 years old. It was here before the first people came to worship at Springfield.

It’s what they call a witness tree. It’s been here to witness all the events of people’s lives. The births. The weddings. The wars. The hard times. The storms. The good times. 300 years.

We probably aren’t going to be able to save it. That makes me sad. That tree was always like a friend for me, from the first day I came here.

But you know what? Last fall, we gathered up a bunch of acorns from that old oak witness tree. We planted them in containers, and eight of them sprouted this spring. We’re going to try and keep them going.

One tree falls, but eight more can take its place. That’s the way God’s arithmetic works. From the tiniest seeds, to the greatest of living things. From one that dies, to hundreds more that are planted.

It’ll take a few years for them to grow up. But that’s the way God works, too. God’s way often takes time. And we don’t always see the most important things that are happening.

It feels to us, right now, as though these are bad times, times of hardship. But I wonder, 10 years from now – what will we remember? What will our kids remember?

I can just imagine, talking with some of our little ones who are with us today, and asking, “What do you remember about that hard year of 2020?”

I know already what their parents are going to say.

“Oh, it was a terrible time. Everything was shut down for months. People couldn’t go to all their sporting events. A lot of people had to work from home instead of going to the office. Schools were closed. They didn’t have everything at grocery stores. We were so scared all the time. Don’t you remember? You were just 7 or 8 years old!

And I can just imagine what our kids might be saying, just 10 years from now. The kids are going to say, “Wow, it was such a great time! We got to read books at home, as many as we wanted. We went on walks and bike rides, every day. The whole family ate together at every meal. We felt close to each other.

We learned how to do stuff. We set up a tent in the back yard. We watched birds out the window, and learned their names and what they look like.

I got great sleep because I wasn’t up late doing homework or getting up early for school. I sent messages to all my friends. No one bullied me on the playground. I didn’t have to eat school lunches. I didn’t have to dress up for church. We played board games together. It was one of the best times of my life!”

What a difference! And I absolutely predict that’s what people are going to say. Some people are going to remember this as a terrible time, a time of fear and isolation and loneliness.

Other people, maybe even from the same household, are going to remember this as a wonderful time, maybe as one of the best times in their whole lives.

Jesus said that God’s kingdom works like yeast. It’s silent. It’s invisible. You put a spoonful of yeast into a batch of flour, add some water, eggs and oil, mix it up, and then put it in a dark place for a while. Come back, and it’ll be twice the size.

Punch it down, divide it up, it’ll rise again. Bake it, and it’ll come out golden brown, and the smell – well, that heavenly smell will fill the whole house. You know what I’m talking about?

And then you can share it, and feed a houseful of people. People who had nothing to do with making it. All from a tiny bit of yeast.

That’s how God works. God starts with small things. And God makes great things happen!

The kindness that you share today, may seem like it passed unnoticed. But it can change someone’s life. The phone call you make, can lift someone’s spirits from despair.

The prayer you say, can open a floodgate of grace and ministry. The small act of witness you make, can be what changes someone’s heart.

Do you see what I’m saying? Small things matter. Seeds matter. God works with small things, and God turns them into miracles.

And remember what I said – some things take time. It takes time for a seed to sprout. It takes time to grow trees as big as these. It didn’t happen overnight. These trees are here because someone, a lifetime ago, decided to plant them.

Times may be hard, be we need to look beyond today. We need to be planting seeds for trees that we may never sit under. Maybe our children, or our grandchildren, or people we will never know will enjoy their life and shade. Our job is still to plant them.

I know these are hard times for everyone. I’m not immune to the feelings we all have. I get anxious, and frustrated, and depressed, just like you all do.

But I know that this will pass. We’re learning from being here outside. But I know we’ll be able to worship inside, in our own place, when it’s safe again.

In the mean time, I’m planting seeds. I’m trying every day, to lift people’s spirits. I’m calling and texting to stay in touch. I’m handing out books to children, and I’m writing stories for them to read.

For the last five months – March, April, May, June, July – I’ve been working for our future. I’ve been painting, cleaning, making repairs, getting ready for when all the people come back.

Like Jesus said, I’ve been doing the yeast thing. I’ve been teaching online, and you know what? We’ve been reaching more people than we ever did before!

Small seeds, every day. Yeast, working in secret. That’s how God works. Sharing blessings. Friendships. Prayers. Sharing whatever we can, with whoever we meet. That’s the miracle of the mustard seed.

Let’s pray.

Lord, we thank you for the grace and strength of small and hidden things.
Help us to be a part of your kingdom.

Help us to find, every day, new ways to share your love, and your message, with friends we never met before.
Help us to see miracles all around us, in the darkest of times.
Help us to be thankful, even for the least things around us.
Help us to be seed planters, the yeast in our relationships, the light-bringers, the gift-sharers.
Please keep us safe this week, and in good health. We know that you always watch over us for good.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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One Response to The mighty mustard seed

  1. Martha Dentiste says:

    Thank you, Josh, for another wonderful message. God gave you the special gift of being able to write and say the words that lift our spirits and the strength to look around at God’s beauty and put Jesus’s teaching into action.

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