The seed of faith
Mark 4, 26-34
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen
I thought I’d start today with a joke. I think we all need cheering up as the news seems unrelentingly tedious. If it’s not swine flu then it’s MP’s expenses. So a joke – for which I am deeply indebted to the keen legal mind of Mr Nick Sanders. I find it’s always as well to attribute your jokes in advance – that way you all know who to blame if you don’t like it.
A lady goes to the vet with a duck, which she presents to the veterinary surgeon. The duck is quite clearly dead and, after a cursory examination, the vet duly informs the lady that her duck has breathed it’s last. Outraged, the lady tells the vet he doesn’t know what he’s talking about and challenges him to prove that her duck is, indeed, dead. The vet sighs but then opens the back door of the surgery and ushers in a large black Labrador who walks up to the examination table puts his paws on the table and sniffs the duck from head to toe. The Labrador looks dolefully at the vet and slowly shakes its head and leaves the surgery.
The vet then brings in a large tabby cat, which he places on the table beside the duck. The cat also sniffs the duck from head to toe and also looks up to the vet and shakes its head. The vet removes the cat and then says to the lady, “There you are, I told you it was dead. He taps a few keys on his computer and says, “That will be £150 please”.
The lady, clearly shocked says “£150 to tell me that my duck is dead, that’s outrageous” “Well” said the vet, if you’d taken my word for it, it would have only been £20 but with the lab test and the cat scan it’s £150”
Now I don’t normally start my sermons with a joke but I thought it would be an interesting test. I am prepared to bet that after you’ve forgotten everything else that I’m about to tell you, you will still remember the joke about the dead duck. Because that’s the way we are, we do like a good story, don’t we. Jesus knew that better than anyone which is why, in his short ministry he told his disciples and followers so many good and memorable stories.
If I were a betting man, I would guarantee that if you asked people what it is they remember from the bible, it would not be the opening chapters of Leviticus, or Numbers. It is far more likely to be the parable of the Good Samaritan, or the Parable of the Sower. Why did Jesus choose to give us his most important messages as stories, rather than as straightforward instructions? Because he knew that we would remember them and he knew that we would relate them to our own lives. This makes the stories timeless and infinitely more powerful.
Today, we had one of those famous stories, a really simple short one but a very powerful one for all that. The parable of the mustard seed. Let me remind you of it.
"With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade."
This particular parable is covered in 3 of the gospels, as well as our reading from Mark, it is found in Matthew and Luke and it is so appropriate today for a couple of reasons. Firstly because we will have the great pleasure of christening Emily Olivia – more of that in a moment.
Secondly, it’s so timely at this stage of the year. I know we have some keen gardeners here and I’m sure your gardens, like ours, are literally bursting with growth this year. The weather has been amazing, warm and wet and you can almost see plants growing. Somehow, watching plants grow, particularly from seed, never ceases to be an amazing event. To see life coming from something as dry and dead as a seed is almost a miracle in itself and Jesus knew that when he told this parable. He knew that we would never tire of that everyday miracle and that the parable would be as real to us in Bunbury in 2009 as it was in Palestine in 33 AD.
He chose a mustard seed for his example because it is tiny – the size of a grain of salt, and yet the plant that grows from it can just grow and grow and grow up to 15 feet in height. All that from this one tiny, insignificant little spec of a seed. Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to that little seed, which can be confusing. Surely the Kingdom of God is infinite, not tiny.
Of course what he means is that the Kingdom of God within us all starts as a speck of faith. A seed that might be sown in us at any time. A seed that might be sown by any of us in someone else. A seed that has the potential to grow to become the most important thing in anyone’s life.
Do you know how any Christians there are in the world today? 1.6 billion. We are by far, the world’s greatest religion. Who would have thought that two thousand years ago when Jesus’ body was planted into the ground that his body would rise again within 3 days and that his resurrected spirit would grow taller and taller until it was 1.6 billion people tall.
Not only did the seed that Jesus’ planted grow into the lives of 1.6 billion people but Jesus set the values for our very civilization. The very concepts that underpin Western Civilisation, the concepts of fairness and equality are those of Jesus Christ.
Finally, this seed not only inspired the values of our society it is also a seed that grows in individuals, so that people like you and me can have a faith that can move mountains. We all know people whose faith has grown, like the mustard seed to be 15 feet tall. People whose faith can inspire others. We can think of Martin Luther King, or of Dietrich Bonhoeffer or of someone closer to us who has inspired us in faith. When the seed of Jesus Christ is planted in your hearts, when the seed of the Kingdom of Heaven is planted within you, a miracle may occur. That’s the power of this particular seed.
Shortly, we are going to baptize Emily Olivia Mooney. So, you will be pleased to hear, I am going to keep this talk short but before I finish, let’s reflect on what we will do within that baptism. The seed of Christ will be sown for Emily and we pray that the seed, will like the mustard seed, grow to be great within her. But if that seed is to prosper, it needs to be nurtured.
If we sow a mustard seed and hope for a great 15 foot tall plant but forget to tend that seed, to water it, to weed the ground, to ensure it has light and warmth, then nothing will happen. The seed will shrivel and die. For Emily, the same applies, we can sow the seed of faith today but for that seed to grow into a lifelong faith that will sustain Emily through every trial and trouble that the world can throw at her in the future, then that seed of faith needs to be nurtured.
It needs to be nurtured by her parents, Evan and Helena, by her godparents, Janette, Kate, Sarah & Michael and by her whole family and all her friends. It needs all of us to hold Emily in our prayers so that the seed of faith can grow. Isn’t that an amazing thought that you have all these people out there rooting for you and wanting your seed of faith to grow. And that’s the same for all of us. The seed of faith has been sown for us. Now let’s nurture it and watch it grow.
And I hope you will remember that – as well as the joke about the dead duck!
Let us pray
Lord we pray for Emily and her family on this her Christening Day. We thank you for the seed of faith that has been sown in all of us and pray that it will grow and bloom and so spread the seed and bring more of this world into your precious light.