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July 26, 2020

A Tiny Unexpected Seed

Matthew 13:31-32

Rev. Wade Lifton at Mount Seymour United Church



How can I convey to you God’s realm?


It’s like a tiny mustard seed.

Someone took it and planted it.


It grew into a bush.

In this plant the birds of the air came and made their nests.



A Humble Weed


In different translations of this parable the seed grows into the greatest of shrubs, the largest of garden plants, the greatest of herbs, and it becomes a tree.


From the tiniest seed comes a tree.


The meaning often gets interpreted as,

“From small beginnings come great endings.”


But when parables sound nice, then we’ve glossed over their unexpectedness.


Parables always have something unexpected in them.


Of all the types of mustard plant, I wasn’t able to find any that grow into a tree.

Not only is the mustard plant really a humble sized bush, it’s also a weed.

One gardener online says, “An important thing to know about mustard before you put it in your garden is that it is invasive.

If you are not careful, it will take over your garden.”


If Jesus were looking for a triumphant image,

he might have said God’s Kingdom is like one of the cedars of Lebanon,

which are referred to over 70 times in the bible.




Or that God’s realm is like an abundant harvest,

which he describes in the parable of the sower just before this one,

where the crop from the good soil is thirtyfold, sixtyfold and a hundredfold.


But here he says God’s Kingdom is like a small seed that grows into a humble bush, a weed that will take over your garden.


If this were a parable in our part of the world, it might be that

God’s realm is like a dandelion.

As it dies it becomes a seed puff, drawing children to it.

With the breath of those little ones, God scatters the seeds of the kingdom.

and they will take over any hope you have of a well-manicured lawn.


By comparing God’s realm to a humble weed,

this parable uproots any ideas we have of a tidy, orderly life.


It uproots our nice idea that small beginnings lead to great endings.

Or at least a great ending that makes sense to us.


We all want a great ending to this pandemic.

We want a triumphant vaccine so we can return to a more familiar life.


The Jewish people first hearing this story wanted a triumphant saviour

who would conquer the powerful empire that oppressed them.


Instead they got a guy who practiced non-violence and told weird parables, among other things.

And just when it seemed like his triumphant moment was coming

he was killed on a cross.


God’s ways are unexpected.


On Easter morning at the tomb Mary thinks she is talking to the gardener.

The disciples on the road to Emmaus don’t realize that this is Jesus.

When our expectations have been uprooted,

we can miss the unexpected way that God is showing up in their lives.


Consider the mustard plant…

If the Creator makes a home for the birds of the air in this humble weed,

imagine what kind of home God is making in your life.

A Humble Mother’s Day


When my Mom was diagnosed with ALS our story was uprooted.

We were given one more year together.


And in that time we received unexpected gifts and graces.

The birds of the air came and made a home in that humbling time.


Mother’s Day came, our last mother’s day together.  Just a month before

we had celebrated her last birthday with carefully chosen gifts and plans.

Now I wondered how to make Mother’s Day special.

I was tired and didn’t have any great inspiration.


So after church I ordered her favourite pizza and we went for a drive.

It was not the triumphant last Mother’s Day I had imagined.

We went to Mabel Lake where we had lots of memories and ate pizza in the car.

On the way home we stopped at the baseball diamond

where she played slow-pitch for many years.

We drove by the old house we lived in when we first moved to town.

We made spontaneous stops and we cherished memories together.


At the beginning of that day I felt disappointed that I hadn’t come up with a more grand plan for Mother’s Day and by that evening we had created a new memory together that is one I still cherish.


In that year of caring for Mom I didn’t realize that seeds were being planted

that would grow and bear fruit in the end of life care that I’m doing now.


Parables reflect the ways that our ideas of life are uprooted,

and reveal where God is showing up, in an afternoon drive or in the Spirit-filled surprises of where we are led in this unfolding life.


Consider the mustard plant…

If the Creator makes a home for the birds of the air in this humble weed,

imagine what kind of home God is making in your life.






This Humbling Time


We are in a time when all of our lives have been humbled.

There are more limitations than we’re used to in who we can see,

where we can go, and what we can do.


This parable invites us to stay attentive to the Spirit in this time,

to notice and trust where life is showing up within humbling limitations.


And I don’t pretend that this is easy to practice.


I work in long-term care where people have already been living

with so many humbling limitations.

Each person has their own physical or cognitive limitations

that require professional care.

They’ve left the place they called home

and are trying to make a home in a place that may not be their choosing.


And now there are further limitations around loved ones visiting.

The programs that added some joy to their day are almost all on hold while our program staff focus on the tasks that this time requires – additional cleaning, screening staff and visitors, communicating with families.


The hardships in this humbling time are very easy to see.


One of the guys I visit with is unwavering in his core practice

of waking up each day and, in his words,

‘being grateful for what God allows me to do, not what I cannot do anymore.’


He is teaching me how to stay attentive to God’s spirit in difficult times,

to keep looking for the unexpected gifts within the humbling limitations.


He shows me with his day to day living how to consider the mustard plant.

If the Creator makes a home for the birds of the air in this humble weed,

imagine what kind of home God is making in our lives.






God’s Unexpected Way


In parables God’s realm shows up in unexpected ways

that doesn’t make sense to our ways.


In Jesus’ life God’s realm shows up in the unexpected way of the cross,

which doesn’t make sense to our ways.


A parable uproots our way of life,

inviting us consider God’s way,

to seek it and follow it,

allowing it to take over our garden.



We are living in the midst of an unexpected parable.


God’s realm is like a tiny virus that grew into a world-wide pandemic…


I wonder how this parable will continue.


I wonder what we will learn about God’s realm.


In these humbling times, may we stay attentive to God’s Spirit.