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There’s an impulse I bet we've all had . . . I call it a "must be nice" moment; when we meet someone who's in the same life-situation as us, but they're doing a little better than we are. We see a peer who gets a big break, has some sort of obvious success, or things just seem to work out for them . . . all the time . . . and we think . . . must be nice.
And I think what we mean is that there's no good reason their good fortune shouldn't have been mine. They just caught a break. Maybe they knew someone, or just got lucky, or something. We're not really sure what the fundamental difference between us and them is.
Religion is no different.
We all know people that just seem to get the whole God thing better than we do. It seems like prayer comes naturally to them, that they can just understand the Bible. They just seem to be able to connect so easily with God . . . And we think . . . “must be nice”.
If that's you, I've got some good news for you: the difference between you and them isn't fundamental. You're not missing some vital component. God didn't leave something out when you were crafted. You're not dysfunctional.
The difference between living in God's Kingdom and just wishing you could, is small everyday choices. That's because the Kingdom of God, this new life Jesus offers us, isn't built on big, flashy moments. It's built on small, steady, consistent choices to live like Jesus.
You might be thinking, No way. If you know any Bible stories, they're big, flashy moments: Noah's ark, The Red Sea, Jonah and the Whale. Those are all pretty major, Must-be-nice moments (except for getting swallowed by a whale bit).
But while those moments are certainly in the Scriptures, believe it or not, they're not the norm. And according to Jesus himself, they're not the heart of the life he offers us.
So, this evening, I want us to take a look at a parable Jesus told to help who followed him understand what it means to live in that place where God’s kingdom intersects with our kingdom.
Parables are not designed to help us become better people . . . they are designed to illustrate the new life Jesus brought to us . . . In other words, they are the way for Jesus to say “let me tell you something about God and his kingdom that maybe you didn’t understand”.
Let's take a look at today's parable, in Matthew 13:31-32:
Jesus says that God’s kingdom . . . is like a mustard seed. It starts out as the 'smallest of all seeds', but becomes a huge tree that gives shade to birds.
The crowd listening to Jesus that day would’ve known right away he was referencing a passage in the Old Testament, a promise God made to the prophet Ezekiel about 500 years before Jesus lived.
Speaking specifically of God's people, God told Ezekiel: I will take a branch from the top of a tall cedar, and I will plant it on the top of Israel’s highest mountain. It will become a majestic cedar, sending forth its branches and producing seed. Birds of every sort will nest in it, finding shelter in the shade of its branches. -- Ezekiel 17:22-23
Ezekiel used birds as a metaphor for the nations of the world. His vision imagines a restoration movement where one day, God's kingdom will become a huge, majestic tree that welcomes and shelters anyone and everyone in the whole world.
But instead of a cedar tree, Jesus' kingdom is a mustard plant. That would've been shocking to his listeners.
Cedar trees are huge, strong, beautiful trees. Mustard plants, on the other hand were basically considered weeds. They grow easily and if not tended constantly and carefully overtake the gardens and fields they're found in.
Imagine today Ezekiel had said that God would roll onto the scene in a 2016 Mustang Cobra GT convertible. And then Jesus said . . . God's coming in a Pinto.
That's how the parable would've hit his original listeners; they would have caught the reference to Ezekiel but been surprised . . . maybe shocked . . . by the difference in the plants.
God's people had always imagined themselves as a big cedar tree - the best of the best. When God came to restore the Kingdom, it would be a big flashy production.
God was going to break into their ordinary world and upend everything and BOOM - just like that; they would be instant winners . . . like winning the divine lottery.
The whole world would look at them and say . . . “wow, must be nice”.
So, Jesus tells a story that says, “You're missing the point of what God is doing”. God's new thing isn't going to be a huge flashy show. It's going to be more . . . subtle.
If the cedar thing is getting in your way, think of it more like a mustard plant.
Those seeds are tiny. But the end result is not. And that's the point.
It's a slow, steady, constant process. And really, this is something they already should've known. Even a cedar tree doesn't grow overnight. You don't go to bed with an empty yard and then wake up the next morning with a giant cedar tree!
But somehow when we’re walking among trees, we tend to forget that. We focus on the end result, not the slow, steady process that got us there.
The Kingdom of God is a seed. It unfolds in small, unseen places every day. But from small, insignificant beginnings, it becomes an undeniable force.
What matters, then, is not the big, flashy moments, but the small choices, we make each day.
The small choices you sow today determine what grows tomorrow.
According to Jesus, if we are only looking at the outcome, we're missing the point. The essence of the Kingdom of God isn't the highlights reel. It's not the big, flashy moments.
The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. It's found in those small, barely-there moments each of us has a billion times a day. The tiny choices we rarely give thought to.
So . . . if you're sitting around waiting for God to drop into your living room and blow your mind, I've got bad news for you: God does that, but I wouldn't count on it.
If you want a mind-blowing relationship with God, one where you're actually growing and being conformed into Jesus' image . . . you have to be intentional about nurturing the small seeds God puts in your life . . . allowing God’s spirit to form you and cultivate you . . . slow and steady.
Making space in your life for reading Scripture, prayer, going to church, and even being generous with what God has given to you. Every day, whether you feel like it or not.
Because you know that what you sow today determines what grows tomorrow.
If you're not cultivating your soul to receive God in small, ordinary, every-day ways, you won't grow a mustard-tree kind of faith, the large, life-encompassing, transformative life with God.
Jesus tells us the Kingdom of God is like that mustard seed: if you make those small, everyday choices, if you're faithful in those small places, God's new life will overtake and consume the old.
Life will overtake death. Love will overtake hate. Friendship will overtake enmity. Kindness will overtake spitefulness.
So, what are you sowing today? What are you going to sow this week?
It might seem like a small thing. But Jesus reminds us that the Kingdom of God is found in the small things. The Kingdom is like a mustard seed.
So, choose to be faithful in small things, confident that God will produce miraculous, world-changing fruit from the seeds of your small choices.