Who do you say that I am?
When most people are asked who is their favorite disciple, the overwhelming response is Peter. Now in all fairness, he is the most "fleshed out" disciple. Most of us feel affection for him because Peter is so much like us. He says the wrong thing at the wrong time; blunders his way with Jesus and does the worst thing a friend can do to another friend which is abandon Jesus in his hour of need. But we love him anyway and I if we are honest with ourselves, there is a little Peter in all of us. Which makes the reading today so remarkable. Peter intuits just who Jesus is.
If you will recall John the Baptist had the same question about Jesus. As he waits in a cold, lonely jail cell for his impending death, John sends his followers to Jesus to ask the question, "Are you the One? Or are we to wait for another?" Jesus tells John's disciples to report back that the blind see and the lame walk. Peter though knows who Jesus is. Imagine Jesus then putting his hands on Peter's shoulders, staring him in the eyes with a piercing gaze and saying, "Well done!" Peter in turn stands a little straighter and has just a touch more confidence than he had previously.
Each of us in our way longs for someone to put his hands on our shoulder and say "Well done!" For many of us they are words not often heard. We don't often speak them to ourselves. Isn't much of the talk you say negative? Don't you long for someone to say they have confidence in you? Well each of us has that someone. Jesus is the someone. Jesus is the one who is standing next to you, cheering you on and saying he has the utmost trust in you. Are you willing to pay attention and listen?
Here is an exercise to try on your own. The next time you are met with an important decision, stop, pause and imagine Jesus standing in front of you. He has put his hands on your shoulders and looking deep into your eyes, he tells you how important you are to him. He goes on further to say he trusts you will make the right decision and he is there with you every step of the journey. See if you don't feel immediate peace and confidence in yourself. He is there waiting to guide each and every one of us. All we have to do is ask.
Pray for Peace
From the Tiniest of Seeds
There is probably not one of us in this church who doesn’t remember the Mustard Seed Necklace from Vacation Bible School. It is usually one of the craft projects given out by about mid-week. Everyone files into the craft room, sits down at a table for the teacher to emphasize the theme of the day which is something along the lines of “God uses the smallest for great things.” The children are then told they are like the mustard seed, yes they are young but God has great things planned for them in their life. They all sit down and begin to put their necklaces together-funnily enough, it is the boys who like this project the most. The seed goes on a piece of cotton and then placed in a clear plastic ball. String is inserted, knotted and the creator proudly puts it on. The whole exercise takes about 10 minutes max leaving the teacher to then wonder what to do with the extra 15 minutes. Praying there is not some sort of mutiny in the time left. But the necklaces are proudly worn for the rest of the week. Then put away in a drawer until some unsuspecting parent finds it covered in mold some months later. Asking Mergatroid “Can I throw this away?” He shouts, “NO! That’s my mustard seed necklace.”
The Mustard Seed parable is one of the more well known parables in the gospels. Matthew puts a whole slew of them together. Pithy one liners. Now we don’t know if he said them all at once or spread the material out. After all any good public speaker understands you don’t use all your best material at once. The story goes, a tiny seed planted in the ground, a shrub materializes. Now is the shrub invasive or not. It is left up to the listener to decide.
There are several things going on in this parable which ancient audiences would understand. First Mustard plants would grow wild, growing into a tree is Jesus stretching the truth as pointed out in the book “Preaching Matthew” by Stan Saunders. How else though could Jesus keep their attention? I would rather say the audience is now intrigued. They look at each other quizzically. “What in the world…” But as they know the Old Testament they could readily call up the image in Ezekiel where God lops off a piece of a tall cedar which was probably Babylon and plants it on Zion to remind the people of God’s ability to humble the arrogant. The birds are also a judgement of arrogant powers. So what are they to make of the mustard seed. I imagine Jesus hinting that the small, him and them, is going to bring down the powers-Rome and the religious authorities. That would give them something to think about.
Parables though are fluid and we read them in our own context. So let’s come out of the ancient world and enter the 21st century. What is the one thing we see growing over growing even overtaking everything in its path-kudzu. Doing a little research I found out kudzu grows a foot a day. It is lovingly called, “the vine that ate the South.” I might be crazy but I love kudzu. It is a reminder of the power of nature. Kudzu as we know is virulent, not easy to eradicate. But there is something beautiful in it’s covering of a long ago abandoned shack or filling in the highway trees. There is also something to think about in terms of its patience and staying power. It has nothing better to do than to grow and flourish. Just like God’s love for us lush and rampant.
Which brings us back to the Mustard Seed. If Jesus is talking about something that can be seen as an invasive species which grows wild could we also not see faith as the same? And if the mustard seed once take root is impossible to eradicate. Carefully tended fields are now overrun with it. Jesus is telling his listeners this new way of thinking about God and the world. David Lose writes that perhaps instead of seeing this story as a way of bringing the powerful low, it is an example of God infiltrating the world with a message of hope. A hope that will entice, provoke, prod and eventually move us. The opposite of hope is fear and Jesus’ explanation of the kingdom is not to make us fearful it is to make us fearless. All people need is a little hope-the light at the end of the tunnel to make us realize it is not the great things which change the world but many tiny things strung together which become a force. Think of the butterfly effect: a small butterfly flapping it’s wings in Africa causes some weeks later a tornado in the mid-West. Jesus is our butterfly-one man who has made an enormous life changing, world changing event-now and forever.