18 He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? 19 It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.” 20 And again he said, “To what should I compare the kingdom of God? 21 It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
Our Graduates are all about building a life. In the early years it was simple and practical. “Share with others,” “play well together,” “don’t touch the hot stove.” AS they went to school, the building was more complex. Now it involved critical thinking, linking concepts together from one discipline to another, and applying the knowledge they were gaining. We never truly finish building life, do we? Janna would say it is like remodeling our house – we never do get it entirely completed!
Building a life could be compared to building a kingdom. It is putting everything in to order … all that is “me.” It is building my life, my purpose, my home… .
Jesus shares in this passage a couple of images of the Kingdom of God. He says the Kingdom of God is like … a mustard seed and yeast. Small beginnings produce a great result.
When we think of building a life, we often think of the big pieces, the hard pieces to put in place, the complexity of it all. It is probably good that we don’t have to assemble life all at once. I think Jesus is inviting us to “Believe Big in the Power of Small.”
There is a great story about a young person being asked to put up a fence. They really didn’t want to do the hard work, but the offer of being paid provided a little incentive. Now, this was a smart kid. His counteroffer was, “I will do the fence if you pay me one penny for first nail. The double that for the second nail – 2 cents. And so on, doubling for each nail after that. Think about it. By the tenth nail he was being paid $5.12 for that nail. By the twentieth nail he was being paid a whopping $5,242.88 for that nail! The power of beginning small.
How about the examples Jesus uses: Seeds? Seeds are small bundles of amazing potential. Consider wheat and its seeds. One wheat seed produces on average 200 seeds of wheat. If we extend that just once, 200 seeds produces on average 40,000 seeds. What an amazing power! One seed can do so much.
As our graduates build a life, Jesus would invite them to pay attention to the small things. For instance, learning ought to be for the sake of getting it right, not just passing a class or learning a lesson. It is about growth through learning. It is also about maintaining integrity. Believing in ourselves, we hold on to what is true and right and caring. One good decision builds on another good decision, and a solid life emerges.
In Faith, a strong spiritual life begins with small choices. For instance, I will choose to plant the “word” in my life. I don’t look at consuming the entire Bible as my first step. Maybe it’s just choosing to work my way through the Gospel of Luke one passage at a time. We are to ponder what is said and apply it to my life now. Maybe it is seeking someone with a little history in the faith to give guidance. That person might be a parent or friend, teacher or pastor. I am reminded of the Proverb that says, ‘as iron sharpens iron’ – it is the process of having companions in faith throughout the journey. Maybe it is putting myself in settings where it is OK to talk about faith. There really are settings where it is not OK to talk about faith – you will get shouted down, or ridiculed, or ignored. Make sure there are places you can talk about issues of faith with those who will support you.
This building of a life involves keeping track of the building blocks in place and seeing what yet needs to be added. It is developing relationship prayer with God. Not just, ‘here’s my list, Lord, see you later.’ Instead it is developing that ‘friendship’ if you will with God. When we build a solid spiritual life, we will be stronger for it. Soon, there will come a time when one of those big decisions looms on the horizon. If I have built a good foundation, I’ll be ready to tackle the decision with confidence. Believing big in the power of small!
Jesus uses a second illustration here, that of yeast. For me, it is an easy comparison to think of yeast and influence. It is both our influence on others, and other’s influence on us. Let’s think first about my own influence on others. While I was in college I worked at IBM in Boulder, CO on the night shift. Throughout the evening (I started work at 6:42pm and worked until 3:42am) there were two break times and a lunch time. When we would all go on break, there were often jokes and stories, some of which were very off color. I didn’t object and would occasionally join in the laughter and inuendo. One night I was sitting next to someone who worked in quality control. He turned to me and said, “Since you are a math major you must not be a Christian.” My first reaction was to be offended. There’s nothing mutually exclusive between math and faith! Then, I realized I had given him no reason to question that assumption. My influence had been neutral at best – nondescript. At its worst, it had been a negative influence. What seeds are we sowing by our everyday actions and attitudes? Are we opening the door to big things by our small actions?
Then, there the influence that others have on me. Just a short time earlier in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 12:1) Jesus says, “ beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, their hypocrisy.” He was warning the disciples to be on guard against that kind of yeast. We need to be careful whose influence we let into our life. For instance, many medical professionals are warning that a non-stop diet of COVID-19 news has been shown to produce hopelessness and depression. We need to let positive influences into our lives to keep us strong and headed in the right direction. I got to thinking of influence and weeds! There is one particular weed I thought of first, goat heads! They were called “puncture weeds” in Weeds of the West” (2012 edition). They are a prolific weed if not checked. They have those sharp “horns” like a goat that dig deep into your skin and sting like crazy. (They also have the habit of flattening bicycle tires!) I have a rule: “See it, pull it!” Its seeds are heavy and are spread by dropping, or transport via shoes or paws. In addition, the plant itself is almost vine-like, in that it spreads and will drop seeds along the way. It takes only a moment to carefully pull them up by their center root. There is another weed that came to mind. Blue mustard (I believe that’s the name of what I fight with). They are prolific as well! They have a nasty smell. Their seeds tend to blow to relocate. They can overrun you is a very short time. Again, I see ‘em, I pull ‘em!
In our lives we need to be aware of the seeds of influence. We need to cultivate the good ones – we’ll have a good harvest. We need to eliminate or minimize the weeds – we’ll be better for it. By believing big in the power of small can help cultivate a life of productivity and meaning.
Resolve every day to plant more seeds of faith in your life and to “weed out” those things that threaten “Life at it’s fullest.” Remember, Jesus promise in John 10:10? “I came that you may have life and have it at its fullest.” Our small actions can give room for that promise to bloom fully in our lives.
Most of all, today’s growth of God’s Kingdom begins with you and I! Our last hymn begins, “You are the seed that will bring a new sprout; you’re a star that will shine in the night; you are the yeast and a small grain of salt, a beacon to glow in the dark.” Continue building a life that is truly life. Believe Big in the Power of Small!”