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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

2009-07-14 Mark 4:26-34 - Mustard

2009-07-14 Mark 4:26-34 - Mustard
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

[The kingdom of God] 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.’

One of my new favorite places is in a local park. You wind down a footpath that follows a babbling creek. Across from the creek, there's a cherry tree orchard. The Japanese employees from Denso donated the grove. The trees are arranged in Japanese symmetry. Each tree is the perfect and equal distance from the other. This time of year, you walk through the shaded aisles of the grove. You hear the creek gently splashing in the background. The branches build arching tunnels of green, before you, behind you, and at your sides. But the best part is the cherry breeze. The breeze floats from, and through, and around the wood and berries. It smells peaceful. And sweet. And strong. And old. And yet, the cherry trees aren't anywhere near as tall as the maples and oaks outside their tiny kingdom. The cherry trees aren't as aged and they aren't as strong. But the orchard is low enough to be personal. To be welcoming. To be gentle. Standing in their rows, the trees - as a whole - imply dignity, community, and joy.

Sometimes it's hard for us to understand, but you don't have to be the biggest tree in the forest to have gifts worth sharing. I think this is why Jesus' parable about the mustard seed is such a favorite. It cuts against the grain. Everywhere else you hear you've got to be the strongest. You've got to be the smartest. You've got to be the best-dressed. You've got to be the one with the whitest, straightest teeth. The one with the coolest clothes. The one who's lost 42 pounds like Valerie Bertinelli. It's so refreshing to hear Jesus say, "No you don't." You don't have to be a genetically enhanced super tomato to have a place in God's garden. You don't have to be the biggest and the best to have a future in God's orchard. That's good news.

But bear in mind this parable isn't about you and me. Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. Other places he talks about your faith being the size of a mustard seed and yet being able to do amazing things. But here, he's not talking about your faith. He's talking about heaven. The kingdom of heaven, he says, is like a mustard seed. That's different.


If you're planning your summer vacation, consider making a religious pilgrimage. Pack up the kids and the pets and visit scenic Mount Horeb Wisconsin, the "Mustard Capitol of the World."

The brochure reads:

No visit to Southwest Wisconsin and the Uplands Area is
complete without spending some time in Mount Horeb . . . [which is both] the Troll
Capitol and the Capitol of Mustards. [Mount Horeb is] the home of the
internationally [famous] Mount Horeb Mustard Museum.

centerpiece collection [of the Mount Horeb Museum of Mustard] is an ever growing display of prepared mustards
- currently more than 5,000 jars, bottles, and tubes from all 50 states
and more than 60 countries. Also on exhibit are hundreds of items of
great mustard historical importance, including antique mustard pots,
mustard tins, vintage mustard advertisements, and assorted [mustard] memorabilia.

The Gift Shop and Fancy Food Emporium is conveniently located adjacent
to the Museum galleries. Our Confidential Condiment Counselors will
help you sample over 500 mustards, as well as an impressive offering of
hot sauces, BBQ sauces, prepared horseradish (including our own Sinus
Searing Hit & Run Horseradish), and other fine condiments.

Located on Main Street in downtown Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, we're open
from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week (except New Years, Easter,
Thanksgiving and Christmas).

Now. The Smithsonian it is not. Biblical, it is not. Although it is located in Mount Horeb. But judging from their extensive web site at mustardmuseum.com, it's certainly a place where countless flocks of strange birds have gone south. I'm sure Jesus would find the museum, and its clientele, parable-worthy.

"Mustard is the oldest condiment known. Mustard seeds have been found in tombs of the  Egyptian pharaohs. The ancient Romans used mustard seeds in
some of their crude sauces."

Not only is the mustard seed good for producing orchards of low trees where birds can nest and find shade, mustard just makes life better. You wouldn't make a meal out of condiments. But condiments can make a meal. Jesus told the disciples they were to be like salt. And here he preaches to the masses that the kingdom of heaven is like the product of a mustard seed.


If the kingdom of heaven is like a tiny mustard seed, it begs the question, how big is heaven?

I think most of us would answer that heaven is the biggest and the best place in the universe, wherever it is. Heaven is infinitely big and infinitely marvelous. Here's the best part: You may not know where it is, but you CAN get there from here. PLUS, heaven can get here from there. There are times when the glory of heaven makes its way to earth. You know. You've felt those heavenly times. A child is born. A doctor says you're OK. You fall in love. It's heaven on earth. If you haven't felt enough of those moments of heaven-on-earth, it may be because your heaven is too big.

When Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven being like a mustard seed, I think what he's trying to say is, as infinitely great as heaven itself may be, the kingdom of heaven comes down to earth in small packages. The kingdom of heaven isn't life. The kingdom of heaven is like seasoning for life. The kingdom of heaven comes in small amounts. Small, but just enough to make life better.

I talk to so many people and I say, "How's it going?" And they raise their eyebrows and sigh. "Oh, you know. Same old same old." You ask, "What'd you do last week?" and they act like someone deleted their memory. "I don't know. I guess the same as every week." This is not a memory problem. This is a spiritual problem. Life has become like hospital food. Bland. Indistinguishable. Cooked in the same pot. Strained. These people need some mustard. They need some Texas Pete. They need some natural sweetener in their life, but instead, everything's equal. Artificial. They don't want a mansion. They just want a low, fragrant tree, with branches strong enough to give them rest. A cool breeze. And a calm evening. They don't want heaven in all its glory. They just want a little slice.

Now, put those two mustard seed images together, because Jesus liked talking about mustard seeds. If your faith is like a mustard seed, and if heaven is like a mustard seed, what does that mean? It means your faith can be like heaven to someone else. You see, the mustard seed doesn't stay small forever. It grows up fairly tall. And it becomes useful. To one little bird at a time.

You probably can't save the world. Goodness, where would you start? You probably can't save the world, but you can be a little place of heaven for someone. You can be the mustard that gives their life a moment of zing. Put $10 in their coat pocket when they aren't looking. Send them a card saying how nice they are. Invite them over for some grilled hamburgers. With lots of mustard. And relish. If Jesus is right - and he usually is - if Jesus is right, a little heaven goes a long way.

Jesus didn't say heaven was like a great cedar. He said it was like a mustard tree. Mustard trees aren't anywhere near as tall as the maples
and oaks outside their kingdom. The mustard trees aren't as aged
and they aren't as strong. But their orchard is low enough to be
personal. To be welcoming. To be gentle. Standing in their rows, the
trees - as a whole - imply dignity, community, and joy.

It's impossible to say exactly what heaven will be like. But I wonder if it'll smell like mustard.