After a weekend off, I’m back in the pulpit this Sunday. I’ll be preaching from the lectionary Gospel passage, the series of small statements from Matthew regarding what the kingdom of heaven is like—a mustard seed, yeast, etc.
I’m quite fond of the notion that the kingdom of heaven is like a weed or an invasive plant, as is the mustard plant. Although I’m not much of a gardener, every spring I find myself battling a certain weed that likes to lurk in one of my beds of perennials. It’s one of those weeds with runners. I’m forced to gently tug on the plant, and then try to keep hold of the runner, following it to the next place where it’s decided to spring roots and to tangle my lovely garden. Although I can usually keep the weed at bay for much of the spring, by the start of summer, I’m forced to admit defeat.
While I don’t relish the experience of admitting defeat every year, this annual struggle offers a nice metaphor for one of the ways through which the people of God ought to consider their work, and their life of faith. Let us be weeds! Let us be invasive plants! The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed; “it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
I appreciated the column by Matt Skinner this week on WorkingPreacher.org. In that piece, Mr. Skinner contends that “the work of Christian ministry usually has a furtive aspect about it—simply because it’s the nature of God’s reign to sneak in unannounced or to undermine what appeared to be unquestionable foundations.” He goes on, “What is the reign of heaven like? It’s like a surreptitious act, like implanting an undetectable virus that will transform a whole body.”
This is a helpful way of thinking about who we are and what we do. It’s even more useful as we at Old South consider what it means for us to be church in central Maine. In our context, it can feel like we get squeezed on multiple fronts. In the very secular environment of Hallowell and its surrounding communities, Old South is sometimes perceived (by those who don’t know us well) in a negative way, as a sort of stereotype, as if all Christian churches are essentially the same, sharing beliefs and expectations for behavior and relationship. But, at the same time, we don’t fit in with the growing Christian churches in our area, like the Southern Baptist church in Augusta and another Baptist church in Hallowell, who hold very different views and interpretations of the Bible than we do.
It’s important that we re-orient how we do our work as the people of God, as followers of Christ. Our smallness is not always a liability. Sometimes it’s an asset. The kingdom of heaven is like something small—a pearl, a pinch of yeast, a treasure hidden in a field.
In our smallness, we may feel vulnerable to those things around us that seem to want to kill us. The job of planting the seeds of the kingdom of heaven is a risky one, and there are those around us who do not wish for anything like the kingdom of heaven to take root. We may often sense that we are not welcome, and that weed killers imperil us. This is where it’s good to try to be weed-like, furtive, a little sneaky.
As people of faith, we are called to embrace small things, resisting the temptation to worry that we are not big enough, or that our small acts of faithfulness will not take root anywhere. It is simply not our job to worry about how the kingdom grows, but to continue to do the work, to trust our relationship with the God who calls us together.
The kingdom of heaven is like something small, something like us. Amen to that.