notre dame montreal

Let’s Look At It This Way

Mark 4:26-34

Size isn’t everything you know?

I am not exactly tall, in fact I need a ladder if I am going to paint the skirting board.

My grandma used to say good things comes in small packages to which my granddad used to reply ‘And so does poison….’ He was not one of the world’s most positive thinkers.

But I am going to ask you a question now, a question which is potentially explosive, it is a question that could and has caused newspapers to put it on their front page.
A question that raised eyebrows in parliament
A question where the reply needs to be carefully measured so as not to cause panic or anger.

This is the question - brace yourselves……

Have you seen any green shoots of recovery yet?

Tiny little green shoots, that’s all we need. If we look after them they could grow into untold things. The potential is all there in those green shoots. Or as our reading puts it…. The potential is in the seed.

There have been reports of green shoots in the media recently.

But if I said that’s it then, there is nothing to be depressed about today then you would not believe me. In fact I wouldn’t believe me. We don’t have to look far to gather evidence.

Take the news this last couple of weeks for instance.

  • British solidier’s are killed
  • Demonstrations in Iran over the elections, which way will that go?
  • A Mother and Father who commit suicide off Beachy Head because they cannot envisage life without their son.
  • The expenses story goes on….

And closer to home:

  • A letter comes in the post or phone call, or a fax, or an e-mail (there are so many ways now) but the message is just the same and you whole life is sent into turmoil.
  • You come to church looking for people who are excited about the life of faith and find instead people who seem bored with nearly everything.
  • You reach out to those around you and no one reaches back, and you feel alone and disconnected.
  • You do what you can to help others, and the very people you try to help give you rejection.

Very, very soon we would have more information than we could deal with, and on we can fall into that negative spiral.

But no matter how many times we try to spur ourselves into life. There are those people and things that can undercut our enthusiasm.

The unfortunate fact is that a great many people are not excited about much of anything. In fact, many people are living lives that are crippled by poverty, despair and depression through many reasons, not only the economic climate.

But when it comes to meeting people there is a phrase

  • ‘what you give is what get’.
  • ‘What you sow, so shall you reap’.
  • or a computer term ‘GIGO garbage in, garbage out’.

If we expect people to be no good, then often that will be what we see.

Some of you may know of this person so I will not mention her name to protect her identity. But MY WIFE when she drives around, occasionally makes a move in the car that causes impatient drivers to wave their fist at her. Now I do that too, I think we all do at times, particularly when we are in a strange place. It can get me quite worked up but to MY WIFE she says O that person must know me and waves back. She believes people to be good first and formost.

If we expect people to be no good, then often that will be what we see.

And unfortunately it is true, that some people are "no good."
There are people who cannot be trusted. Who will take advantage.

We know they are the minority

But if we believe that everyone is like that, then our view then becomes a prison for us. They may well go about life oblivious to the anger or resentment we have built up, and too often we can store this up so much that we can hold it in no longer and let go with a long tirade of anger and emotion that is totally out of context with the situation that caused us to burst forth.

If we believe everyone is out to get us then we become our own prison captors. We dare not respond. We dare not act for fear of how we will be viewed, for fear of how we will be treated. It imprisons us and stops us working for God in our world.

Jesus lived his life with a perspective that was different from most of the people he came in contact. The gospel he taught was an invitation to view self, others and the world in the light of God's love, power and justice. To treat others as you would wish to be treated.

There we are again with our phrase

  • ‘what you give is what get’.
  • ‘Garbage in, garbage out’.

I am presently doing some placements observing various forms of Ministry. One of these is with a charity called Grassroots working in Luton across faiths to breakdown barriers and promote understanding. Recently I attended a meeting of the Luton Council of Faiths where present were leaders of faiths from:

  • Baha’l
  • Quaker
  • Jewish
  • Jain
  • Buddhist
  • Hindu
  • Islam
  • Sikh
  • And Christian communities.

It was such a privilege to meet together and for some of the myths and barriers imagined between us to be cleared away. Those there become, not faceless ethnic communities, labelled and pigeon holed, they become individuals struggling day to day with the same things we all do, and all the time their faith leading the way. Meetings like this are badly needed in Luton especially after the unrest following the parade of troops returning from the conflict in Iraq and Afganistan.

And this very small Christian charity works at the grassroots to build bridges and knowledge across communities. Not to convert them but in doing this work, so their own faith is confirmed.

Barack Obama’s inauguration speech offered to ‘extend a hand if others were willing to unclench their fist

In his latest speech he takes that further and says.

Around the world, we can turn dialogue into Interfaith service, so bridges between peoples lead to action – whether it is combating malaria in Africa, or providing relief after a natural disaster.

He goes on to say
All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart, or whether we commit ourselves to an effort – a sustained effort – to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children, and to respect the dignity of all human beings.

We all pray that these are the green shoots of a greater understanding around the world.

Jesus could see beyond the appearance to the possibility. He saw others, not so much in terms of what they were, but in terms of what they would become as a result of seeing God's love.

  • An ordinary fisherman became the rock on which the church would be built.
  • A dishonest tax collector becomes a trusted friend and disciple.
  • Outsiders are invited to be leaders.
  • The unclean are restored to fellowship.
  • The hopelessly ill are made well again.
  • An angry Pharisee who is a persecutor of the church becomes the apostle to the gentiles.
  • People who heard and believed the good news of the gospel were liberated from the prison of a negative perspective
  • Good things are possible not because of our own efforts, but because of the redemptive power of God.

When Jesus tells listeners that the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed which is the smallest of seeds but which becomes the great garden plant, he is inviting men and women to look at the world with new eyes.

In this very brief parable Jesus is saying, "This is the way God does things. God is like a sower who scatters seeds. The seeds may be tiny and invisible to the naked eye. Yet when the seed is planted, it grows and provides shelter for the creatures of this world.

The Kingdom of God is like this. The initial spark may be small, it may be tiny, tiny, but with faith the ultimate results are great."

So let’s think… ‘This is how God does things!’ then what will you do?

Well, begin to look for the mustard seeds. Look for the first signs of green shoots, the signs of the Holy Spirit working through people. The small and insignificant then become as important as the big because after they have been nurtured and given freedom, that green shoot become the great bush, the tree.

You can have the courage and the enthusiasm not to give up on yourself, on others, on the church, or even on the world just because you see such depravation and sadness. Rather, you will see God working in the world, working through people and know that tiny as that may be, as tiny as a mustard seed, then that is all that is needed for God to build people up.

You can do great things for God if you are willing to offer yourself to him who has planted in you the tiny seeds of love,
justice and kindness.

But we must give the seeds the nutrients they need to grow, we must give them fertile ground. Our lives must learn and study God, we must follow the teaching of Jesus for an example of how to live our lives and go on to sow seeds in the hearts of others.

Being a member of the church through baptism, reminds us that God recognizes and blesses us. That very sacrament should remind you that

  • You are somebody.
  • You are special.
  • You are a child of God.

Counter to that, it is a rejection of God's will to live as if there is no hope for the future. If you have become trapped in that kind of negative thinking, then the reading today says that even faith the size of a mustard seed is faith enough to germinate and grow towards God.

To believe that you are a child of God is what Paul meant when he wrote to the Philippian Christians and said, "I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. I can do all things in Him who strengthens me."

The parable of the mustard seed reminds us that God's beginnings may be small, but His results are great.

In some ways the parable of the mustard seed can be aligned to our study and devotion to God’s word. It does not mean that automatically we are going to be a Christian. It does not mean that automatically you are going to grow to be a large church. That does not mean that automatically you give your life to Christ.

But what it does mean is that there is power in the word. As our Corinthians reading says ‘We live by faith not by sight’

As we pick up the Bible and hold it in your hands, we realize that this Word is not passive. There is something in here. If we daily meditate on this word, it grows in us. That is what Jesus was talking about in this story.

The task for us is to look for any sign of those green shoots, they may be no larger than a mustard seed; and this parable reminds us that we can offer what we can to help others grow to know Jesus, to live with the Holy Spirit in their lives. To take forth the potential they have in whatever area of life and bring that gift to God to honour him.

Jesus Christ has called each one of us to be His disciple. No matter what our situation or condition, He hasn’t asked us to fill out an application form. He has called us. He has something important for each of us to do.

We have to follow His call, recognise those green shoots of recovery in our lives, and nurture that relationship with God to help them grow so we can be different and together the world can be different.


Barry Owen