Recently, I received an email from a seminary friend. Her husband – also a seminary friend – was about to be ordained, and she wanted to put together a special gift for him. She sent out the call to all of their friends from seminary asking us a number of questions, one of which was, “What is your favorite Scripture passage and why?”
That’s a difficult question to answer. There are so many passages that have enlightened my own journey of faith … so many passages that are appropriate for someone about to be ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament … so many passages rich with meaning.
And yet as I sat there reading her message, it was clear to me which passage I would send:
[Jesus] put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 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.” ~ Matthew 13:31-32
Maybe it’s the farm girl in me, but I love that Jesus chooses to compare the lifecycle of our faith to a seed! It begins as a small, inconsequential-looking thing, but it doesn’t stay that way for long. Once it’s been planted, a mustard seed only takes 5-10 days to germinate. In that short amount of time, it begins to sink its roots deep into the soil and to stretch its little bud up toward the life-giving warmth of the sun. And only a few short months after that initial germination, the mustard is already ready to harvest.
When Jesus compares faith to a mustard seed in this parable, he speaks of a faith that is dynamic – always moving, always growing, always changing.
Such a difficult word for the church. We say that we’re open to change, but when it comes time to actually start trying new things and perhaps letting some of our time-honored traditions go by the wayside, we become hesitant. After all, our traditions are just that – long-established statements, beliefs, and customs handed down to us by those who have come before us. We turn to phrases like, “But this is how we’ve always done it,” and “This is what we know how to do.”
And yet, at the Z church annual meeting, an important point was raised – an anecdote that is both powerful and poignant: What are the seven last words of the church?
It’s true that sometimes change can be scary. It’s true that sometimes the new things we try don’t work out. But where would we be if the world based all its movements and decisions on this anxiety? Innovations only come when we’re willing to step out in faith.
Think of the way that plants grow. They’re always shooting out a new branch, popping out new leaves, and sending their roots deeper and deeper into the earth. This is the kind of faith that Jesus describes in the Parable of the Mustard Seed – a vibrant and active faith that is rooted in the deep, nurturing soil of tradition but isn’t afraid to reach up and out to find life-giving warmth and nourishment in the glory of the Son. We may feel more like the mustard seed right now, but we have to recognize our potential for growth and maturity if only we open ourselves up to change.