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Tales With a Twist: Tiny Seeds Produce An Enormous Harvest

Mark 4:26-34

Just recently I came across a collection of signs written in English in non-English speaking countries. The words were just enough “out of sync” to confuse the message and produce humorous results. Here is a sampling:

In a hotel in Bucharest, Romania, this sign is posted by the elevator: “The lift is being fixed for the next day. During that time, we regret to tell you, you will be unbearable.”

In a Paris hotel, this sign was found: “Please leave your values at the front desk.”

A lounge in Norway had this sign posted: “Ladies are requested not to have babies in the bar.”

And finally in the Copenhagen airport, you can find this sign: “We take your bags and send them in all directions.”

As we can tell from these signs, sometimes communication is difficult. Not for Jesus. Jesus, of course, was the master communicator. He had an uncanny ability to line up words and ideas in the simplest possible order, thus making His points clear and comprehensible. Let me use as an example one of the stories Jesus told. It’s a simple story. It’s a short story. Even the subject of the story is simple and small. In fact, it’s tiny. The subject is a seed, the tiniest of all seeds—the mustard seed. Yet Jesus takes that simple story about a tiny seed and makes a point so clear that we cannot fail to see and understand it.

Jesus said: “The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground; yet when it is planted, it grows into the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can build their nests in its shade.” That’s one of the shortest and simplest parables Jesus ever told, yet notice please that…

The parable communicates a clear message about patience and persistence.

In the parable, this tiny mustard seed is planted in the ground. It’s out of sight. You can’t tell if it’s growing or not. And it is a long time before that tiny seed produces anything which can be seen. The same thing is true of our spiritual life. God and God alone knows what is possible for the spiritual growth of each individual, and He alone knows when and how to bring it about.

We see it quite clearly in Simon Peter. At the outset of his career with Christ, his spiritual sensitivity was not very obvious. He didn’t appear to be a very good candidate to lead the church. And even in the course of his time with Christ, he was more often in trouble than out of it. Only much later did the seeds of the Spirit take root and catch hold and begin to grow. Only much later did he become the galvanizing force to energize the early church. Sometimes the seed takes a long time to grow. We need to be patient and persistent. We must not give up or give out. Sometimes growth in our life and faith takes longer than we expect. God works in ways we do not always understand, often hidden from view.

That truth was powerfully portrayed for me in a moving article written by Clarence Drumheller entitled, “Faithful When We Are Faithless.” Drumheller tells of when he and his wife adopted a daughter, whom they were told had severe emotional problems. In fact, the administrator at the children’s home advised them not to take this step, that the girl would be better off staying at the home. But the Drumhellers believed that faith and love could overcome any problem, and so they adopted the little girl. It didn’t take long to realize that they had made a mistake. As year after impossible year passed, they consulted with counselors and doctors, dealing with terms like “attention deficit disorder” and “psychopathic personality”. The experts agreed that there was no hope for improvement. Eventually, their adopted daughter ran away. They felt that they had done everything that they could do and so they said: “It’s no use. She will never get any better.” They gave up. The daughter wound up first in a detention center, and then in a series of foster homes. The Drumhellers lost track of her and they lost hope of ever seeing her again. However, years later, to their amazement, she reappeared in their lives. She wanted to thank them for the love they had given her. She shared with them that she had gotten her education, that she was now married with two well-adjusted children, and that she was teaching Sunday School at her church. Clarence Drumheller ended the article with a powerful statement. He wrote: “We lost faith, but God was faithful.”

My beloved, never be discouraged by small beginnings, or even by poor beginnings. God is in charge. God is faithful. Sometimes God works in ways we cannot see. Therefore, I would contend with you that Christians can never say: “This is the worst thing that could ever happen.” Christians can never say: “I don’t think I’ll ever get beyond this.” Christians can never say: “This is the end; we can’t recover from this.” Christians can never say: “I’ll never be happy again.” Christians can never say: “That person is hopeless, he will never change.” To believe in God is to know that there is always possibility. To live in Christ is to know that there is no such thing as a hopeless case. Just because you can’t see the seed growing, just because you don’t get quick results, doesn’t mean a thing. Growth doesn’t take place because of our understanding or manipulations- it’s God and God alone who brings the growth- and sometimes that growth is slow. Therefore, we must be patient and persistent in living the life

Christ calls us to live. We must never give up or give out or give in. The tiniest of seeds can, in time, produce an enormous harvest. And notice also that

The parable communicates a clear message about promise and potential.

This parable is not about farming, even though it mentions seeds and planting. No, this parable is about growth. The growth may not come suddenly or dramatically, but it will come. The mustard seed, the tiniest of all seeds, eventually produces a large and magnificent bush. That tiny seed holds within it the promise and potential of becoming a home for the birds of the air. Lovely picture. Equally lovely message.

We see it quite clearly in the Apostle Paul. We tend to focus upon Paul’s sudden and dramatic experience on the Damascus Road, but I would remind you that God had been working in Saul of Tarsus for a long time, slowly, gradually. And I would remind you that even after Damascus, it was a long time, maybe as much as ten years, before God got Paul completely ready for the work he wanted him to do. That’s the way it is in the life of faith. We all have a God-given potential.

A third grade student taught her teacher a valuable lesson one day when the teacher asked: “Debbie, how many great persons were born in our city?” Debbie answered: “There were no great persons born in our city. They were born as babies who became great persons.” How true. They came into the world with nothing more than potential. It’s what they did with that potential that made them great. The same is true for us. To all outward appearances, the tiny mustard seed does not look like very much, and yet look at its potential for growth. In other words, it doesn’t matter how small the starting point in our lives—all that matters is how free a hand God is given to produce His marvelous growth within us.

It was 138 years ago this month that Jean Henri Dunant woke up one morning and opened his window in his beloved Switzerland. On the streets below he heard an agitated crowd talking in excited tones. He could hear the words “fighting” and “war”. He rushed down to find out what was happening and was told that war had broken out just to the south of them in Italy. His curiosity got the best of him, so he hurried back up to his flat, packed a few clothes, and then headed off toward Italy to see for himself what was going on. Suddenly, near the town of Solferino, he found himself in the midst of a raging battle. It seemed that everyone was shooting at everyone else. He watched in horror as men were hit with bullets, cried out in pain and fell to the ground. He had never seen anything like that, and he was stunned to watch wave after wave of soldiers, hundreds of them, then thousands of them, fall wounded and dying. He felt that he needed to do something to help the wounded, but there were so many of them he didn’t even know where to start. As the fighting came to an end, he pleaded with God to help him to know what to do. The prayer was answered. He went to the nearby town and asked people to go with him to the battlefield to help. They responded. Ordinary folks from all walks of life; farmers, bakers, teachers, tailors—they responded. And then they worked tirelessly, giving as much aid as they could to the 40,000 casualties. Later on, after Henri had returned home, he couldn’t shake the memory of that horrible experience from his mind. So in order to help himself cope with it all, he began to write down his experiences, describing in excruciating detail the horrible sight of battle and people shot. He went on to describe the response of the townspeople, and he wondered in his writing if it wouldn’t be good for communities to develop a volunteer emergency aid service to help wounded soldiers. Five years later, in 1864, the seed planted in Henri Dunant’s writing caught on and he started the first such volunteer rescue society in Geneva, Switzerland. He gave the organization both its name and its symbol, drawn from his faith and his battlefield experience: the cross from his faith and red from the battlefield blood—the Red Cross.

Over the next years, that organization spread throughout the world. But as so often happens, everyone forgot about Jean Henri Dunant. He wound up going bankrupt, and then for some fifteen years, no one knew his whereabouts. Then in 1890, after a newspaper article described the beginnings of the Red Cross, a search was undertaken. Henri Dunant was found living in a tenement house, barely surviving, but still strong in his faith. Ten years later, the very first Noble Peace Prize was given to Jean Henri Dunant.

Remember, please, it doesn’t matter how small the starting point in our lives. All that matters is how free a hand we give God to bring to reality the magnificent potential He has planted within us.

Well…

Who knows why I want to share this with you. It has nothing to do with this sermon, but I just liked it when I heard it. A fellow I know tells of an experience he had at a toll booth. You know that going through a toll booth is not a particularly warm and wonderful experience—you hand over money, you get change and receipt, you drive off. Well, one day this fellow pulled up to a toll booth on the Oakland Bay Bridge in San Francisco, rolled down the window, only to hear loud music. It was coming from the toll booth. Not only that, but the attendant inside was dancing. That’s right. Dancing! The fellow in the car asked: “What are you doing?” The toll booth attendant replied: “I’m having a party.” He took the money and kept on dancing. The fellow in the car wanted to ask more questions, but the man in the car behind him blew the horn, and so he thought to himself: “I need to find that guy again. Something in his eyes says that there is magic in that toll booth.” A few days later, he pulled up to the toll booth again—same guy, same music, same dancing. This time there were no cars behind him so he stopped and said: “Explain to me what’s going on.” The attendant said: “Oh, yeah, I remember you from the other day. I’m still having a party.” The fellow in the car said: “Well, what about the people in those other booths.” The attendant stopped dancing, leaned in the car window, pointed down the row of toll booths and said: “What do those look like to you?” The guy in the car said: “What do you mean?” The attendant said: “Look at them. I’ll tell you what they are. They are vertical coffins! At 8:30 every morning, live people get in those things and they die for eight hours, and then they drag out and go home. For eight hours their brain is on hold and they are dead on the job. They just go through the motions, that’s all. But not me. You see, I’m going to be a dancer someday.” Then he pointed over to the administration building and said: “My bosses are in there. They don’t know it, but they are paying for my training!”

Great story, but like I said, it has nothing to do with this sermon. Or does it? Come to think of it, if you have never signed on for a lifetime adventure in the faith, if you’ve never given God the freedom to develop the potential He has planted within you, if you’ve never thrown yourself into the joy of living in, with and for Jesus Christ, then you’re living in a vertical coffin. Jesus said: “Follow me and come alive! It doesn’t matter if you have only a little faith—it doesn’t matter if you feel small and insignificant; remember the mustard seed!”

You see, my beloved in Christ, the tiniest seed can produce an enormous harvest!

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