A circle of friends on pilgrimage for the love of God

Eyes to See the Kingdom of God

Parable of the Mustard Seed, James Paterson 

Pentecost +8
Rev. Doug Floyd
St. Brendan’s Anglican Church
1 Kings 3:3–14, Psalm 119:121-136, Romans 8:26-34, Matthew 13:31–33, 44–50

The ancient Greeks valued big things, big people, big statues, glorious big architecture. In some sense, everything was larger than life. Their love of bigness is similar to the American love of big things, big buildings, big houses, big vehicles, and even big churches. When I was in college, we visited Adrian Rogers’ church in Memphis, and we were amazed that it had an elevator. When Kelly and I visited Montreal several years ago, we visited the cathedral. It was so big that it had an escalator. After we visited all the giant and beautiful chapels, we visited a small side building, which was the original church. It was tiny. We wondered what the original priest would think of his tiny mission now.

Even as the Ancient Greeks valued bigness, the Ancient Celts valued smallness. Their treasures were tiny and filled with intricate lines that we still see in Celtic-themed items today. Unlike the Greeks, the ancient Celts were nomadic. They created treasures that were easily portable and were ready to travel on a moment’s notice.

In our parables, today, we continue to hear about small treasures: a tiny mustard seed, a valuable pearl, a treasure hidden in a field. In many ways, the Kingdom of Heaven is small. Almost unperceivable except for the one who has eyes to see. Jesus does not come into the world in power and might but comes in the midst of His people: hidden in the full light of day.

Though the Priests and Pharisees feel threatened by Jesus, he is fairly small in the grand scheme of things. Without the eyes of faith, he would be seen as an unknown Palestinian Jew who led a small group of people throughout Judea but was eventually killed by the might of the Roman empire.

Even today many people would continue to emphasize his smallness, his insignificance. His followers, on the other hand, look to Him as the Lord of Heaven and Earth, as the one through whom all things exists. If we look back through Scripture, we often see God’s hand at work in small things, small obscure people.

When the Lord rescued the Hebrews slaves from Egypt, He didn’t choose them because of their might or power. The Egyptians had all the might and all the power. The Hebrews were lowly, weak, and unimpressive. In Deuteronomy 7, the Moses tells the Children of Israel,

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. [1]

Israel was a treasure hidden in the field of Egypt. The Lord crushed the might of Egypt so that he might withdraw His beloved treasure and set them in the land of promise.

When Jesus speaks of a tiny mustard seed, planted in the ground, we can think of tiny Israel planted in Canaan. One day, all nations would stream to this tiny kingdom for healing and redemption. Every time, someone calls upon the name of Jesus for salvation, they turn to this tiny kingdom and the last king of Israel, Jesus the Messiah. In Christ, the tiny kingdom has become the center of the world and of all creation.

Sometimes Americans like to think of ourselves as modern-day Israel, but we are more akin to Egypt or Babylon. We are the mighty power. If we are to get a sense of the tininess of Israel, we must think of a small, seemingly unremarkable country. The Lord redeems a people who are not a people and gives them a name and a land and a future.

According to Romans 8 and Romans 11, we have been adopted into that family, grafted into that vine. We have joined the kingdom of the small, the weak, the frail, the lowly. This kingdom will heal the nations and redeem the cosmos by the might of his power and the abundance of His grace. Our lesson from Romans gives us a picture of a people God has called to Himself just as a He called the ancient Hebrews to himself. As we trust in Christ, we come to realize it is not we who have sought Christ, but He who has gathered us up into the love of God.

Even as we cry out for ourselves, our families, our nations, the Spirit also prays in and through us. Our prayers are frail and fragmentary and broken beyond words, but He is faithfully praying the perfect prayer in and through us. At the same time, Romans 8:34 tells us that Christ sits at the right hand of God, interceding for us. We are weak, but He is strong beyond measure. His grace is so complete that all our accusers fall before Him. He is working in us and through, and He will bring us into the fullness of His life and love.

Romans 8 is a passage of hope. When we have prayed and waited and longed and cried beyond all hope, He continues to work in the midst of our impossible situations, our challenging lives. Even as we cry out in the midst of our own grief and pain and struggle, the Spirit is working at an even greater level. He is working and through our prayers and cries and longing for the healing of the creation, of the nations, of our communities, of our families. He is working out His kingdom in time and space in ways that we cannot fully grasp.

Even as the kingdom is small like a mustard seed; it is slow like the growing of the seed into a tree. In the Old Testament, the great empires are pictured as giant Cedars of Lebanon. In our country, they might be pictured as giant redwood trees. Giant trees that are larger than life. According to the prophets, these empires fall like the chopping down of giant trees. The mustard seed grow up into a large bush. It is never giant. Yet the Lord promises to sustain this kingdom in such a way that all nations, all creation will find refuge in this kingdom.

This makes me think of a documentary I watched this week on Lilias Trotter.[2] It is likely you have not heard of her. I had not. In her day, the artist John Ruskin recognized her as one of the truly great artists. He saw in her the potential to be “the greatest living painter and do things that would be Immortal.”[3]

She loved to paint and journal and combine her writing and watercolors. Even more than art, she loved the Lord and felt compelled to follow the call of God. Despite her wealth and privilege, she often went to the roughest parts of the city to serve and care for the prostitutes and homeless women. As Ruskin pushed her to pursue art, she spent time seeking the wisdom of God for direction. She loved art and a life of painting, but she felt called to Algeria, and to the forsaken women of that land. While she continued to write and paint, she disappeared into the pages of history. She chose a life of hiddenness, smallness, and service to God instead of a life of recognition.

The kingdom of God is bursting forth all around us, but often in hidden ways and in hidden people. Only those with eyes can see. I want to close by inviting us to meditate on three different aspects of this smallness and slowness of the kingdom.

First, the kingdom of God is taking shape within you. The church has a long history of the discipline of examine. Usually people take this to mean searching our hearts and considering our sins. This is a faithful and proper form of examine. At the end of the day, there has often been a tradition of examine our day: considering the ways we failed to honor God and love others; confessing our sin and asking for grace. Within this same form of examine, there is also the pattern of considering our day and asking God to help us see the ways in which He provided for us, blessed us, was at work in us. We ask for eyes to see the small and hidden ways He is working out His kingdom in us.

Next, we might think of the people around us: both friend and foe. We ask for eyes to see the hidden kingdom in the people in our lives and the people we meet each day. Sometimes the people who frustrate us the most may serve us and God in ways we do not fully understand. Let us offer thanks to God for those we love, strangers we meet in the course of the day, and those who we struggle to love or even value.

Finally, we might also think of the places in our lives. Places in the past; places in the present. Some of these we love. Some may be difficult. Some jobs can be frustrating and challenging. Or sometimes we struggle with painful memories of the past or difficult challenges in the present. Sometimes we have to leave a place because of the challenges, and yet, we trust that He has not abandoned us. We ask God for eyes to see His hand of grace, His seeds of the kingdom in these places. He has not forsaken us. According to Romans 8:28, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” He is worked and has worked and will work to bring the kingdom to fruition in our lives.

We trust that the work He began in us, He will bring it to completion, and present us before the Father as blameless. His grace is sufficient, and His love never fails.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Dt 7:6–8.

[2] Many Beautiful Things directed by Laura Waters Hinson (2015).

[3] See “Lilias Trotter” on Wikipedia, note 7 < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lilias_Trotter#cite_note-7


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.