The Gospel lectionary reading for today is from Luke 13:18-21. . . .What an important question Jesus asks: "What is the kingdom of God like?" And his second question shows to me that he thought deeply about every answer to important questions raised: "And to what should I compare it?"
Jesus said, "What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches." And again he said, "To what should I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened."
To translate Jesus' question into language we understand and can relate to today, we must first think of what an earthly kingdom was like in ancient times. It occurs to me that in ancient kingdoms, everyone who belonged to a particular kingdom belonged also to the king, the sovereign over that kingdom. They belonged to that kingdom in such a way that they were servants of the king, from the highest person in the kingdom to the lowest. Thus, Jesus' question was like asking: "What is it like to be related to God?" or "What is it like to be part of God's kingdom?"
And then comes the really fascinating part. . . . Jesus does not compare God's kingdom to something political in this world. Rather, as he often did, Jesus compared the kingdom to something agricultural, something organic. He says that the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed someone plants in their home garden. It starts really small, but then it grows and becomes something so large that birds can nest in its branches. It becomes a place that others can call home.
I spoke in a church in California this past weekend where there was an absolutely humongous tree with a thick, convoluted, gnarly trunk, and massive spreading branches that must have spread 50 feet in each direction. This tree was so huge and so old that it had gained protected status in its community. If necessary, many people could have found protection in its shade and countless birds could have made a home in its branches. But as large as that tree is today, we know it started from something small, a seed you could have, at one time, held in your hand.
Jesus says that the kingdom of God, being related to God, is like that. The relationship starts small, but then, with the right nutrients and care, it grows organically into something that helps others.
However, Jesus, like many good preachers, was never content with just one good illustration. He quickly uses a second word picture to help us see what the kingdom of God is like. He says it is like yeast that a woman works into some flour until the bread is thoroughly leavened.
Jesus was a masterful teacher wasn't he? First he uses a story men could relate to, about sowing seed in the garden. Then he uses a story the women in his day could immediately connect themselves with.
Again, the kingdom of God starts small. Grains of yeast are small. They seem like nothing compared to a large loaf of bread. And when you mix yeast into a loaf, it becomes hidden, invisible even. But then when you give time for the loaf to rise in a warm place, the yeast shows its internal, organic, power to cause growth.
What do these stories have to teach us today? They teach us that if we want to have a relationship with God, we need to start small. Don't start with a huge commitment added on to the exterior of your life. Rather, start with something tiny and seemingly insignificant, hidden even. Growing a relationship with God can start, and best begins, with just a few minutes every day spent with him. Read something from Scripture then talk to God about it. Spending as little as seven minutes per day, every day, for twenty one days, can form a habit. And what someone said many years ago is still true today. . . .
Sow a thought, reap an action;
sow an action, reap a habit;
sow a habit, reap a character;
sow a character, reap a destiny.