"Become a Parable"

Uploaded by centexmcc on 17.06.2012

The observation was once made that "next to food and drink, our most basic human need is story."
And Jesus frequently used stories in the form of parables to teach spiritual truths to the crowds who were drawn to him.
Someone said that he told so many parables that he became one. Take for example, this morning's parable about the mustard seed.
Most of us are familiar with it. The tiny mustard seed grows into a large bush and shelters the birds.
Except the authors of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke said the seed grew into a large tree.
And to complicate matters even more, the Gospel of Thomas claims it only grew into a large plant.
I suspect that the original parable portrayed a large mustard plant, and it was probably intended as a parody to a similar story found in the book of Ezekiel.
In the Ezekiel story a tender sprig is broken off from a tall and mighty cedar, planted on a lofty mountain,
and it grows into a huge tree that offers shade and shelter to every kind of bird that exists.
A similar story found in the Book of Daniel describes an even greater wonder with a tree that "reached to heaven and was visible to the end of the whole earth."
Jesus' audience, probably expecting a story of these sorts, was no doubt surprised – maybe even offended –
to hear a tale, instead, of the Realm of God compared to a tiny mustard seed that grows into a large plant.
You see, the mustard plant was not only not a "sweet little" image, it wasn't even a neutral image.
Mustard was described as a weed that can take over a garden before you knew it. And the last thing a farmer would do would be to plant a weed that would attract birds to the crops.
Comparing the Dominion of God to a weed instead of a lofty cedar would have been almost insulting to the audience. And so the parable speaks to me on several different levels.
First, the realm of God and those people who operate within that realm are not what we would expect.
As I said, the crowds, no doubt, expected to hear a story about a great and towering tree, a tree as tall as the heavens whose branches reached across the world.
But what they got from Jesus, instead, was a mustard plant, an insignificant nuisance, a weed.
If it's true that Jesus became a parable, then I suspect he became the parable of the mustard seed.
People were looking for a great and mighty messiah who would ride in on a warhorse, prepared to overthrow the Roman Empire.
Even today, we still look for that in our image of God. We search the heavens for a mighty and powerful deity who will destroy everything that stands in our way.
We imagine Jesus, the very Son of God, riding in on a mighty stallion to save the day and overthrow our enemies.
But what we get, instead, is a simple rabbi who rode in on a donkey, teaching love and forgiveness.
A Jesus who more often went by the title of the Human One than by the Son of God – a humble Child of Humanity who washed feet and fed hungry bellies.
We experience a simple and often despised mustard plant when we encounter Jesus, not a lofty mountain cedar. And so if we are going to call ourselves followers of the Christ,
then we need to let go of our own ideas of grandiosity. These have no place in the Dominion of God. That simply isn't how God works.
God works through mustard plants, not mountain cedars. But the parable speaks to me on another level.
You see, for me today, the parable is not so much about the mustard seed as it is about the birds which are drawn to it.
If there is a grandiose dimension to this parable, I think it lies in flocks of birds which are provided food and shelter.
Despite the different versions of this parable which, in turn, describe a mountain cedar, a mustard tree, a mustard bush, and a simple mustard plant, the ending of each remains the same.
In each variation of the story, birds take shelter in the branches. And not just a few birds, but lots and lots of birds!
Regardless of whether it's a mustard plant or a large tree, there always seems to be enough room on its branches for more birds than one would have expected.
Again, if Jesus became a parable, then he would have become this one. For if there is something that's unique and amazing about him, it's the fact that he provided food and shelter to all the people,
all the birds of the air. Not just the noble eagle, but also the pesky house sparrow and grackle – belligerent and irritating creatures that crowd trees
and outcompete the other birds for food. Nuisances. Trash birds. That's the sort of people that were drawn to Jesus: trash birds.
And the trash birds of his day were the tax collectors, prostitutes, Gentiles, peasants, and lepers. The so-called parasites of society.
He fed them, comforted them, and healed them – all with the goal of bringing them into a circle that had, up to that point, excluded them.
And so the message for me is a clear one. If we are going to operate within the Dominion of God, if you and I and this church are going to be the instruments of God's heavenly realm on earth,
then we need to understand that we are called to give shelter and food to all the birds of the air, all of humanity, not just the few. The trash birds of today are the LGBT community,
the undocumented residents, the intellectually disabled, the poor, the addicts, and the HIV+. The trash birds are anyone who finds herself or himself standing outside of the circle.
And so a question that I need to ask myself is where do I fit into this parable so far? Am I the bird seeking food and shelter?
Or am I the tree offering up myself for the sake of others? Depending upon my life circumstances I can be either. Sometimes I need shelter and sanctuary.
Sometimes I need to be nurtured. Sometimes I need to be the recipient. People who look to church with the question, "What does it offer me?" are the birds.
And that's fine up to a point. But if you are only and always a bird, taking and never giving, then you are only experiencing one dimension of God's Dominion.
The tree provides shade for anyone who comes to it. Its cover offers protection from predators. Its branches support the nests of any bird who decides to make its residence there.
And we need to do the same. We need to give to others. We need to offer a safe place for anyone who is drawn to us.
And we need to offer nourishment from the seeds of hope that have been planted within each of us.
I believe God has planted within each of us a small seed of hope. It may be just as small as the mustard seed in today's parable. But it has just as much potential.
Henry David Thoreau said, "I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders."
Just as all the birds of the air feed upon the tiny mustard seed, so too, are all of God's children nourished with the seed of hope that we have been given.
A seed with the potential to produce wonders beyond our imagination. That's what Jesus offered the crowds with his words and actions. He offered hope.
That's what people like Martin Luther King, Jr.; Mahatmas Gandhi; Dorothy Day; and Harvey Milk offered.
They offered seeds of hope to everyone they encountered. And that's what you and I need to be about, too. If we are going to operate within God's Dominion,
then we have a task before us. We need to reach deep within our being, freely offer the hope that we have been given,
and open ourselves to anyone and everyone who is looking for some respite from the world. Our church is spreading out new branches every day.
But we can't do it without you. We need your prayers on our behalf. We need your financial support. And we need a portion of your time and energy.
Please help us become the parable to which God has called us. Amen.