(Ezekiel 17:22-24, Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15, 2 Corinthians 5:6-17)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/FBof6NdW2AI)
26[Jesus] also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
30He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
33With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
There’s a story about an emperor in the Far East was growing old and knew it was time to choose his successor. Instead of choosing one of his assistants or his children, he decided something different. He called young people in the kingdom together one day. He said, ‘It is time for me to step down and choose the next emperor. I have decided to choose one of you.’ The kids were shocked! But the emperor continued. ‘I am going to give each one of you a seed today. One very special seed…. I want you to plant the seed, water it and come back here after one year from today with what you have grown from this one seed. I will then judge the plants that you bring and the one I choose will be the next emperor!’
One boy named Ling was there that day and he, like the others, received a seed. He went home and excitedly told his mother the story. She helped him get a pot and planting soil and he planted the seed and watered it carefully. Every day he would water it and watch to see if it had grown. After about three weeks, some of the other youths began to talk about their seeds and the plants that were beginning to grow. Ling kept checking his seed, but nothing ever grew. 3 weeks, 4 weeks, 5 weeks went by. Still nothing. By now, others were talking about their plants but Ling didn’t have a plant, and he felt like a failure. Six months went by, still nothing in Ling’s pot. He just knew he had killed his seed. Everyone else had trees and tall plants, but he had nothing. Ling didn’t say anything to his friends. However he just kept waiting for his seed to grow.
A year finally went by and all the youths of the kingdom brought their plants to the emperor for inspection. Ling told his mother that he wasn’t going to take an empty pot. His mother told him to be honest about what happened. Ling felt sick to his stomach, but he knew his mother was right. He took his empty pot to the palace, when Ling arrived, he was amazed at the variety of plants grown by the other youths. They were beautiful in all shapes and sizes. Ling put his empty pot on the floor and many of the other kinds laughed at him. A few felt sorry for him and just said, “Hey nice try.”
When the emperor arrived, he surveyed the room and greeted the young people. Ling just tried to hide in the back. “What great plants, trees and flowers you have grown,’ said the emperor. Today, one of you will be appointed the next emperor:’ All of a sudden, the emperor spotted Ling at the back of the room with his empty pot. He ordered his guards to bring him to the front. Ling was terrified…”The emperor knows I’m a failure! Maybe he will have me killed!” When Ling got to the front, the Emperor asked his name. ’My name is Ling,’ he replied. All the kids were laughing and making fun of him. The emperor asked everyone to quiet down. He looked at Ling and then announced to the crowd, ‘Behold your new emperor… His name is Ling!” Ling couldn’t believe it. Ling couldn’t even grow his seed. How could he be the new emperor? Then the emperor said, “One year ago today, I gave everyone here a seed. I told you to take the seed, plant it, water it, and bring it back to me today. But I gave you all boiled seeds which would not grow. All of you, except Ling, have brought me trees and plants and flowers. When you found that the seed would not grow, you substituted another seed for the one I gave you. Ling was the only one with the courage and honesty to bring me a pot with the seed I gave him in it. Therefore, he is the one who will be the new emperor.”
What’s neat about Ling’s calling to be the new emperor is how similar it is to Jesus’ parable about the mustard seed. Both the tiny mustard seed and Ling’s bad seed somehow develop into unimaginable blessings. Jesus knew that the mustard seed is the smallest seed in the plant world. Few people would expect it to grow into such a large shrub judging by its meager size as a seedling. And yet a single mustard seed will blossom into a majestic shrub. Ling’s seed wasn’t meant to grow. Instead, it was meant to reveal the true character of its owner. The seed wasn’t meant to blossom—the child was meant to blossom. Ling’s honesty was revealed, a trait that is essential for being a successful emperor in charge of the lives of thousands of people. By revealing Ling’s character, the seed blossomed in unimaginable ways. You see, both the mustard seed and Ling’s seed prove to be unexpected blessings.
What Jesus teaches us in his parable is that God’s kingdom is more than simply a fabulous destination. God’s kingdom is more than the beautiful Garden of Eden that we dream about. God’s kingdom is more than a tropical getaway to somewhere like Hawaii or Tahiti. No, God’s kingdom is also a process. God’s kingdom is revealed to us over time much the same way that a seed blossoms over time. And the process of God’s kingdom being revealed to us starts with the smallest of seeds—faith. Faith is the smallest, most unsuspecting, most unglamorous seed out there. At least you can SEE a mustard seed! You can’t even see faith and yet it can grow into the greatest thing out there. Indeed, it can grow into the kingdom of God. Through the seed of faith, we come to realize and experience the kingdom of God. Through the seed of faith, we come to realize God’s deep love for us. Through the seed of faith, we come to realize that God’s kingdom is all around us. We don’t need to get on a plane and travel somewhere to experience God’s majestic kingdom. We don’t need to die to experience God’s kingdom. God’s kingdom is all around us, slowly revealed to us day after day like a blossoming seedling. We simply need to search out God’s glory in the world around us. We are a part of God’s kingdom because we are a part of God’s creation.
Like the emperor in the story, God has continually planted seeds that help us and sometimes reveal our true characters. In our passage from Ezekiel, we heard of how God planted a mighty cedar for the people of Israel in their time of need. God said, “On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it, in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit, and become a noble cedar. Under it every kind of bird will live; in the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind. All the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord. I bring low the high tree, I make high the low tree; I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish.” Ezekiel witnessed God providing in awesome ways for his beloved people of Israel. No other god can provide in the same unimaginable ways as our God. God doesn’t simply provide so that we might survive our brief time here in this world. God provides so that we might flourish! God provides in such majestic ways that we can’t help lifting up our praise and thanksgiving.
We heard how David lifted up his praise for God’s awesome ways of planting and providing. He sang, “The righteous flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. In old age they still produce fruit; they are always green and full of sap.” When God plants His Word in us, God is providing for us in unimaginable ways. God isn’t merely giving us the fish our bodies need to survive. God is teaching us how to fish. God is teaching us how to be righteous. By planting His word in us, God is planting seeds of faith in us and we know that faith grows into amazing possibilities and opportunities. Faith is the gateway into God’s kingdom.
Are we called to sit idle, waiting for God’s kingdom to slowly be revealed to us over time? No, Jesus wants us out there sowing seeds of faith in whatever community we find ourselves. Jesus wants us actively seeking out God’s kingdom and helping to reveal it to those around us. This season of Pentecost is the longest season of the Christian year because it is precisely during this season that we are called to do the hard work of sowing seeds of faith. Each of us has been given a bag of seeds and each of us is expected to plant our seeds. God plants seeds for us so we need to do likewise. The emperor wasn’t the only one who planted seeds in that story earlier. Ling also planted a seed—a seed of honesty. A seed of honesty helps reveal the kingdom of God so, in a sense, it is also a seed of faith. Seeds of faith both reveal and build God’s kingdom in this world. Let us strive to sow seeds of faith in the world around us as we reflect on these words of wisdom:
If you plant honesty, you will reap trust. If you plant goodness, you will reap friends. If you plant humility, you will reap greatness. If you plant perseverance, you will reap victory. If you plant consideration, you will reap harmony. If you plant hard work, you will reap success. If you plant forgiveness, you will reap reconciliation. If you plant openness, you will reap intimacy. If you plant patience, you will reap improvements. If you plant faith, you will reap miracles.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.