A spot of mustard

I wonder sometimes if my children grow when I am looking the other way. I seem to be constantly surprised at how big and capable they are getting. Beangirl learned to tie her shoes this week. And I keep catching myself saying already, already, already. As if there was some slower calendar that they should be following. Or I’ve been caught off-guard. Maybe if I could only watch more intently, only focus a little better, I might really see what was happening before my eyes.

But growth doesn’t work like that. There is a hiddenness to growth.

The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground,and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.

He does not know how. None of us quite do. Growth is in God’s hands. Thank heaven for that. If it were up to me to schedule growth, I’d procrastinate and the kids would never grow at all.

We do try to schedule growth within our churches, and maybe that’s off-kilter, too. We long for growth there. There’s little cuteness in empty pews. So we watch attentively and count and calculate, probably getting in our own way with a whiff of desperation. We look for people in pews, and then fail spectacularly to see the real growth around us. Growth isn’t a numbers game.

There is a hiddenness to growth. And we don’t know how.

But that hiddenness and secrecy doesn’t absolve us from action. We need to scatter. The Kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seeds…. There is a someone, isn’t there? Which makes sense from a parenting point of view. There are things that need to get done. So many things. Someone needs to feed the family. And all the other small and necessary bits and pieces, teaching and soothing and listening, clothing and calling, the hugs and brave words, the sandwiches to make and the glasses of milk, the worrying for them and with them – all that has to get done and, in the doing, seeds are scattered.

We do these small things – nothing world-changing or terribly glamorous – just these small hidden things and we trust that they will sit in the hands of God. And grow.

Or not.

I also trust that some of them won’t grow. I hope and trust that God will let my bad-tempered words fall away. All the unfit, impatient, grumpy-mummy seeds I scatter. I trust that God will let those go and that they won’t grow into choking weeds around my little home. I trust that God will work with us, and around us, and despite us. Wondrously. Because this is also a parable of the wonderful moment when God’s generosity kicks in.

With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs…”

That familiar mustard seed image pops up again, reminding us that something tiny, seemingly insignificant can be grown into something impressive. We see the bright fields of mustard, colouring Saskatchewan. This time round, the parable doesn’t exaggerate as it does in Matthew 13 when the mustard grows up to be a tree. Because, really, mustard doesn’t. It remains a bush – a fairly significant one – not a tree at all. But here in Mark’s gospel, we see the generosity of God imagined in the creation of home.

 …and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

The small seeds of our hidden work are the seeds for future sense of home. The good words I speak to my children will grow hopefully, becoming rooted in their heads, in their hearts, helping them to see where they belong in this world. I pray that those growing roots will help them to be strong and resilient. And nurturing, too, that they might offer shelter to others. This prayer helps me to keep up with my scattering. We can not give what we have not first received.

This is acted out every month at our church when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. The bread and wine are blessed before all at the communal table, but before they are shared, the minister and the elders taste them first. Then the plates are taken out into the congregation, and everyone is served. So we receive from hands that have received, and we share that others might give as well. Maybe that is another of image of hidden growth.

We can’t control growth. It doesn’t work that way. Just like we can’t control the brokenness of the world. We can only be faithful, scattering what we have received, hoping to share, sheltering what comes our way.

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About Katie Munnik

Katie Munnik posts a new Messy Table every Monday.