I would like to see a mustard tree, have you ever seen one? I’ve only seen pictures, but I’ve read that they grow all over the world. It’s a big, bushy kind of looking tree from the pictures, as big as nine feet tall, branches kind of spread everywhere and are very leafy. The Mustard Tree and mustard plants in general are considered very invasive, simply growing like crazy and taking over where they land. When you look at this tree, how big and bushy it is, it’s almost impossible to imagine that it originally came from such an incredibly small seed, just about 2mm big, a tiny dot on the tip of your finger that becomes such a large, sheltering presence.
When Jesus talks with us and the crowds today in the Parable of the Mustard Seed (Mark 4:26-34) Jesus says that this is what God’s Kingdom is like. That is the way that God brings His sheltering presence of life, forgiveness and hope to a world in such desperate need of a place to refuge within. Jesus did not look like much, an itinerant preacher in a small dusty place, more like a tiny dot on the tip of your finger when compared with the rest of the world. His death, though it has such a large impression in our own mind’s eye, it was the lowest of the kinds of public death, one of countless crosses where people suffered and died.
To tell the world that it was through this incredibly small death of this one seemingly insignificant man within the sea of humanity that God has brought about the sheltering presence of his forgivness and love for all of humanity and all of creation seems absurb, unlikely, impossible to imagine. But that is the foolishness of the Cross, that through what seems small and insignificant by human wisdom, it is by God’s wisdom through the smallness of the cross that salvation has been accomplished for all. This done so that there can be no boasting about how big our good works are or how great and tall our faith is, because all of that kind of boasting that tries to make ourselves seem bigger and more important is foolishness when it comes to our salvation. There can be no boasting in our own good works, because those things can never bring us back to God, so lost and hopeless is our condition. But salvation is found through the smallness of the cross alone so that God can show us the foolishness of our own prideful boasting and how completely necessary it is to rely upon God alone to save and shelter us with His presence.
It is vital for us to remember this, because we tend to make ourselves bigger and try to make God smaller. Thinking that with my own strength and power, my own goodness or knowledge, my own importance in this sphere of things, not only can nothing really bad happen to me, maybe in this life but also eternally, but also somehow I can handle it all. We don’t think we need God to be so big to shelter us. But when the storms of life occur and we quickly find that our bigness some how has failed us and yes we realize we are small and insignificant and in need of help. That is when we are so grateful for the bigness of God and his sheltering presence that covers over all of our sin, all of our guilt, all of our need, and even shelters us during the time of death with His own presence that keeps us safe. Even the smallest things of God are bigger than our biggest bigs!
A beautiful word for this is God’s sheltering presence is sanctuary. Sanctuary is being sheltered by the presence of our God because of His big love for us. It is in faith that not only do we realize our need for God’s sheltering presence but we run to where His sanctuary is given and received. A church family has always been one of those place that is a sanctuary for the people of God, because it is within the church family that we draw close to the promises of God and are sheltered by His presence. Think about those that dwell within a sanctuary, it is for those who are in need. This is important, everyone is in need of shelter, but many refuse to believe it or continue to try to rely futilely on their own bigness, but those who dwell in God’s sanctuary understand both their own smallness and the bigness of God and flee wisely to where shelter and help is found. That is why those that dwell within God’s sanctuary will not be those who believe they are strong but really are not, instead you will find those who recognize how great their need is and how great their God is. Those that dwell in the sanctuary will not be perfect people, but broken, hurting and sinful people who are here to receive the help they need.
So when we care for each other in a church family, it is wise to remember our own smallness and need and not to somehow get caught up in the illusion of our own bigness and thus try to make other people seem small. But what holds us together is our common need for the bigness of God and a place to go, a sanctuary, where the bigness of God shelters us with His love. Amen.