I invite you to take a few moments with me to reflect on today’s Upper Room Devotional below.
Thank you for sharing this early moment of your day with me, with God, and with the thoughts and words of this reading that I hope you will carry with you throughout the coming day and night.
Luke 13:18-21 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Parable of the Mustard Seed
18 He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? 19 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.”
The Parable of the Yeast
20 And again he said, “To what should I compare the kingdom of God? 21 It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with[a] three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
Tim’s Devotional Reflection for Today
Jesus was always pointing to the realm of God in his teachings. He was always calling people to live in the realm of God. I use the word “realm” with a purpose—we don’t live in a kingdom and aren’t much acquainted in our culture what that means, but the word “realm” captures the meaning beautifully. The word “realm” means a royal domain, like the term “kingdom,” but it also means “the region, sphere, or domain within which anything occurs, prevails, or dominates.” [dictionary.com] So, I use the more inclusive term “realm”: the realm of God is “the region, sphere, or domain within which the will of God occurs, prevails, or dominates.”
The first of the parables in today’s text features the unique, inexplicable growing nature of seeds. The mustard seed, while tiny, is certainly not the smallest seed on earth. But it was proverbially known as that in the Palestinian region. While other small seeds produced small flowers or vegetables, the mustard seed produced a large, shaggy shrub that could grow to a height of as much as six feet.
Jesus is saying that the very tiniest of seeds can produce an enormous harvest. And he is reminding us that we are called to do something. If the Realm of God is to become a reality, we who are aware of God’s grace have seeds to sow.
A fourteen-year-old named Hannah Foust from Indiana inspired the entire 2016 General Conference of The United Methodist Church with her powerful story of sowing seeds. She shared what life is like in Burkina Faso, a west African nation of 17.4 million, which is described as the third most miserable place on earth. One out of three children will die before their fifth birthday for lack of clean drinking water. Hannah told us that girls her age travel as far as seven miles to obtain water that looks like chocolate milk, water so dirty it will likely eventually kill them. “Water is something we take for granted in the United State,” she said. “But in Burkina Faso, it is life.”
Overwhelmed by the poverty she had discovered, Hannah Foust felt a responsibility to help the children she learned about, like she was their big sister. “I went to bed that night praying, ‘please, God, tell me there isn’t really a place like this. When I woke up the next day, I knew God was calling me to build a well. …In a truly poor country like Burkina Faso there are no simple solutions to the problem they face, but clean drinking water can change their lives.”
While many others might have, and often are, stalled by the fear and hesitation such large problems bring, this young woman chose to trust God’s power to use her to help his people. For the last two years, Hannah Foust did yard work, housework, baby sat, and shared her story to raise funds in order to build a well. Since then, she has funded three more wells and proclaims that she will continue to work until called to do something else.
This first small difference inspired others to help make a huge one. Because of her efforts, others were lead to help build thirteen additional wells. Thirteen wells that would provide up to 13,000 people with clean drinking water. Foust said that she found it difficult to believe a girl from Indiana could have such a powerful influence. But, she says, it is not all about her, but rather about how God is using her.
Foust likened this to a Bible story, one we are all familiar with but on which she shed a personal light. In John 6, after healing and ministering to a group of 5,000 people, Jesus asks Philip where they could find food to feed the crowd. Overwhelmed by the sheer numbers, the disciple laments that even if they worked for months they would not have enough money to buy all of these people food. Moments later, Andrew finds a young boy with five loaves and two fish, a small meal they bring to Jesus, a meal he turns into a feast with food left to spare.
“All my life, I believed there was only one miracle in this story,” Foust said. “And that’s that Jesus fed over 5,000 people with a little boy’s lunch. And that is truly a miracle because I don’t know many boys who would give up their lunch. But I think that there’s another miracle here. Because when Jesus said that he wanted to feed the people, his own disciples didn’t believe it could be done, and they had seen his miracles. …Their situation was so far out of their reach that they forgot who they were with. …[but] Jesus did what he always does. He made something huge happen with little things.”
Finally, Hannah attributed her inspiration to the adults in her life and encourages those around her to inspire others too. Great miracles can be achieved if we work together, Foust said, but we must build relationships with others in order to be truly united “so that one day there would be no more empty plates, or cups, or hearts to fill.”
Now our task is to scatter seeds. We don’t know if the seeds we plant will ever take hold, but that should not discourage us. Growth doesn’t take place because of our understandings or manipulations; it is God’s initiative that brings forth growth.
It is often easy for us to lose patience and wonder what the use is. We don’t see anything coming from our efforts and be ready to give up. But wait! The parable of the scattered seed teaches us that just when we are ready to give up some seed will sprout. Just when we think nothing will happen, growth will take place. We need to be patient and not give up, because sometimes growth takes longer than we expect. God works in ways we don’t understand, often hidden from view. And we have to be patient.
You may remember the 1977 movie Oh, God! starring George Burns and John Denver. Burns played God. Denver played a grocery store manager named Jerry. One day God decides to communicate his love to the world through Jerry. Jerry, with much reluctance, holds a news conference to deliver God’s message. This lands him in a courtroom where God must take the stand in his defense.
Toward the end of the movie, the two evaluate the success of their mission. Denver, the manager, judges it to be a failure.
“Oh, I don’t think so,” says God. “You never know; a seed here and a seed there, something will catch hold and grow.”
And that’s the story of our faith a seed here, a seed there. But the realm of God is growing.
Are there some tiny seeds that you could be planting? Some word of love, some act of encouragement? Is there some ministry you and I could be involved in, realizing that from the tiniest seed great growth can come?
There is a lot of theology woven in to hymns. To enhance today’s reading, I recommend listening to “Seek Ye First”. I hope you will take a few moments to let the words of this message and the emotion that always connects us to music connect with your soul. Listen to this hymn on SoundCloud.
Thank you for sharing this early moment of your day with me, with God, and with the words and music that I hope you will carry with you throughout the coming day and night.
I am so grateful for you, for our church, and for the Love that will see us all through this very difficult time. Please stay safe and well and we’ll be together again in spirit tomorrow morning!
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster