Sermon: Mustard and Potatoes

Proverbs 3:1-10

My son, do not forget my teaching,

but keep my commands in your heart,

2 for they will prolong your life many years

and bring you prosperity.

3 Let love and faithfulness never leave you;

bind them around your neck,

write them on the tablet of your heart.

4 Then you will win favor and a good name

in the sight of God and man.

5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart

and lean not on your own understanding;

6 in all your ways acknowledge him,

and he will make your paths straight.

7 Do not be wise in your own eyes;

fear the LORD and shun evil.

8 This will bring health to your body

and nourishment to your bones.

9 Honor the LORD with your wealth,

with the firstfruits of all your crops;

10 then your barns will be filled to overflowing,

and your vats will brim over with new wine.

 

Matthew 21:18-22

18 Early in the morning, as he (Jesus) was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. 19 Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.

20 When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked.

21 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. 22 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

Five times in three of the four gospels, Jesus speaks about mustard seed.

Three times, in Matthew, Mark & Luke He relates the tiny mustard seed to the Kingdom of Heaven which starts small and grows huge.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.”

Twice He uses the minute mustard seed to show how little faith we need to make the Kingdom happen amongst us.

–          Once about moving mountains, and

–          Once about throwing mulberry trees into the sea.

And in our text this morning, Jesus speaks of a faith which does not doubt and can therefore not only kill fig trees but can actually throw mountains into the sea.

Now I don’t know what the gospels have against fig trees, mountains and mulberry bushes, but the point is clear – even the tiniest little bit of trust in the ways of the living God is enough to make incredible things happen and for the Kingdom to come amongst us.

In the Gospel reading we that its early in the morning, the day after the cleansing of the Temple, and Jesus is seeking some fruit from the fig tree to stay His hunger. Finding nothing but leaves He pronounces a curse on the tree and it withers and dies.

(The story does, in fact, have a deeper spiritual significance in that the barren fig tree represents stubborn Israel who have failed to produce any response of faith to the promise of God. And there is a lesson there for us about unexercised faith.)

However, the point that I want to make is that when questioned by the disciples, Jesus says to them, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. 22 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

If you have faith and do not doubt!!!

If we are honest with ourselves, most of us are like the man who, when he brought his son to Jesus to be delivered of an evil spirit, said – “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.”

We believe but we still doubt. We have an intellectual grasp of the possibility of God’s ability but we do not think it possible in our own context.

Perhaps our problem is that we want and expect spectacular and immediate results. Faith however, is also and often mostly about the long haul – a steady obedience in the same direction.

Angus Buchan’s biography puts it well. Faith is like potatoes. You have to plant and wait. You can’t go digging around to see how things are going.

You have to rely on the work that God is doing underground. You have to believe in the unseen work; trusting that something is happening even when you see nothing.

To dig around in what you have planted to see if anything is happening is to ruin the potential of the crop.

This is hard and requires much patience but it carries great reward. When the crop of potatoes is lifted into the daylight, we see the fine harvest which grew under the ground.

Or perhaps our problem is that we think that we have too little faith.

So how much faith do we need?

Very little, if the words of Jesus are to be believed.  

But, on the other hand, we also need a great deal of faith … let me explain.

In Proverbs 3:5 we read, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”

With ALL your heart; leaning NOT on your own understanding.

We need a GREAT DEAL of faith because we must trust in the Lord with ALL our heart … Believing in His capacity and grace with every fibre of our being.

But we also need VERY LITTLE faith because what we are expecting is not dependent on us. We are NOT to lean on our own understanding.

In the context of God, our understanding is a limitation. We cannot even begin to comprehend to extent of God’s grandeur and power.

In Isaiah 55:8 & 9 God tells us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways

and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

 

Faith is about believing God, not just believing IN God. It is about understanding that He IS the Lord of heaven and earth. It is about the simple acceptance of His sovereignty over the Kingdom which He declares.

Faith like that, allows us to believe the impossible – because we are no longer limited to the things we can do by ourselves.

Indeed, and ponder this though a moment – if it is not impossible, then we don’t actually need God.

If our prayers and our expectations are limited to the possible we don’t need faith … we only need access to the Yellow Pages, to call the plumber, or doctor, or oncologist, or whoever.

Faith is believing that the God of the impossible makes all things possible. It is knowing that God has dreamed a great dream which is way beyond our understanding and limitations and believing that He is putting that dream into place in our hearts and lives.

When Jesus was talking to the certain ruler in Luke 18, He told Him that to attain his dream (specifically that man wanted to know what to do in order to gain eternal life), he had to sell everything he had and give it to the poor and then to follow Jesus. The man found this to be an impossible option. The reason was that he was not relying on God for his dream, but on his own great wealth. He found that he would rather rely on his own understanding and ability than to give to God all of his heart.

And then Jesus spoke about the camel passing through the eye of the needle…

Finding this hard to believe, the crowd cry out, “Who then can be saved?”

Well it’s easy to answer that question when you realize that the “eye of the needle” was a small gate into Jerusalem. In order for a camel to pass through, its load had to be removed.  This man, and all those who desire to know the FULLNESS of God, need to be rid of dependence on earthly limitations. To remove the burden of our own understanding. For this man it was his wealth, for you it might be something else on which you are depending.

We do trust much more on the things of the world than we do in God. We trust our ability, our instinct, our wealth, our doctors, our tax consultants … sometimes even our politicians, more than we trust God.

But in verse 27 Jesus reminds us again that salvation, eternal life, God’s dream of the Kingdom cannot be gained by our own effort, instead “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”

It is God’s business to bring salvation, to generate in us the new life of the Spirit, to declare the Kingdom come – our business is to believe Him.

Faith is total abandonment to God in the face of the impossible. Faith begins with the impossible and ends up with God.

In Hebrews 11 verse 1, the writer makes it clear: “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

We need to know Him in whom we have put our hope. We must make this faith personal. Faith is not “out there”; it is “in here” – in the heart. Like the potatoes under ground, the consequences of faith grow deep within us, long before they emerge into the light.

So I must believe – it is my hope, even when believing for others.

Galatians 2:20 says,  I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God.”

The life that I life in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God.

When I come to faith, the “I” in me must die. I must be born again to a new life in Jesus. My trust must move from my ability to God’s vast potential. From a hopeful hoping to a certain hope. Its no longer I that liveth, but Christ that liveth in me.

Faith is not a force but a dependence – a trust in Jesus, and that trust only comes out of a relationship: we see it in Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the others who are named and commended amongst the people of faith mentioned in Hebrews Chapter 11.

In that relationship, I must know what He wants and I need to fit myself into His will and His desire.

A little mustard seed of faith is all it needs for God’s Kingdom to come in our midst.



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