by Venice Williams—
I find mustard seeds annoying. Now I may be wrong in assuming this, but I would guess that the average gardener who has planted mustard greens from seed (and not seedlings) probably shares my irritation. No matter the variety, the seeds are so tiny!
Green Wave is a “curly leaf” mustard plant I grew up eating. It was served in countless pots of mixed greens prepared for holidays, church dinners, Sunday afternoons at home or meals at my grandparents’ homes. When I have attentively sowed these seeds, as much as I’ve tried to plant them neatly, the seeds just scatter on their own, dropping, disappearing, and blending in with the soil.
Then there’s the Florida Broadleaf, often called a “slick leaf mustard,” both popular and abundant in the gardens of many of my urban dweller friends. Yes, I have experienced these petite seeds falling through my fingers as well. I have also marveled at the assorted colorings of the Red Giant mustard seed, which germinates and grows quickly into an eye-catching magenta leaf. Yet the task of planting the minute, round mustard seeds of any variety, by hand, is enough to make the most patient of homesteaders scream! Of course, once we take our first bite of that homemade salad, stir-fry or mixed greens recipe from Grandma, the meal comes to life and the tediousness of planting mustard seeds is a long-ago memory. As gardeners, we understand the bountiful pleasures of reaping what we sow.
We read in the New Testament, in Mark 4:30-32, about how Jesus connected the tiny mustard seed with God’s reign:
He also said, “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, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
This is the same size of seed, but a different mustard species. Jesus is speaking of the mustard tree/bush (Salvadora perisica) native to Africa, India and the Middle East. Soaring into the air, it can become anywhere from 7- to 20-feet tall. After searching out an image of this particular mustard tree, I needed to see this seed for myself. So I ordered a packet, expecting to receive a seed maybe a little bigger than those of my green, leafy, culinary mustard plants. I mean, maybe Jesus was exaggerating just a bit? Possibly? Nope. When the packet arrived on my doorstep, I opened it and cupped the minute, biblical seeds in the palm of my hand, attempting to grasp their delicate presence, humbled by the power of the parable.
It’s been about 15 years since that small seed packet was delivered. Yet each time I read that scripture from the Gospel of Mark, I feel my knees begin to buckle. I have held and caressed that seed. I desire to be a part of the building of that kingdom.
Throughout my 32 years of ministry as part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I have paused each year, at a few different junctures, to ask myself, “What is my role in the building of the kingdom of God? What is being required of me? What is God asking me to do?” Amazingly, the basic answer remains the same year after year: Venice, always and in all ways you are called to plant seeds.
Sometimes these are tangible seeds. I have planted carrot, beet, basil, tomato, pepper, cilantro, watermelon, eggplant, parsley and dozens of additional seed species to provide physical nourishment in the designing of God’s kingdom. It is difficult to receive even God’s grace and mercy on an empty stomach.
Yet often the seeds are silent. Sitting, simply sitting, with someone in the midst of grief or trauma is a seed. So is praying in my head—the exchange known only to me and the Creator—while surrounded by hundreds of other people, while on an exercise bike at the gym or while resting my head on a pillow in my bedroom. More often than not, the seeds I plant are spoken or written—notes that encourage, sermons that challenge, workshops to inspire, magazine and online articles penned to reach deep within. All of these are planted in hopes that tiny seeds will grow into large branches in God’s kin-dom—the spiritual, faith-filled scaffolding for God’s children.
As Genesis 8:22 states: “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22). When we care for the Earth, we also cultivate God’s kingdom. So we plant seeds of mustard, spinach, lettuce and sesame in the soil. We sow seeds of strength, faith, hope and resilience in one another. We look for water, sunlight and nutrients to nourish the seeds as they grow. We tend to the seeds of humanity with generous amounts of prayer, forgiveness, laughter and compassion. In due season, we harvest our vegetable crops. Throughout our life journey, we reap joy, sorrow, kindness and delight. We learn to live in rhythm with the natural world God created, a world that helps provide a template for erecting and establishing the kingdom of God. The sun sets, but there is the promise of tomorrow. We humans make many mistakes, but we have the gift of turning the soil over…and planting new seeds. Even the smallest of these seeds may bring forth a mighty thing.
Ask yourself: What is your role in the building of the Kingdom of God? What is God asking you to do?
You also are called to participate in God’s kingdom- constructing. Your answer is the same as mine: Always and in all ways you are called to plant seeds. Go ahead. I know you can do it. I believe in you. God does, too.
Venice Williams serves as the mission developer for an ELCA worshipping community called The Table. She is also Executive Director and Herb Farmer at Alice’s Garden Urban Farm.