Never quite sure if the “mustard seed” Jesus talks about is the same one we know. If it is, then there’s a kind of rider to the two different stories he tells about them. Mustard seeds are strong-tasting, despite their size. I was thinking of making chutney – having a supply of excess tomatoes and cooking apples – and the recipe says you have to put the mustard seed in a bag of some kind. Presumably to keep the seeds out the final mix. Obviously, any instruction that isn’t “put everything in a slow cooker and go out for the day” is a bit much for me, so at this point I added “chutney” to the next Tesco delivery. But you get the point. Mustard seeds are small – and potent. Easy to overlook, but you do so at your peril. Especially if you’re an American, trying our English mustard for the first time. Won’t just be the state of your government making you cry.
But is the faith that is small as the mustard seed, the same mustard seed as the one that is like unto the Kingdom of God? Jesus refers to it – you may remember – as growing so big that the birds of the air can perch on it. Which means it’s a different kind of mustard seed to the ones which I used to grow to make a sandwich filling. Those mustard seeds didn’t grow big enough for the fleas of the dog to perch on.
But what if they are the same mustard seed? That the mustard seed of faith – which can move mountains or mulberry bushes – is the same mustard seed of the Kingdom – which sees a very tiny chink of earth, takes root, grows unseen and is suddenly this unexpectedly large tree?
I have a buddleia in the garden – a butterfly bush. It’s not especially pretty, a bit lax and it’s gone over now for the year, but in the summer it attracted butterflies – does what it says on the tin. Attracts bees as well, and that’s especially important these days. My garden has a limey clay soil, so the old buddleia seems pretty happy though there are prettier plants.
But in London, on the railway system, they seem to be everywhere. A tiny seed, a buddleia’s. Yet give it one chink between two bricks, one speck of dirt amongst the gravel, and it’s away. All over the railways, in corners you can’t quite get to – high up walls – there they are, growing away, sharing their precious nectar with the butterflies and bees. They’re a wonder.
And I sometimes wonder – we spent a long time as the Church in this country, sat in our good soil, appreciated for the way we fed those in need. But, ultimately, we got a bit over-woody, and arthritic, and and we lost the urge to grow. And other plants came along, more exciting ones – ferns and hostas and hebes, which are pretty but grow for 15 years without any help, and make smashing ground cover. And then, lately, Richard Dawkins and his friends have been talking about just having gravel and decking. Boring, barren and a bit 1990s, but there ‘s no danger of getting stung, because there definitely won’t be any bees – or nettles sneaking through between the stems. Maybe we forgot what we’re here for – we aren’t about establishment, we’re about new growth in unexpected places. We’re about having faith the size of a mustard seed – planting that seed – and seeing it grow. About believing that in society’s chinks between the bricks, if we have one mustard seed of faith, we can make one tree’s worth of difference.
Once upon a time, England’s green and pleasant garden was planted out specially for us. And now it’s not. And we can regret it , and wish it would come back- remember the days 200 kids came to the Sunday School picnic, or there was standing-room only for Mass. But then we’re just that tired old tatty bush, waiting for the day we finally expire.
Or we can make like a mustard seed. Take our one grain of faith, throw it out where it might find some soil, might take root, might grow new again. All it takes is faith as small as a mustard seed, but it might just grow – might just flourish – might uproot a mulberry tree, move a mountain or feed the butterflies, bees and birds of the air.