I really loved our Words of Integration and Guidance this morning by Reverend Nadia Bolz-Weber, which Chris read so beautifully for us. How many of you have heard of Reverend Nadia before? Okay, quite a few of you! She's become very popular in the past few years. And if you haven't read any of her books, or watched any of her videos online, I highly encourage you to do so. This is probably her most famous book, it's called "Pastrix: the Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint." You can see her there on the cover.
Reverend Nadia was the pastor of a church in Colorado back in 2008. And their story is kind of similar to ours. Their church started to grow and grow and grow because of their inclusive welcome, their progressive Christian message, and their emphasis on social justice and the environment.
Reverend Nadia has become so popular now that she has stepped away from being the pastor there. She's devoting herself full time to writing and to speaking all over the the world. Actually, I had a chance to meet her a few years ago at our UCC Michigan conference's annual meeting, which was held in Lansing. And she certainly did not disappoint. She was the keynote speaker at that meeting.
She's such an inspiring speaker, an inspiring teacher, and she has a very striking appearance. She wears a clerical collar like me, but she also wears leather biker jackets and really funky jewelry. And as you may be able to see here, her body is covered in tattoos. But do not let her appearance fool you. Reverend Nadia is deeply rooted in the Christian tradition. And in the Bible.
In fact, she has made it her mission, as many progressive Christian theologians today have done, to teach all of us biblical literacy, to really help us to understand how the Bible was written how it was put together, and how it was meant to be understood.
So her words of integration and guidance this morning are a good example of that, where she talks about the parable of the mustard seed, and how most of us growing up have misunderstood what that's all about.
Now, most of us know this parable. It's one of Jesus's most famous ones. It's told in Mark's gospel Matthew's Gospel, Luke's Gospel, it's even told in the Gospel of Thomas, which I've shared with you before is one of the Gnostic Gospels that was not included in the Bible. So the early Christian writers obviously felt that this is a very key teaching of Jesus'. And I agree. I think this is one of Jesus's key teachings.
But as Reverend Nadia said, we've misunderstood it. We seem to think that in this parable, Jesus is scolding us by saying, "Oh, you people, you have such little faith, the faith of a tiny mustard seed, if only you had more." But that isn't what Jesus was saying. As Reverend Nadia said, it's helpful for us to know Greek.
Now, most of us don't speak Greek. But you know who else didn't speak Greek? Jesus. And he didn't speak English. Jesus spoke Aramaic. The Bible, of course, was written in Greek, and now we've translated it into English. And we've lost so much along the way in the translation. That's why it's really important for Christians that we have some biblical literacy -- that we really understand what these passages actually mean.
Jesus is not scolding us here for having a little bit of faith. What he's saying is, "You have the faith of a mustard seed, how awesome!" That means you can do amazing things. That's what the parable means. And he explains what he means. He says, the mustard seed is the smallest of all the seeds, but look what it can do. It grows into the greatest of shrubs, so great that the birds make their nests there. What he's trying to say to us is, within you is this power, this presence, this potential for greatness. And with this power, all things are possible. You can move mountains. This makes it a very different understanding than what we thought.
Now I've shared this with you before. On my key ringI have a medallion. I know you can't see it from where you're sitting, but it says on it, all things are possible. And in the little glass there is an actual mustard seed. I carry this on my key ring as a reminder for me each and every day, that the presence and power of God is within me. And therefore I can do great things.
I need to be reminded of this all the time. And so did Jesus' disciples. That's why he gave this lesson over and over again. He said it in so many different ways. If you read the Gospels, not only did he describe faith as a mustard seed, but in another example he said it's like yeast in bread, a tiny little microbe that causes bread to rise. Another time he described it as a pearl in a shell. Inside that shell is something so valuable. Another time he described it as a treasure hidden in the fields. You've got to go deep within and find it, but it's there. And just in case, the disciples didn't get it after all of those examples. Jesus said that it was within us.
He begins each one of these examples the same way. He says, "The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed." "The kingdom of God is like a pearl in his shell. "The kingdom of God is a treasure hidden in the field." And then he says, "The kingdom of God is within you."
That's the key teaching of Jesus. And I don't know why Christians 2000 years later still haven't gotten that message. But that's what Jesus was trying to say.
God's presence and power -- it's not up there. It's right in here. Jesus discovered that God's DNA was within us. And that's what he wanted to teach us. Over and over again, example after example after example. You are the light of the world. You are sons and daughters of God. The kingdom of God is within you.
Jesus wanted us to really get that message. But most of us didn't get it. And we don't really believe it, either.
Today's Gospel message is all about belief. So when people say, "Oh, I believe in God, I believe in Jesus." What do you mean? What do you mean, you believe? Because this is about belief and faith. Are you saying that you believe there's an old man up in the clouds, and that you have to win his favor and earn his love so that he can do good things for you?
Because we've been up in the clouds. We've been up in airplanes and rockets. There's no old man up there. What do you mean, "I believe in God?"
Well, scripture tells us, God is love. God is the presence and power of love that is within us. Jesus was pointing here, he wasn't pointing there. He was pointing here. The power and the presence, the light and the life of God is within you. Believe that, and all things are possible. You can move mountains. That's what this parable is all about.
And so what I want to invite you to do this week is to find time each and every day to connect with that mustard seed that is within you. And in prayer and meditation, what I want you to do is prepare the soil for that seed because it's buried in there like that hidden treasure. You have to go find it. So you prepare the soil. How do you prepare the soil in prayer and meditation? Well you have got to pull out the weeds, the weeds of negative thinking, of worry, fear, resentment, lack, pull out those weeds. You've got to remove the rocks, the rocks of negative thinking the rocks of limiting beliefs, beliefs that have held you back. Get rid of those rocks and those weeds. Water that seed with love, and expose it to the divine light.
You know, that's what we're doing in prayer and meditation. We're not talking to an old man up in the clouds, we are preparing the soil. We are nurturing God's seed that is within us. Because there's something within you that wants to express it. And there's something within you that wants to come forth. But you've got to make that happen. And we do that in prayer and meditation.
So I hope you will find time each and every day to do that, to connect with that power of love that is within you. When we connect with that seed and then we go scatter that seed out into the world, we will not only heal the world, but we can move mountains. For with that mustard seed faith, all things are possible.
Reverend Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration & Guidance by Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber
Today’s Gospel text about the mustard seed kind of feels like Jesus is scolding us for not having even the tiniest amount of faith. This understanding can easily contribute to us thinking that if we have the right amount and the right quality of faith then the hard things in life won’t be hard and we will never doubt. So here is the time when I say that knowing a little Greek can be helpful, because instead of understanding Jesus’ words as, “If you were to have the faith of a mustard seed …” — implying that you don’t have that faith now – a more accurate translation is “If you have the faith of a mustard seed, which you do …you can move mountains.” So here, Jesus isn’t scolding the disciples for not having even the tiniest amount of faith – instead he’s affirming that the disciples already have the faith to do what is expected of them. In essence, he seems to imply that they don’t need more faith; all they need to realize that they already have faith and even if it’s a small amount…that’s totally enough. It’s like Jesus is saying to us, “How much faith do you have?” and we’re like, “I don’t know Jesus, it’s not very much, it’s like this small,” and Jesus is saying, “Good enough for me!” That’s a different message entirely isn’t it?
What did you think?