One of my worst faults is that I am my own worst critic. A long time ago I believed that this was an admirable quality because it made me perfect the things I was working on, whether it was a school assignment, a newspaper report, or some other project.
Now while it is appropriate to strive for excellence in what we set out to do, I have come to realize over the years that being my own worst critic was of a different sort. The reason for this is that I struggled with seeing worth and significance in myself.
For the longest time this is what I felt others told me. That I was not good enough or that I did not matter. My classmates in school, for the most part, treated me as if I did not exist. My colleagues often expressed to me that because I was educated in West Virginia that I did not have the proper credentials to succeed in journalism or the public policy field. As well, the people I loved have refused to return that love, whether it was a step-father who neglected and abused me, an ex-wife who walked away from our marriage, or friends who were not there when I needed them.
To be honest, I felt the only way that I could change those situations was if I was better. If I worked harder then my colleagues would appreciate me more. If I brought home more achievements then maybe my step-father would welcome me. If I was more accommodating then maybe my friends would want to be with me more. Do you notice a common theme? I felt that if was something more than I was then maybe I would be seen as significant and of worth in someone else’s eyes.
I think we all struggle with this. We all struggle with feeling insignificant from time to time, whether it is in our personal lives, at home, at work, or even, date I say, in the church. What do I mean? We can all fall into the temptation of believing that God only uses a certain kind of church in order to transform our communities and “make disciples of Jesus Christ.” If we do not fit into that certain hallmark of a church, whether it is defined by the size of our congregation, the style of music, or any other measure, then we are not significant enough to be used by God. In other words, we think God only uses the “best” churches to promote God’s name and love.
Is this really the case? Does God really see things the way we often see them? That only if we meet a certain benchmark, however we want to describe this to be, only then can we truly be about the kingdom’s work of sharing God’s love. Does God not have a purpose for us when we struggle with feeling insignificant about our mission, whatever that may be for us as individuals or as a church?
When we look at Scripture, especially our passage for this morning from Matthew 13:31-32, we see that what we often deem as insignificant, too small to be used, or not good enough, God reaches out and uses these things to advance the kingdom and to tell others of the Good News of God’s love. God truly uses what we find foolishness to share hope with the world.
To understand this we need to take a deeper look at our parable for today. This is the third parable that we’ve looked at from Matthew 13, which are a compilation of seven parables that responds to Jesus’ critics. He does so by speaking about the vastness of God’s kingdom that is present before them. One of the criticisms Jesus received during his earthly ministry was that he wasn’t reaching the right people and didn’t have enough followers. The religious leaders challenged him because he was not doing things as they would like, which included Jesus’ efforts to take the message of God’s love to the people. They also didn’t see Jesus as of importance because he only had an inner circle of 12 disciples and a group of extended followers who left as often as they followed.
It is this criticism that Jesus addresses. He speaks to the crowd a parable about a mustard seed that was sown in a field. A mustard seed is a very tiny seed that could easily be missed or ignored. Jesus says when it grows it becomes a tall shrub that looks almost like a tree. A mustard plant, indeed, grows from something very tiny to something close to 8-feet tall. Even more, this plant quickly spreads across a field to where you have other plants quickly coming up all over. Now take note to what Jesus says. He says this is what the kingdom of heaven is like. It is like a mustard seed that grows in such a way that it transforms the entire world.
Jesus speaks this parable to say that the kingdom of God is at work now in doing some amazing things. That through the very things the religious leaders believed made Jesus’ ministry unacceptable or insignificant, Jesus says those things were being used to share the hope, peace, joy, and love of God’s love in the present moment. Even though the kingdom looked small and insignificant to outsiders who were more interested in numbers or political influence, Jesus was alerting them to the fact that God’s love was already at work in changing the hearts and lives of the people the kingdom came into contact with.
The kingdom of God’s love was being planted and changing the landscape and growing before their eyes. Growing in such a way that a tax collector was welcomed as a follower. Growing through giving women a place of honor and acceptance. Growing in such a way that people were experiencing love, redemption, healing, and hope, some for the first time. What seemed insignificant to the world was really God’s love at work in changing the world by the Father’s love, through the witness of Christ, and by the power of the Holy Spirit. Even though Jesus’ ministry faced challenges and obstacles, Jesus announces through this parable that God was at work using what had been planted to change the world.
What this parable reminds us is that what the world did not value God was using to bring sow the kingdom into the hearts of others. God routinely uses humanity’s foolishness, even the foolishness of the cross, in order to share the depths of God’s love and compassion with others. God used the witness of a tax collector, a former persecutor, a zealot, and others to share redemption and grace with anyone who would hear. God uses the things we often say cannot be used or have value in order to share the vastness and depths of God’s love for every one.
Think about what this has to say to us today. There is nothing or no one that God cannot and will not use to share the kingdom’s love with the world. So often, we get caught up in the idea and belief that we’re not good enough for God to use. That we do not have enough knowledge of Scripture. That we are too old. That we don’t have enough time. That we do not have enough people. That we do not have enough money. We could go on.
When we believe and say these things, we are doing two things almost simultaneously. First, we end up defining ourselves based upon the standards that world has for success. The world believes that you must be the biggest and brightest to be successful. However, God routinely tells us that a willing heart and community can produce fruit that will change the world. As well, we end up defining our relationship with God based upon a belief that God cannot use us until we are good enough. That’s not the case though in God’s eyes. God prepares the willing heart to participate in the work of seeing the kingdom grow in our communities. We are never fully ready, but God walks along side us and prepares our hearts for the journey.
What the parable tells us, today, is that what we often find to be challenges to growth in the kingdom are often the very things God uses to do some amazing things in our community and world. God is presently at work using what we see as challenges to share the love of Christ with every person. If this is true for us as a community imagine, then, how true it is for our lives. Even when we feel we are not good enough, God is at work in us, seeing us as someone of value and worth, and using our witness of love to share hope into the world.
Through all of this, then, it up to us to let go of our feelings that we’re not good enough and to embrace the work that God is doing today in us and through us. God desires to use every one of us, and every church, no matter how big or small to grow the kingdom in our community.
May we let go our of feelings of not being good enough and see that we are people God has called with a special purpose to sow seeds of God’s kingdom here and throughout the world.