The Parable of the Mustard seed and Yeast Luke 13:18-21


There's a video going viral on youtube - plays a sound and some people hear yanni and some people hear laurel. People hear the exact same thing but hear something completely different. Apparently it’s something to do with the shape of your ear. I personally hear ‘lobster…lobster’

Another thing that’s split opinion this last week is THAT sermon. Bishop Michael Curry’s passionate sermon at last weekend's Royal Wedding. The most heard piece of Christian communication in history with an estimated 2 billion people watching. Social media tells us that many loved it. Footage of facial expressions at the actual wedding tell us that others hated. Some Christians loved it. Some hated it. 

Set aside the fact that the leader of the Episcopal church of the USA, which is currently out of fellowship with the Anglican communion over the issue of marriage, probably shouldn’t have been given this platform. Set that aside and I think it was a GREAT sermon of how love can transform the world. Yes, the sermon could have told more of the gospel - about how our love is corrupted and fallen and needs the redeeming love of God to save us. Yes it could be misconstrued that Michael Curry was saying that human love changes the world. But i don;t think he did say that. he said that all love flows from the God who is love. the God of the cross. And that’s true and wonderful. 

I loved his passage where he said this 


Think and imagine a world where love is the way.”

Imagine our homes and families where love is the way. 

Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way.

Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. 

Imagine business and commerce where this love is the way. 

Imagine this tired old world where love is the way. 

When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again.

When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.

When love is the way, poverty will become history. 

When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary.

When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside, to study war no more.

When love is the way, there's plenty good room - plenty good room - for all of God's children.

"Because when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well... like we are actually family.

When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all, and we are brothers and sisters, children of God.

My brothers and sisters, that's a new heaven, a new earth, a new world, a new human family.


He’s describing the plans and purposes of God through Jesus to renew this world completely and eternally by love. To restore what the Bible calls the Kingdom of God. This was God’s promised from the very start to Abraham - all the nations of the world will be blessed. And it’s the promise that is affirmed through Jesus. 


But of course there are big questions that this raise: like for a start:  

when? when are you gonna do this God? the disciples often asked Jesus this. Before he went back to heaven after his resurrection, the disciples said ‘are you now going to establish the Kingdom in Israel - are you now going to bring justice and perfection and equality and life like God has promised. When are you gonna do it? The Jews always expected that God’s kingdom would come in one mighty moment. But Jesus has been around and it hasn’t happened yet. 

Yes there have been glimpses - like what happens directly before our reading today when Jesus heals a woman. But Jesus always seems to take a step forward and then immediately two steps back! he draws huge crowds to him and then he speaks in unintelligible parables and issues such hard challenges that everybody leaves! he enters jerusalem as a king but then dies on a cross! he rises from the dead but then leaves everything to a fearful, uneducated, slow to believe, small bunch of disciples! 

So It’s not so much a question of when will the kingdom come but will it really come? 

global peace, environmental balance, inclusion and well being …?

I remember a woman once saying to me it feels like there are forces of good and forces of evil in this world.. and good is not winning. 

The kingdom of God seems a pipe dream.. 


it seemed that way to the disciples it can seem that way to us. 

the church takes a step forward and two steps back. in some parts of the world there is great interest in the things of God. In the west we are in terminal decline. peace comes in one part of the world war breaks out in three others. agreements on climate change get made then torn up. aid comes to the poor and hungry while the gap between the haves and the havenots grows larger than ever. 

Is it all just a pipe dream. Where is this promised Kingdom of God? How will it ever come?


Well this is the question Jesus is answering with these two simple parables. 


He wants to address our feelings of fear and confusion and potential despair about the Kingdom. 

By assuring us that the Kingdom will not fail but will prosper and grow. It will happen. Love wins. But you have to see how love wins 


v16 this grand oratoical question “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? 

The Kingdom of God - to what shal i compare it?

Hold your breath.. What answer will come

It is like …. a mustard seed 


See i told you, say the disciples, this thing is doomed 

A mustard seed. The tiniest seed in the garden. 

A cosmic mustard seed?

A special mustard seed?


No just a regular one that you plant..


If you think that the Kingdom of God can look unimpressive - infact you can’t even really see it. Jesus says yeah that’s right the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed which a man took and planted in his garden.


The kingdom of God has terribly small and unimpressive beginnings 


Well that’s true of Jesus himself 

He came from the glory of heaven to poverty, humility, 

his cradle was a manger 

his nursery was a stable surrounded by beasts 

his home was a judea a backwater kind of place 

Nazareth to be specific - one of those disappointing from which nothing good comes 


a mustard seed 

a mustard seed planted 

the kingdom of God is quite literally an underground movement. It begins hidden. A seed hidden in a heart, hidden in a life that is hidden in God. 

When you think about the Kingdom of God don’t think region but reign, not location but lordship. The Kingdom of God is not a place it’s his loving rule over human hearts and the influence of that rule in the beginnings of obedient lives to him. It’s an underground movement 


and it begins with death 

unless the seed is buried in the ground, into death there can be no life

unless Jesus die for us and be buried for us there can be no life, no forgiveness, no resurrection for us. 

and unless a person dies to themselves their own hold on their lives, their own self rule and relinquishes lordship to Jesus - there can be no life with them 


the kingdom of God has terribly small and unimpressive beginnings - hidden from view, hidden in a heart 

but the kingdom will grow ..gradually ..imperceptibly but ultimately disproportionatley from its beginnings. Just as a mustard seed grows into these tree like extensive bushes 10 feet tall providing protection and shade for birds so the Kingdom will grow way way way beyond its initial signs of promise. It will happen 


In the OT time and again the Kingdom of God is pictured as a tree - a giant Cedar tree - where birds come and shelter and nest. The birds are the peoples of the earth. The gentile nations drawn in under God’s branches. A haven. A place where people of all races can comfortably reside. 

The Kingdom grows global and unites the world but Jesus hints that there will always be surprises about the way that the Kingdom comes. Not in ways anticipated, not instantly and mightily but gradually and through weakness. A mustard bush not a cedar tree. 



2nd parable - equally familiar and ordinary. jesus moves from the garden into the kitchen. 

Again the great oratorical question. ‘What shall i compare the kingdom of God to?’ 

Will it be a bigger thing now? The KINGDOM OF GOD! 

Hold your breath.. What answer will come?

It is like …. yeast 


yeast? yeast? 


Cosmic yeast? 

Special yeast?

No. Just yeast. the kind you mix into flour to make bread rise. 


yeast - tiny, microscopic. 

there are 20billion yeast cells in just one gram of baker’s yeast 

and here it is a tiny proportion in comparison to the large amount of flour. 3 measures - a measure was 13L so nearly 40 L of flour here a large pot

a tiny invisible organism but an incredible influence 


Jesus’ emphasis here is not the extensive nature of the kingdom as with the mustard seed 

The emphasis here is the transforming power of the kingdom 


The kingdom will be extended universally 

AND the kingdom will transform powerfully.


The Kingdom does not just grow it’s hidden power changes the world radically 


Note that the yeast only has influence because of where it is placed. It is mixed into the flour and it is worked through all the dough. You have to do that mixing and kneading don’t you? mixed in. worked through. 

The yeast cannot influence if it is on the side, left on the margins.  

Far from its influence being diminished by it being hidden, buried, overwhelmed, UNLESS it is hidden it has no influence at all. 


Let’s think about the implications of these 2 parables 

  1. The Kingdom though seemingly small and insignificant will eventually grow universally and globally and will transform the whole earth. We can so often feel that renewal and change can never happen we can become disheartened but we are to take heart. This world has a future. God is committed to it. 
  2. We ought not to think that our part in Kingdom business however lowly and unsee will ever be insignificant. Influence in the kingdom is through the small and the hidden. small unseen moments of prayer, love, action, kindness multiplied and blessed by God a billion fold 
  3. You don’t have to be a famous entertainer, sport’s personality or celebrity to influence the world truly for the Kingdom of God. The kingdom of God doesn’t work in the same way as the Kingdom of the world. In fact they are opposites. In the Kingdom of God the last are first and greatness is service. We make a grave mistake if we ape the world’s methods. If we try and impress the world by size - big groups, influential names being powerful in our impact. Actually the Kingdom of the world is doomed. Human strength and power fails. [BBCMusic Big music weekend from Belfast - and the piece that the band Public Services Broadcasting commissioned to write about the sinking of the Titanic. This great symbol of human triumph and strength and power. So self confident. Sunk to the bottom of the sea. Promising to bring life it brought death. Inevitable the ways of the Kingdom of the world is the opposite of the way the Kingdom of God works.  Jesus says: I’ll take a mustard seed. I’ll take a yeast cell. I’ll take small. I’ll take the hidden, The obscure, I’ll take seeming uninfluential, i’ll take what seems ridiculous in it’s weakness. I’ll take hardship and i’ll take death and with these things I will change the world. It is always fatal to our spiritual health if we think in any way that we get to God or do things for God by our stengths, by our power and persuasion and ingenuity. Such an approach results in pride if we’re doing well or despair when we fail. God will not allow that. He wants humility and peace and security for us - birds sheltering in his abundat tree. So he never uses human strength for his purposes. He always uses human weakness, smallness, the unimpressive, the hidden. So we’d trust in Him and not in the Kingdom of the world. He uses mustard seeds and yeast cells and so must we. 
  4. It is only as we are mixed in and worked through that we under God’s hand have an impact. A mustard seed left in the packet has no effect. It must be buried, hidden, it must die to bring life. A yeast cell left on the side, on the margin has no impact it must be mixed in and worked through. In the history of christian impact in the world, it’s as Christians have drawn close to the needs of others, issues of the day - not always with wise words or great arguments but with love and selflessness and compassion. small seeds planted that brought great change - the suffragetes, the abolition of slavery, the ragged school movement, the hospice movement. How mixed in are you in your local area? How worked through are you in your community? Salt - another image Jesus uses for his kingdom and his people. Salt, if it is to bring it’s savour and preservative - has to get out of the saltshaker. Many of you are amazing at this. We’re not a ghetto church - a holy huddle - we’re out there. sometimes i wish some of you were here at church more because out there in friendships and professions that I want to see you strengthened and resourced with love from God. But i’m so glad that you are out there. 
  5. This is not a call to political, social and public reform but rather to an application of the gospel that has political and social implications. That’s important. The Kingdom of God work through Christ’s influence on the hearts of people not in ways that are at first external and visible but internal and spiritual. Therefore we don’t seek to effect political change inorder that moral and spiritual good may follow. We seek to preach the gospel inorder that moral and spiritual good will result thereby bringing political change. The message we bring is not economic freedom or political democracy. the message we take is Christ crucified and Christ exalted. we are not called to be a powerful political movement. But as we come to Jesus in prayer and worship and keep going into the world to live lives of love mustard seed and yeast seemingly insignificant, small and weak and hidden - their relentless power begins to grow and pervade all things 


This is the message to those disciples who think when is the Kingdom. where is the kingdom. It’s never gonna happen. Jesus says - the Kingdom is near, the Kingdom is among you - hidden but growing and will one day encompass all things.