Planting a Few Mustard Seeds

Heritage Presbyterian Church

October 6, 2019
World Communion Sunday
Scripture reading – Luke 17: 5-10

We have all heard the story from today’s Scripture reading a hundred times…Jesus is asked by his followers to “increase our faith.”  In response, rather than do what they asked, Jesus points out the power of just a little bit of faith.  For his example, Jesus compares faith to a tiny mustard seed; this tiny seed produced plants that are taller than the average man or woman.  So the example is a clear one: from tiny seeds of faith can come great things.

I would like to take this idea a step further…note that on our planet today, there are more than 7 billion people, more human beings that our planet has ever had in recorded history.  Thinking of one human being in that vast number of people also follows the mustard seed comparison.  The question might be asked, “What can one person do to make a difference?  The question might also be asked a different way: “What can I do?  I’m not much compared to everyone else.”

Jesus used completely ordinary human beings and turned them into extraordinary people who had tiny bits of faith and yet accomplished great things.  He does the same with us today, if we have just a bit of faith.

But there is yet a third layer to this…besides faith the side of a mustard seed, and one individual out of billions of people willing to try to make a difference, we also have the concept of the gifts and blessings that the Lord gives to each and every one of us.  We don’t all have the same gifts, that true.  We are not all blessed in the same way, that is also true.  But we have unique gifts that the Lord gives us…gifts that enable us to do some things if we have faith and if we are willing to try.

Today I have four brief stories that I hope will illustrate this.

The first one is about a woman named Elizabeth Fry.  She began working with the prisons in England in 1813 after hearing several strong sermons about healing the sick, helping the poor, and especially visiting those in prison.  This was a proper English lady who came from privilege and wealth, yet she went to the most notorious prison in London, the dreaded Newgate Prison.  There, she was horrified by what she found: women who had to tend to each other in the filthiest conditions, often held for months on end without trial.  To make matters worse, when there was no one to care for their children, those children were also imprisoned with their mothers.  To Elizabeth, this situation was intolerable…but what could one woman do?  Even a rich woman with some connections?

What she did was to begin working slowly.  First of all, she brought fresh clothes, soap, blankets, shoes, medicines, and anything else she could think of to the prison on a regular basis.  She started a prison school for the children so that when their mothers got out, those children could do more than live in the streets and continue the cycle of poverty.  She brought in other women who were seamstresses and taught the women of Newgate Prison how to sew so that they could earn decent wages when they finally got out. 

But that wasn’t all she did…

She also began to raise awareness by speaking out publicly against what she saw.  In doing this, she made herself a social pariah in many circles; decent upper-class English women did NOT do what Elizabeth Fry was doing.

Eventually, her tireless work began to force changes at the prison and in the laws.  First, several bills were passed in Parliament that overhauled the entire prison system.  Next, she found that she had an important admirer: Queen Victoria, who invited Elizabeth to a personal audience at Buckingham Palace.  After that, Elizabeth’s work was under the regular scrutiny and enduring support of the most powerful monarch in the entire world for the rest of her life.

Elizabeth Fry was one woman in the huge city of London.  She had no more faith than anyone else in that city or in the world.  But she had the gift of caring for others she did not know.

Elizabeth Fry was a mustard seed of faith and talent for her Savior.

The next story is about James Gilmour and the Mongols. 

There was a time in history when the word “Mongols” was enough to strike absolute terror in the hearts of anyone who heard it. Yet, by the middle 1800’s, the once-powerful Mongol Empire was reduced to a shell of its former glory, and much of it was either controlled or occupied by China or Russia. 

To even think of an American missionary going to such a place might have seemed foolish. 

But in 1870, James Gilmour planned to do just that.

Gilmour was first sent to China to learn the local languages, which he picked up quickly.  From there he prepared to travel overland to Mongolia, but his trip was interrupted by a massacre in Bejing, which was unfairly blamed on foreign missionaries.  It took four more years before he was finally able to arrive in Mongolia.  He began his work in earnest, but it took until 1884 until he obtained his first convert.  He lived and worked among the Mongols, always being their humble servant, neighbor, and friend.  He married another missionary and even started a family there.  Yet the work of converting the Mongols to Christianity was very slow in occurring.

It took even more years before Gilmour was an accepted part of Mongol society.  His years of faithful work finally began to produce results as his sermons were heard by dozens at first, then by hundreds, and soon by thousands.  Eventually, he preached the Good News of Christ to over 24,000 Mongols.  When he died suddenly of typhus in 1891, the Mongols mourned his loss as a nation.

A book he wrote about his work was titled, “Among the Mongols.”  A reviewer of that book wrote, “Robinson Crusoe has turned missionary, lived years in Mongolia, and wrote a book about it.”

James Gilmour was one man among thousands and thousands of Mongols.  He was also one man among billions of human beings.  He had no more faith than any of us, but he used the gifts that God gave him to make a difference in a place that most Christians avoided.

James Gilmour was a mustard seed of faith and talent for his Savior.

The third story might have the title, “Be Like #50.”

Picture this: a gym full of young boys, perhaps 10-12 years old.  There are two teams playing basketball.  It is a serious game, but it’s not high school…it’s not junior high…it’s probably elementary school.  Beginner’s league, in other words.

Most of the kids are about the same size except for two of them.  #50 is by far the biggest kid on the court.  On his team is a scrawny, skinny little boy who is desperately trying to keep up and be a part of the game.  When #50’s team gets the ball, he signals for his teammate to pass him the ball.  He immediately hands it to his tiny teammate.  The littlest player on the floor tried to shoot a basket, but his shot doesn’t even hit the bottom of the net.  The ball is quickly caught by the other team.  They head down the court, and the game continues.  The next time the ball comes back up the court, #50 again signals his teammate to pass him the ball.  This time, he leans over and says something to his tiny teammate.  The little boy takes the ball, swings it down between his knees, and LAUNCHES a shot up in the air…which miraculously falls through the net for two points.  #50 gives his tiny teammate a quick high-five and a big smile, and everybody runs down the court to get back on defense…all except for the little kid.  That new champion literally skips down the court with the biggest grin on his face you have ever seen.  The crowd of parents in the stands erupts in claps and cheers for his shot.

Now…do you think that little kid is ever going to be in the NBA? Probably not. 

Do you think he will ever play on his high school team?  Probably not.

Do you think he will ever EVER forget that day? 

I doubt it!

#50 was a mustard seed of faith, talent, and love for his Savior.

Finally, we reach the last story, and it’s one that most of you have heard about for the past few days.  It concerns a Sikh deputy sheriff named Sandeep Dhaliwal, who was murdered in a routine traffic stop by a parole violator – who knew he would be returned to prison if he was caught.

Deputy Dhaliwal did not intend to be come a law enforcement officer.  Originally, he had his own successful business.  He was married and the father of three children.  He was an active participant in the small Sikh community here in Houston.

But one day, his life changed forever.

There was an incident that involved several Sikh men who almost got arrested by other deputies who did not understand what they were doing.   Often, Sikh men carry daggers as part of their everyday dress, and the deputies who confronted them thought they had deadly weapons.  Once the situation was resolved, then-Sheriff Adrian Garcia went to a Sikh community center to apologize and to talk with the people.  In his remarks, he asked the younger members, both men and women, to sign up and join the Sheriff’s department so Houston could learn more about Sikhs.  Dhaliwal heard this message and decided to do it.  He sold his business, cut his hair, removed his traditional turban, and shaved his beard.  He became like all the other deputies, despite being so different from all of them.

After a while, the Sheriff noticed him and the two became friends.  After several conversations, Dhaliwal changed the Sheriff’s mind about the requirements for no beard and no turban.  Dhaliwal was allowed to grow his beard and to wear his turban again…a blue one with a small badge on the front.

When Dhaliwal did this, he made himself a target for misinformation, bigotry, and hatred.  He knew it, and yet he believed that being a part of the department was an important thing for him to do.  Young Sikhs looked up to him and began talking about joining when they came of age.

Sadly, this good man was murdered a few days ago. 

But did you notice what happened? 

Was his death treated as anything other than a tragedy? 

Did the various law enforcement agencies come together as they usually do, or did they stay away because he was “different?”

Did the community mourn the death of a fine man, or did they just go through the motions?

I think we all know the answer to that.  Sandeep Dhaliwal was given a full, hero’s funeral full of important guests, every day people, and his proud but grieving family.

No, this man was not a Christian.  No, he didn’t believe as we do.  But Sandeep Dhaliwal was still a mustard seed of faith and love for his own faith, for his community, for his fellow officers, and for every single one of us.

At the end of the day, Saints, most of us are not going to be big shots in this world.  We aren’t going to forge nations, build communities, save the poor, obtain a Nobel prize, win the wars, or balance the national budget.

We are only going to accomplish little things. 

But get the message!  Jesus isn’t telling us to do the big things.  He reminds us that we are servants, who have been given gifts to serve one another to the best of our abilities in this world right now.

And he reminds us that just a tiny bit of faith…just faith the size of a mustard seed, can make all the difference.

So let’s go plant a few mustard seeds and see what grows.