The Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast
(Luke 13:18-21)

This is the text of a sermon originally preached at St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne, for the Bush Church Aid Centenary Celebration Service, 26 May 2019 by Adrian Lane, the Victorian Regional Office of The Bush Church Aid Society.

This year is a great celebration! On the 26 May, 1919, one hundred years ago, “on a wet and windy night, a small gathering of 26 met to form the Bush Church Aid Society.”1 The first Organising Missioner, Syd Kirkby, wrote, “‘A day of small things’ it appeared to be, and, in point of numbers, carrying no great promise to those present.”2

In our gospel reading we read of another “small thing”: a mustard seed, “which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches.” (v19)3 We also read of another “small thing”: “Yeast, that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour, until it worked all through the dough.” (v21) And Jesus says, “This is what the kingdom of God is like.” In other words, “It starts


Jesus has in mind here a kitchen garden, with its vegies and herbs, and perhaps a few fruit trees or olives. Now, the mustard seed is not necessarily the smallest of seeds, but it’s pretty small. I’ve got one here between my fingers and I can hardly see it. It’s inconspicuous and easily overlooked. Yet when it is sown in good soil and watered, it grows into a substantial tree in the garden: 3 or 4 metres high, so that even “the birds of the air make nests in its branches.”

Or think of the woman adding a small bit of last week’s yeast to her dough. Jesus is talking about a lot of fl our here – probably 22 litres worth. Yet a small amount of yeast works through the whole batch, so that when it’s baked we now have bread for over 100 people.

This is what the kingdom of God is like. It starts small. And it

grows imperceptibly, quietly. You don’t even realise it’s growing till you go away, perhaps for holidays, and come back – and, “My goodness, hasn’t the garden grown!” It’s a bit like teenagers who grow through the summer – you don’t even realise how much they’ve grown till they put on their old school shoes – and they just don’t fi t! They’ve grown, steadily, quietly. Or it’s a bit like some Australian eucalypts that just keep growing, even in tough times, through drought and heat.

Bush Church Aid’s history is a bit like that. Those early founders in 1919 wanted to serve those in isolated parts of Australia – beyond the railway line. Yet think of the difficulties they faced: The First World War with its terrible loss and trauma had only just finished. The Spanish Flu was now taking an even greater toll. Our nation was just 18 years old. And returning soldiers were being sent to dry Mallee blocks that would never be sustaining.

Yet those early founders were committed to reaching all of “Australia for Christ.” They wanted every man, woman and child to hear of his love, of his care, of his death on the cross to pay the penalty for all the wrong they’d ever done, of his physical resurrection from the grave, proving that penalty of death had been paid. They wanted everyone to hear of his gift of his Spirit to all who believe. And they wanted every Australian to have the sure hope of eternal life, in new bodies, with believers from every tribe and nation.

Within 10 years, Ministers and Bush Deaconesses had been sent to Menindee, Cobar, East Gippsland, the Eyre Peninsula and the South Australian border. Hostels had been established at Wilcannia and Mungindi so that isolated kids could go to Primary School. A Sunday School by Post was now reaching 700 children. A hospital had been established at Ceduna, way out on the Bight. Even a plane had been purchased for Padre-Pilot Len Daniels. And 13 students preparing for country ministry were being supported at theological colleges – 8 men and 5 women. Yet all this started small – very small.

I don’t know if you’ve thought about this or not, but all through the Bible we see God starting substantial and eternal things in very small and ordinary ways. God began his people through Abraham and Sarah, who never believed they’d even have children – Abraham was 100 years old! God rescued his people through one man, Joseph, who’d been sold into slavery by his brothers for 20 shekels of silver. God rescued his people again through Moses, who miraculously escaped murder as a baby in a little floating basket! Yet again God rescued his people in exile through Esther, an orphan and a foreigner, who put her life on the line with the king of the empire! And ultimately God rescues his people eternally through a baby born in a cowshed, who himself miraculously escaped murder as an infant. And whoever would have thought that a small dispirited band of followers who’d gone back to fishing after the crucifixion would start a church that now numbers billions?

God loves to make something out of nothing! – just like he rescued the widow and her sons in our first reading – through a little bit of oil, all that she had, that just kept flowing. Don’t despise the small! God’s kingdom starts with the small. God’s eternal, massive kingdom starts with the small.

Secondly, do you notice how the kingdom of God completely transforms?

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a cheese factory. Into these vast vats of churned milk they throw a couple of handfuls of starter culture. And just like the yeast it quietly works through the whole. A little goes a long way.

Or it’s just like the glassmaker I saw down near Lakes Entrance. Into the clear molten glass she threw the tiniest piece of coloured glass, which completely transformed the whole. So it is with the Kingdom of God. It transforms. It transforms those who believe it. And it transforms those with whom it comes into contact.

I used to work for the Navy. I discovered that whenever I returned from leave, the language on my floor had significantly deteriorated. But as soon as they realised I was back, it suddenly transformed! I hadn’t even told them I was a Christian. And I hadn’t made any comments on their language. In fact, I’d been a bit overwhelmed by the whole culture and was keeping my head down. Yet somehow my shy presence made a difference.

And that’s our prayer at Bush Church Aid – that each of our field staff and their families would make a transformative difference in their communities – as they seek to reach Australia for Christ, whether it be Alfrene as she serves as an Indigenous School Chaplain at Gulargambone, or Ayumi as she teaches Scripture at Gilgandra, or Dale as he cares for people up at Red Cliffs, one of the poorest parts of Victoria. The kingdom of God transforms.

Finally, do you notice how wonderfully delightful the Kingdom of God is, as the birds nest in the mustard tree with their little babies and as we share fresh, crusty bread?

Some years ago I went through a period of chronic illness and was confined to bed. Outside my bedroom window were some fuchsias. The birds just loved their nectar. But fuchsia flowers hang upside-down, on very thin and supple stems. So to get to the nectar the birds had to do a constant variety of upside down acrobatics on bouncing, bending stems. Watching those birds feeding and dancing in the sun in my garden was such a delight – it kept me going through some of my darkest days.

What a delight it is to be part of the kingdom of God, with people from many nations, each seeking to “declare his glory among the nations, his marvellous deeds among all peoples,” as we read in Psalm 96:3. My prayer is that each one of us here has given back to God all that he has given us, and that each one of us here is using all that God has given us to extend his kingdom, to declare his glory among the nations.

God leads each one of us to the harvest fields he’d have us work in – through our prayers, our life, our gifts. My prayer is that we would commit ourselves afresh to reaching Australia for Christ, to serving those in remote, rural and regional Australia, through our prayers, our life, our gifts.

God’s kingdom is like a mustard seed, it’s like yeast. It starts small. It transforms. It’s an eternal delight. Let’s praise God for all that he has done to build his kingdom through Bush Church Aid these last one hundred years, and let’s commit ourselves afresh to growing his kingdom, to reaching Australia for Christ, especially remote, rural and regional Australia.


1. S. J. Kirkby, These Ten Years, Bush Church Aid, n.d., 5

2. ibid

3. Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version, 1973, 1978, 1984