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Faith Like a Mustard Seed

March 18, 2021

I have a mustard seed and I am not afraid to use it – Pope Benedict XVI

The wild mustard is in glorious, abundant bloom on the future site of Jubilee Farm. Just a few weeks ago the land was brown and bare, but rain and sun has caused it to break forth in an abundance of green with swathes of brilliant yellow catching the eye.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” Matthew 13:31-32

The land on the corner of Lone Tree and O’Hara is not small but not enormous either; it is approximately 8.64 acres. Big enough to accommodate housing for over one hundred and fifty families and individuals in Bluebird Village, the inclusive housing community across income, education, race, and religion which is also planned for the land. Jubilee Farm will occupy just 1+ acres of it, a small space with great capacity like the proverbial mustard seed. The particular capacity Jubilee Farm Church will foster is a vision of community and connection – with God, with each other, and with the land; and my hope is that this small space will become the heart and soul of community - the new community of faith that will gather on the land; the residents of Bluebird Village; and the surrounding neighborhoods.

The land has been owned by the Diocese of CA for around 30 years. The Diocese purchased it when Brentwood was little more than a small farming community beginning to grow through the construction of new homes on what were previously orchards or fields of vegetables. The land in this area has yielded bounties of cherries, corn, tomatoes, and other food crops since the town was first established in the early twentieth century. But since the early 1990’s houses have sprung up where once there were tomatoes or cherries and the city has grown to approximately 65,000 people, providing shelter for people displaced from more expensive parts of the Bay Area or choosing the shelter of its suburban branches over those of urban living.

This land has lain dormant for almost 30 years but a little over a year ago a small seed of an idea was planted in the hearts and minds of a few people who over the past year have watered it and tended it until it has grown into a dream big enough to hopefully shelter many families and individuals who cannot otherwise afford a home, in its branches.

The tricky thing about mustard is, what I and many others see as a pretty colorful bloom is actually a weed; an invasive, unwanted, unwelcome intruder whose seed is too small to be visible among other seeds, but once sown soon takes over, often driving out the civilized vegetation that was planned.

Mustard seed is subversive; its seed is too tiny to be recognized; it grows where it is not wanted; it blooms abundantly even where it is not welcome. Planting a new church community in a time when religious affiliation especially in the Bay Area is declining significantly is also subversive. So is developing a community that includes both low income, affordable, and market rate housing; a community that will invite formerly homeless individuals, families living in poverty, people beginning to establish themselves within the economy, and economically comfortable and already established people to live together.

It challenges the expectations and sensibilities of separation that inhabit our word – of income, educational attainment; race; religion; ethnicity. It envisions community and belonging in a world that seeks to live separately and independently. It demands connection in a community where in order to afford their chosen lifestyle people have to commute long distances and keep to themselves in the little time they have at home. It challenges everything our world tells us about what we should want, need, or pursue to be safe, comfortable, and accepted. I imagine there will be resistance to the idea of low income and affordable housing from the neighboring developments. But Bluebird Village is determined to bloom abundantly even where it might not initially be wanted, and to demonstrate its vision of rampant beauty even where it is not initially welcome.

There’s something else I noticed about the wild mustard: it blooms most abundantly around the edges of the land where other plants such as the rye grass and wildflowers that inhabit the rest of the land, struggle to thrive.

Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:19-20

Like the mustard seed that does not accept or capitulate to its expected limitations, Jubilee Farm Church hopes to overcome the obstacles and challenges in its path and become a vibrant and relevant faith community that moves mountains, and helps preciously invisible, overlooked communities know and understand that all things are possible with God.

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