O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Based on Mark 4:26-36
Preached on June 17, 2012
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Fellow baptized saints and birds resting in the shade of their King, have you ever wanted to hide your faith from the world because it seems weak and insignificant? Have you ever wanted your faith to look powerful in order to justify why you have it? Have you ever wanted God to show the power of His kingdom, just once, to validate what you believe? The kingdoms of the world think and act this way. In Syria, for example, the president called in his army to quell an uprising. He is showing the power of his kingdom, one in which over 15,000 people have died so far. President Assad is willing to have his own citizens die in order to validate what he believes. But the kingdom of God doesn't work that way, does it? It is a reality that can be very frustrating for us. We want to see the power now, and there have been men through history that have tried to make the kingdom of God look powerful in this worldly, violent sort of way. They have been as misguided as president Assad, because the kingdom of God doesn't work that way.
Today we hear two parables - both addressing our frustrations with how the kingdom of God works, yet both describing it as a seed - A seed? A seed? How insignificant is a seed? I show you a battalion of soldiers and you talk about a seed? I show you a massive city with skyscrapers and industrial military complexes, and you talk about scattering seed on the ground like a farmer? From our worldly perspective, the kingdom of God is weak. At the very least we feel we have to help it along a little, which takes us to our parables.
Jesus said, "The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how." Here we meet our first frustration. Who makes the seed grow? Well, not us, we are like the man who simply scatters seed on the ground. But we want it to be us. We want to be the ones that make God's kingdom grow, to know that it was our efforts that made it come to life. Then we would feel significant - worthy - not weak and powerless. Then we could show God we deserve some place in His kingdom. But this attitude is a betrayal of the very seed being scattered. It uproots the Gospel message, that Christ has freely opened the kingdom to all people by His blood. It tries to force its way into the kingdom by power, when Christ has freely offered His kingdom by peace. Yeah, we want to be the ones to make it grow, but it doesn't work that way, does it?
Then what does make seed grow? Does anyone really know what makes seed grow? Yes, it needs sunlight, its needs water, it needs contact with soil - but what drives it - what actually causes it to grow? As Christians we know it is the Word that God spoke in creation - He said, "Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seeds and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind," and so it happens. Without these words of life from God, seeds would lay dead like stones.
The same is true for God's kingdom, for the sprouting and growth of the Gospel in the hearts of man. Only God makes His kingdom grow. The Words of His Gospel are life. They are true power. It is not about the soil. It is not about the sower. It is about the seed. The message. The shocking truth that God died a torturous death on a gnarly slab of wood to save you from the punishment your sinful life deserves. That seed is power. It is life, for it declares to you that God is not angry with you, and that He desperately wants you to be at peace with Him. He did not call in His army to quell our uprising. He was not willing to let the citizens of His kingdom die. He sent His Son to make peace on our behalf, to bleed our salvation, and make a weak, insignificant seed the bearer of eternal life in God's kingdom. And as our text says, this message is so powerful it even grows when the sower is sleeping. God's knows what He is doing. He knows how to make His kingdom grow.
Then what are we to do? Well, we may not make God's kingdom grow - but we are called to sow. God wants us to focus on the sowing, not on the growing - He wants us to focus on the serving, not on the results of our service - We are not called to test whether our love for our neighbour draws him to God, we are called to love our neighbour. We are not called to count how many people come to church because we invited them to hear the Gospel, we are called to bring people to Christ. We have been entrusted with the important task of scattering God's powerful message. May the Spirit keep us focused on the task at hand.
This, of course, leads us to our second frustration. Not only do we want to be the ones to make God's kingdom grow, we want to be the ones to see God's kingdom grow. We want to see a rapid expansion of the Kingdom. Fill the pews with bodies to validate what we do on a Sunday morning. But the kingdom of God doesn't work that way, does it? It is so frustrating that God's kingdom grows mysteriously and at its own pace. Our drive-thru, vending machine, ebay world is obsessed with the Crystal Cathedrals, the latest megachurch that pops up one decade and is gone the next. Meanwhile, God's kingdom grows at its own speed.
Consider this example. Have you ever eaten a strawberry that had no flavour? How satisfied were you? You come upon this big bowl of beautiful fruit, and you're thirsty from the hot summer day. You can't wait for that juicy, sweet bite. You choose the biggest red strawberry from the bowl, lift it up to your lips and bite right into it. Your excitement lasts a few seconds until you realize there is no flavour. You look at what is left in your hand, and it is all white inside. Hey, you think, this isn't a strawberry, at least it sure doesn't taste like one. You feel tricked, and quite unsatisfied. Well, I'm told these strawberries have no flavour because they are grown too quickly, they are not given long enough to get sweet and ripe.
The same is often true for God's kingdom. God wants His strawberries sweet and ripe, and He is willing to take the time necessary for them to grow properly, as frustrating as this can be for all of us. He hears your prayers for that person who you keep praying for that may not know Him. And He is answering them in His time. He knows that Beautiful Savior would like to see its numbers grow. But be patient, God is in the work of saving souls, not a couple of extra minutes so he can relax on the couch.
As our text says, "First the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come." God is working to bring His harvest home to heaven. He is working to bring you and all people to maturity at just the right time. God's knows what He is doing. He knows when to call His harvest home.
Have you ever wanted to hide your faith from the world because it is weak and insignificant? Have you ever wanted God to show the power of His kingdom, just once, to validate what you believe? He has - in the public spectacle that was made of His Son. Christ was crucified and His dead body was planted in the ground like a seed, but by the power of His Word He came back to life, sprouting from the earth with His message of forgiveness, life and salvation. And by that same Word Christ continues to make His kingdom grow, in you and in those around you. And while you may be in a rush to see more, God is willing to wait for you, so that you are sweet and ripe for His harvest, the harvest that will be taken home to Him in heaven. The kingdom of God may not work the way we want it to, but it certainly works for our good. Thanks be to God our King, that He would so graciously give us a kingdom we neither understand nor deserve.
In Jesus' name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr