Mark 4: 26-32 (Pentecost 4 - 2018)
“God Grows His Kingdom”
In our Bible Study Hour this summer we are currently working through several of the parables that Jesus taught using illustrations from the plant kingdom, especially in the area of growing seeds for food. Jesus seemed to never tire of gaining spiritual instruction from the plant kingdom. In the gospel lesson today he teaches two brief parables that draw from different elements of the plant kingdom. Both parables illustrate the the main point that God is the one who makes his kingdom grow.
By Blessing His Planted Word
In the first parable Jesus assures that the kingdom does grow and will produce a harvest. Gardeners can choose a dozen things to lament about. They give attention to only things they can control. But do we stop to marvel at the one thing we cannot control? Do we marvel at the complexity of the most basic thing a garden does: it grows. If a man places a seed into the ground, goes to bed and gets up, eventually a profound yet basic thing happens: a seed germinates and produces a plant. And as the man goes to bed and gets back up day by day, week by week, that plant grows, and yields a bud, and then the fruit of that plant eventually appears and stands ready for harvest. And the man has no clue how!? It is a fact of God’s mysterious and wondrous creation. Sure we can hoe and water, watch the weather, pray, hoe and water some more. Gardening can be grueling work. But the main event is still up to the Lord. The most basic of things a garden needs and does is left to God’s creative design and blessing.
Jesus says, “the kingdom of God is like that.” As with earthly gardens we may observe that growth. We can see one plant growing better than the one next to it. We can see some plants die. We can see some plants flourish early. We can only observe. God makes it grow according to his blessing. And it grows only according to his blessings. And with his blessing it grows to produce a ripe harvest. The kingdom of God is like a seeds that grow according to HIS plan.
That is the point. The kingdom grows in spite of sinful people. The kingdom of God grows in spite of our efforts, in spite of our failures, in spite of our lamenting and woes. We bicker and complain. We invite the weeds of the devil. We attempt to make it grow with short cuts. Still we are left with the raw confession: It grows only because God makes it grow. It grows only according to his measurements and plans.
In the Church we plan. In the Church we plant. In the church we water with the Word. We attempt to fix sinful problems. We lament over lost souls. We give a great deal of attention to the things know we can control: how we say things, how we do things, how we plan a worship service, teach a class, prepare our music. We give attention to exteriors: how the ushers usher, how often to visit the straying members; how quickly to visit the visitor; what the building does and doesn’t do; how Christian Education is carried and planned; when and where we will do outreach; what events we will and won’t do. The work of the ministry, like a garden, is grueling work. Still we are left to do the things only we can control.
God makes his kingdom grow. God blesses his planted Word. God convicts people of their guilt. God prunes his kingdom. God carries the saving water of forgiveness in Jesus into the roots of human hearts. God breaks through the earth of people’s hearts and souls. God makes faith in Jesus mature from one stage of life to the next. I can’t explain it fully. I can’t make it happen. I can only observe that it happens according to his blessing.
But he has given us the seed to plant. That seed is his Word. We don’t know how it works. We do know that it Works. If I have a packet of corn seeds and want corn to grow, I have to take the seeds out of the packet, place it into the ground and do the things that I know I can do to make it grow. But I can’t make it grow. God does that.
God has given us the saving truth that Christ has died for the sins of the world. He has packaged it up for us and labeled it “My Word.” He has packaged that Word in the saving waters of baptism. He has packaged that Word in the nutrients of his Holy Supper. The Seed of that word is His Son, who was cast into the earth after his death on the cross, only to rise again. The Lord has given us the entire globe of souls as the endless earthen field into which to plant that Word. We are the planters. He makes it grow.
By Blessing Your Faith Life
In the next parable Jesus makes it personal. He speaks of an individual seed of a certain kind of plant: the mustard seed. Mustard seeds are very tiny. But they grow into trees large enough for birds to nest. Think of that illustration while you think about your own place in the garden - your life, your loved ones, your family, your faith life.
We are born sinful and objects of God’s wrath. We are born with no significance; less than the tiny mustard seed. We deed seeds with no in born germination process. We were “dead in our transgressions and sins in which we used to live” (Ephesians 2: 1, 2). But one small seed of God’s Word, one whisper of Jesus in a heart produces a life that is so significant that it can only point to God’s essential love for us in Christ. “God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ, even when we were dead in our sin” (Ephesians 2: 4, 5). As an individual your faith is a gift from God that is brought to life and proceeds to grow as it is nurtured by the water and light of the Gospel of Jesus.
So we plant. God invites us into his Garden to plant the Word. He commands that we “Go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything he has commanded us” (Matthew 28:19). He promises that his “Word will not return to him empty but will accomplish the purpose for which he sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). So we plant.
We baptize our babies. We teach songs to those babies that help them learn of Jesus. We bring those babies to worship with us. We tell those babies, from the time they are small, the Bible stories that help them learn of God’s laws and love for them. God creates the stalk of faith and makes it grow. From mustard seeds to full grown trees, the Lord makes faith in Christ increase and mature.
As they grow and mature, we care for them according to their needs and abilities. We discipline them when they are sinful. We forgive them when they repent. We lead them to deeper waters of God’s Word and nurture them with his endless saving truths. We couple education with Christianity knowing that only what God does through his Word will continue to strengthen that stalk. God makes the stalk grow taller and greener.
We bring our sons and daughters to the Lord’s Supper with us after they give confession to a mature understanding of God Word. We teach them to have a devotional life with God’s Word and Christ. As with the more mature plants in our gardens, we expect more out of them, and expect more independency from them. We entrust them to God’s will and purpose. We ask God to keep making them strong in their faith. It is God who works in them and use will and do to his purposes.
We observe one generation to the next confess Christ as Lord. Young adults become new young families. One baptism, one Lord, one faith, one Spirit of Christ leads to many kinds of fruits. As in the garden we see the various plants begin to break open with fruits (a tomato here, a few ears of corn there, the berries are popping out) … so it is in the kingdom of God. God makes your faith grow!
God’s garden produces fruit. “It is by grace you have been saved through faith and this not from yourselves it is the gift of God, not by works so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works.” It is by grace that we have been made a part of God’s garden. By that same grace he produces fruits that will last. And his garden is filled with varieties plants and fruits: teachers and preachers, servants and leaders, generous givers and faithful followers. God makes your own personal faith grown to be an individual tree in his garden of the Church. In the garden of your vocations of life Christ plants you as a tree that blooms where others may find him and find rest for their souls!
Then when the harvest is ripe the sickle will swing and God will reaps what he has sown. Jesus alludes to a prophecy from Joel (3:13) about Judgment Day. The day will come next fall when you will bring in the harvest of what you planted. At that time the rest stalks and weeds will be trampled down. One Day, our Lord will return. He will cut off all that is not rooted in his Son Jesus. But Jesus reminds us that he is the Vine and we are the branches. Those who remain in his Word remain grafted into his life giving Redemption from sin. Christ Jesus has been crucified for our sins. He has trampled death in his path. He is growing a harvest of his righteousness. One Day he will come to harvest what he has sown and bring you and all believers to his Father’s heavenly garden to enjoy that living harvest for all eternity. Praise the Lord, who makes his garden grow! Amen.