Mark 4:26-29 (Third Sunday after Pentecost—Series B)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
June 17, 2012
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is from the Gospel lesson recorded in Mark 4:
And [Jesus] said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
Our God is the almighty Lord of the universe and of history. That’s why we speak of God ruling in His kingdom of power. But when we pray, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come,” we’re not asking for God’s kingdom of power, but rather that His kingdom of grace comes to us. We read in the Small Catechism, “How does God’s kingdom come? God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.” It is His grace, God’s undeserved loving-kindness toward us sinners, in which He identifies Himself with His Church, His redeemed community of saints. But life in this community, the Church, does have its disappointments.
We live in a “right now” society. I want an answer “right now.” I want my fast food “right now.” I want my TV program “right now.” I want it my way “right now.” Perhaps you have noticed that the Church isn’t overly concerned about things happening “right now.” That’s likely one of the reasons we might become disappointed with life in the Church. We make demands of God and of His Church but those demands aren’t always immediately met.
Let me give you an example using Matthew 18, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (15-18)
This is Jesus’ process of dealing with someone who sins against us. It is expected that Christians will follow this process in dealing with their fellow Christians for reconciliation and forgiveness. If your Christian spouse sins against you, this is the process you follow towards reconciliation. If you Christian father, mother, son, or daughter sins against you, this is the process you follow towards forgiveness. If your Christian neighbor wrongs you, this is the process. If your fellow Christian church member offends you, this is the process. But following a process takes time. It takes effort. It’s not, as some imagine, three steps and your done! You may go and tell the person his or her fault over a period of weeks or months before moving on to the next phase of the process. You may end up bringing one or two others along with you for another set of weeks or months before moving on to the next phase.
The frustration is often that things in the church happen too slowly. “I told him how he sinned against me. He didn’t care. I brought a friend along as a witness and he still didn’t seem to care. Then I told the pastor, and now it’s his problem.” No, no, no, no, no. That’s not how it works. Reconciliation takes time. People are filled with anger and hurt. Hearts become callous and hardened. That’s why it takes time for the Holy Spirit, using the Word of God, to lead people to repentance and faith. We resist being shown our sins and admitting to them because we don’t want to (a) be wrong, or (b) feel guilt. We’re that way with God and His Word and we’re that way when other people confront us with our sins according to God’s Word.
It would be a lot easier and a lot more efficient, I suppose, if God just swooped in with His almighty power and really punished those people who sin against us. Then we wouldn’t have to work toward reconciliation. They would get what’s coming to them in a hurry and we could be done with the whole mess quickly. But if God did that, wouldn’t we also be on the receiving end of His powerful wrath? How many times have you and I sinned against a brother or sister in Christ? How many times do we daily sin against God by the evil we do and by the good we fail to do? When it comes right down to it, isn’t God dealing with us gradually and purposefully by His grace so much more beneficial to us than Him dealing with us immediately by His divine power?
That’s the message of Jesus’ parable today. God’s redemptive activity in the Church, in His kingdom of grace, resembles the process of seed growth. The growth of a seed is not very impressive. It certainly isn’t a demonstration of power. It happens spontaneously, gradually, and purposefully over time. The farmer plants the seed and goes to sleep and rises night and day, over and over and over. The seed sprouts and grows, he knows not how. It just happens, slowly, deliberately, over time.
That is how our God also works in His Church through the seed of His Word. The seed is the proclamation of what God has done for our salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ. It was Jesus the Son of God who died for all the people who sinned against Him! He gave up His life in a horrible death on a cross in order to shed His blood so that you and I would be forgiven our sins against God and be reconciled to God. Jesus rose from the dead guaranteeing that His sacrifice on the cross totally accomplished our salvation from sin, death, and the power of the devil. Therefore, because we are reconciled to God through the forgiveness of sins, we are able to be reconciled to one another, extending the Lord’s forgiveness to each another. And that takes time, patience, and growth in faith.
God’s Word of salvation in Christ is sown into the hearts of people like you and me. By the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s Word, that seed, takes root as the Holy Spirit creates saving faith in Jesus through Holy Baptism. It is this gift of faith that receives Jesus’ forgiveness, life, and salvation which He alone won for all people with His death and resurrection. In the receiving of this grace through faith, God unfolds His power in our lives gradually. As it takes time for a seed to germinate and grow, so it also takes time in our lives for our faith to grow and mature. It takes time spent in the Word of God, reading, meditating, and studying.
Colossians 2:19 tells us that in the Church, we, like the human body, “grow with a growth that is from God.” Not everyone in the Body of Christ is at the same point of spiritual growth. Some are mere seedlings, very new to the Christian faith. Others are mature plants, able to withstand the assaults of the devil, the world, and the sinful flesh. In between, you have all different sized plants at various stages of growth and maturity. Yet God continues to give growth. (1 Cor. 3:7) Some grow in faith faster and some grow in faith slower. But this growth is all directed toward a purpose—our eternal life with God forever in body and soul.
You and I are the ones who have received the Word and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, have received the gift of saving faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. It is this faith which the Lord continues to nurture and fertilize with His Word and Sacraments since God is always giving growth to our Christian faith. And that growth of faith includes patience as we consider how God deals with us graciously in His Church. That growth of faith enables us to follow Jesus’ process for reconciliation and forgiveness. You and I are enable to be as gracious with those who wrong us as God has been so gracious to you and me in Christ.
With the growth of faith that the Lord gives us through His Holy Spirit by Word and Sacrament, let us continue to trust God’s power working through the seed of His Word. Let us avoid the temptation to impatience and give the Word time to work the growth of faith in our lives and in the lives of our sisters and brothers in Christ. May the God-pleasing result be that we are reconciled to one another in the gracious love of Jesus our Savior. Amen.