Third Sunday after Pentecost - Mark 4:26-34
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
There are few things we sinful human beings like less than not being in control of things. That's just the way it is - we like to be in charge, we like to make our own decisions. How quickly even little kids learn to say, "I can do it myself," and how stubbornly even adults will cling to that same attitude. Of course we do - we like to be in control. And the problem comes in when we start to see and understand just how many things in life are beyond our control. Can't control the weather. Can't control what our neighbor does. Or try controlling society - that doesn't happen. Instead we sit and watch as the world around us calls right wrong and wrong right. Can't control this or that - until with age even the control of our own bodies shakes away, leaks away. "For in this tent we groan" as St. Paul puts it. And all of this, this is just the reality of life in a sinful world - things are beyond our control... and often enough even our desire for control is selfish and twisted, where we seek to dominate and rule rather than serve and love.
And this predicament that we find ourselves in is nothing new. To the hearer in Jesus' day, the lament of a lack of control would have been common. In fact, they had it worse then we do. We at least are citizens, we can vote - the Jewish folks of Jesus day were by-in-large second class citizens, who didn't have full rights. We feel the effects of age, but at least we have some modern medicines to help - they didn't. And in terms of wealth, we have more of it. They too were a people who didn't have much control over their lives... and to them as well as to us, Jesus preaches. Listen. "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. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear." If you want an example of someone who doesn't have a lot of control - consider a farmer. Oh, sure, we've got modern agricultural techniques and equipment, and we've got a good understanding of the crop biology and the like; but once that seed is in the ground, well. Time to check the weather and pray, right? Even with all we can do to help, to improve the odds, the crop ends up being out of our hands - so you get insurance and hope and pray. And maybe grumble at the coffee shop. Or as Jesus puts it here, the farmer "sleeps and rises night and day." You do what you can, and then you let go, it's out of your hands.
Then the crops grow. Jesus says that the earth produces by itself - the word in Greek is "automatically" - by itself produces the crop. Even as our hands come off, the Lord gives growth, and we receive the bounty. "But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come." When the crop is ready, into the fields you go, asap. So then - what, pray tell Pastor Brown, is the point of all this? Well, it's not ag class, and I certainly don't need to go and try and tell farmers how to farm. The point is this. The Kingdom of God - it acts like this. The Kingdom of God is out of our control. We go, we plant the seed; that is we proclaim the Gospel of Christ Jesus - we proclaim that sins are forgiven because Jesus has died and that because He has risen so too we all shall rise to new life... and then... it's out of our hands.
It's out of our hands. That's a scary thought, isn't it? The Church - its out of our hands. The future of our congregation - its out of our hands. We here, we are given to be faithful, to faithfully proclaim God's Word and to faithfully pray. And what's going to happen, not a single one of us knows. Not a one of us knows what Trinity Lutheran will look like in 2020, or 2050. And that can be utterly scary to us sinful folks. Because we want to be in control, we want to be the ones upon whom things hinge, and when we just do things my way, well then everything will come out great. And let me tell you, pastors can succumb to this temptation too. It's easy enough for a pastor to turn a church into a cult of personality, to do "whatever it takes" to get people in the door. But that's not your job nor is it my job. Jesus tells the story, and as we have ears we ought to hear - the man puts the seed in the ground... and then the growth comes not from him, but from the seed in the ground. Likewise, in the kingdom of God, we do not focus on trying to make or create growth -- we tend to the seed, we tend to the Word of God - we preach it, we proclaim it to our neighbor, we scatter and sow it, we plant it home. Then, if God wills, then there will be a harvest, then there will be growth. Then repentant sinners come and we welcome them and delight in God's forgiveness together with them. But we cannot make that happen - it is beyond our control.
I'm going to cite two bits of the catechism, lest you think I'm barking up the wrong tree here. Consider the second petition: "Thy kingdom come. What does this mean? The Kingdom of God certainly comes with or without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also." Did you hear that? The Kingdom comes with or without our prayer - not under our control - and we are left to pray that God's Kingdom comes, pray that "our heavenly Father [give] 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." Just as in the story the ground produces the plant, so in the Church the Holy Spirit causes faith to sprout and grow - and not just in the folks out there, but right here, in you, in me. That's the working of the Holy Spirit - not our working. Which, of course, points us to the third article of the creed - "I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength" - see my lack of control! - "believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith." See our lack of control. We are not the ones in charge, the Holy Spirit is.
And this is where the rub comes in. As sinful human beings, we hate this. This is what caused the Fall -- Adam and Eve were not content to let God be God. Instead the serpent says, "eat the fruit, then you'll get to be like God." Eat the fruit and you'll have control, Adam. And they ate, and everything went to pot. Our sinful flesh wants to be in control of everything, even the things that God Himself is in control over, because when it boils down to it, our sinful flesh thinks it knows better than God.
And so Jesus speaks another parable. "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade." To all appearances, a mustard seed is a weak, pathetic seed. It's tiny. You wouldn't think it would amount to anything if you simply judged it by its size or color. Yet, when it grows, it's bigger than any of the other herbs you had running around in the middle east. So what is the point of this parable? We judge things by appearances, by what things look like - by how they appear. And according to the standards of the world, the mustard seed would be worthless - yet God gives abundance through it. Because He is in control, and He likes to do things like that. Over and over in the Scriptures, you get examples of God making things that appear worthless to be of great value. Ezekiel, can these dry bones live? Can David, the youngest son of Jesse, defeat the giant, the mightiest warrior of the Philistines? Can Joseph, sold into slavery and thrown into prison, rescue Egypt from famine and save lives? Of course - because that's what God does. And the highest example is Jesus Christ Himself - born in a backwater - despised by many - as Isaiah says He had no form or majesty that we should think He was wonderful, and indeed, He is stricken, smitten, and afflicted - put to death upon a cross. By any standard or judgment of the world, a man whipped bloody and hung upon a cross to die is no where close to what victory looks like. But the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men, and with the death of Christ Jesus death is undone and sins are forgiven and God Himself wins for us the victory.
But none of it is what our own sinful flesh would want, would plan. And so, once again, God in His Word calls us away from our desires for control, our desires for being in charge of things. And yes, He reminds us that we are in fact, not in control. But He also reminds us that this is a good thing, because while we are not in control, and even if we were in control we would do foolish, sinful things - He is in control for us. God Almighty is the Lord of the harvest, and He will provide the harvest for His Church throughout the world that He wills. What will we see of that here - we don't know. That's His purview. As for us, we remain here, being gathered together by the Holy Spirit, called away from the hustle and bustle of the world, to hear the Word of God, to be reminded over and over that He is in control for us, to hear again the Salvation and forgiveness that is ours in Christ, to have our sins daily and richly forgiven, so that we face life, even a life where things slide out of our control, confident in Christ Jesus and the love He has for us. We are in God's hands, and that is truly a good place to be, both now and for all eternity. Amen. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +