Good Shepherd Ev. Lutheran, Sioux Falls, SD
Pentecost 4—June 17/18, 2018
“This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
The importance of feeding the roots, stem, and leaves
It’s funny how nothing changes from day to day and yet, when you look back, everything is different. Isn’t that true? Nothing seems to change day by day, and yet when you look back, everything is different.
That’s how it is with gardens. Each day you go out and look at it and it looks the same today as it did yesterday. Nothing seems to have changed. But if you took a picture of your garden today, and then take another picture in three weeks—what a difference, is this not true?
And not just in gardens, but with you and me. Take a picture of how patient, how content, how hopeful, how self-controlled, how knowledgeable you are about the Bible today. And if we take a picture of what you are like at the end of the summer, what will we find? Will you be better or worse?
Because while you and I don’t seem to change from day to day, we do; when we look back, everything is different. The only question is, by the end of this summer, do you want to be different better or different worse?
Now, I trust you want to be different better. But if you don’t, you can tune out what I am about to say. But, fair warning, while you might not mind being a worse person by the end of this summer, God does mind. He takes Christian living seriously. And he’ll be letting you know that.
But if you want to be different better by the end of the summer, here’s the key to getting results, to getting the fruit—put effort not into the fruit but into the roots and stems and leaves. Regular, consistent effort.
That’s how it works with gardens. If you want the beefsteak tomatoes, the sugar snap peas, and the, what Garrison Keillor called the third greatest pleasure of life, fresh sweet corn, you have to put effort into growing the roots and stems and leaves first. That’s how it works, as Christ said in the parable, “First the stalk, then the head, THEN the full kernel in the head.”
You want to be different better by the end of summer, develop your roots, stem, leaves; which is to say be in worship each Sunday or Monday and take some of what you learned home with you each time; be remembering your baptism regularly each week, your baptism, the day God washed away your sins and declared you to be a saint; be receiving the Lord’s Supper regularly this summer, the price of your redemption; be having daily devotions at home. Because that’s the soil that produces the roots, the stem, the leaves, which in turn produces the fruit.
And that soil is so powerful, it changes you. That’s how powerful these ordinary-looking things like worship and baptism and Lord’s Supper are. All by itself the Word and Sacraments by the Holy Spirit does its quiet work in us. Like Jesus said, “A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows…All by itself the soil produces grain.” Powerful stuff, this Word and Sacraments.
Not a loud kind of powerful, but a quiet kind. So quiet you might think nothing is happening, like when you look at a garden every day. But so powerful, it can make a sinner want to confess his sins to God every day, make that sinner totally confident of God’s forgiveness in Christ every day, make that sinner certain of going to heaven because Jesus paid your way by his death and resurrection, and make that sinner, by the end of the summer, more patient than you are now, more content, more wise, more self-controlled, and more of all the other fruits of the Holy Spirit, than you are now. (Gal. 5:22ff)
(Father’s Day observation and encouragement)
Because the harvest is coming, “As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” It’s the one who planted the seed and made it grow who does the harvesting. And that is our Lord himself. And he is the one has asked us to be help be his gardeners in helping give deep roots to these tender shoots.
We sing hymn #188 v.3-4
Christ’s kingdom is the biggest thing going on
“It is like a mustard seed which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.”
Christ’s kingdom always works the same—it starts small, like the most insignificant seed you can plant; but it becomes the biggest, most important thing going on in our world, in our community, in our life.
And only a fool would try to fight that. Fools like you and me. Who are by nature foolish. Who foolishly try to keep God/his Word small by compartmentalizing it. Putting God/his Word into the compartment, or cubby hole, of our life that says “Sunday’s only.” As if most of the rest of my week involves things which we think are really none of God’s business or that he doesn’t care.
But that’s not how Christ describes his kingdom. “It is like a mustard seed which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants.” He means for his Word of forgiveness and love and salvation earned by his own blood, sweat, and tears, and resurrection, to fill up the entire garden of your life, the whole thing. Why? So he can bless you in ways you didn’t expect and so you can be a blessing to others in ways they didn’t expect. Like in the parable. Who could have expected that small, spindly mustard plant would be able one day to give refreshing shade and safety to sparrows and robins and goldfinches and maybe even the occasional Red Tailed Hawk or Great Horned Owl?
But we are not the only foolish ones by nature. So is the world. Because when Christ’s kingdom grows, it’s not just believers who benefit, unbelievers do too, as Jesus said in the parable, “…it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.” The world benefits wherever you find real Christians. Because there you find good citizens, good neighbors, workers you can trust, bosses who are fair, Christian groups that help the homeless, advocate for morality, open hospitals, feed the hungry. And the foolish world tries to snuff out Christianity. We even see that in our own country, don’t we. This effort to not just keep church and state separate, but to do away with the influence of the church.
What can we do about that? Mostly we can by the power of the Holy Spirit, repent of our own foolish compartmentalizing of God/his Word. And then support the spread of the gospel by our generous prayers and offerings, being willing to speak to others about Christ (“you are now entering the mission field”), making sure we are involved in our congregation.
Because Christ will see to it that his kingdom grows. It’s the biggest, most important thing going on in our world, our community, our lives. Most of all because it contains the biggest message—that, “he who believes and is baptized shall be saved, and he who does not believe will be condemned,”(Mark 16:16) and that until then, Christ came that we “might have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10) Now and eternally. Amen.