Sermon Pentecost 4 , June 14, 2015
Pastor Brian Schwarz (Consultant to St Petri Governance Council)http://stpetri.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/20150615_Message.mp3
Mark 4:26-34 26 He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” 30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.” 33 With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. 34 He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.
My wife and I never intended to retire in Nuri. We owned a house in Adelaide and planned to retire there. But our daughter and her family lived in that house for 13 years. And when the time for us to retire drew near she said, “We love it here. Can we buy this house?” We said “Yes. Just help us buy another one somewhere else”. Then we began looking where we might go, and we soon settled on the Barossa. Partly because our second son and his family live here. But also because we loved the fact that it is always green here. In summer, there are green leaves on the vines, in winter there is green grass and green crops.
And this green conveys a promise – a harvest is on the way, a vintage lies ahead. Jesus’ two parables are like those green vine leaves and green crops. They are parables of promise. They fill us with hope.
They help us look forward to a good future. God’s kingdom is coming, it is germinating, it is growing. God’s new world of justice and peace and abundant life is on the way.
Jesus told this parable because his disciples needed to be assured. Jesus had begun his ministry by announcing: “God’s kingdom is near, it is arriving. Get ready.” This was good news to his hearers. It was just what they had dreamed of and longed for. And they welcomed it.
But after a bit they began to wonder. Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God, but what has changed? The Romans are still in control. Jesus has healed some people, true, but sickness, suffering, sadness and injustice are still strong. One man and twelve disciples are not a kingdom. Where is the longed-for peace and prosperity? Where is this promised Kingdom? We modern disciples also need to be assured. God’s kingdom is not obvious. What is all too obvious is its opposite. The news we read and see and hear is almost all bad news. Reports of terrorism. Pictures of destruction. Warnings of climate change. Fears our national debt is growing. News of increasing drug addiction. It seems we are in a kingdom of chaos.
The danger is that all this bad news makes us gloomy and depressed. Even pastors have to watch out. These days I belong to a group Pastor Geoff Burger calls the GORPS: Grumpy old retired pastors. GORPS can easily become negative and critical and pessimistic about the state of the church and the nation. That’s why we too need to listen carefully to Jesus’ two parables. These parables are like two little puzzles. Jesus wants us to ponder them and wrestle with them so we come to better understanding of God’s kingdom and can go forward with hope.
So let’s start with the 2nd parable – the mustard seed.
The mustard seed is only a small seed, Jesus says, but it grows like a weed and becomes a bush. A large bush, as big as three metres tall. Big enough, Jesus says, for birds to come and nest in it.
As I was chewing on this little parable a song came into my mind. The song is called, “From little things big things grow.” This song was inspired by a strike some aboriginal stockman made in 1966. In that year, the stockmen on the Wave Hill cattle station in the NT walked off the job. Originally, the strike was about wages and conditions. But as time went by it turned into a demand for land rights. Wave Hill station covered an area of 20, 000 square miles and was owned by a British Beef baron called Lord Vestey. And when the stockmen were finally asked what they wanted, they said, “We want Lord Vestey and his mob to go and never come back. This is blackfella country. This is Gurindji country.” In 1975 they got what they wanted – Gough Whitlam handed Wave Hill back to the Gurindji people. But this demand led on to Eddy Mabo’s claim and that eventually led to the historic land rights decision of 1992 that opened the way for aboriginal people to claim traditional land throughout Australia. “From little things big things grow.”
That’s how it is with God’s kingdom. It began in a small way. One man with 12 followers, in an insignificant country in the great Roman Empire, telling people about God, and demonstrating God’s love and mercy. On Good Friday, when Jesus was placed in the tomb, who would have thought that 300 years later the faith of his followers would become the official religion of the Roman Empire? Who would have thought that today almost one third of all the people in the world would call themselves Christians?
We Australian Christians need to be reminded of this. Here Christianity is not growing at this time. It is on the back foot. Here the church is doing it tough. Here congregations are declining. Here people are drifting away from the faith.
But in Africa and Asia and Sth America the Christian faith is growing greatly. Even in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, the Christian church is growing.
But even more so in China. Sixty six years ago the communists expelled all foreign missionaries from China. At that time there were an estimated 4 million Chinese Christians. In the following years, those Chinese Christians went through times of severe persecution. Who would have thought that the Christians in China today would number about 80 million, or about the same as the number of members of the communist party? Who would have thought that if the current rate of growth continues China will become the world’s largest Christian nation in the world by 2030?
The kingdom of God has grown and is still growing, despite the many attempts have been made to wipe it out. And how come there is this amazing growth? Here we can chew for a bit on the other parable: the one Jesus told about the seed that grows while the farmer sleeps. The farmer plants the seed and then he rests. And while he rests the grain germinates and grows, all by itself.
The Gospel is like that seed. It is fertile. It contains the power of God. The power of Jesus’ resurrection. The power of the Holy Spirit. Power to change hearts, and bring people to new life and new hope. Power to make us grow more like Jesus. Martin Luther understood this very well. Here is what he wrote about this parable. “After I preach my sermon on Sunday I return home and drink a glass of Wittenberg beer and just let the gospel run its course.” Luther was a great preacher but as great as he was, as eloquent and persuasive as he was, Luther knew that it was not his eloquence or ability that changed hearts. It was the Holy Spirit who did that. So having preached his sermon, Luther relaxed, raised his stein, drank his warm Wittenberg beer and let the Spirit do his work.
Gospel messages are seeds. We plant them and God’s Spirit goes to work.
So are Gospel deeds. As I was preparing for preaching on the Mustard seed parable, Pastor Adrian gave me a book called Mustard Seed Versus Macworld. The author says that Christian churches and organizations need to plant lots of mustard seed ministries – mini-ministries like community housing, support for single mums, care for those who are less well off, care for those who care for family members, support for students and so on. These ministries are kingdom seeds. God works through them. God gives people healing through them and hope through them.
Here at St Petri you have these kind of ministries. Keep on doing them. God will use what you do. Nothing good you do will be wasted. God will take your humble efforts and make them more than you might have dreamed of.
Let me finish with an illustration I have borrowed from a well-known Anglican writer. He says that we Christians can think of ourselves as stonemasons – stonemasons working on a great cathedral. The architect has the whole plan in mind, and he has passed on instructions to the team of masons as to which stones need carving in what way. The foreman then distributes these tasks to the masons. One will shape stones for a tower. Another for a wall. Another will work on a coat of arms. Another will carve a statue of a saint. When they have finished their work they will hand them over for others to put together. Some of the workers will not live to see the cathedral completed. But they will trust that their work will not be wasted, that the architect will take what they have done and use it, and when the building is completed their work will be enhanced and be part of something that is truly great, something that gives glory to God.
That is how you can think of your kingdom contribution. Whatever you do in faith and love will not be wasted. God will take it and use it to build his Kingdom.
So don’t let all the bad news get you down. God’s kingdom has begun. It is here and growing. Jesus has risen from the dead. He is the Lord, and when he returns the kingdom of God will come in all its fullness.
Meanwhile, you and I have work to do. It is to pray as Jesus taught us, “your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” and to plant kingdom seeds.
So pray the kingdom prayer, plant your kingdom seeds, and then like Luther relax, and enjoy a quiet drink. The seeds will grow. God will see to it.
PRAY: Lord, open the eyes of our hearts that we may know you better (Ephesians 1:17-18)
Read the text through slowly noting questions that come to your mind and anything that leads you reflect on your own life….
Share your insights/responses…
As a child, what “big dream” did you have about what you would be when you grew up?
In these parables of seeds, what part , if any, do people play in the growing Kingdom? What connections can you find with these little parables about things growing and the longer one just before it about the farmer and the seeds faling on different kinds of ground in chapter 4?
In verse 30-32, what does the contrast between the seed and the bush teach about God’s kingdom?
If someone was to ask you how the church grows, how would you respond given what you have heard in these little parables? Share your responses and then what the implications are for your life and for our life together as a congregation in mission today.
If you has 30 minutes with the Bishops and pastors of the LCA, what would tell them about God’s mission and about how we grow as a church?
Does knowing that the growth of the kingdom is ultimately in God’s hands cause you to rest or to work more? Why?
Loom at verse 28-30. At what stage of growth is the kingdom at in your life: still a seed? Sprouting? Outgrowing the “weeds”? Producing a harvest? Other? Share your reflections…
What hope do you find in this Word of Jesus for you, for our church, for the world?