With The Harvest in Mind

Text: Mark 4:26-34
Date: Pentecost II (Proper 6) + 6/14/09
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI

Today we enter “the long, green season” of the church year. We wish to remind everyone, however, that the colors of the liturgical year were chosen first and our use of the color green has nothing whatsoever to do with saving energy or environmental concerns. It does, however, have to do with the planting and the growth and nurture of the Kingdom of God and of the gift of saving faith in the heart of each Christian. The two parables of Jesus that form today’s Gospel reading simply illustrate the mysterious growth and the impressive growth of the Kingdom of God as the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached and proclaimed, planted and taught throughout the world and throughout the centuries.

The Word today has everything to do with the growth of the saving faith and of the Kingdom or rule of God. With the recent passing, however, of our dear friend and brother, Ron Smith, let us take note today that these parables and the planting and growth of faith and of the Kingdom are all for the sake of the promised harvest, as Jesus says, “when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

“The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground,” because the kingdom of God is God’s own rule and work among men through His Word. It is scattered on the ground because the rule and love of God is for all people of the whole world. It is the love of God that motivates and drives Him to reach out, to be involved, to redeem, save and win back his fallen world, alienated by the rebellion of sin, opposed and confiscated, “kid knapped,” taken hostage by the devil. Into this hostile environment of death He sent His Son who, having taken on the very form of created man, earned for everyone the right to be called, once again, “children of God” by His own obedience, His bloody payment for the sin of the world on the cross, and His disarming of the devil and of death itself. Now by faith in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ, all men, everywhere can turn to Him and be saved.

This parable means to say that we cannot explain to you, much less determine, man-handle or direct how the seed of God’s Word works. Like the seeds you recently buried in the dirt of your garden, they just sprout and grow on their own power whether you sleep or rise, night and day. Suddenly we see the sprout, “first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.” Some of the seeds don’t seem to do anything. But most sprout “automatei” is the word St. Mark uses, automatically. So for you and the whole Church, these are words of assurance and encouragement to keep on planting and teaching and preaching and witnessing and proclaiming and believing: The Word Works!

More than that, the growth of the Kingdom of God is impressive. “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.” This is the “you never know” part of the mystery of faith. This is also why, when you boil it down, all our preaching is basically the same thing, dressed up as applying to different subjects or times or people, but it is always about sin and grace, Law and Gospel, confession and forgiveness, the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And you just never know what word, which phrase, what expression is going to be used by God the Holy Spirit to connect with various individuals. I think of the surprise, for instance, of hearing of one of my confirmation students back in the 80s in Wood River, Illinois. These years later I find out it was through the Word I preached and taught that young Tyler discovered God’s call to him to be a pastor. You just never know.

And think of the Word’s influence on all to whom Tyler is privileged to preach. This is the big picture, after all, you see unfolding in the book of Acts. It begins with the preaching of the 12 becoming about 3,000 on the Day of Pentecost, then more and more are added (2:41; 2:47; 5:14; 11:24); but the adding quickly turns into multiplying (6:7; 7:17; 9:31; 12:24). Certainly there are down times, times of persecution, times when the Gospel of Christ is not popular or does not meet with any particular favor in the public ear, but this is what St. Paul meant when he wrote to young pastor Timothy, “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim. 4:2-4). The Church’s stance against abortion, for instance, was no surprising thing until the law changed in this country, and today many look at at least the Roman and a few conservative or confessional Lutheran church bodies as being positively from the dark ages. The same goes for so-called women’s ordination to the priesthood or to the insistence that God invented marriage and we have no authority or right to change it from involving only one man and one woman. “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season.”

“First the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” It is the harvest that is the goal. As one of Ron Smith’s favorite Bible passages puts it, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). “Faithful” means remaining in the faith. And that takes remaining in the Word of God through which you were given the gift of faith in the first place. As Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32), and, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Jesus Himself, during His earthly ministry, appeared weak and insignificant especially to the powerful and influential, be they of the religious establishment or the mighty government of Rome. How more weak or insignificant than when He hung dying on that cross outside the city of Jerusalem on that dark Friday of the great Passover? Yet here were nothing less than the universal powers of life and death contending for the life of the world. By His humiliating death, burial and exalting resurrection, of His Kingdom there shall be no end. His Word now has the power to make all things new (Rev. 21:5). So is the final triumph of His Church and of all souls made new in Him now by faith.

Because of the certain, mysterious but impressive growth of the Kingdom of God and of the gift of faith in your heart, all in view of the final harvest in heaven, so “be faithful unto death” and the Lord “will give you the crown of life.”