The Planting of the Lord

Text: Mark 4:26-34
Date: Pentecost III + Proper 6B + 7/14/15

The first parable in today’s Gospel reading, while it has similarities to many others, is found only here in Mark chapter 4. Indeed, St. Mark tells us, “with many such parables [Jesus] spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it.” Which makes us wonder, “How many other parables did Jesus tell of which we have never heard?” We can suppose that Jesus often used parabolic language when He was teaching. Why? He was teaching about the reign and rule of God, the kingdom of God, spiritual realities. Fallen sinners are not able to grasp these things on their own power or by their own wisdom. Jesus teaches in parables so that they may be remembered and there, in a person’s mind and heart, be the “seed,” if you will, the powerful Word of God through which the Holy Spirit can operate and create the understanding of faith. In fact that’s what this parable is all about: your faith.

The seed is the Word of God. Jesus says this seed, this Word, is scattered on the ground, on the earth. This means that the Word of God is all over the place because “God so loved the [whole] world” (John 3:16) and “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4). This salvation and spiritual knowledge, however, cannot be discovered or known unless and until it is revealed by God. God has revealed His Word and will through the prophets and apostles, through the Word made flesh, His only-begotten Son, Jesus, and to this day through the prophetic and apostolic scriptures. As we have been talking about in our recent Bible classes, God has chosen to speak to us not in some mysterious ways as through visions and dreams but has chosen to speak to us in human words. This is why there is so much emphasis and importance at our seminaries attached to teaching pastors the Bible in its original languages. “God believes these words have meaning. He is convinced these meanings are His own power of salvation to all who believe it (Romans 1:16). This faith can be truly received and confessed again to others, not merely as (some personal) interpretation, but as the exact same, original oracle of truth (Romans 1:14).”[1]

Jesus says “a man” scatters this seed. And we would not be wrong first to think that He is speaking generically of Christian pastors, preachers and evangelists through the ages. This is what Christian preaching, teaching and evangelism is all about, scattering the seed of God’s Word, then relying on the power of God’s Word alone to create the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus (2 Tim 1:13).

Yet in every parable there is someone who in some way represents Jesus Himself. And it is, isn’t it, Jesus Himself Who is behind the broadcasting of the saving Word of God. Not only the sacrament of absolution but even every sermon or lesson therefore is given by pastors not on their own authority as a fellow sinner, but by one “as a called and ordained servant of the Word,” that is, called, ordained and sent by Jesus and with His authority to faithfully and reliably scatter the seed and teach and administer the Word.

The seed works. The Word works. That’s the point. The man who scatters the seed then goes about his daily life sleeping and rising night and day, “and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.” Now certainly if this man in the parable represents Jesus we would not say that Jesus sleeps or does not know how seeds, as His own creation, sprout and grow. But this is to emphasize the point and power of God’s Word alone. Sola Verba or Sola Scriptura. The power is built in to the seed to sprout and grow nothing needed to be added or done for it other than the scattering. It produces, says Jesus, “αὐτομάτη,” automatically, by itself. This teaching, therefore, is so fundamental and easy to understand that it is hard to understand and nothing short of amazingly strange how many times throughout history in the Church that pastors and people begin to think that God’s Word is not working and that we have to do something to enhance, to promote, to make or force the Word’s power on people; the latest example the last thirty-five years of the so-called “Church Growth Movement.” Once again we are to discover that “God doesn’t need movements!” He does need preachers and witnesses to scatter, to proclaim, to teach what? Not programs of self-help or positive thinking or methods of human achievement. He needs preachers and witnesses to proclaim His Word of salvation through the forgiveness of sins which came and comes only through Jesus Christ, and then not to worry whether it takes root in the hearers hearts, minds and life because that’s not their job.

Now there is a hint of “progress” when He describes the Word producing “first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.” And we may think of the Christian life, growing through the years in wisdom, knowledge and sanctification. Yet everyone from the first drop of baptismal water with this Word has the full, saving faith. After all this fruit of faith is what prepares us for the harvest. “When the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

The harvest comes to each of us individually in a Christian death regardless of whether we be a baptized infant or a baptized super senior citizen.

Oh, how blest are they whose toils are ended,
Who through death have unto God ascended!
They have arisen
From the cares which keep us still in prison. (LSB 679)

There awaits, however also, the final harvest of the last day when all will be raised with their bodies, some to eternal life and some to eternal destruction.

Maybe we are tempted to doubt the power of God’s Word alone sometimes because we think we see the Church shrinking, people falling away or never even giving it a thought. But, Jesus continues, the kingdom of God always begins by appearing to be very small, insignificant, like a grain of mustard seed.

It was certainly in the small, quiet contemplation of the Blessed Virgin Mary when the Lord of Life began His human residence in the silence of her womb, first one cell, then two, then four and so on. How silently this gift was given in the little, out-of-the-way town of Bethlehem of Judea. Then, after the Lord’s death, how few their number the first apostles thought as they gathered behind locked doors for fear. Nevertheless, then came the Day of Pentecost with the addition of 3,000 souls. Then “many…who heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand” in Acts 4. “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied” in Acts 6. The rest of the book is the record of how, even under persecution, the Church, that is, the Word of the Lord Grew.

In our day we have had times of wonderful growth, especially after the testing of the World Wars. But now it seems that that was not to be considered “usual” or “normal.” For persecution comes at various times and in different ways. Nevertheless whether we sleep or rise night and day the Word grows. And remember this that it is not just planted once, but “seasonally” we might say. The Word is planted in your heart over and over again and is constantly sprouting with the new life of an eternal day promised to those who have faith in Jesus. The Word works.

The Word works. It has worked in you who believe. Thanks be to God. And may He give us confidence that He will not leave us or forsake us but keep us and own us as His very own Planting of the Lord.

[1] Jonathan Fisk, “7 ‘Christian’ Rules that every Christian Ought to Break as Often as Possible,” © Fisk 2012, CPH 96.