Text: Mark 4:26-34
Date: Pentecost IV (Proper 06b) + 6/17/18
At first the Word before us today seems to be rather simple. It is about how it is God who breaks into our world and our lives through His Word and plants saving faith in the hearts of those who hear it. It is about how the reign and rule of God’s kingdom is strong enough to save every sinner ultimately delivering us to heaven and eternal life.
But let us say, rather, that these parables are deceptively simple. For they are meant to give confidence in the face of the complications, doubts and mess we make of life and everything that speaks against God’s Word and salvation.
Let us begin by asking the simple question, “What is God’s Word?” Our initial thought will probably be the Bible, the inspired actual words written by the prophets and apostles in the Old and New Testaments. And that would be correct. But it is not that simple! For we are told every Christian sermon based on those inspired scriptures is also the Word of God. And if that is so we need to include every form of Christian teaching. The catechism is the Word of God. I once angered an otherwise Lutheran school teacher when I claimed that the liturgy is also the Word of God. But just check out those Bible passages listed beside every part of the Divine Service in Lutheran Service Book. In addition, our Lutheran Confessions even categorize simple “Christian conversation” as the Word of God.
Also, of course is that the Son of God, Jesus is called in St. John’s Gospel the Word when he wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” The Word of God is also His creative power when He created everything out of nothing when He simply said, “Let there be….” But there again is a deceptively simple statement describing the indescribable mystery of creation.
Here are words that every inventor of “so-called latest programs for church growth” needs to hear. For it seems that we are so tempted by the belief that God’s word is not working, that we need to dress it up or make it more impressive. Today our Lord tells us “God’s Word Works!” The problem is, of course, not only with “them,” but even we ourselves become so beset by weakness and doubt that we wonder if we really have the one, true faith or if we may be falling away. Today we are told to “hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” God’s word because “God’s Word Works!” If we do not “inwardly digest” the word we may let “the blessed hope of everlasting life” slip through our fingers and we are lost.
You see our standing with God, our faith and salvation is not something we come up with on our own. We say in the catechism, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him,” but and unless “the Holy Spirit calls, gathers and enlightens me.” And how does God the Holy Spirit do that? “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ,” Romans 10:17. It comes through the word, the word, the word of God.
Today we hear of trees and seeds and the ground. Through the prophet Ezekiel we hear words very similar to Jesus’ parables, “Thus says the Lord God: ‘I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and will set it out…and I myself will plant it to become a noble cedar. Under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest’” (Ezek 17:22-24). The cedar tree is the mighty rule and reign of God, the kingdom of God. We are the birds our faith nesting in God. God’s rule, reign and salvation is of His own planting for our salvation. We are the planting of the Lord.
Today’s Psalm says that we are the trees! We are “like a tree planted by streams of water” yielding fruit and life. In the first little parable of Jesus today God Himself scatters the seed of His word everywhere. From our perspective we really can’t explain how that seed sprouts and grows even whether we sleep or rise night and day. “The earth produces by itself,” the Greek word is “automatically.” We also grow in faith in stages, first the blade of Holy Baptism grows when the Holy Spirit connects us with the life-giving water of faith. “Then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.” Faith grows as it feeds on God’s word. It starves and shrivels, on the other hand, apart from hearing the word of God. All through our life we are to feed that gift of faith until, “when the grain is ripe, at once [God] puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” This parable encourages us to always keep the harvest, the goal in mind. For the harvest and goal is our entrance into the Kingdom of heaven because of faith, faith in the gift and work of Jesus, God’s Son, accomplished by His death on the cross and His resurrection from the tomb. He died and rose for the forgiveness of your sins. And so the Word reassures us constantly, “your sins are forgiven.” And the Word will keep us for the harvest.
As the Lord said through Ezekiel God’s reign of salvation “puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” Surely the Gospel and the Church that preaches it is as Luther said. “For you should know that God’s word and grace is like a passing shower of rain which does not return where it has once been.” “Therefore, seize it and hold it fast, whoever can; for lazy hands are bound to have a lean year.” Right now the Church seems to be weakened by attacks and criticisms and even mocking in our country. Yet at the same time it is raining down mightily on the continent of Africa!
So, yes, this word before us today seems simple, but deceptively so. It is as St. Paul said of God’s word, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Cor 3:6-7).
Luther, M. 1999, c1962. Luther’s works, vol. 45 : The Christian in Society II (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works. Vol. 45 (Vol. 45, Page 352). Fortress Press: Philadelphia
Ibid, Page 353.