Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “Jesus Is Lord of the Kingdom” based on Mark 4:26-34 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered: Sunday, June 17, 2018
Last week, we celebrated a fun anniversary in my family, one that’s unique to families with adopted children. Last Friday was the anniversary of the day in 2010 when we got the phone call that told us that a baby in China had been matched up with our family, and that we should check our email for a picture. Last Friday was the anniversary of the first time that we saw our daughter’s Nora’s face.
It doesn’t seem like 8 years ago. It seems like just yesterday that we received that picture. It seems like just yesterday that we were playing “this little piggy” with her toes and popping a seemingly endless stream of cheerios into her mouth. It feels like I blinked and eight years have passed. She’s not a grown up yet, but boy has she grown and it makes me ask myself….how exactly did that happen?
We didn’t tell her to learn how to walk or to talk or to lose her baby teeth. Those things just happened. We didn’t consciously will her to get taller, or to develop her unique set of character traits and personality quirks. They just happened and are continuing to happen. In short, she’s doing what all the rest of did or are currently doing. She’s growing up. We didn’t make it happen but it sure is cool to be a part of it.
Jesus makes the same point in our Gospel lesson. The kingdom of God grows subtly, mysteriously, wonderfully. We don’t make it happen, but it sure is cool to be a part of it. He doesn’t use the illustration of a child growing up. Instead he talks about a seed planted in the ground.
You probably know that Jesus had this habit of describing intangible things in tangible ways. So he wouldn’t talk about love, he’d talk about a father running out to meet his prodigal son, first throwing his arms around him, then throwing a party around him. Jesus wouldn’t talk about persistence, he’d talk about a little old lady who badgered a magistrate so often and so intensely that eventually he gave in. The “kingdom of God” is definitely an intangible thing. It’s hard for us to wrap our minds around such an abstract concept. So Jesus described it in various places in various ways that people could understand—it’s like a precious pearl hidden in a field, it’s like a net with all kinds of different fish, it’s like a banquet that people are invited to. Or in this section from Mark 4, 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.
The first thing He wants us to notice is how “out of our hands” the kingdom of God is. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. So you might be thinking, “If the growth of God’s kingdom is out of our hands—if it just “happens” like a baby growing into an 8 year old, or a seed pushing up through the ground…well then why do bother doing anything? Cuz life in this kingdom can be exhausting, even brutal some times! Why do we give our offerings? Why do we unlock our school doors and welcome students year after year, when it is so costly, so time consuming, and judging by the post-confirmation church attendance numbers, so often ineffective? Why do we haul our kids and grandkids up on our laps and teach them to sing, “I am Jesus’ little lamb.”? Why do we put hours and hours of preparation into a worship service? Why do we study the Word with earnest and inquisitive hearts? Why do we crucify our sinful natures and submit our will and wants to God’s will? If the seed grows all by itself, why do we invest so much of ourselves into the effort?
The answer’s quite simple, really. Because He lets us! He lets us be a part of and play a part in His kingdom. And that is a privilege that is both generous and entirely undeserved. I had a professor back in college who marveled at the fact that God can save anyone….even pastors. (He got it. He was a pastor himself!) And the longer that I live in my own skin, the more I realize the wisdom of that statement. Love that is big enough to take such an undisciplined disciple, such a consistent backslider, such a chronic complainer and not only have mercy on him, but then also set him in a pulpit and make him an instrument, that is love worth sharing, a gospel worth dying for, a seed worth scattering.
Think about it another way. You’re here today because somebody at some time scattered a little seed towards you. Somebody taught you the demands and commands of holy God. Somebody cared enough about you to tell you that were wrong, to cut you down to size, to not allow you to get away with doing stuff that God hates. And most likely, it was that same somebody who showed the blood stained cross and explained what happened there. Somebody told you that you had an identity not given by a world that lies, but by a God who always tells the truth. Somebody told you that about what it means to be forgiven and forgive, what it means to serve without expectation of recognition and give without expectation of repayment. Somebody told you that you don’t have to be afraid of death. You’re here today because somebody scattered a little seed your way. And because the Lord of the Kingdom saw fit to make it grow. Who was that person for you? Who might be the person who will some day look back at you and smile…because you were the one who scattered a little seed into their hearts?
You see, it’s not like the farmer is incidental in the whole story. He has an important job after all. He scatters the seed. It’s just that he’s not the one who makes it grow. He can’t make it grow faster or slower. He can’t make it grow by shouting at it, sweet talking it and compromising with it. He just scatters the seed. The Lord of the Kingdom makes it grow.
So as we look this text, a bunch of important applications come to mind. Don’t be fooled by appearances. Seeds don’t look like much. That’s why they put pictures of the plant on the seed package and not pictures of the seeds themselves. The seeds don’t look like much. But boy do they grow. So also God’s Word might not always look like much. And we live in a world that loves to point out that how outdated it is, how irrelevant it is, how overly simplistic it is, how unduly complicated it is. They only see the seed. They have no idea how big the plant grows, or how long the plant lasts—for decades, for generations, even for eternity.
Secondly, don’t be discouraged. Some times the seed seems to be doing nothing for a really long time. We get discouraged when we don’t see the growth in our lives or in the people around us that we’d hoped. When the temptations don’t immediately go away, in fact they get more intense. When the attitudes don’t immediately change 100 percent, but instead we see no change at all, we tend to get restless and expect results right away. Be patient. Remember that there may be growth that only God can see. Keep scattering the seed for yourself and those around you. Then watch and see how the Lord of the Kingdom might make the plant grow.
Finally, don’t forget there’s a harvest coming. Jesus said as much. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” No farmer plants grain just for kicks, just because he’s bored. He has the harvest in his sights. The Lord of the Kingdom causes his gospel to grow in homes, and hearts and churches with a goal in mind. He plants with a purpose—that one day he will gather his grain into the storehouses of eternity. Until that day, may the one who caused the seed to take root in you, continue to make it grow—for he is the Lord of the Kingdom. Amen.