Let us pray: Dear Savior, as we work in Your kingdom, keep us from getting a big head and taking credit away from both You and the Spirit. Keep us humble in our efforts to help expand Your kingdom of grace. But at the same time give us enough positive feedback so that none of us grows discouraged or quits. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE LORD OF THE HARVEST
TEXT: Mark 4: 26-34
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
Over the past few weeks I’ve been busy with my fruit trees and my garden. And I have to report mixed results. The apricots and pears were beautiful in bloom. Likewise the plum tree. After blooming I got out my sprayer and treated them. I was anticipating a heavy crop. But then I noticed all those little green worms hanging from their silken threads. Walking the dogs, they seemed omnipresent this year. Well, my best pear got chewed up, no fruit, and just now is re-leafing. The other pear has some fruit, but not like in previous years. Meanwhile, my plum has a lot of scald which I’m busy pruning off and my apricots look good and have some fruit as well, although a few have fallen off due to the weather. I’m a bit disappointed.
However, my garden plants look really good! Everything is coming along nicely, although the tomatoes have a little yellowing on them due to the lack of heat and sun. If the bugs don’t go beserk, I hope to have a good harvest. But, my star of the show has been the lettuce. We’ve been eating a lot of salads. The cool weather really helps out the lettuce and I’ve already sown another crop and it’s up!
I bring this up because I was thinking, while puttering around the garden, how every pastor really needs to be a gardener. It’s a wonderful metaphor for the ministry. You have seed, weeds, bugs, soil conditions, weather, planting and harvesting. One day you’re happily surprised, another day you’re frustrated.—It’s a lot like dealing with people. Gardening keeps me humble. Or, as the old adage says: “You cannot control the weather.”—Or anything else for that matter!
Since Jesus uses such imagery a lot, including in our lesson, today I pose to you this rhetorical question:
EVERY CHRISTIAN A FARMER?
No offense to the mega-business, corporate farmers out there, or my relatives who labor in that industry, but the truth is: small, organic farm produce is much more nutritious and it even helps the total environment. It tastes better, too! Getting your hands dirty and playing in soil also keeps a person humble.
Well, His listeners lived such a lifestyle, so Christ met them in the exact place they could relate to. “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
God has given each of us a bushel basket full of seed—His Word, the reality of total forgiveness for all sins, won by Jesus for us on the cross. That Word is living, just like a seed. It possesses future life within it. “The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation” as St. Paul says. So, have you been busy scattering that seed? Or, are you still sitting around waiting for a later date? If you wait too long, just remember that the growing season is getting shorter each day.
When I work with people, scattering His Seed, I sometimes allow myself to live, not in the present, but in the future. That is, I can see the eventual fruition of God’s love in another’s life and see how wonderful it will all turn out. Ah, but that’s getting ahead of the game. That’s because sometimes, indeed, many times, the weeds of sin, the heavy weather of personal problems, or the bugs of ungodly people intrude and wipe out their fledgling allegiance to God. Then my daydreams concerning them get stomped out. And I’m frustrated, too.
Conversely, sometimes I worry way too much over them and try to overly manage their faith. Yes, we should pray for others, encourage them, and shepherd them. But all our worries don’t create faith or sustain it. Only the Spirit does that, and as Jesus says: “He works where and when He pleases” kind of like the wind blowing. So, again, our over-managing doesn’t really do anything when it comes to saving souls.
And after engaging in all those mental/faith gymnastics, finally a time arrives when God reaps the harvest–often in spite of us. I raise that point not to discourage any of you from your soul-farming efforts, but to remind you that His alone is the glory. So, trust in His power, focus on His goodness, and always be thankful that you had a small role in assisting Him in His work! Stay a humble farmer! It’s better for your own spiritual health too. Taking the weight of another’s soul upon your shoulders isn’t your job. It’s Christ’s job. We’re His hands, but He’s the Head.
One important, and often overlooked, blessing of being a Christian farmer is God’s Law of: unintended consequences. You’ve never heard of it? Well, our second parable spells it out. “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.”
God’s kingdom, His garden, is people’s hearts. Hearts which are to be: “in this world, but not of this world.” So, every Christian farmer is also a part of His garden. As we tend to others, we must never forget to tend to our own hearts first. That means daily repentance and reliance upon Christ’s forgiving love needs to be paramount. We need to feed our souls daily on His forgiveness for our sins—feed ourselves with baptismal grace, communing grace, and absolving grace. And when we do, we grow and get bigger and stronger. Likewise, the plants around us. For some plants, take hostas or foxglove, need the shade of others to flourish. Perhaps we didn’t plan it all out that way, but when you go with the flow of God’s grace, plants, animals and birds flourish—unintended souls benefit—from all that luxuriant growth. In short, your original project person might reject, or drift in their faith, but through them other doors, other people, are met, touched, planted, and are brought into God’s fold. That fact should also keep us humbly busy. For God reminds us: “My Word shall not return to Me empty, but shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper unto the thing for which I sent it.”
Farming is not a glamour job. Neither is saving souls. It’s a lifestyle. It means long hours, continual monitoring, feeding, watering, wedding, and encouraging. But in the end, you will get a crop!—Better yet, God will reap a crop! Meanwhile, take comfort in the task at hand. For the satisfaction is in the laboring and knowing that God is blessing it daily! Amen