Let us pray: Dear Lord Christ, how easy it is for us to let stress, worry, and the idea that the weight of the world rests on our slender shoulders. How easy it is to forget that You are in charge of all things, and that when it comes to spiritual blessings—You alone give the increase. Today remind us of those facts and lead each of us develop patience in all things, but especially in things eternal. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE GIVER OF EVERY GOOD AND PERFECT GIFT!
TEXT: Mark 4: 26-32
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
You’re hurrying to work. A big project looms over you and must be done by day’s end. And then traffic stops, you’re an hour late, and your carefully crafted timetable is wiped out. Or, maybe you actually get to the job on time, but a computer crash—crashes any hope of getting home before supper. Those in the military well know the expression: “Hurry up and wait.” Increasingly, “hurry up and wait” seems to characterize all of our lives. We have cell phones and tablet computers to guide our schedules and maximize our work potential, carpenters all have battery-pack saws and drills and nail guns to speed up their jobs—the list of tools used to speed efficiency is endless. But, there doesn’t seem to be a tool to negate “Murphy’s Law.” Something, somewhere, always seems to intrude into our carefully constructed timetable. So, we “hurry up and wait” getting more and more frustrated and stressed.
This same attitude which plagues modern culture has unfortunately crept into the church as well. God’s Church is an export business. That is, we are to participate in enjoying and then sharing, or exporting, His life-giving and life-changing gospel to all of our extended family. However, in reality, we’ve adopted the American consumer mentality of importing the constant push and drive of the business world into God’s kingdom. We get fidgety when membership remains static, when giving plateaus, and when we cannot get instant gratification from our efforts to make disciples. We want results and we want to see those results—the sooner the better. But, of course, that’s not our job, it’s God’s. And thus spiritual stress results. Our lesson today serves as an antidote to such spiritual stress. And as we examine this text, I ask this question:
ARE YOU FOLLOWING YOUR TIMETABLE OR GOD’S?
Many years ago when I was in college, one of my profs reminded us that the church never moves quickly. Instead, change comes slowly in God’s church. At the time, and for many years thereafter, that fact always frustrated me a bit. I thought: “Why can’t we be nimble and quick when it comes to reacting to problems and situations? Why not import a business model into the church and push it along to achieve clearly defined goals?” I must confess that I still struggle with this issue. But I’m learning that in dealing with people, God’s timetable is often very different than my own. In short, I’m learning the real meaning of patience.
The basic problem in dealing with people’s souls is that you cannot always see immediate results. We like results. Our society demands them. But how do you measure the love in another’s heart, or their faithfulness, or their ability to resist temptation? The fact is: you cannot often see those internal struggles, and therefore you cannot measure them. Indeed, only God can do that. And right here, in our lesson Jesus reminds His disciples of that fact. He reminds them and us to always foster patience when it comes to spiritual things.
“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.”
The seed is the gospel. It is the fabulous news that God’s Son has given His life for ours to free us from sin, death, and eternal fear. My job, your job, is to scatter that seed into the lives of people surrounding us. We do so with our words and especially with our actions. But because we’re “instant gratification” people, we’re like that farmer who gets antsy and gets up each night with a flashlight to see whether it’s up yet. And when it’s not, we get frustrated. We worry about whether the seed was bad, the soil too poor, the moisture too scarce, and want to quit.
A while back a visited a lady who was gardening. She’s in her 70’s and proudly showed me her manicured yard. She was frustrated by the up and down Spring and the lack of growth in her flowers. I garden, too. And I reminded her that the joy is in the doing the work and not just the end result. That was a new concept to her. But, that’s the truth this parable conveys. It says: “Just keep doing, be patient, trust in God to give the increase, and He won’t disappoint.” It says: “Don’t take the weight of the world, or another’s soul on your shoulders.—That’s Christ’s job.” Indeed, when it comes to timetables, God’s is always better than our own. And that lady I mentioned? Well, right now her flowers are blooming profusely and doing just fine! Patience is its own reward and is rewarded in the end…. Yes, gardeners, farmers, pastors and Christian people are all in it for the long haul.
“Again he said, ‘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.”
Elsewhere, Jesus uses that same image of the mustard seed to describe faith. And in so doing, He reminds us that from very small things come very big things—when God is in charge. Couple that fact with the truth that God implants the seed of faith within you via His Word of forgiveness in Christ, and you have a beautiful picture of your life. We may not grow as quickly as we’d like. Others may not exhibit their faith as much as we’d like. But, God always gives the increase! That’s His unshakable promise to us.
The good thing about being a pastor in one parish for many years is that I get to see that increase. I’ve watched many of you go from seed to seedling to tender plant to expansive tree. I’ve watched the Spirit work on you over the years. I’ve seen how you’ve grown in your understanding of Godly truth and appreciation for Christ’s blessings. I’ve seen your bible knowledge increase right alongside your faith. More often than not, that growth sneaks up on you. It’s not sudden. It doesn’t happen in a year or two. Instead, it’s a steady progression. Like garden seedlings, people take a while to put down root and build bulb before they show luxurious growth, flowers, and fruit. But, eventually it comes because “God’s Word will not return to Him empty, but will accomplish His purpose, and prosper!”
All of us want a strong faith. All of us want a strong church and synod. All of us want lives filled with people we touch and, uplift. All of us want to be sowers of the seed and also view the Spirit reaping a harvest of loving souls. And we can—if we remember to have confidence in our export product—God’s forgiveness in Christ’s blood while also having patience in His timetable and not our own. Next time you get frustrated with life and frustrated with people, remind yourself why God put you here—to praise Him while uplifting souls—and then remind yourself of that wonderful truth of the 23rd psalm: “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever!” Amen