Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ,
God’s people, sisters and brothers of Christ, you and I, live in two places at once – in the world as it comes to us day by day and also in the kingdom of God, which Jesus brought to the world when he was born in Bethlehem. God rules both kingdoms, of course, but the kingdom of heaven especially belongs to Jesus, because it expresses his nature.
Earthly kingdoms are pale imitations of God’s heavenly kingdom. There are lots of earthly kingdoms. They raise kings and leaders up and bring them down. They create rulers and subjects, masters and folks who do as they’re told. I have an old video that gives an example of an earthly kingdom in action. It tells the story of Alexander the Great who lived three centuries before Christ. His ambitions ruled him. He fought with most everyone, including his own father and waged many bloody wars. He had more earthly power than anyone else of his time, he left deep footprints on the history of the world. He believed that he was a god. He died when he was very young.
The true God is very different from Alexander. Everything is subject to him, even the strongest of emperors. He doesn’t rule by force or bloodshed or powerful armies. He is a God of love, who pardons and heals and makes alive. His kingdom is filled with mercy, pardon, faith, and hope. All believers, as we said, live in his kingdom by faith, when we abide in his promises to care for us now, to pardon our offenses, and to bring us into blessedness when Jesus returns in glory. Even now, our Lord does not call us subjects but his friends, his brothers and his sisters. He considers us kings and queens of heaven already. When he returns and reveals his kingdom in its fullness for all to see, there will be no subjects, only kings and queens, and all who have lived by faith in him in the mixed and troubled world will wear glorious crowns.
The church, which is the visible part of God’s kingdom, puts Jesus’ promises before us to encourage us and to give us meaning, hope, and the strength to keep on going. God’s kingdom is hidden from sight right now, but one day it will be revealed. Jesus promises that everything that’s secret will come to light and his kingdom will shine out with everlasting glory. He gives us the faith to stay in his kingdom now, even after worship is over and we resume our lives in the kingdom of earth.
This review of familiar ideas helps us understand the fourth chapter of Mark’s gospel. It begins with a parable. A sower casts seed in a field. Some falls beside the road, other seeds fall on rocky ground, and still others fall among thorns. A goodly number of seeds fall on good soil, however, and these seeds yield a crop that is 30 or 60 or 100 times the amount that was sown. The sower is God and the seed is his Word. The different kinds of seed stand for the various ways people respond to his Word. Some produce no crop because Satan takes away the Word immediately. Some accept the Word joyfully for a time, but affliction and persecution cause them to fall away. Others succumb to worry and to the deceitfulness of wealth; they come to desire other things, and they are no longer fruitful. Then there are those who accept God’s Word, stay with it, and produce an abundance of fruit for the kingdom.
We’ll focus on the last group this morning, for it’s the one to which St. Peter’s people belong. God’s word works on us so that we will do good works for kingdom throughout our lives. God’s word in our hearts spreads to other hearts. We repent of our sins; we take hold of Christ in joy; we live by faith. The fruits of the Spirit that St. Paul described are present in our lives – joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
The second parable about the Kingdom of God, which starts this morning’s text looks at a man scattering seed from a different angle. It expresses Jesus’ confidence in his Word, which grows automatically, all by itself. The kingdom doesn’t run by human huffing and puffing but by the Lord’s patient, loving, ceaseless care. There is power in the Gospel, and efforts to adapt it or change it get in the way. What’s more, we don’t take a lot of time trying to figure out how it works or why or when. We believe in it and receive its benefits.
An old Lutheran put it this way: “the spiritual fruits of God’s kingdom are present whenever a person receives power and wisdom from God and says in humility, ‘I stand in faith and know how precious my faith is’ or whenever a man or woman discovers in humility that this faith he or she has received has become a force to defeat sin, wrath, and ungodly passion and who can cast off whatever displeases God and put on what delights Him. The gospel is at work whenever a woman or a man overcomes by the faith that he or she has received the cares and lusts of this world and carries an inner peace that the world can’t give or take away. The kingdom is present wherever a Christian grows in love and humility of heart through the faith that he or she has received from Jesus.”
The Lord of the harvest lets none of the crop spoil. He turns it into seed instead for new planting; he will make more new fruit grow until the last harvest when Christ returns in glory, at which time all the hidden growth of God’s kingdom that we can’t see with our eyes will become visible and all our moments of pain and all our striving to rise will resolve themselves into blessed praise of our Lord and his Heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit who have been active without stopping.
Jesus didn’t look to man-made things to describe the growth of his kingdom, but to nature. I suspect that many of St. Peter’s people love the outdoors and growing things and the beauty and ruggedness of the Canadian landscape and will feel comfortable with our Lord’s choice. You might have been willing to answer the question he asked the people who heard him in Galilee: what shall we say the kingdom is like? Maybe we’d compare it with a flock of migrating birds that knows exactly where it’s going or with a vegetable garden that provides for a family’s needs and never lets them down. Jesus compared the kingdom with a mustard seed that is smaller than other seeds but becomes the greatest plant in the garden. The mustard seed is Jesus himself. We think of the baby born in Bethlehem, the small following Jesus gathered when he began his ministry, his death on the Cross, and then the rapid spread of the faith after he died. The beginnings were nothing very great in worldly terms. He didn’t lead an army to big victories. It’s a miracle that one man, trained as a carpenter, without highly placed contacts, could start a movement that would spread throughout the world and whose glory will shine forever. The Lord spoke through Ezekiel, saying that he would plant a cedar that would produce branches and bear fruit and become splendid. Birds of every kind would nest in its branches. The cedar is Christ and the branches are believers all over the world, like the ones at St. Peter’s, in whom others may find rest and shade, courage, hope, and joy, and the faith to endure.
It’s common for folks nowadays to express concern about the state of the church. We won’t do so this morning. The parables in Mark 4 give us courage and invite us to rejoice in the kingdom God has created. Its power comes from Him. The church is a living community. The power and the life that God has given it will last forever. The kingdom will continue growing until the end of time. It’s not confined to one group but is spread over the whole world. Numbers are important, but they are not the main thing. Neither is outward organization. Christ rule of grace is spiritual, and no one can see the Spirit. Still, we can see the Spirit’s effects in many ways, such as the sturdiness of our own worshiping community.
To sum up, then, God has made us good soil that produces kingdom fruit for his glory and the benefit of our neighbors. We are strong branches on the everlasting tree that God has planted. He blesses us with the hope that we will continue strong and fruitful. We give God thanks and praise that he keeps us in his kingdom. In Jesus’ Name. AMEN.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of Christ Jesus. AMEN