A Top Down Faith: From the Tiniest Seed Grows the Largest Kingdom

Sunday, June 16, 2024

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First Reading: Ezekiel 17:22-24 (NIV)
Second Reading: Colossians 1:3-8 (NIV)
Gospel: Mark 4:26-34 (NIV)


  • Hymn: CW 644 “Almighty God, Your Word is Cast”
  • Psalm: 1B “How Truly Blest Are They”
  • Hymn: CW 859 “Your Kingdom, O God, Is My Glorious Treasure”
  • Hymn: CW 925 “On What Has Now Been Sown”

Pentecost 4        June 16, 2024
Mark 4:26-34      Pastor Wolfe

See gospel growth through God’s eyes
1) We see the planting; he sees the harvest
2) We see the seeds; he sees the full-grown plant

This coming week some of our teachers, one of our councilmen, and I will spend two days in New Ulm for this year’s Minnesota District Convention. The convention meets every two years to talk about the work that we are doing as a national church body in the WELS and to celebrate what God is doing for us and through us. Some years there are big things to talk about. Budget stuff or decisions on schools or a president retiring. Other years, like this one, things are going pretty well and we get all kinds of good news. New missions starting around the country. New churches in Vietnam, Central Africa, and East Asia.

But over the past two decades there has been one concerning trend. While Salem’s actually done pretty well maintaining our ministry, our church body as a whole is shrinking. From a high of about 450,000 in the 90s to about 335,000 today many of our churches aren’t growing. Now, that isn’t unique to us – I think every Christian church in America is shrinking. And sure, we’re losing members more slowly than most other church bodies. But it’s still not good news. We see teens and college-aged members leaving the church. We don’t see families anchored around Sunday mornings. In many churches in America there are more funerals than confirmations. It can be disheartening.

But what a perfect time for us to consider these two parables from Jesus in Mark 4. Jesus was teaching his disciples about the Kingdom of God. How differently it works from our expectations. How much greater it is than we perceive it to be. This morning God reminds us to See Gospel growth through his eyes instead of our own. And each parable has its own separate point. The first talks about our seeing and sharing of the gospel – it’s greater and more important than we recognize. The second talks about the Church itself – it’s stronger and greater than we can even imagine.

First, a little context. Jesus had been preaching here to a large group of people. So large in fact that he had to have them sit on the shore and then he went out into the lake a little bit on a boat so everyone could hear him. As the last two verses explain, Jesus regularly used these simple, earthly stories to teach deep, spiritual truths. And while the crowds may not always have understood, he explained everything carefully to his disciples.

These two parables aren’t difficult to understand, but we should maybe remember why Jesus had to teach them in the first place. Many in the crowds gathered to see Jesus were expecting him to bring back the kingdom of God. And he was, but not in the way they thought. They thought Jesus was going to restore the glorious and powerful earthly kingdom that David and Solomon had ruled over. They wanted Jesus to rise up against the Romans and kick them out so that they might be free as a nation once again.

But Jesus had to remind them that the kingdom of God is not a matter of armies and borders. That phrase is repeated over and over in Mark’s Gospel, and it almost always refers to what we might call the kingdom of faith – the fact that all who believe in Jesus are part of his kingdom already. He rules in our hearts and we are citizens of heaven even now. Luke 17:20 records Jesus telling the Pharisees, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

In the first parable here, Jesus says, ““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. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

When a farmer plants seed in his fields or when you plant seed in your garden, you’re in control of only the planting process. Yes, you can check the soil’s PH levels and give it proper water and shade, but you don’t make the plants grow. Yes, we can understand the science of seeds, but we can’t pretend that we cause them to grow. That happens all on its own. The same is true of the kingdom of God. We can spread the seed of God’s Word. We can come to church and hear it ourselves, read it at home with our families. But the growth of that seed is just as much a mystery to us as the growth of soybeans and sweet corn.

Consider what God’s powerful word has done in your life. By nature we are dead in sin, with hearts of stone set against every will and command of God. But then at some point God came into your life and planted the seed of his Word in you. And through that seed of the Word God broke through that stone to create in you a flourishing plant of faith and life. Freely, by God’s grace he made us something new. Peter described it with the picture of a seed in his first epistle: “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.”

Just like the bean and corn and flower seeds we put into the ground, the Word of God doesn’t look like much. It doesn’t seem like much of a prize or treasure. God’s Word looks like any book. It’s on any number of apps on your phone. But this seed changes people for eternity. We see its planting. We share the message with our friends and neighbors. We teach it to our children. We hear it every week in worship. But we only take it for granted because we don’t see the harvest that comes from it. Remember verse 29? God knows the harvest that the Word of God will produce.

So brothers and sisters, don’t give up on God’s Word. For yourself and for others. If worship and Bible study don’t mean that much to you, renew your effort. I know everyone loves camping, and summer is a time for travel. But what could be more important than God’s renewing grace through his Word. If you have to be gone on Sunday morning, then come to worship on Saturday night. Or take your Bible with you and share it with your family there. But don’t forget to spend time in the one thing that matters eternally.

And don’t stop sharing that Word. Because just as we only see the planting of the seed and not the harvest, we also only see a part of the plant that it produces. God sees the whole thing. Listen to the second parable here. “Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”

A mustard seed is about the size of the period at the end of the sentences in your bulletin. Tiny. Seemingly nothing. And one would think that such a tiny seed would produce a tiny plant. But that’s not the case at all. The mustard plant Jesus refers to here is not like the mustard plants we have in our country. This variety of mustard plant in Israel grows to heights of 10 to 15 feet. Large enough indeed for birds to perch in them to find shade from the hot sun.

At times the Christian Church might not look like much, to say nothing of our little Wisconsin Synod or our congregation here at Salem. We’re not the biggest church in town. We don’t wield power and influence over our city or government. We’re small, but we’re part of something much greater than we know. You see, God’s Church (what we confess as the Holy Christian Church – believers in Jesus from whatever denomination they might be found) that Church is always growing. It grows whenever we hear God’s Word ourselves. It grows when we share God’s Word with others. It’s not a growth that necessarily has anything to do with numbers, because it’s growth in spirit and in faith.

So take heart in God’s perspective. What we see as small is greater than we can possibly imagine. What we see as weak is stronger than any enemy. Jesus tells us the Church is so strong that even the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. And I hope you recognize your role in that Church is greater than you know too. God has given this powerful Word to you. He’s put a mission field right in your own home and in your own neighborhood. He made you a part of the life of someone who doesn’t know Christ. Some opportunities to share this gospel will be in your personal life. And some will be here in church through things like Vacation Bible School. I pray you take advantage of both!

So it’s time to get to planting. First let the seed be planted in you at church and at home. Read and study this powerful Word of God. And then sow the seed with whomever God puts in your path. Invite your friends to church. Share with them the hope that you enjoy. Bring them the peace that God has given you in faith. You don’t have to make that faith grow. You don’t have to convince them or answer their questions. Just plant the seed and know that God will bring forth the harvest. And how blessed we will be on that day. To his glory alone. Amen.

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