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The Seed Thing

June 17, 2018
By Pastor Peter Heckert

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The Seed Thing
Mark 4:26-34

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation is from our Gospel lesson, specifically where Mark records Jesus’s parable, The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

A farmer goes out and scatters some seed. He goes to bed that night, knowing he’s done what he was called to do. He rises and he sleeps, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. Sure, he waters it. He probably spent some time preparing the ground beforehand in order to receive the seed. He makes sure there’s no fungi or parasites that may harm the seed, he adds fertilizer, BUT HE DOES NOT MAKE IT GROW. The earth does that, of itself. That seed does its thing, and eventually it grows into a healthy plant (hopefully).

That’s the gist of the first parable Jesus tells in our text today. The second one, while not identical, is similar in purpose. That mustard plant has humble beginnings, starting as the smallest of seeds, and the speed of its growth is unimpressive – it’s very slow, even causing one to question whether it is growing at all anyway. If a first-time farmer is intentionally planting mustard, he’s likely sitting on pins and needles, waiting and waiting for that plant to grow. However, while he may not perceive it, that seed is growing, and once it reaches maturity, that former speck of a mustard seed has become one of the largest plants in the entire garden – large enough, strong enough, substantial enough for birds of all stripes to rest and nest in its shade. There’s no way the famer could have known this, but it happened – whether he knew it, understood it, was able to see it, or was able to do anything about it, the seed was doing its seed thing.

Seeds have that tendency. They do what they do. You may not see what’s happening. You may not think anything is happening. You may think the seed is a dud, empty and dead, and that it’s not going to amount to anything. But frankly, the seed doesn’t care what you think about its growth, or how you perceive what’s happening. That seed is going to do its seed thing. So it is with the kingdom of God … or, at least, that’s what Jesus seems to think.

But we don’t seem to understand that. I think I can speak for myself and every other person here when I say that I like to think that I’m in complete control. Nature, however, puts that hubris in check; in much the same way that we cannot will a seed into growing, or force the sun to shine, or the rain to fall, we cannot force any growth in the kingdom of God. And that really bugs us.

It’s hard to blame those who feel this way when there’s all this negativity floating around in whispers and outbursts – how church attendance is down, how our cash flow isn’t where it needs to be, how we need more volunteers for committees and  teaching Sunday school and helping with the youth. True as those statements may be, and while we should step up and do whatever is in our power to help, are we really so arrogant as to think that our actions are needed to help God with His work? Does the Creator of the universe need our help? No, my friends, He doesn’t. He invites us to participate in what He is doing, but He doesn’t need our help. God is doing His God-thing, and He is doing it the same way that He has for the past few millennia: bringing sinners to repentance and forgiveness through the faithful use of His Word and Sacrament. It may not be new or innovative. It may not be the latest program sure to increase church attendance. It’s not a sure-fire way to make our kids want to come to church or go to Sunday school. But it is the Word of God, and it comes with a promise, courtesy of the prophet Isaiah, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My Word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

That’s right. Even if you don’t see it, even if you don’t understand it, even when it seems like nothing is happening and you’re just banging your head against the wall, God is doing His thing, of Himself, working through the means that He has established. He is, often in spite of us, growing His kingdom. He is faithful, even if we are not. Paul sums it up nicely in his first letter to the Corinthians when he wrote, I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. We don’t see all ends; God does, and we trust that, as He has promised, His Word will never return to Him void.

I learned this lesson the hard way a few years ago. I met a young man while I was working food service at Aspirus Wausau Hospital. For the sake of anonymity, let’s call him “John.” John was three years younger than I – still in high school, in fact, when I first met him. I saw a lot of myself in him, so naturally we became fast friends, but what really helped our friendship grow was his interest in Christianity.

See, he’d never grown up in a church of any kind, and he was very interested in what we Christians believe. Over the next few years while I worked there, I’d give him rides home, and on the way, we would have these deep theological conversations, especially revolving around the topic of creation. He was fascinated, and sometimes when we would actually get to his home, we’d just sit in the car and talk about God and who Jesus is. I even bought him a Bible for Christmas one year, which he received most gratefully. It eventually got to the point where I invited him to go to church with me and my family, and wonder of wonders, he took me up on the offer. Multiple times. I walked him through the liturgy, he started to speak the Lord’s Prayer with us, he listened to the sermons, and I may be misremembering, but I think he may have gone up with my family to communion to receive a blessing from my pastor.

Then the time came that I had to leave that job at Aspirus in order to go to Seminary. Before I left, I invited John out to Mickey’s Billiards in Schofield for a last round of pool – because that’s what you do in small-town Wisconsin when you aren’t old enough to drink: play pool or go bowling. The first few games were pleasant enough, but somehow the conversation turned to the Church’s position on homosexuality. I told him as gently and lovingly as I could that, while we believe all people are loved by God, homosexual behavior is nevertheless sinful in the sight of God, as is any sexual behavior outside the confines of marriage between one man and one woman for life. The conversation quickly unraveled, with him asking how I had the temerity to say that gay people, or anyone, for that matter, who doesn’t believe in Jesus as the Messiah, could be damned eternally to hell by a loving God. I was thrown for a loop; I felt quite unprepared to answer him, but in retrospect, I doubt any words of mine could have quelled his anger. We parted, and I felt wretched. I felt that all my work of witnessing to John, all the times we had prayed, all the conversations we’d had, was all for naught. I felt that I had let John, not to mention God, down. I felt like a failure, and even questioned whether or not I was qualified to become a pastor, if I couldn’t even get this one friend to be saved.

Spoiler alert: I did still go to Seminary in St. Louis, but I was still beating myself up over my inability to convert one of my friends. During new student orientation, though, I had the opportunity to speak with one of my future professors, Dr. Leopoldo Sanchez, about this situation and the guilt that I was feeling. His answer was exactly what I needed to hear. He said something to the effect of, “The Holy Spirit moves when and where He wills. We cannot, in our limited, broken, sinful nature, knowledge, and sight, see all ends, nor is it our responsibility to ‘make’ that person believe. We do what we can, but only God causes the growth. Who knows? The seed you’ve sown today, though you may not see any growth, may grow stronger than you ever imagined in the future. Soli Deo Gloria.”

We don’t need to find the silver bullet (as if one existed). We don’t need to innovate our “worship experience,” never mind that that attitude misplaces us at the center of worship instead of God. We don’t need to get the people pumped up to the same emotional high they can get at a ball game. All we are called to do is to simply do our Christian thing – we listen, we witness, we pray, we labor, we raise, we teach, we preach, all in the Name of Christ, and Him crucified. We remember that, for His sake, we are forgiven all our sins, that eternal salvation is ours, that we are to be faithful in the spread of this outstanding Gospel. We don’t need to see what the seed is doing; we simply watch, in awe and wonder, as the seed, the Word of God, does His thing.

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.