Pentecost 4b

Preached: June 28, 2009

The Gospel Works Like a Seed
Mark 4:26-34

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit nourishes our faith in Jesus is Mark 4

And [Jesus] was saying, “The kingdom of God is in such a way as a man casts the seed on the ground. He sleeps and gets up night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows without him knowing how. Spontaneously the ground produces a crop, first a blade, then a head, then a full head of grain. When the crop allows, he immediately sends out the sickle, because the harvest is ready.”

And he was saying, “How shall we compare the kingdom of God or with what parable shall we explain it? Like a mustard seed, which when its sown into the ground although it's smaller than all the seeds in the ground even when it's sown, it grows and becomes larger than all the garden plants and produces large leaves, so that the birds of the sky are able to dwell under its shade.”

With many kinds of parables he was speaking to them the message as they were able to hear. He was not speaking to them without a parable, but privately he unraveled all thing for his own disciples. (Mark 4:26-34)

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our crucified and risen Savior:

Does the Gospel work? In 1990, 86% of Americans said they were Christians. In 2008 only 76% said they were (http://b27.cc.trincoll.edu/weblogs/AmericanReligionSurvey-ARIS/reports/p1a_belong.html). Is the Gospel not working? Or consider how the communicant membership of WELS churches has dropped from over 315,000 in 1998 to under 309,000 a decade later. Is the Gospel not working? Or consider how we recently had a sermon on the blessings of hearing the gospel in church and the following week was the second lowest attendance of the year. Doesn't the Gospel work? Maybe there's been times in your life that the Gospel has brought you special comfort. You felt it work. But how often don't you hear the Gospel at church and leave feeling about the same as when you came? Doesn't the Gospel work? How often don't we tell someone about Jesus, but they just keep going their own way? Or we see our family members or friends falling away. Does the Gospel really work?

Yes, dear friends, the Gospel does work. But it works like a seed as Jesus shows in these two parables. Like a seed it works in ways we do not understand, so trust it. Like a seed it works producing great results, so use it. Trust it and use it, for, dear friends, the Gospel does work.

A. It works in ways we do not understand, so trust it.

1. How is the Gospel like as seed?

“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” (Mark 4:26, 27 NIV). Imagine how the gospel is like a seed. How much life can you see by looking at a seed? It looks dead. It doesn't move, doesn't breathe. It just lies their. But you put a dead-looking seed into dead ground and somehow you get life. That's what happens. I can't explain how. It just happens. First the blade, then the stalk and head. And soon the harvest is ready.

So also the Gospel. It looks like old stories and dead words, not nearly as lively and exciting as a basketball game, NASCAR race, or blockbuster movie. It seems so inert, not nearly as productive as getting that field cultivated or finishing that project at home or work or school. It seems so dull compared to the recreation and fun earthly life offers.

But only the Gospel brings life, real life, life that lasts. “Heaven and earth” - that's all that this earthly life offers - “Heaven and earth will pass away,” Jesus says, “but my words will never pass away” (Matthew 24:35 NIV). “The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and they are life” (John 6:63 NIV-footnote). And the writer to the Hebrews assures us: “The word of God is living and active” (Hebrews 4:12 NIV). Like a seed, the Gospel has life in it.

2. What has the Gospel done for you?

Look at what the Gospel has done in you, dear friend. Like a seed it was cast into your dead heart. Like lifeless soil our hearts had no power to produce life. How much will grow from soil that has no seed in it? So also our hearts without the Gospel have no real life. We had physical life, emotional life, intellectual life, psychological life but no spiritual life. We so easily forget what life without the Gospel is like. Outwardly a Gospel-less life can appear great. That's the veneer the world tauts to get us to buy into life without the Gospel. But what uncertainty, doubt, fear, guilt, shame, death, and hell lie underneath. That's the dead soil our hearts once were.

But what happened when the Gospel, like a seed, fell on the dead soil of your heart? The Gospel had the power to bring you life, real life. And that's what happened, dear friends. I can't explain how. But that's what happened. Spiritual life began to grow in you when the Gospel was planted in your heart through Baptism and through hearing God's word. Life began to grow, for the Holy Spirit is powerfully at work in the Gospel. But here again, we cannot explain how. For the Holy Spirit is like the wind. “The wind blows where it please. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8 NIV), Jesus told Nicodemus and us.

Somehow through the Gospel in word and sacraments the Holy Spirit makes life grow in you. He makes it grow according to his plan and order first the stalk then the head then the full grain in the head. And by the power of the Gospel that life will continue to grow in you until the harvest, when Jesus sends out the sickle and brings his believers into his heavenly barn.

3. Describe what it means to trust the Gospel.

So trust the Gospel. “It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16 NIV). Trust that the Gospel brings life. It does work. Trust the Gospel, just as a farmer trusts that those seed he plants will grow even though he can't explain how it happens.

Trust the Gospel. Look to it alone for your life and salvation. Don't go running after those other things that look so much livelier than the Gospel. No matter how many of those stones and pebbles you plant in your heart, they won't grow. There is no real life in them. They just get in the way. For the Gospel alone brings you life and salvation. Trust it.

Trust the Gospel to produce in you the fruit of Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Trust the Gospel to produce in you the fruits of faith, the good works that God has prepared for you to do. That's the harvest he is looking for. And if you are still here on earth, he still has purpose for you here, work for you. The harvest isn't ready yet. Rely on the Gospel as your strength and courage to do what is right and good. Trust it.

And trust the Gospel as the harvest nears and death approaches. Live each day in view of the final harvest, so that you, dear freind, do not neglect the Gospel. Death can strike at any moment. Only the Gospel of Jesus brings life in the face of death. For it points you to his victory. He has taken away your sin and conquered death for you. The Gospel promises the heavenly barn for all who believe in Jesus, so that rather than fearing the harvest sickle we look forward in hope and anticipation to our heavenly harvest-home.

Trust the Gospel though it looks so tiny and insignificant. For like a mustard seed it produces great results. That brings us to the second parable, which helps us see all the more that the Gospel works like a seed.

B. It works producing great results, so use it

1. In what sense is the Gospel small?

“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” (Mark 4:31, 32 NIV).

Think of the Gospel's small beginning. A mother, a manger, some local shepherds a lowly baby born in the lowly town of Bethlehem. He grew up in Nazareth, the backwaters on the edge of the Roman Empire. His entire, short three years of ministry never took him farther than about seventy miles from his home town. Although his miracles did make a splash among the locals, once they began to comprehend what he was teaching, many left him. It all came to a tragic end arrested, convicted, and crucified in less than a day. What shame!

But that bruised and crucified seed who was laid in the tomb sprung to life. He rose from the dead. He rose in victory, the conquering King. In him is life. And through his Gospel, his Good News, he brings you life. Like the tiny mustard seed that produces a mighty plant, so also the Gospel of Jesus produces his mighty kingdom of his grace.

2. How do we use the Gospel?

So use the Gospel, it will produce great results, like that mustard seed. Don't be fooled by its lowly appearance and small size and so neglect it on the shelf. Use the Gospel. Seeds don't grow left in the bag. The Gospel won't grow left between the covers of your Bible. Keep on planting it in your heart.

Use the Gospel. That's the action that flows from trusting the power of the Gospel as we talked about in the first part. We can claim to trust the Gospel and talk a lot about how powerful the Gospel is. But if we aren't using it, then we aren't trusting it either. Think about the story of the tightrope walker across Niagara Falls. He amazed the crowds, riding a bike across, carrying a chair across, even juggling bowling balls as he crossed. He asked the crowd if they thought he could carry man across. All cheered, Yes. Then he asked for a volunteer, and all fell silent. They said they trusted him, but didn't put it into practice. So also, all of us here say that we trust the power of the Gospel. But do we put it into practice by using it?

Use the Gospel. Gladly hear it and regularly think about it. Read it and ponder it. Take it to heart. That's using the Gospel. Let it flow through your prayers. Let it control your words and actions. Let it rule over your thoughts, emotions, and attitudes. Use the Gospel.

When the happiness and pleasures of life lift your spirits, use the Gospel to focus your eyes on the greater joys your King has won for you. When the troubles of life knock you down, use the Gospel to glimpse the inheritance that far outweighs all earthly problems. When joys comes bursting from your heart, use the Gospel to direct that joy toward the One who is our eternal Joy. When you struggle not knowing what to pray, use the Gospel to call out to your Lord who has redeemed you. When loneliness and frustration plague you, use the Gospel to meet with your dear Friend who gave his life for you and took it up again to be with you always. When guilt or despair darken your heart, use the Gospel through which your Savior shines, saying to you: “I have paid for your sins. You are forgiven.”

Find true peace in the Gospel, just as those birds found peace, security, and comfort under the shade of the mustard plant. And use the Gospel to invite others to share that same peace with you under the shadow of Jesus' cross. For there is no great blessing, no greater result, than the peace that only the Gospel brings. Yes, the Gospel works. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313

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