Sermon: Third Sunday after Pentecost

[Due to technical difficulty, no audio is available for this sermon.]

GRACE, MERCY AND PEACE are YOURS this day from GOD our Father through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. AMEN.
The text for our consideration is the Gospel according to St. Mark read just a few moments ago, In the Name of Jesus. AMEN.

The parables of Jesus provide fertile ground for wild speculation and the advancement of personal opinion. It’s easy to think, “Oh, good, Jesus is telling a parable so that we may better comprehend the things of the Kingdom of God.”

But such a view denies the very Scriptures themselves. Prior to the parables of our text, Jesus is asked privately by the twelve Apostles why he teaches in parables, and our Lord answers, “TO YOU has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything is a parable, so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.”

So the parables are to HIDE the truths of the kingdom – so that in the rebellion of their hearts, they will misunderstand and misinterpret. And this is the danger of the parabolic language of Jesus – because the parables actually HIDE the incomprehensible truth of the Kingdom of God from those who do not understand that truth already.
So, I’m always dubious – and cautious – when our texts contain only parables, as our Gospel lesson does today. To properly understand the parable, we need to begin not with the text itself, but with what we already know about the Kingdom of God as taught elsewhere in the Scriptures and then understand how the parable is intended not to teach us the truth, but provide a device to remember and keep straight the truth taught elsewhere.

We see the truth of this at the end of our Gospel text when we read, “He did not speak to them [the crowds – outsiders] without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.”

Therefore, today, we will follow this same pattern – learning and understanding the truths of the Kingdom and then seeing how the given parables help us keep straight the truths that have been taught.

So first, we must investigate the Scriptures so that we know – WHAT IS THE KINGDOM OF GOD Not what is it like – what IS the Kingdom of God? So that we may see how Christ’s parables neatly summarize the truths taught throughout the Scriptures.

First we must see how our sinful nature leads us astray – using our preconceived ideas and notions – so that we misunderstand Christ and His Word.

For us, “Kingdom” is a thing – a place – a geography. To our way of thinking, a Kingdom is measured by it’s real estate. So it’s easy to hear about the “Kingdom of God” and think of the verse, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it,” and begin thinking that this world is God’s Kingdom. And we would be wrong.

St. Paul points this out in our Epistle lesson – He makes a distinction between our earthly home – or what we might call the Kingdom of this world – and being with the Lord – or what we might call being the Kingdom of God.

But to our way of thinking this turns Jesus words, “Behold, the Kingdom of God is upon you,” into gibberish. We believe this means that we should see God’s Kingdom here and now. But Paul tells us we walk by faith, not by sight.

But the issue is not that the Scriptures do not make sense – or that they contradict themselves. The issue is that we are importing our thinking and ideas as to what “KINGDOM” means. To us, “Kingdom” means a place. In Scripture, “Kingdom” means a hierarchy. Being a member of a Kingdom is having a specific person rule or reign over you.

So, a person who is a member of the Kingdom of God is one who recognizes the rule and reign of God – as opposed to those who are of the Kingdom of this world – ruled and reigned over by the devil.
So, when Jesus says, “The Kingdom of God has come,” He’s saying that God’s rule – God’s reign has come so that we may be ruled and reigned over by God and not continue to be ruled and reigned over by the evil foe. It isn’t a matter of geography, it’s a matter of loyalty. Citizens of the Kingdom of God are those loyal to God – or, as St. Paul says, those who “whether we are at home [with the Lord], or away [in our bodies in this world] we make it our aim to please Him,” that is, God, our King.

But we are born in this world outside the Kingdom of God. We are born without fear, love or trust in God. We do not acknowledge the one true God as the one who rules over us – and we cannot do so, because we are born under the rule and governance of another Kingdom. This other Kingdom, ruled by the princes and powers of the air, held under bondage to sin and death, extends throughout all creation.

But, in the words of Ezekiel, God took a sprig, a small cutting from the lofty top of the cedar, and planted it high on a lofty mountain.

God had raised up the great Kingdom of Israel from nothing – from one man, Abraham, of Ur of the Chaldees. God tended that small seedling, nurtured it and it grew into a strong and mighty Kingdom. But it lost its way. God needed to topple that tree, lay the axe to the root, because it had become corrupt and turned away from Him.

The King of Israel led God’s Kingdom away from God, despised God’s covenant, broke the oath that the people had swore that God would be their God and they would be His people. So the people of Israel were taken into Babylon – held under the boot of the ruler of this world.

But they weren’t abandoned there. God returned a small remnant to Israel and placed them in Jerusalem. And from that remnant, God plucked one small sprig, a tiny twig from the topmost branches, raising up Jesus of Nazareth.

This twig, God planted on the mountain height of Jerusalem, There, just outside the city – on a hill – God planted Jesus. And a grain of wheat, or – as a tiny mustard seed is planted in the ground, Christ was placed into the tomb. But as a seed brings forth new life, Christ Jesus sprouted forth from the ground after three days, and rooted in Him – His sacrifice – His death for sins – His resurrection from the dead – the Kingdom of God has become the largest and most expansive kingdom in all the world – touching every corner of the globe – existing on every continent.

And, for just a moment, consider how the existence of the Kingdom of God has impacted the world. The care and compassion of God is shown to belivers and unbelievers alike – just as all kinds of creatures come and use the mustard plant for shade and all kinds of birds make their nests. Hospitals, orphanages, all manner of social activities – caring for the poor and the hungry, the needy and the oppressed. All these like birds and the creatures that find shelter in the great branches of the mustard plant find hope and help through the work of those who are of the Kingdom of God – who now look at the world with God’s love and compassion and mercy – seeking to rescue and help as many as possible be free from effects of sin in the kingdom of this world.

And it all started by what looked to the world as a small, insignificant seed – falling to the ground – dying – and being buried.

Now, having risen from the dead and ascended into heaven, His Kingdom continues to grow as the rule and reign of God is implanted in the hearts of people through the preaching of the Word.

That is what the parable of the man who scatters seed brings into view. Christ has sent His apostles into all the world to preach the Gospel to every creature. And as that word goes out, it is the seed of the Kingdom – entering the ears and implanting itself into the heart of individuals.

This provides great comfort and peace for us as His Church. In modern farming, we take great care to prepare the soil – make sure it is the proper pH balance, the seed is planted at the proper depth, it is the right kind of seed, the right temperature, the right this, that and the other. But God indicates that when it comes to the seed of the Kingdom of God – that is when it comes to spreading the reign of God in the world – these things should not enter our mind.

God’s rule and reign comes into the world through the preaching of His Word – in season, out of season – to many – to few. It’s like a man goes out and throws seed about every which way – and then goes his way – rising in the morning, sleeping at night. And as He does – the seed sprouts and grows – the word takes root and bares fruit. The man doesn’t know how. He doesn’t manipulate it – he doesn’t prepare the soil – or do anything special with the seed.

Likewise, that is the role of the church – to spread the reign of God by speaking and preaching and teaching His Word – to many – to few – in season and out of season – casting His Word of Law and Gospel far and wide so that the Holy Spirit confronts a person with their sin and offers the hope of forgiveness in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
And of itself, that word takes root, in fact, it appears as if the ground itself produces the harvest.

Such is the power of the Word of God to produce a harvest. And it ought to encourage US to speak that word even in the midst of our daily lives. It’s a tiny seed – and we do not know how it grows. So we ought to confidently spread that word in our family – as fathers teach their children the basics of the faith in the 10 commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the basics about baptism the Lord’s Supper and confession and absolution. So too, in our daily lives, as we forgive our enemies and those who persecute us – we point to Jesus and His forgiveness and grace – forgiving us for our sins – so that others see God as merciful and gracious toward all sinners – even us.

And as the parable teaches, as that Word is spread in every direction – as we rise – and as we sleep – God is at work to produce a harvest – it grows all by itself – watered by Baptism – nourished and strengthened as seed is added and the word is heard more and more. It grows and ultimately creates faith in the hearer – to lay hold of the promised salvation worked for us by Christ’s death on the cross.

It is THE WORD and the WORD ALONE that is the power of God to create faith that believes and trusts in the mercy and grace of God to forgive our sins and to bestow upon us the righteousness of Christ.

And it is through His Word – that God brings forth His rule and reign in our hearts and in the hearts of others – calling, gathering and enlightening mankind to live in the rule and reign of God. And motivated by our trust in His mercy and grace, we come to live more and more as St. Paul encourages in our Epistle.

Through the Gospel – and the knowledge of forgiveness and mercy in Christ – God implants within us the longing to see outwardly what He has made true for us by calling us to faith and making us heirs and members of His Kingdom.

Trusting in Christ’s salvation, we walk by faith through this world with good courage – desiring to be at home with the Lord, but making our aim here and now to please Him and live according to His good will.

This is how to understand the Kingdom of God – how God has established it in Christ Jesus death and resurrection – how He has sent forth His Word so that His Kingdom grows and spreads.

And this is concisely summarized by the three parables of our Old Testament and Gospel lessons.

God has plucked the sprig from the tree of Jessee – the offspring of the Mighty David – and He planted that seedling in the ground in Jerusalem. From His tomb He came forth and scattered the seed of His Word into the world – causing His apostles and the church after them to spread His Word scattering the seed of faith into the ears and hearts of men all over the world – in season and out.

And in this way, the reign of God is like a tiny mustard seed – for from the Word spoken to Abraham that in Him, all the nations of the earth would be blessed, God has established His rule and reign in this world, even as we await the world to come – so that all manner of people are blessed and preserved in this life so that they may hear the Word of repentance and forgiveness of sins for the sake of Christ Jesus – and they, too may be brought into God’s Kingdom to live and reign to all eternity with Christ Jesus our Lord.

In the Name of Jesus. AMEN.

AND – May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and keep your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. AMEN.

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