“And he said, “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.”
And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!
It is interesting that these verses have come up on our church’s Lectionary now, for this is exactly what we have been doing lately in our Bible studies – learning and reflecting on the Kingdom of God, on what it is and how it grows among us.
Today for our meditations we have two of Jesus’ so called “Kingdom parables”. What do they teach? The first one teaches that the Kingdom of God grows on its own, even without us knowing or being able to notice it. It will keep growing until she reaches full maturity and then … the Harvest Day, the Last Day comes.
The second teaches about the paradoxical nature of the Kingdom of God. It begins as the smallest of all seeds, as mustard seed, but when it grows, it grows much larger than any garden plants, much larger that any human organization.
Today I invite you to meditate on two questions. First, what is this Kingdom of God and how it grows? And then, second, – how correct and trustworthy is the depiction given by Jesus in the parable of mustard seed?
So, what is this Kingdom of God? We have already discussed this numerous times, but it is always good to review important teaching of the Scriptures. When we hear the word “kingdom”, for many it invokes the picture of geographical entity, like a territory ruled by some royalty.
Biblically speaking much better translation would be the “Reign and Rule of God”, because that is what Jesus is talking about. About God the Almighty breaking into our reality, breaking into our history and launching His eternal reign among us.
But how does He do it? How does He reign and rule among us? How does He build and expand His Kingdom? Two millennia ago it happened through His Son Jesus Christ. Something far beyond our comprehension took place in a remote place in Galilee during the heydays of the Roman Empire.
God the Creator became a creature… The eternal Word became flesh! Regardless of how many times I would repeat this, we won’t be able to grasp the magnitude of this event. The Eternal Creator bound Himself to His creation.
He united Himself to His creation. In our Lutheran tradition we emphasise the death and resurrection of Jesus as the fulfillment of His mission. Christians in the Eastern Orthodox tradition pay much more attention to the Incarnation of Jesus and what it means for us.
One of the Trinity became human, and now through Him the humanity has been welcomed into the loving fellowship with God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is one of those divine mysteries, which we can ponder our entire lives.
So, two millennia ago the Triune God broke into our reality through Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God was among us. But it didn’t stop with that, or we could say that it didn’t even started with that.
The way the Triune God has been reigning among us and building His Kingdom is by means of His Word and the Spirit. By the Word and the Spirit. By speaking His life-giving Word which always comes to us in the power of the Holy Spirit.
I am not sure how we could imagine or picture the working of God’s Reign and Rule, but our today’s parable is quite helpful. The Triune God is that man in this parable who tirelessly scatters the seed of the Word of the Gospel.
Similarly as in the famous passage from Isaiah where the Gospel message is compared to the rain and snow that does not return without accomplishing its purpose, the same way the spoken Word of the Lord never returns empty.
Now, be mindful and rejoice in this! When Jesus ascended back to the Father, He left someone else to continue His work of bringing forth His Reign and Rule? Who did He leave in His place? Who did He entrust this magnificent responsibility?
To His Church. To His body. As Jesus Himself was bringing forth the Reign and Rule of God in the power of the Holy Spirit, so He gave the same powerful Spirit to His body, the Christian Church. He has given it to us. To each one of you!
Whenever you speak the message of Jesus, whenever you call people to repentance and proclaim them the Gospel, that we are all reconciled with the Triune God, that all our sins, rebellion and foolishness are forgiven because of what Jesus did, that now God the Father looks at us as His beloved children – whenever you deliver this message, and this message can be phrased in countless different ways, when we do that – the Holy Spirit accompanies our words and He brings God’s Reign and Rule to those who receive our message. And then incredible things happen.
Jesus’ words are the Spirit and life, for the life-creating Spirit always accompanies them. When these words reach the hearts of our listeners, the seed is sawn. And if the listeners don’t reject the gift of the Holy Spirit, that seed begins to grow in them, and continues to grow until the day of the Final Harvest.
Can you see the greatness or our calling as Christians? Jesus has entrusted to us the words of eternal life. When we speak these words in the power of the Holy Spirit, who also dwells in us, shapes us, bring the best out of us, and equips us with His divine wisdom – you can give your fellow humans the gift of eternal life.
If they receive our message, if they are humble enough to listen as the Triune God speaks through us, then from our lips they will receive the priceless treasures of all their sins forgiven, of God’s love and affection and eternal life with Him and with all the countless multitudes of His saints.
This is how the Kingdom grows. Through us. As we speak. As we send forth the Holy Spirit to scatter the seed. This is us. This is our mission. This in our privilege to participate in the reign and rule of our Triune God. Do we see it that way? Do we rejoice as we should? Do we pray and learn and speak? If only…
But truthfully enough, these parables also teach us some other aspects of the Reign and Rule of our God. We are called and sent to scatter the seed. But most of time it is very hard to see what difference our scattering of the Word makes.
Too often it seems that the words that we have spoken bounce back without any impact. Sometimes it may be true. But even when that happens, the Word still accomplishes its purpose. Every time someone rejects God’s humble invitation to return to Him, every such time will serve as their accusation on the Last Day, as testimony to the hardness or their hearts and the grace and mercy of our Lord.
But even when people receive the Word, even then we can’t exactly see much happening. As we can’t see the seed growing into blade, and then ear and then into full grain. It takes time, and our God doesn’t give His glory to others. That is His work, that is His Reign, that is Him who creates and nourished that new life.
This much on what this Kingdom of God is and how it grows. Now a little bit on the second question – how correct and trustworthy is the depiction given by Jesus in the parable of mustard seed? What do I mean by this?
Jesus speaks about this tiny seed which then grows into this great tree. Is this your experience with the Church? Is that how you see the Church growing? Is that how you see this congregation growing? Or the LCA? Or the Church in Australia?
It may appear that Jesus has gotten it wrong. Much of our experience tells us that the Church is shrinking, not growing. It may have resembled bigger tree a while ago, but today it is becoming more and more like a mustard see.
That is how we perceive it through our sense. But this is not how our Triune God sees His Beloved Bride, the Temple of His Spirit, His Spiritual House built of living stones. This is not how Jesus sees you.
On the one hand, sure, the Church as the Kingdom of God is always like that little mustard see. It was true beginning with Jesus own ministry. There was “no form or majesty when people looked at Him”. The same was true of His disciples.
The same has been true of His Beloved Bride, the true Church, the true believers for the most of history. They always appear small and insignificant in the eyes of this world. There is no splendour, not attraction… just a little seed.
How does this make you feel? Isn’t that sad when you see your fellow-saints, and they are just a bunch of ordinary people, most of us not much valued or adored in the eyes of the world. How does it make you feel?
Same may feel sad. Some may feel ashamed, and not interested to be a part of such strange community. Some may want to do whatever it takes to look better in the eyes of the world, to do whatever it takes, so that the world would recognise and appreciate us and would love us. Don’t rush!
Remember Jesus’ words: “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” (Mat 10:22) So, how should we think about the Church, about this strange and despised Kingdom of God? Should we feel ashamed, should we try to please the world, should we leave our gatherings altogether for something more appealing?
Dear Brothers and Sisters, if only we could see the Church as it is just for a moment, just for a brief moment as it was revealed to John, the beloved disciple of Jesus for Him to write it down for our sake.
“Behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb… and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev 7:9-10) And you among them!
Gordon-Conwell Seminary runs the Centre for Global Christianity. They gather data world-wide and they analyse the trends of global Christianity, or we could say – they try to see how the Reign and Rule of God is spreading across the globe.
That is amazing and almost unbelievable! Do you know how many new Christians in average every day are brought into the Kingdom of God, into our Church, to be our brothers and sisters and to rejoice and celebrate with us forever?
Can you even guess? The estimate is … that the Holy Spirit brings in average 50.000 new Christians into Christ church every day! 50.000! Since the beginning of our service at least 1000 new brothers and sisters have been brought into the divine fellowship with the Father and the Son! Just think about that!
That is what the Reign of God looks like. This is what the divine community to which we are privileged to belong truly is like. This great, magnificent tree that grows and grows and grows and becomes infinitely larger that any other garden plant … and there is a place for everyone.
And we… you are a manifestation of this resplendent community! If there is any place in the world to be, this is it. If there is any community worth belonging, this is it. If there are great future promises, that is here, in Christ’s Church.
Where He Himself, our God the Father gather us through His Son Jesus, bringing us together by the power of His Holy Spirit so that He can be with us and bless us. Where the Reign of God breaks into our reality, where the heavens and the earth , where our God Himself provides for us the medicine of resurrection, His holy body and blood, for the forgiveness of all our sins. This is here… for you!
So, this much for today, to ponder on the incredible grace that we have received. May the Holy Spirit fill you with joy and gratitude that Jesus have chosen you, you of all people, to be with Him and with His divine family forever.
Rejoice and be grateful! Amen.