Tuesday, June 19, 2018

An Insignificant Seed. . .

Sermon for Pentecost 4, Proper 6B, preached on Sunday, June 17, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.

               Seemingly small and insignificant things can become very significant.  For example, planting one small apple seed can in time produce a tree that will supply people with fruit for many years to come.  This is how it is with God’s kingdom.  The kingdom of God, the only kingdom that spans all space and time, grows from what we might consider small and insignificant things: the seed of Christ; the seed of His very Word and Sacraments.
               Scripture is ripe with imagery that compares God and His Word to seeds and growth.  Is 55 (:10-11) says, “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 will not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”  In the first parable of Jesus that Mark records, the famous Parable of the Sower, where the farmer throws seeds on all types of ground, Jesus explained that the seed is God’s Word.
               Seeds seem to be insignificant to us, at least they do to me.  I understand they’re important, that we need them to grow food and flowers, but I don’t really think much about them, and I would venture to guess that most of us don’t.  Visually speaking, seeds aren’t impressive.  They’re small.  Seeds are cheap.  You can buy a pack of seeds from Walmart for a few bucks.  Seeds don’t excite us, they’re just there; a normal, common, underwhelming thing.  You could say we have a blasé attitude towards seeds.  Unfortunately, we often have this same blasé attitude toward God’s seeds. 
               We don’t think much about God’s Word.  We’re unimpressed by His Sacraments.  For us, these seeds seem insignificant.  What’s baptism but a little bit of water poured on a person’s head?  What’s the Lord’s Supper but a tiny bit of bread and a sip of wine?  What’s God’s Word but an old book written thousands and thousands of years ago in a culture that’s no longer relevant?  This is the attitude we often have toward God’s Word and Sacraments.  They’re just normal, common, underwhelming things.  They don’t excite us.  We don’t look forward to them.  We see them and say “Meh.”  But these means of grace aren’t normal.  They’re not common, and they’re most certainly not underwhelming.  These means of grace are miracles.  They’re how the Lord comes to you, how He gives you His very uncommon grace.  Through these seeds He makes His kingdom grow as He brings you into His kingdom, sheltered by the Tree of Life, sheltered by Christ’s cross. 
               In Jesus’ parables today, He uses the imagery of seed and growth to explain what God does in His kingdom.  In the Parable of the Seed Growing, Jesus tells the story of a man who scatters seeds on the ground and then lets them be.  Having planted, the man goes about his daily routine, sleeping and waking.  He doesn’t do anything else to the seed.  All on its own it begins to grow.  First the blade, then the ear, and then finally full grain, ripe and ready for harvest.  Jesus speaks this parable to illustrate how it is in God’s kingdom. 
               The kingdom of God grows in the very same way, without our help.  God increases His kingdom when He converts them, when in faith they turn to Christ, trusting in His death and resurrection for their life and salvation.  This faith isn’t the product of anything we do.  It’s a product of God alone, a product of His seeds, His very Word that proclaims the Good News of Christ.
               God’s Word is a powerful Word.  It’s a significant life-giving Word.  In the beginning God created all things by speaking His word.  God gives life, He gives everlasting life, to all those in His kingdom through the Word Incarnate, through His Son, Jesus Christ.
None of us have life in and of ourselves.  None of us decide for ourselves to be born.  We’re given life by God through our parents.  And even then, we’re still not alive, because we’re dead in our trespasses and sins. This is the truth of God’s Word.  Throughout Scripture, God is clear, there’s no life in sin.  When our first parents sinned, the plunged themselves and all of God’s creation into death.  From that point on, all of us were conceived in sin.  All of us were born into death.  And yet, God overcomes this death with life through His Son and the Tree of Life, the cross of Christ. 
For many, the cross has become insignificant.  We see crosses everywhere, and we think of it as a neutral symbol.  The cross is simply a shape that looks nice on necklaces and T-shirts and bumper stickers.  But the cross of Christ isn’t an insignificant shape.  The cross is the very place where Jesus redeemed the world.  On the cross, Christ saved the world from sin.  He died the death of sin so God could bring sinners to life in His kingdom.  Jesus made the cross, what was meant to be a tree of death, into the Tree of Life.  And this Tree shelters all people, including you and me.
               Jesus’ second parable today is about the shelter of God’s kingdom.  Christ says, “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 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” (Mk 4:30-32).  The mustard seed is the smallest seed.  Looking at it, you’d say it was insignificant...and yet...through it a significant tree grows, sheltering birds from the hot and harsh sun.  That’s how it is in God’s kingdom.  The branches of the Tree of Life shelter God’s faithful people from the hot and harsh condemnation of sin and death.  The cross of Christ saves them, and it saves each and every one of you. 
               You’re brought under the shelter of Christ’s cross.  You’re brought into the kingdom of God through the seemingly insignificant seeds of God’s Word and Sacraments.  By that little bit of water poured over your head, water that’s combined with God’s life giving Word, you received God’s uncommon grace, a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit.  This new birth isn’t a birth into death, but birth into the life of Christ.  By the seed of God’s Word, your faith in Christ grows as you hear His Gospel, as you hear His Absolution, as you hear everything your Lord has done for you and your salvation.  And through the seed of His Supper, the eating and drinking of Jesus’ very body and blood, your faith is nourished and strengthened to trust in Him for salvation, strengthened to receive His grace and forgiveness, strengthened to serve Him and others with love.
               The kingdom of God grows from the seed of Christ our Lord.  What appears to be an insignificant cross is actually the Tree of Life that shelters all from the judgement of sin and death.  Through the cross of Christ you are saved.  You’re brought into the shelter of His kingdom in seemingly insignificant ways, through His Word and HIs Sacraments.  From this seed, you receive the very significant fruit of everlasting life.  In Jesus’ name...Amen.

No comments: