Proper 6

Listen To How God’s Kingdom Grows


Blessings and curses. All around you are blessings and curses. If you do take the right action, you will be rewarded. If you do what is wrong, you will be punished. You are a child in school, and all you have to do is look at the wall. And there in so many classrooms are the rules. Do these rules, and you will be rewarded. Don’t do them, you will be punished. You walk into a hospital and the same is true. There on the wall is a list of actions you can take and actions you can’t take. Have you ever stopped and asked yourself, why? Why are there blessings and curses all around us? They are there to emphasize an important point. These words this morning begin with blessings and curses: 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen.” 24 And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear. By the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and more will be added to you. 25 For whoever has, more will be given to him, and whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.”” (Mark 4:23–25 CSB17)


Jesus starts our saying, “if anyone has ears.” That’s his way of speaking about faith. Unbelievers do not understand the heart and soul of what the bible is about. But you do. God has given to you the gift of faith to understand what is in the bible. So listen! And he attaches a blessing and a curse to make sure you realize how important this is. If you listen, you will be given more wisdom. If you do not, the wisdom you have will leave you. And so then, just what is it that we are supposed to listen to with all of our attention? Jesus says: ““The kingdom of God is like this,”” (Mark 4:26 CSB17)


Jesus want us to know what the kingdom of God is like. When Jesus uses the phrase, ‘the kingdom of God’ he is not speaking about brick and mortar, boundaries and borders. He is speaking about how he gets his work done here, in our hearts, and here, in God’s word. And with the words that follow, Jesus invites us to listen to how God’s kingdom grows: 26 he said. “A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day; the seed sprouts and grows, although he doesn’t know how. 28 The soil produces a crop by itself—first the blade, then the head, and then the full grain on the head. 29 As soon as the crop is ready, he sends for the sickle, because the harvest has come.”” (Mark 4:26–29 CSB17)


If you understand where Jesus is coming from, this is actually a very funny story—but a true one. It’s the picture of the farmer throwing down seed onto the field. The farmer doesn’t know when the plants grow because he’s asleep. And even more important, he doesn’t know how they grow. All he knows is that when they are ready, the time for the harvest has come.


Listen then to the point that Jesus is making: the Holy Spirit gets his work done through his word secretly, silently, stealthily. God’s kingdom grows invisibly. And here is where we come face to face with our very own sin. God’s kingdom grows invisibly.
But our great temptation to sin is when we expect the invisible growth to happen visibly. When God’s word is shared with you, you have the great temptation to say, “I’m not getting anything out of this.” You hear a sermon. And at the end of it you say, “I guess there was nothing wrong with it. But it didn’t move me as much as the other guy’s sermon did.” You didn’t see the growth, so you concluded that it didn’t exist. You go to a bible study and, after one class, you have this temptation to say to yourself, “I’m not getting anything out of this.” I’m not gaining and gleaning knowledge that I can use. Again, notice the sin: God’s word isn’t a manual to fix your car. If you go to this page, you’ll learn this thing and you can fix this problem. No, God’s word is our Triune God causing growth in you. All of this growth happens invisibly. And our great sin is that we expect this invisible growth to happen visibly.


We see this as the sin it is. And we repent of it. And our good and kind Savior does what we don’t deserve. He gives us a harvest—and it’s a visible harvest. We hear one sermon after another throughout our long lives and what does our Triune God give to us: forgiveness. Yes, even forgiveness for the times we expect the invisible growth to be visible. And through that forgiveness we receive peace and confidence. And as we come to bible study class, what do we receive: wisdom. And there will be those times when a tough question or problem comes to us and then, right there, we will remember an answer from God’s word. Just like that farmer who doesn’t have a clue when and how the plants grow, but then sees and receives a harvest, the same is true for us.


But Jesus continues with a second parable: 30 And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use to describe it? 31 It’s like a mustard seed that, when sown upon the soil, is the smallest of all the seeds on the ground. 32 And when sown, it comes up and grows taller than all the garden plants, and produces large branches, so that the birds of the sky can nest in its shade.”” (Mark 4:30–32 CSB17)


Listen to how God’s kingdom grows. It grows invisibly. But here what do we learn? God’s kingdom grows visibly. How so? Look at the picture: There’s this small mustard seed. And what happens to it? It goes into the ground. It grows and peaks above the ground. It grows a stalk, a stem, and branches. And its growth is big and visible that birds can make their home in the branches. Yes, God’s kingdom grows invisibly. But it also grows visibly.


Think of the history of this congregation. There was a time when this church was not here. But the Lord caused Christians to want this plot of dirt and want to worship here. And as they shared God’s word, he caused this church to grow visibly. And still to this day, as you gather together around God’s word, it still grows, even as people pass away and move away.


What a beautiful lesson to listen to. But also, what a great temptation to sin lies in front of each of us. There is this great temptation to conclude people don’t need to see you and that you don’t need to see other people here in these pews and there in those seats in bible study. You need each other. Visitors need to see you. What good is it for new people to show up on Easter Sunday, hear the truth of God’s word, and then yearn to come next week. And then what happens? The next week, the same people who were there on Easter are not there the week after. And it’s not just visitors who need this, older, more veteran Christians need this too. I remember a couple in my last congregation. They were in their 80’s. They had severe health problems. And every week they would show up early and pew by pew climb their way to their spots. What great encouragement this gave to the other members. The teenager complains that he has to come to church because he stayed up too late on Saturday. But when he sees this elderly couple that didn’t get any sleep because they have chronic pain—and yet they are still there in those pews, all those complaints are washed away. What a great sin it is to conclude that the visible growth that God gives us in a Christian congregation is something we can ignore and neglect. You need each other—you need to see each other.


This is a sin we repent of too. And look how kind and caring our Lord is to us. Just as the Lord gives rest to birds in the branches of a mustard bush, so also he gives rest to us. And he gives this rest to us through what is visible. Baptism is visible. All the invisible power contained in God’s word he connects to something earthly and visible so that you would know your sins are forgiven. The \textsc{Lord’s Supper is visible}. For the times you have ignored the visible growth in your congregation, God gives you visible forgiveness there in Jesus’ body and blood along with that bread and wine. And through all of this, like birds on branches, he gives you rest.


These words conclude where they began: 33 He was speaking the word to them with many parables like these, as they were able to understand. 34 He did not speak to them without a parable. Privately, however, he explained everything to his own disciples.” (Mark 4:33–34 CSB17)


They had ears to hear. They were able to understand. So do you. Now listen, ponder, and take to heart the point of these two parables: God’s kingdom grows. It grows invisibly. And it grows visibly. Amen.


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