Monday, June 15, 2009

Second Sunday after Pentecost

Second Sunday after Pentecost
Mark 4:26-34
Bror Erickson

[26] And he said, "The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. [27] He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. [28] The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. [29] But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come."
[30] And he said, "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? [31] It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, [32] 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."
[33] With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. [34] He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything. Mark 4:26-34 (ESV)

The kingdom of God, over the years whole forests have grown from seed and been chopped down to supply the paper in the debate over what Jesus meant by this phrase. People have had all sorts of answers. Parables are funny, they aren’t always the easiest to interpret even for believers. Some expect this kingdom of God to be I suppose an earthly kingdom. A kingdom on earth in which God rules through Biblical law creating a utopia. By the way the opposite normally occurs when that is tried. Others think it some future kingdom that comes after the tribulation or before it. I don’t get those interpretations. Doesn’t seem to me Christ is talking about anything of the sort. And given that Christ did not want to be a king, and refused to fight to bring a kingdom on earth about, I don’t know how these interpretations are arrived at.
Seems to me He is talking about faith. The word growing inside you and blossoming as the mustard seed into a huge shrub. Or He is talking about the church, which seems to me the more correct interpretation, and the church being made up of believers the two aren’t mutually exclusive views.
I mean the kingdom of God would be a kingdom in which God rules, or reigns. Now Jesus seemed to be fairly unimpressed by the kingdoms of this world. Satan offered them to Him. But Jesus let him keep them. Funny, it seems they were Satan’s to give. We know that God appoints rulers, and gives us good government and so forth. We are to obey the authorities that are over us, that we may lead godly and quiet lives. They aren’t all bad. But Satan is the prince of the air, and has his hand on things in this world. We shouldn’t be all that surprised then when government is less than perfect. In any case Jesus didn’t get to excited about them. His kingdom, He tells Pilate, is not of this world.
The kingdoms of this world operate on law. Kings, queens, presidents and dictators all rule by the sword, and they do not bear it in vain. It is with the sword that they keep the peace in their kingdom punishing evil doers, and rewarding the good. Jesus too rules with a sword, but a different sword. He rules with that double edged sword that is the word of God. He reigns and rules over his kingdom not with law, but with the Gospel.
The kingdom of God may not be of this world, but it is found in this world wherever the word of God is preached in its truth and purity, the gospel proclaimed, and the sacraments are administered according to Christ’s institution. That is God’s kingdom is the church, made up of believers, sheep who hear the voice of their shepherd and listen to him. And just as the Kingdom of God is not of this world, neither is the home of it’s citizens in this world but in heaven.
Jesus reigns by way of the gospel, the word of God. Here he compares it to a seed. It is thrown on the ground, scattered about, the earth produces by itself afterwards. First the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. So it is with the word. We never know how it is going to work, and faith itself is a mystery.
You never know who is going to come to faith or not, or when, or how. The word gets scattered around, it takes root and blossoms. It doesn’t seem like it should. Seems so impractical the gospel. It is foreign to this world. Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins. You know before Christians got it in their head that they should be concerned with how everyone around them should live, and became entrenched in a culture war for the kingdoms of this world that Christ rejected, they were actually persecuted for believing in the forgiveness of sins, even as they led exemplary moral lives. I tell you the lives of the saints shame me when I read of them. Oh, people are people, and always have been. Even the saints had their sins. Quite possibly the greatest being a spiritual pride in their asceticism. Yet, I admire these people for their sobriety, and their chasteness in word and deed that cuts me to the quick as I recall an off color joke I find funny even in my shame. Yet these people were persecuted not because they tried to make everyone’s life an ascetic hell by passing laws, but for having the audacity to believe in the forgiveness of sins. They were persecuted not for being kill joys, but for actually forgiving people in the name of Christ. And everyone thinks that if you were to forgive people, if heaven was as easy as forgiving someone in the name of Christ who died for them, that your congregation is going to turn out to be full of hedonistic adulterers, drunkards, and otherwise vile sinners.
And so they are vile sinners, but more than that they are forgiven sinners, which is more than I can say for many other “churches”, where God’s word is replaced by the musings of men on the law. I mean I don’t know that people need to be reminded of the law near as much as some think they do.
I get asked at times, where’s the growth? By which they mean spiritual growth. Or to be more blunt they are asking why I don’t encourage spiritual growth with exhortations to be good. The world doesn’t get the kingdom of God, the gospel or how it works. As one man put it despite centuries of evidence to the contrary, too many pastors think they can make saints by harassing their congregation with the law. It never has worked. But the gospel does. It brings about faith. And that faith grows as it dwells on the word. And in this life we never really do get passed being sinners each in our own way. But in Christ we learn to be forgiven sinners. Forgiveness it frees us from sin, as it breaks the chains of the law. The truth sets us free. Jesus Christ is the truth, the way and the life. He sets us free when He forgives our sins. It is wonderful, isn’t it? And with forgiveness faith blossoms in our hearts. That little mustard seed of Christ planted in our hearts it does what the law can’t. It changes us, and brings us to life. It grows. Slowly it grows day by day as it is watered by the spring of water that wells up to eternal life, the spring that is Jesus Christ, coming to Him, reading His word, hearing His word, eating His body, drinking His blood, knowing that His flesh is true food, His blood true drink, that is when we commune we eat and drink truth itself, righteousness. We consume life, and it feeds our faith that grows from a mustard seed, slowly, almost imperceptibly at times, and when we are not looking it branches out so that even the birds of the air nest in its shade. Because the gospel works in a mysterious way.
So it is God rules his kingdom, the kingdom of God, the church with the gospel, the forgiveness of sins, making saints out of sinners.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.

1 comment:

Steve Martin said...

Excellent, Bror!

How sweet it is, the sound of forgiveness.

Thanks for that strong word of law (that the law does not work for righteousness sake) and the stronger word of grace through forgiveness.