This sermon was preached at St Matthew's Lutheran Church, Maryborough, 8.15am, and Grace Lutheran Church, Childers, 10.30am.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.
The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground.
Prayer: May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
In the Book of Judges, we read about Gideon. Gideon was one of the judges whom God raised up, and he defeated the Midianites in battle. When Gideon was gathering together an army, God kept telling him that he had too many soldiers. We read: The Lord said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ Eventually God kept on reducing the number of the army from 32,000 men down to 300 men. If 32,000 men won a victory, they would congratulate themselves. But if they could win the victory with only 300 men, then they would give glory to God for helping despite such bad odds!
In the Book of Judges, we also read before the battle, how God sends Gideon down into the Midianite camp to listen to what they are saying, and he overhears a man telling his fellow soldier a dream. He says: Behold, I dreamed a dream, and behold, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian and came to the tent and struck it so that it fell and turned it upside down, so that the tent lay flat. Here we head about this man having a dream where a bread roll rolls into the camp and knocks over a tent. The other soldier says: This is no other that the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel; God has given into his hand Midian and all the camp. And so we read that Gideon with his measly 300 men, wins the victory over the Midianites. From a human point of view, it seems so unlikely and so impossible, but God is on their side. It is as unlikely as a bread roll knocking over a tent!
And so, also in our Gospel reading today, Jesus tells us about seed scattered on the ground, or a mustard seed being planted. From a human point of view, these seeds look so small, so insignificant, so useless, but actually, they grow up and become useful plants, and large bushes and trees. The seed here in the reading is God’s word, and the Gospel, and the Kingdom of God. It looks so small and insignificant, just like a bread roll, or Gideon’s army of 300 men. But when the seed grows, it flourishes and blossoms and flowers and produces fruit. God’s word, the Gospel, and the Kingdom of God have all the power in heaven and earth to destroy all the strongholds of the devil and to crush him. When God is the one at work, then a little bread roll can knock over a whole tent, and Gideon’s army of 300 men can defeat the Midianites.
So in our reading we read about two parables: the first is about the seed scattered on the ground, and the second is about the mustard seed.
Jesus says: 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.
This is an amazing parable. Here the seed is the word of God which is scattered, and grows into the wonderful kingdom of God. And in the Gospel of Matthew, we read where it says: All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. This was to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world”. Here Matthew quotes this prophecy from Psalm 78: I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.
In the parable of the scattered seed, it brings us back to the foundation of the world, back to Genesis chapter 1, where we read about creation. Here we see God creating the world, but he doesn’t just sit down and set about doing it, he does it in a particular way and with particular means. God creates the world through his word. He speaks and it happens. He says: Let there be light, and there was light. And so we see how God’s word has this wonderful creative power in it. It does things, and it brings things about, and brings new things into existence. It’s really quite an amazing reality for us to think about!
But we also read about the creation of plants and seeds. It says: Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.
So we see here how God’s word produces plants, but then that these plants yield seed. And these seeds fall to the ground and produce more plants and more seed. God creates nature to be continually fruitful, and productive.
And so we also read in our reading today, how God created seeds and plants to reflect the way in which the word of God, and the kingdom of God works, and how they grow, and produce, and are fruitful. God created seeds to work in a similar way to his spoken word. Just as his word brings things into existence, so also seeds bring forth rich harvests, bountiful crops, fruitful vines, bushes, and abundant trees. Jesus says: The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.
What is so important in this parable is that the most important thing is the seed. And this tells us something about mission. We are living in a time when we are seeing a great decline in churches all throughout the western world, and it is something that can sometimes make us depressed and worried. We can worry about our congregation and parish finances. People start to think, “how can we bring more people in”?
Now, we are living in times that are dominated by buying and selling. Everything is for sale, and it seems like everyone is trying to sell us something. Sometimes we can easily fall into the trap of thinking like this as Christians too, and we start to think, “How can we grow the church, so that we can pay the church’s bills?” No wonder people are suspicious sometimes of Christians, if they think we’re just after their money! So there’s a real danger of treating the church like a business, and people like consumers.
The problem is that we focus on the harvest, instead of the seed. We often want to see the church full of people, we want to see the church as successful, and productive, and flourishing! But every farmer knows that if you want a harvest, you have to plant your seed. Unbelievers are not customers—they are empty ground in need of the seed of God’s word. We could share the word with them as we are able, we could pray for them, we could invite them to church, or make friends with them and help them, and treat them as we think a Christian should treat them. God has placed us in particular homes, in particular areas, workplaces, or families, and we all have our different gifts—some in speaking, some in serving, some in helping, or however. What Jesus calls us to think about here is not the harvest – let God sort that out. He calls us to focus on the seed. And the seed here is the word of God—it doesn’t look like much, but it has incredible power to produce a very rich harvest indeed.
Now, in the parable, we read something quite amazing. It says: 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.
Here we see that the power to grow this seed belongs to God and not to us. The seed grows and sprouts even while the farmer is asleep. Now there is a very famous quote of Martin Luther about this passage. He says: I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything. (LW 51:77).
You can see here how confident Martin Luther was knowing that he has simply preached the word and sowed the seed. He could go to sleep now, and have a beer, because he knew that the Gospel was now doing its work. Now, Luther was not saying that once he had preached the Gospel, he could now have the other six days of the week off! But he was saying that while he slept, while he drank his Wittenberg beer, the word of God was working, it was changing people, it was growing a harvest. And so the glory did not belong to him, but to God who was doing the work.
In 1 Corinthians, St Paul talks about how people were playing him and Apollos off against one another. We suspect Paul was not a particularly good public speaker, but Apollos was known to be eloquent. And even though Paul was the apostle, and Apollos was not, people started to prefer Apollos because he was a better speaker. But in the church, we are not simply sowing the seed of public speaking and rousing speeches; public speaking and rousing speeches can whip people up for a while. Even Hitler knew how to put on a good speech! We are sowing the seed of God’s word, and the glory belongs to him. So St Paul says: What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. The glory belongs to God, not to Paul and Apollos.
In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes: Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant. Paul and me and you are nothing but insignificant bread rolls – the power to knock over a whole tent belongs to God.
Sometimes, we might look at ourselves and our weaknesses and our insecurities and our failings and all of the things that we wish we had or we wish we could do or we wish we were, but in reality we don’t have, we can’t do, and ain’t – then it’s time for us to look to Jesus’ words in 2 Corinthians 12, where he says: My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. And Paul writes: Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
And so Jesus says, while you sleep, while you are weak, while you are useless, while you are completely out of the way, 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.
Now we come to the second part of the reading, about the parable of the mustard seed. Jesus 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 the seeds on earth, yet when it is grown 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.
Now, there is a wonderful passage in the book of 1 Kings, where Elijah is feeling very miserable for himself. There is a terrible king on the throne, King Ahab, and Elijah thought he was the only faithful follower of God left. But God says to him: I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal. Elijah feels like he is the only one left, like he is just a little mustard seed, a little black speck on white sandy beach. But God knows how to grow a large tree from a mustard seed.
We might even look at the life of Jesus. He lived in a time when he was the only one who preached the message that he did. His own people didn’t receive it, and every single nation on earth did not know the God of Israel. He was just a small mustard seed – but here we are, over 2000 years later, on the other side of the world, part of that mustard tree, part of his branches.
But then, sometimes in the church, we can often find ourselves as small insignificant people in a big world, where nobody cares about us or what we’ve got to say. But we speak the same word of God, we plant that same Gospel, even if no one in the whole world cared for it or not, even if no one in the whole universe listened to us. Because when it is God’s word that we speak, then we know that his power is able to make that mustard seed turn into a large bush, a large garden plant, and put out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.
At the end of the reading today, we read two little verses, that look very insignificant, like two grains of mustard! It says: With many such parables [Jesus] 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.
The amazing thing about the way Jesus teaches here, is that as we think about these parables, and churn them over, we find new insights and new discoveries that we never thought about before. The pictures that Jesus plants in our minds of the seed and the mustard seed produce fruitful and rich thoughts in our minds. Sometimes we don’t understand the parables, and we think about them, and think about them, and push and push, but we don’t seem to get it.
Now, just imagine if we were reading some Shakespeare, or something, and we didn’t know what he meant. And all the Shakespeare scholars don’t really know either. If Shakespeare were still alive, we could ring him up, or write him a letter, and ask him just what he meant.
But the Scripture is different, because for every book of the bible, there are two authors. We have the person who wrote the Gospel, whether it is Matthew, Mark, or Luke, or whoever – and then we have the Holy Spirit. Now we can’t ring up Mark or John or Ezekiel what they meant, but the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are still alive. The problem is not that the word is not clear, it’s that our minds are not clear. Sometimes there are people who think that the bible is just a dead word, and not the voice of the Holy Spirit. So no wonder when they talk about the bible, it sounds like a coroner’s report. However, Jesus is alive, the speaker of the parable has risen from the dead, and if we ask him, he will teach us and send us the Holy Spirit, and explain to us what the parable means.
So we read: With may such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. By nature, because of our sin, we are simply unable to hear the word, until the Holy Spirit comes and opens our ears. It says: He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything. To the outsider, nothing that Jesus is saying makes sense. But when Jesus sends us the Holy Spirit to enlighten our understanding, then it makes sense. It’s similar to when the apostles found themselves very busy in the book of Acts, and they appointed some helpers to share their work. And they said: But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word. These two things go together: prayer and the ministry of the word. They go together because they can’t do the ministry of the word without Jesus’ help, and so they continually ask him for help.
So let’s commend ourselves to him, to Jesus, who died for us and rose again from the dead, to win the forgiveness of sins for us and the promise of eternal life. This word of God doesn’t look like much, maybe like a little seed, but it grows and produces, and puts out branches, and brings about a wonderful harvest. Amen.
Dear Jesus, plant your saving and powerful word in us, and let your kingdom grow. Send us the Holy Spirit, that we may hear and understand your word more and more. Amen.