Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost based on Mk 4:26-34
Dear heirs of the kingdom of God: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Every earthly kingdom comes only through military might. Weak nations are not great kingdoms. Consider a few of the largest earthly kingdoms:
The Persian Empire grew through military might. Persian military campaigns starting with Cyrus the Great in 550 B.C. successfully subdued most of the world’s advanced civilizations of the time. Defeating other kingdoms including the Egyptians and Babylonians, the Persian Empire was the largest kingdom the world had seen up to that time.
The history of the Roman Empire is filled with battles, civil wars, assassinations, and great feats of military strength. Without the military strength of the Roman armies, there would have been no Roman Empire. Whoever had the greatest military strength ruled the Empire, unless of course he was assassinated.
The Arab or Muslim Empire founded by Mohammed also grew through violence. Mohammed and the caliphs that followed him brutally massacred even women and children who would not convert to Islam. Cities and nations were taken with the edge of the sword and the Muslim Empire expanded from the borders of China and India, across Central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa all the way to present day Spain and Portugal.
All earthly kingdoms have grown through military might and power. Whoever has the greatest military has the power.
The kingdom of God, however, does not come with military force. God does not send His hosts of angels to convert nations by the edge of the sword. God doesn’t come in His full force and might to conquer; otherwise not one of us would be left standing.
Rather, “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.” (vv. 26-27) That’s not very forceful. Sowing seed isn’t exactly coming in great might. It is God’s kingdom coming in humble form.
We know from the sower parable earlier in the same chapter of Mark that the seed, which is the Word of God, can be rejected. In the earlier parable, the seed was scattered even along the path, and birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, and when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain (vv. 4-7).
Jesus explains this parable by saying that Satan can snatch away the Word of God from the hard-hearted. Those who think they can stay rooted in themselves without the forgiveness of sins given in the Lord’s Supper and Holy Absolution immediately fall away when hardships or persecution arise. The cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things can also enter in and choke the Word, making it unfruitful (vv. 14-19). The Word of God comes in such a humble way that it can be rejected; it can be despised; it can be trampled underfoot.
This can make us frustrated. Maybe we should start using a different seed. Why should the Church preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins if it is being rejected by so many, even those of our own households? Why preach the Word of God if people don’t want to hear it? Why preach the humble Gospel if it can be rejected?
Well, if it’s not the Word of God being scattered, but a different seed, then it’s not the kingdom of God that is spreading, but the kingdom of Satan. Any other seed, other than the Word of God, is the seed of Satan. This is seen in the parable of the weeds. The good seed of the Word had been sown, but Satan went and sowed weeds among the wheat during the night. The weeds and the wheat grow together until harvest, that is, Judgment Day, when the weeds are bound and burned while the wheat is gathered into the barn (cf. Matt. 13:24-30). We’re not going to start sowing the seed of Satan, but only the seed of the Word of God, because it is the Word of God which brings to us the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God comes in humble form, without military force or strength. Yet, it is not without power. The seed that falls into good soil produces grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold (v. 8). The sower sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how (v. 27). It happens automatically. The Word of God, though coming in humble form, has great power! It has the power to save!
There’s a great quote from Martin Luther about the power of God’s Word in which he says, “I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And then while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer… the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it. I did nothing. The Word did it all.” Luther witnessed the Word of God bringing souls into God’s kingdom from the earthly kingdom of the papacy despite the papal armies with all their threats and military strength.
Yes, the Word of God can be rejected; it can be despised; it can be trodden underfoot. But the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation for everyone that believes (Rom. 1:16).
Holy Baptism, in humble form in a sprinkling of water has the power to make you a child of God and an heir of eternal life. Holy Absolution, in humble form from the lips of a sinful pastor has the power to declare you righteous. The Sacrament of the Altar, in humble form in bread and wine has the power to forgive sins and strengthen you in the faith.
Jesus Himself came in humble form. He did not come to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philip. 2:7). And how do you get the benefits of Jesus’ death on the cross for you? You cannot go to the cross. You cannot go back 2000 years to the foot of the cross. And even if you could, there is nothing to be received there. All the benefits of Jesus death for you are given to you in Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. These are God’s Word for you. These are the humble seeds that are sown. Like the mustard seed, which is one of the smallest seeds on earth and yet grows to become larger than all the garden plants, so also the Word of God accomplishes huge things – it brings you into the kingdom of God.
God’s kingdom is the biggest, most powerful kingdom anywhere, but it comes to you in the humblest of forms. It does not come with force or military might. Eternal life is distributed in the seed of the Word of God. Yet this humble seed has the power to save. It sprouts and grows, we do not know how. It grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that birds of the air can make nests in its shade (v. 32). It grows and is the largest kingdom in existence, saving people from every tribe, language, and nation.
The seed of the Word of God comes to you and grows in your life, bringing forth good fruits of faith. God’s Word works in your heart and produces first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. God works in you to bring about good works in service to your neighbour. God works in you to bring about repentance from sin. God works in you to give you faith and to strengthen you in your faith. The seed is sown humbly, yet produces such great things. The seed of the Word produces life unto salvation.
Military might comes and goes. Nations rise and fall. But even amidst the rising and falling kingdoms of this world, we have nothing to fear, because we are part of the everlasting kingdom of God. Even as our nation has become so wicked and evil that its fall seems inevitable, we are part of the everlasting kingdom of God, which will never fall. The seed, the Word of God, endures forever. The seed, the Word of God, brings us into God’s eternal kingdom. No military might can snatch us from the kingdom of God. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.