“How Does Your Garden Grow?” (Mark 4:26-34)

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
June 17, 2018

“How Does Your Garden Grow?” (Mark 4:26-34)

It’s June, and everything is green. We’re in the growing season, and everywhere you look, you see the signs of growth. It’s green all around.

Oh wait, you thought I was talking about outside! No, I’m talking about in here, in the church! It’s growing season now, and everything is green. Look at the green paraments on the altar, on the lectern and the pulpit, and the green banners on the wall. Green is the color of growth, and it’s the primary color for this “Season after Pentecost.” This non-festival half of the church year is called “The Time of the Church” or “ordinary time,” because it doesn’t have any big festivals in it, like Christmas or Easter or Pentecost. It’s just a time for long, steady growth–growth in Christian faith, growth in the life of discipleship, growth as individuals and growth as the church. That’s why this season is sometimes called the long “green meadow.”

The Gospel readings during this season often consist of Jesus teaching about life as his disciples, life in the kingdom of God. Today’s lesson is a good example. And appropriately enough, it’s a parable about how things grow. Jesus uses the imagery of a seed being sown and producing growth. This is a common theme in his teachings, because the imagery works so well. Everyone around the world understands the phenomenon of things growing, of life being produced and sustained. Well, I say we all “understand” it, but maybe I should say we all have seen it. I don’t know if anyone fully understands how the growth of plants takes place. We may have seen a big, beautiful plant coming from the sowing of a small, insignificant seed. But who actually understands how that miracle takes place? And that’s one of the points Jesus makes today in his parable. It’s about the mysterious, miraculous power of a seed to grow.

So today I want to ask you a question: How does your garden grow? How does your life as a disciple of Jesus grow? And how does our life together as Christ’s church grow? Thus our theme this morning: “How Does Your Garden Grow?”

Ah, but here’s where we need to clear things up right away! It’s not “your” garden! It’s not even “our” garden. It’s God’s garden! The garden and the growth and the greening up belong to God! He planted this garden, the kingdom of God, and he’s the one who makes it grow. The growth is not up to us, whether in our individual life or in our life together as church. It is God who makes the garden grow. Now this growth will happen among us, but we don’t create it. Only God can make a tree, and only God can make a garden grow.

Think of it like this. Think of it in terms of the Second Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come.” What does it say in the Catechism? “Thy kingdom come. What does this mean? The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also.” So the kingdom comes by itself, without anything that we do to cause it to happen. But we do earnestly want God’s kingdom to come among us.

That’s what we’re talking about when we say, “How does your garden grow?” It is God’s garden, and it grows by itself, without our efforts. But at the same time we do want this growing and greening up to happen in our backyard, so to speak.

This is what Jesus is teaching us in this parable about the mysterious growing power of the seed. He says in our text: “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.”

The point that Jesus makes here is that the power to produce a crop is packed into the seed. The man who sows the seed doesn’t do anything, really. He can sit back and relax, in a sense, because the growing power is all packed into that little tiny seed. It’s really quite remarkable! It’s mysterious and miraculous! It draws our attention to the seed that God created and causes to grow. And it takes our attention away from any effort or contribution on our part.

Some of you are members of the Bonne Terre Garden Club. And so you know all about what it takes to produce a beautiful garden: tilling the soil, watering the ground, rain, sunshine, pulling out the weeds, and so on. And that’s all well and good. But sometimes we forget about the most basic thing needed to produce a beautiful flower or vegetable in our garden. And that is the seed itself! Everything is packed into that seed! There would be no beautiful rose, no juicy tomato, no plant or growth of any kind, unless there was first the seed.

So look to the seed when you want to know how God’s garden grows. God has packed everything needed for producing beautiful fruit in our lives into the seed that he sows. And the seed of course is the word! It is the word of God that produces the life within us. It is God’s word that produces the growth and the beautiful fruit of love and good works. It is the living, active, powerful, creative word of God. His gospel word gives us life and sustains our life. This is true whether we’re talking about our life as individual Christians or our life together as the church. God’s word is the seed we need in order to grow.

Sometimes we think it’s up to us. “I just need to try harder to be a better Christian. I’ll muster up my will and effort.” “I’m really gonna try hard this time, I know it!” And then we fail and fall backward. We need the word, God’s word of forgiveness in Christ and of new life in the Spirit, in order to grow the garden of our Christian life. How does your garden grow? It grows by God’s word being planted in the soil of your soul, week after week, year after year. Word and Sacrament–there is no substitute or shortcut. The gospel seed is our need.

And this seed is being planted in you again right here, right now. The gospel seed, with the power of growth packed into it, is the message of Christ Jesus your Savior. Jesus is the one who gives you life. He does it by means of the gospel, the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection for your salvation. God’s Son came down from heaven to live and die for you, when you had no life in yourself. He fulfilled the law on your behalf, the law you broke. Jesus died on the cross for all your sins, paying the price that sets you free. He himself was planted in the ground, buried, like a seed that was sown. And out of his death comes forth resurrection life, life everlasting–always green, forever green. This is the gospel seed that produces the kingdom of God in our midst. All the life-giving, growing power comes from God, and it is packed into the seed that is the gospel. New life, eternal life, life in the Spirit, a life of faith in God and love for others–everything you need is packed into this seed.

And what is true for our individual lives is true also for our life together as church. You know, “church growth” has been a popular movement over the last few decades. People mistakenly think that church growth is up to us, that the way to grow the church is by means of human techniques. For instance, that it depends on the power of the pastor’s pleasing personality, his teeth-whitened smile and hipster clothing. Tell funny stories and preach how-to messages! “Ten Steps to a Happier You!” People think the way to grow is with a praise band performing shallow choruses without much substance. A plethora of programs will keep the customers satisfied. You can grow the church by dumbing down the doctrine and practice into an inoffensive, lowest-common-denominator mush. New measures, the right techniques–that’s how to grow the church! And in one sense, they may be right. It might work. Do those things, and you may grow in numbers. Only don’t call it the church, because it won’t be God’s garden you’re growing. Rather, it will be a man-made imitation, full of plastic, artificial flowers.

No, God’s garden truly grows in one way and one way only, and that is through the word. The word of God rightly preached and taught and sacramented. This is God’s genuine method of church growth, whether in quantity or in quality. Preach the word, truly and faithfully. Let your practice then reflect and reinforce your doctrine. Don’t rely or gimmicks or shortcuts to get people in the door and fed on fluff. Let God grow the church his way: through the gospel preached and taught in its truth and purity. Through the sacraments rightly administered. There it is. That is church growth God’s way. It’s not always popular. It won’t necessarily produce big numbers. People can reject the word of God, and they often do. But God will bring life out of the ground, and he will grow his church in his own time and in his own way. Let the word do the work.

The seed is God’s word. It will produce the growth, in us as Christians and in us as church. The growth in you may be gradual. It may be hard to notice from day to day. It can seem like two steps forward, one step back. Or sometimes one step forward, two steps back. But thank God, the gospel word is a word of forgiveness. That’s just what we need as faltering, often-failing disciples. My growth can seem awfully uncertain and shaky to me. But God is doing his work, just as he promises. This is why we always need the word of God, week after week, year after year. Our Christian life is one of often unspectacular, but steady growth. It’s growth over the long haul, in faith and discipleship and in love for God and others.

Likewise with the church. When we try to take the growth of the church into our own hands, we flub it up, time after time. We become frustrated when we see small numbers, and we look for somebody to blame. But today Jesus is reassuring us that this is his church. The growth is up to him. The kingdom of God is growing, and it is growing his way: through the faithful proclamation and teaching of God’s word, though Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and Holy Communion. These are the gospel means, the means of grace that the Spirit uses. This is the gospel seed that God has given us to sow. God gives the growth, and it’s all packed into the seed–the lowly, seemingly insignificant seed of God’s word. The seed is the message of the cross of Christ, a word that seems so powerless but which really is packed full of life.

Dear friends, this is the long green meadow we’re walking in during this church season. It’s not always easy being green. There are growing pains along the way. But this is June, and everything is green. God is growing his garden among us. How does God’s garden grow? It grows by means of the seed of God’s word. And that is happening right here in our midst.

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Published in: on June 16, 2018 at 6:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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