Sunday, June 17, 2012

Pentecost 3 (Proper 6), Series B

Sermon on Mark 4:26-34
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
June 17, 2012 (The Third Sunday after Pentecost, Series B)

I’m sure most, if not all, of you have heard the expression, “A watched pot never boils.”  Basically, the expression is saying that if you’re waiting for something that is supposed to happen in its own time, focusing on it and obsessing over it won’t make it happen any faster; in fact, it will seem to take forever.  If, on the other hand, you go and do something else while waiting for that thing to happen, it will begin to happen almost before you realize it.  There are many things in life of which this is true; some of them are easier to deal with than others.  Boiling water, for example, tends to be fairly consistent, and so you can safely ignore it as long as you do go and check on it after a few minutes.  The same thing is true of seeds planted in the ground, which is the parable Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel lesson.  Again, seeds of a given type of plant are fairly predictable as to when they will sprout.

Other things, however, are not so easy to be patient and ignore.  Once a woman goes into labor, the time it will take to actually deliver the baby can vary widely.  At the other end of life in this world, waiting for a loved one who is suffering from terminal cancer to finally leave his suffering behind and enter into glory can be an excruciating process, both for the one who is dying and for those who love and care about him.  In fact, in most such cases the family will be relieved that his suffering is over more than they are mourning his loss, the waiting period has been that painful and stressful for everyone involved.  In the case of a church, we simply don’t know, no matter how hard we work, no matter how many we try to reach with the Gospel, whether it will grow or shrink, whether a particular congregation will thrive or keep struggling.  It’s harder to be patient and not “watch the pot” in those cases, when we have no idea how long things will take or even, in some situations, what the outcome will be.

In the case of the Word of God, we may never know if what is preached will take root or not.  God’s Word does not return to Him void, but that doesn’t mean that we, with our limited perspective here in time, will be able to see it happening.  As St. Paul reminds the Corinthians at one point, he preached and Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.  Sometimes it will be years before a person comes to faith, no matter how sternly or how winsomely we preach.  It may or may not happen at all, as Jesus reminds us through the parable of the Sower, which precedes our Gospel lesson.  For us to worry or fret over it is simply a waste of energy, and, more importantly, is a violation of the First Commandment which reminds us that we are to trust in God and leave the worrying to Him.

A wise farmer won’t worry or fret over whether the plants will sprout and grow; it is God who determines this, not him.  Even if disaster strikes in the form of an early flood that rots some of the seeds in the ground (something that happens here in Southeast Wisconsin fairly regularly), or a false spring that tells the seeds to begin growing and then freezes them out (like what happened this year), it is God who is in control of such things.  There is a limit to what the farmer can do, even with all the modern technology in the world at his disposal.  He still has to wait on God to let the seed do what it will.

So it is with the Word.  It is God who causes it to sprout and grow.  We can’t.  Nothing we can do will affect whether or not the Word will take root in a person’s heart.  It’s God’s business, not ours.  And that’s actually a good thing.  If it were up to us, nothing would ever sprout and grow.  Only the Word of God can take a sinner and enemy of God and turn that person into an heir of heaven.  Only the Word of God can break up the heart of stone that can not and will not love God and his neighbor, and replace it with a clean heart and right spirit that loves God and the neighbor before it is even asked.  Only the Word of God can make a saint out of a sinner.

And that’s what the Word of God does.  It takes poor, miserable sinners and turns them into saints and co-heirs with Christ of the heavenly kingdom.  A simple seed, a word that God forgives your sin for the sake of Christ’s death on the cross, sprouts and grows and turns you into something far greater and far better than you ever imagined being.  I don’t think we can imagine what Adam and Eve were like in the garden before they fell into sin, what sort of physical health and eyesight and intelligence and other abilities they might have had which we can’t even imagine.  But that’s what we will be in the resurrection.  Nothing but words spoken into your ears, water poured on your head, bread and wine in your mouths, and you grow into something beyond your wildest imagination of what you could ever be.  It’s only God who can do that, and He does it through the Word, when, where, and as He chooses.  What you will be in the resurrection is beyond your wildest imaginings.  But that’s what God already knows you to be, for the sake of Jesus who blazed that trail through death into life and takes us with Him to His Father’s throne.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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