4th Sunday after Pentecost – B LSB #’s 497, 790, 895
Text – Mark 4:30-32
And He asked, “To what can we compare the kingdom of God, or how should we picture it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows & becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such large branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.” (NIV)
PERCHING IN THE SHADE
As the weather has started to heat up I’ve noticed that, while running, I’ve developed a certain attraction to the shady side of the street. There’s a noticeable feeling of relief as the rays of the sun no longer beat down directly upon me. Shade trees provide relief from the stress of the sun.
There’re many people that we personally know of who’re looking for relief from the stresses in their lives. A man I talked to some time ago said that his life is so focused around alcohol he can’t begin to imagine living without it. He’d rather, as he put it, terminate his life function than live without the relief that alcohol brings.
Another man I heard of was looking for relief from the crying of his six-month-old baby. His solution was to beat the child into silence. He fractured her skull. He ended up in jail, his wife was devastated, & the baby ended up in the intensive care unit. Every one of them was in need of the kind of relief & healing that’s only found in Jesus Christ.
Did you sleep peacefully last night, or was something gnawing at your mind, irritating you & giving you no rest? Is there anything today that’s making you anxious or restless? Are there medical test results on the horizon? Are there family problems, or struggles in your relationships? Is the family income sufficient? All of us live under some kind of stress.
The world we live in has been messed up by sin, & because of that, everyone has problems that are a burden to them. Stress is a normal part of life ever since Adam & Eve sought to become god; & the result of their sin lives on today in our lives & in our sins. Everybody needs relief in some way, & much of the struggle of life is about finding that relief.
Where have you been looking? How do you vent the pressure that builds in your emotional life? How do you relieve the stress that accumulates in your mind & body? What about your soul? Doesn’t it yearn for something? Are you even aware of those different aspects of your personality, & the different pressures they experience?
We hear enough of how people relieve the pressure in their lives through unhealthy, destructive or illegal means. All of them are the short-sighted solutions of mankind, & cause more harm than good. God’s plan is eternal, & thus provides long-term solutions.
The problem we have, being sinful, is that we’re by nature impatient & unwilling to trust. Long-term solutions require of us both attributes. In addition, our culture is driving us further away from each of those two virtues. We don’t have time for God anymore. We’re not willing to trust Him to care for us. His solutions look simply foolish.
That’s precisely the point where Jesus picks up with His parable of the mustard seed. It looks simply foolish. It’s too small to be of any significance & one certainly doesn’t have time to wait for it to grow. Yet, to those who’re knowledgeable, they realize that what, as a seed looks ridiculously small, as a full grown plant, is the largest in the garden.
The mustard plant becomes so large that it even provides shade, shelter & relief to the birds of the air. Jesus is comparing the Kingdom of God to that seed & to that plant. The Kingdom of God is plenty large enough to provide relief & rest for our body & soul. Yet, to our physical sight, it looks ridiculously small & helpless.
Because we trust our eyesight more than we trust God, we turn to other sources of relief from our problems. Sources that seem to have more bang for the buck, more prestige, or more acceptance amid the culture in which we live. When our heavenly Father says, “Come to Me, & I will give you rest,” we say, “I think I’ll take this Sunday to sleep in.”
When our Savior tells us, “Seek first His kingdom & His righteousness, & all these things will be given to you,” we say, “Even if my relationships with God & my church suffer, I think I need to work longer hours in order to pay for the things & for the lifestyle that I want.”
Short-sighted solutions always bring the chickens home to roost sooner or later. If you’re sleeping in on Sunday, you apparently think that rest is something you get for yourself. Apparently you don’t believe that it’s something God blesses His children with.
If you’re working longer hours, or more jobs, to pay all the bills, maybe you’re spending too much. Maybe you don’t believe that God will actually bless you with the things you need in order to be satisfied. If we aren’t alert, those singular, seemingly insignificant instances of unbelief have a way of growing & taking over every aspect of our lives.
Eventually, God & the church become so distant, so unfamiliar, that we no longer believe anything. You see, the church & the Kingdom of God aren’t the only things that appear small & insignificant. Our sin appears that way to us as well, & like the mustard seed, our sins can grow into very large plants.
But instead of providing us with shelter, they take over & dominate everything else in the garden of our lives. Like the man who’d rather be dead than live without alcohol, without the work of God’s Holy Spirit, our sins always take control. There’s a wise saying that puts it like this, “Never give the devil a ride, because he always wants to drive.”
Our selfish wants & desires can end up driving our life. They become the focus of our thoughts, words & deeds. We’re deceived into thinking that we cannot live without them. In the Gospel of John, Jesus calls Satan “the father of lies.” Satan tells us that the kingdom of God is small, insignificant & irrelevant. Satan tells us that our faith is weak, unreliable & worthless. “Don’t trust them,” he says. “Believe in yourself. Believe in wealth. Believe in drugs or alcohol, or don’t believe in anything at all. But whatever you do, don’t trust in Jesus Christ. Don’t believe what His Word tells you.”
“If the tests reveal that you’re ill, give up hope. Curse your God instead of praying to Him. Surrender to the despair & depression. There is no relief in this world, so give your life to me. Don’t fight it. Go with the flow. Life is easier that way. God! Where is He? If He’s such a loving God, how come our world is such a frightening place to live?”
That kind of devil talk will ingrain itself into your way of thinking. We no longer bother with church for ourselves. We don’t bother with Sunday School for our children. Confirmation class becomes just another legalistic set of hoops to jump through. We end up neglecting God’s Kingdom because, in the short term, it just does not seem to matter.
With that kind of mindset, it’s not difficult for Satan to lead us away from God’s garden, & from God’s Kingdom. When problems strike, when the stress of our lives overwhelms, & we’re nowhere near the protection of God’s Kingdom, Satan then abandons you, helpless & defenseless, to self-destruct in your despair & in your self-pity.
But our Lord & Savior never abandons us, no matter how ugly things get. He’s always waiting for our cry of help. In our interpretation of the parable, we see Jesus Himself as that insignificant looking mustard seed. He came to earth as a human baby, born in a cattle stall to a peasant family. To look at Him, one would never have known that He created all the universe.
Yet, a recurrent theme of God’s Kingdom is its hidden nature. That’s why Jesus arrived as a baby in a manger. It’s why He taught in parables. It’s why He conquered death, with His own death. We don’t find God solely through intellect or by our decision. We can only find God through the gift of faith that He gives in His Word & in our baptism. By faith alone God draws us to Himself, in spite of, & even through, the hidden nature of His kingdom.
That kingdom is hidden in the bread & wine at the Lord’s Supper, yet we receive Christ there for relief from our sins & from the physical burdens of our world. And so our faith too, like the mustard seed, can grow from something insignificant & unseen.
For all the problems in our lives, no matter how small or how large, our Lord promises relief. He promises courage to endure the trials, & strength to overcome the temptations. He promises to us His peace, even that peace which surpasses all our human understanding. Our chief problem is our failure to trust in, believe in, & act upon His promises.
As God’s kingdom is even now growing, through the work of His Word, your faith is also growing. Your Lord is feeding & nurturing it through the power of His Word. This season of Pentecost doesn’t have the clearly defined character of a season like Lent. Still, the church sees it as a time of growth, emphasized by the green colors of the season.
This season is a continuation of the Sunday of Pentecost because it’s under the influence of the Holy Spirit that the church arises & flourishes, much like the mustard plant in the Gospel of Mark’s 4th chapter. God’s church has remained throughout the centuries, not by the handiwork or wisdom of man, but in spite of man.
Through all the devil’s attacks, the church remains today, sheltering & protecting the flock of Christ. It’s waiting to shield you even when you don’t recognize the danger. God’s Kingdom is there ready to provide shade from the heat of all the stresses, temptations & dangers that Lucifer would throw your way.
If you aren’t getting enough rest, God’s Kingdom is calling to you like the shady side of the street on a hot sunny day. If you aren’t earning enough to satisfy your desires, God’s Kingdom is large enough to overwhelm you with blessing. If you can’t live without alcohol, God’s Kingdom is there as a much better substitute. If you’re afraid to face the truth about something in your life, realize that Jesus Christ, your Savior who loves you, is The Truth.
If your sins are weighing you down & sapping the life out of you, God’s Kingdom is waiting to remove that millstone from your neck. Christ has died, & He has risen. No matter how trivial that may seem in the day-to-day pressures of living, it’s astounding & magnificent news; news that has shaken the world, over & over throughout the centuries.
The Kingdom of God: small beginnings, large endings. Don’t let the simplicity or the resistible character of the Gospel make you overlook its all-sufficient power to accomplish the purposes of our Savior - forgiveness & eternal life.
God will reverse the order of things as we “see” them. The withered & the low will produce fruit & be raised up. When the glory of that manifestation breaks forth before men, they’ll be as startled as the man who considers the tiny mustard seed versus its mature plant.
Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of this parable, & the day will come when the Kingdom of God visibly surpasses in glory the mightiest nations of the earth. May the 2nd coming of Christ find you resting in the shade among His branches. Amen.
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation! O my soul, praise Him, for He is your health & salvation! Let all who hear now to His temple draw near, joining in glad adoration! Praise to the Lord, who will prosper your work & defend you; surely His goodness & mercy shall daily attend you. Ponder anew what the Almighty can do as with His love He befriends you. Praise to the Lord! O let all that is in me adore Him! All that has life & breath, come now with praises before Him! Let the Amen sound from His people again; gladly forever adore Him! Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet