Biblical Text: Mark 4:26-34
Full Sermon Draft
Mark chapter 4 is a chapter of parables. In the midst of many familiar ones from other gospels is one that is unique to Mark – the seed growing silently. Not that any of the parables are easy, but some, like the parable of the sower and the soils, come with an explanation. Other, like the parable of the mustard seed which is pared with the silent seed in Mark, are more obvious in their intent. And the more obvious, the more likely we’ve heard sermons on them or grasped them ourselves. This sermon focuses on that unique one.
In many ways the parables of seeds are all attempts to describe what the seeds planted on good soil experience. Wheat and weeds together sown (Matthew 13:25ff) describes our experience of living in a fallen world. The mustard seed describes the way churches always surprise. They are not what you’d expect when you look at what is planted. But the seed silently growing talks about the experience of being a seed planted I think.
1) The seed is helpless in its growth. We individuals or the church depend completely upon God for growth. We can’t force it. We might hinder, but have not power to make grow.
2) Never-the-less the kingdom of God grows: often imperceptibly, constantly at the will of God, and inevitably. It takes constant effort to kill organic growth.
3) The reign of God includes a harvest.
This sermon ponders those three elements of the parable.
I included on the record two interesting hymns with organic growth metaphors. The first is a modern hymn, LSB 654, Your Kingdom O God is My Glorious Treasure. The hymn is a compilation of many of the Reign of God parables: treasure, pearl, yeast, mustard plant, field, seeds, weeds and wheat. The last hymn I included is one of the oldest the words taken from the 2nd century Didache, probably the earliest catechism. LSB 652, Father We Thank Thee. Both I thought were worthy examples of response to the Word of the parable.
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That title is from the philosopher Hegel and it shows up in all kinds of quackery from the Age of Aquarius to Gestalt to whatever movement someone else is pushing. It is a hardy perennial. Probably because we like finding patterns in things and we are social creatures – “it is not good for the man to be alone.”
In seminary a layman from the congregation I was assigned to asked me about the revelations about Mother Theresa. The revelations were her years long feelings of the absence of God. I eventually had two answers. The first was based on experience. Per her report Mother Theresa had a very strong encounter/appearance of the risen Christ. If just based on Peter’s reaction on the mount of transfiguration, many things in the everyday world would seem like God is absent after such an experience. That is one of the dangers of direct revelation, and one the reasons that the church has never based doctrine on any form of continuing revelation. It is personal. My second reaction was very Lutheran. Reading the book that was the basis of the question, it rubbed me that her father-confessors never really seemed to offer absolution. They just encouraged her further in her saintly vocation. The Lutheran in me just want to scream, its grace. She gets this better than you do. She offers it everyday, but nobody is reminding her.
But after reading this there seems to be a third answer. Mother Theresa represents the misgivings of the age.
…[Atheists] experience of God’s absence is a truthful experience, shared also by believers. Faith is not a denial of all this: it is a patient endurance of the ambiguity of the world and the experience of God’s absence….
Now not all believers feel that absence. Many live in a wonderful everyday relationship with Christ. And we shouldn’t privilege one over the other. Not all parts of the body are eyes or feet. But especially Lutherans should be able talk about that absence. Luther called it the hidden God. No matter what you did the hidden God disapproved and hid His face from you. Luther’s answer was the revealed God. The Word of God. When the hidden God was too much, you looked to the cross, to the God revealed in Jesus Christ. You let God fight with God. You let Christ handle the tensions that we have now been justified but not yet glorified.
That post continues with this phrase, “patience with others is love, patience with self is hope, patience with God is faith.” We are saved by grace through faith. In a very impatient age, it seems right that the saint of the age had the patience to keep faithful for years at a time while feeling an absence.