Thy Kingdom Come(s)
I read every bulletin you bring me from your visits to other churches. I've noticed a new wave of evangelism in many. There are Bible studies, workshops, and programs intent on shackling laymen once more to the idea that only you can prevent churches from dying; that the "LCMS Wants You" to reach out. All this from a church that has confessed since 1530, "That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith; where and when it pleases God" (AC V). And since 1529 we've taught our kids, "The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself" (SC III).
From our text we learn that God's kingdom comes so inconspicuously that most don't see it. So, no wonder they have plans, programs, and plots to plant it, grow it, see it. But Jesus says, "This is what the kingdom of God is like." It's like a man, not sowing as in the case of the mustard seed, but casting seed on the ground. When you cast seed, you don't know where it falls. It's all over. Some of it doesn't even make it to the ground.
You know the adage "a watched pot never boils." In the 21st century, we would say "a watched download doesn't." Well, a watched seed doesn't sprout. I remember in grade school planting a seed in one of those little Dixie cups. It certainly was no magic Jack and the Beanstalk. Every day I checked, and everyday all I saw was dirt. This is pastors; they preach, they teach, they catechize, they Baptize, they absolve and commune, and they see nothing but the same old plants and dirt. Until they don't.
I'm not sure pastors who dive headlong into Evangelism Explosions, Each One Reach One, Friendship Sunday and I've tried all of these and more ever see anything but dirt when they look on what has now been sown. But all of a sudden, says Jesus, the kingdom sprouts and grows. And then Jesus goes into far more detail than He does in most parables. "First the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head." That's how it went with my Dixie cup of dirt. One day I looked and there was a pale green thing in the dirt. And this is the confidence our Lord would give us in the sowing of His Word. It certainly will sprout, grow, produce stalks, heads, and full kernels.
The Gospel, the Good News that Jesus kept the Law in place of all sinners and that He died to pay for the sins of all sinners and the Sacraments of the preached, baptized, and eaten word work faith "where and when it pleases God." This truth is what gets confessional pastors into pulpit and Bible class Sunday after Sunday. Though I see no amber waves of grain, no fields of gold. I have the promise of God Almighty that His Kingdom grows. And it does so by His power. In our Confession we specifically condemn those who think the kingdom grows "through their own preparation and works" (AC V, 4).
John Irving, in The Cider House Rules, has the orphanage director bidding his charges good night with the exalted words, "Good night ye princes and princesses of Maine." But he knows most of these will remain unadopted wards of the State who won't amount to much let alone royalty. Well, I salute you citizens of God's kingdom, heirs of heaven itself. Yes, although the kingdom comes inconspicuously. It does come; and paradoxically, it comes impressively.
To illustrate this, I have to switch between reality and fantasy. Everyone knows from the tiny acorn comes the mighty oak; I can take you out and wrap your arms around that tree. But in God's kingdom since we walk by faith not sight, we can only wrap are heads around the kingdom by faith. The wise kingdom of God comes from the foolishness of my preaching, from the Gospel of forgiveness not from the friendship of people. The mighty kingdom of God is built by something as unsubstantial as the Waters of Baptism. God's holy kingdom comes from the mouths of unholy pastors.
From the pinhead sized mustard seed comes the 12 feet tall mustard shrub "with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade." It's not for nothing that Jesus describes His kingdom this way. This was how Daniel described the mightiest one-world kingdom there ever would be. In Daniel 4 the prophet compares Babylon to the biggest tree ever saying, "the birds of the sky dwell in its branches." Do you see? The Kingdom of God that grows so inconspicuously, whose marks are the foolishness of preaching the Gospel, citizens produced by what looks to be plain water, and whose grand meal looks to be nothing more than bread and wine is not one wit behind the mightiest kingdom earth ever has seen.
You couldn't help but hear about the summit between the U.S. and North Korea. You can't help noticing the pomp and circumstance that follows the President of the mightiest nation on earth today. I'm saying that when no more than 3 or even 2 of us are gathered around the only name under heaven given among men to save, Jesus, there is far more pomp and circumstance than that. There are no visible honor guards, squads of secret service agents, or pools of reporters. No, there are angels, and archangels, and all the company of heaven when as few as 2 are gathered in Jesus' name. This isn't fantasy. This is reality. One day we will wake up from the grave of dust or from this life buried under layers of grime to see that God's kingdom has come. Where we had been seeing only dirt in a Dixie cup there is a tree to rival Jack's Beanstalk not with a giant at the top but with our King and God, Savior, and Friend.
"Thy kingdom come" we chant with one voice each Sunday and we should hear that not only as a prayer but a statement of fact, "Thy kingdom comes." It comes inconspicuously, impressively, and impossibly. This last part is what we have confessed since 1529 and what men in their pride, in their fear, and in their misbelief forget again and again, and so they set to work with their own hands to build the kingdom they know God wants and they can't see. But I'm telling you on the authority of God's own word that it's here; it's impressive, and it's impossible.
I used to go hunting in Michigan with a man who had his Ph.D. in entomology, that's the insect experts. It was the dead of winter. He was from Texas. Never hunted in Michigan. We're sitting at the base of a tree. It's very cold. He starts digging around in the snow. He says, "See these snow fleas." I didn't till something about the size of a period moved, and then I saw them all over. There can be hundreds of millions in an acre he told me. All that I knew about freezing temperatures and insects said it was impossible for a bug to live outdoors in winter, but there it was.
"The kingdom of God certainly comes" without our prayers, preparation, or works, we confess to believe, and that is impossible. It's impossible as a seed that is buried in the ground dying, yet producing not just life but an abundance of life. The mustard seed that dies produces the mighty tree-like shrub that in turn produces 10's of thousands of seeds. And of course, Jesus is that seed. In speaking of His own brutal, bloody death to pay for not only our sins but the sins of the whole world, He says, "Amen, Amen I tell you unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a seed, but if it dies, it bears much fruit."
The seeds of the Bird of Paradise and the Mountain Laurel have to be scarified, the hard coat has to be scratched, or they won't sprout and grow. This new wave of evangelism, will be just like the ones I've participated in, they will attempt to move you to do evangelism, to grow the kingdom by scarifying you. O they will do this in the name of the Gospel, for the sake of souls bought by the blood of Christ, but you go away scarified, scared, and scarred because who have you reached for Jesus lately?
What I'm telling you is that Jesus is the Seed that was scarified. Before He was buried in the ground, He was beaten, He was whipped, and all the weight of all your sins was pressed upon Him so completely that blood popped from His pores. The skin of His holy body, His sacred flesh, His pure exterior was popped by bloody sweat, pricked by a crown of thorns, lacerated with whips, pierced by nails, stabbed by a spear, and then the Seed was buried. And from the dirt rose the King, the Kingdom, and all us citizens of it.
And this miracle does something to us. It produces people willing to give up their bodies for sacrifice. The phrase "because the harvest has come" can be translated that way. A Greek lexicon says that it was used as technical term in agriculture to means something is fully grown, ripe for harvest. However, it also says it was a technical term in religion to offer, bring, present something for sacrifice (BAG). That's what is meant here, and I base this on Luke 2:22 where Jesus' parents brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord. He was being presented as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. And this same word is used in Romans 12:1, "I beseech you by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice living, holy, acceptable to God."
"Thy kingdom come" we pray, and now we see "Thy kingdom comes" as we see the scarified Seed rise whole and holy from the grave and burst into full fruit on Pentecost. It's impossible, but I who am stone-cold dead in my sins am alive in Christ. It's impossible, but this unbelieving sinner believes in the forgiveness of his sins for Jesus sake. It's impossible that I who am unacceptable by every standard of divinity am acceptable to God having been clothed by Jesus in Baptized and bodied and blooded to Him in Communion. It's just impossible that I am in a kingdom that is impressive beyond my wildest dreams but so inconspicuous that it is invisible outside the Christian faith. More impossible still by the mercies of God I present myself for sacrificial service. No evangelism program, Bible study, or workshop could make me do this. This takes a miracle. The miracle we confess when we state, "Thy kingdom comes." Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fourth Sounday after Pentecost (20180617); Mark 4: 26-32