The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, 17 June 2018
A Sermon on Mark 4:26-34 by Samuel Zumwalt, STS
Mark 3:20-35 English Standard Version, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers]
26 And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” 30 And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? 31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” 33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. 34 He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything. The Gospel of the Lord.
Church, Proclaim: Christ the Sower
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Doubtless you have heard about the old Indian chief who explains the internal struggle going on inside of himself. He tells his grandson that inside of every person are two wolves constantly at war with each other. One is evil and is full of anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, self-doubt, and ego. The other wolf is good and is full of joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The grandson asks, “Which wolf will win?” His grandfather answers, “Whichever wolf you feed.”
Today’s Gospel lesson asks us to consider something very similar. Has the Kingdom of God been planted in you? If it has, then, is it growing? Is the Kingdom of God in you being fed?
Through the years, I have baptized adults whose parents never took their children to the services of God’s house. Often the parents were, in general, good parents, especially the fathers who guarded, protected, cared for, and encouraged their children’s development into responsible adulthood. But, about the things of God, these parents, especially Dads, did little or nothing. So, their children grew up to be, mostly, unbelieving, unchurched adults. Then, usually a crisis of some sort, such as a death or a divorce, has been like tilling soil. Because of some great pain, an unchurched adult becomes open to an invitation from a friend to attend worship. Because of this vulnerability, the Holy Spirit is, then, able to plant the seed of God’s Word into that person’s life.
Eventually, that previously unchurched adult ends up in my office and we begin to talk about what can be described as a spiritual awakening. On more than one occasion, a person has said: “Oh, I did go to a Mother’s Day Out at a church when I was a small child” or “I did go to Vacation Bible School with a friend.” Then, as we talk about that time, the person begins to see that God’s Word was planted in their lives many years before, but it has never germinated and begun to grow until recently. But, the point is a tiny seed had been planted. Now it was growing.
I want to thank all those who helped with Vacation Bible School this past week and particularly to honor my wife Laura who put in hours and hours of planning and decorating to make the week happen. To Karen, Zan, Teresa, Amy, Melissa, our section leaders, and to our youth and adult helpers including Lynette, Judi, Christi, Carolyn, Kieran, Declan, Thomas, Garrison, Joy, Stuart, Jordan, Mandi, Pr. Marv, Jon, and Bethel, I say: Thank you! Because you gave so much of yourselves, God’s Word has been planted in many lives last week. Someday when you are with the Lord, you will finally know what a great difference you made! Fran, Robert, and two non-members, Michelle and Caitlyn, were also a godsend helping us decorate.
People, if you want to make a tremendous difference in the world, get involved with the Christian Education ministry of this congregation. There are a lot of places you visit each week and a lot of hours you spend that really don’t and won’t make a difference for eternity. Working with children and youth is the best investment of our time, talent, and treasure that we can make!
What are you planting? What are you watering? What are you tending in life? That’s very much like asking, “Which wolf will you feed?” Are you spreading God’s Kingdom? Or another?
The Sower Who Is Sown For Us
Because of sin, our age-old rebellion, we cannot save ourselves from sin, death, and evil. All of us have that angry wolf inside that is not who or what God created us to be. We are not here by accident. Such thinking is ridiculous, because it denies the beautiful complexity of creation itself. Describing life as an accident, a random event, is a childish reaction, often masked by sophisticated language, but a childish reaction, nevertheless, to our brokenness and the brokenness of others. When we imagine ourselves to be the center of the universe or, at least, the center of our own little world, then we begin to view our lives and to interpret what happens to us as random events to which we can respond either positively or negatively. Anthropologist Ernest Becker described that way of living as our hero project (The Denial of Death). It offers no hope beyond the transitory idea of being remembered for our accomplishments. Sic transit gloria mundi. Thus, passes the glory of the world. Today’s hero can be tomorrow’s villain or nobody.
Yes, there is an old Adam or old Eve, an old sinner, that resides inside each one of us. That person is the angry wolf in the Indian chief’s story. He or she can get a beautiful makeover with plastic surgery, Botox, liposuction, augmentation or reduction of certain body parts, and even hair transplants. The old Adam or Eve can develop pretty ways, learning how to talk, walk, and dress for success. The old Adam or Eve can be an incredibly good liar on screen or on stage, like the actor Robert Deniro, but still be a foul-mouthed narcissist on the inside. The old Adam or Eve can be world-renowned in his or her field and win countless awards and still be evil inside.
Being nice is a choice, but even pedophiles can be nice, well-thought-of persons until they are caught. Don’t confuse what people offer for public consumption with who a person is inside.
I need a Savior. You need a Savior. The whole world needs a Savior, and God’s Son Jesus is the Christ, who not only sowed the seed of God’s Kingdom, but who is Himself the seed that was planted in the earth after He, God’s King, was crucified for my sins, your sins and the sins of the whole world. When I was baptized, when you were baptized, indeed each time anyone is baptized with water in the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit, we become citizens of God’s Kingdom. The King takes our sin and our death to His cross and gives us in its place His eternal life and righteousness (His perfectly obedient life) as a free gift.
Until the Kingdom of God is fully sown into us in Holy Baptism, it cannot grow within us. We have that old angry wolf inside that wants to destroy us and keep us out of God the Father’s holy embrace. We need Jesus to be sown in us. Until we are born again by water and the Holy Spirit in Baptism, we cannot be united to Jesus’ saving death and glorious resurrection.
So, Holy Baptism is not magic. It is a way of life, and this is particularly where godly fathers, grandfathers, and godfathers become so important. We need models of the Christian faith to show us what true piety is. We need men who will lead us and bring us to worship each week. We need men who read the Bible and pray daily. We need men who have spiritual friendships where brothers in Christ challenge each other to grow. We need men who are joyful servants, who give there lives away in limitless humble service like their Lord Jesus. We need men who are generous with their time, their talent, and their treasure, because the Kingdom of God is growing inside of them and they don’t want anyone to miss out on the Kingdom.
Men, your heavenly Father doesn’t want your guilt or your shame over what you did yesterday or what you haven’t yet done. He wants you to be baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection if you haven’t been. He wants your families to be baptized if they haven’t been. And He wants you to lift up your empty hands to receive Jesus in the Host and Cup, saying, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner!” Your Father in heaven wants to forgive all your sins and to create in you a new heart and a new mind. He wants you to have the mind of His Son Jesus leading you and guiding you every day. Drown the old angry wolf inside of you every day by confessing your sins and asking the Holy Spirit to shape you into the likeness of God’s Son Jesus.
Feeding the Child of God Always
It’s hard for us men to show vulnerability, because most of us were taught wrongly that we had to handle everything by ourselves. That stuff will kill you…or leave you old, lonely, and alone. Novelist Robert Crais has a wonderful character named Joe Pike, the only child of an angry abusive drunk father. A former Marine and L.A. policeman, Pike is a man of few words, a man who serves and protects the weak and vulnerable. In The Watchman, Pike saves a young woman from certain death and along the way allows himself to feel love for her, but he won’t let her into his life and can only say, “I love you,” out loud after she has driven away heartbroken.
Men, don’t ignore Christ the Sower today or any day. Your Father has a vision of your life in which you become more and more like His Son, a servant for life, a servant of God, a servant who guards, protects, and gives. That child of God, that man of God in you, won’t just happen. He needs to be fed daily by God’s Word and Sacraments. Will God feed you? Or someone else?
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
©Samuel David Zumwalt, STS
St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA
Church, Proclaim: Christ the Sower
“O God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen” (The Daily Prayer of the Church, 616).
Mark 4:30 “With what can we compare the kingdom of God?”
Origen [3rd century Bible scholar and theologian in Alexandria, Egypt]: “Now a simile differs from a parable; for it is written in Mark, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it?’ From this is plain that there is some logical distinction between a comparison and a parable. The simile seems to be generic, and the parable specific. The simile, which is the highest genus of the parable, contains the parable as one of its species” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Mark, 60-61).
Mark 4:31 “It is like a grain of mustard seed, which… is the smallest of all the seeds on earth.”
St. Clement [late 2nd – early 3rd century Head of the catechetical school at Alexandria]: “From this word flows the soul’s true vitality and fitness for eternity. To such increased size did the growth of the word come that the tree which sprang from it (that is the Church of Christ now being established over the whole earth) filled the world, so that the birds of the air (that is, holy angels and lofty souls) dwelt in its branches” (61).
Mark 4:32 “…becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches….”
St. Augustine: [late 4th-early 5th century Bishop of Hippo Regius in northern Africa]: “…In the same manner, then, the catholicity of our mother becomes palpable when others who are not her sons make war on her. It is a fact that this little branch of worshipers in Africa has been broken off from the great tree which embraces the whole world in the spreading of its branches. She is in labor with them in charity, that they may return to the root without which they cannot have true life” (61).
Mark 4:32 “… puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
St. Peter Chrysalogus [5th century Bishop of Ravenna, Italy]: “So it was with Christ; he chose to have his body crushed, because he would not have his power concealed…. Christ became all things in order to restore all things to himself. The man Christ received the mustard seed which represents the Kingdom of God; as man he received it, though as God he had always possessed it. He sowed it in his garden, that is in his bride, the Church. The Church is a garden extending over the whole world, tilled by the plough of the gospel, fenced in by stakes of doctrine and discipline, cleared of every harmful weed by the labor of the apostles, fragrant and lovely with perennial flowers; virgins’ lilies and martyrs’ roses set amid the pleasant verdure of all who bear witness to Christ and the tender plants of all who have faith in him. Such then is the mustard seed which Christ sowed in his garden. When he promised a kingdom to the patriarchs the seed took root in them; with the prophets it sprang up; with the apostles it grew tall….” (62).
1. Do I listen to the Word of God daily that Holy Spirit can tend the Word implanted in me?
2. Do I return weekly to the services of God’s house to receive Christ in Word and Sacrament?
(Read this aloud daily until everyone in your home can say it from memory.)
Table of Duties
Certain passages of Scripture for Various Holy Orders and Positions, by Which These People Are to Be Admonished, as a Special Lesson, about Their Office and Service
“Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7).
“Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them” (Colossians 3:19).
“Wives, submit to your husbands, as to the Lord.”
“For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” (Ephesians 5:22; 1 Peter 3:5-6) (Luther’s Small Catechism).
1. Pray for every unbaptized child and adult you know and for the child’s parents, too.
2. Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship.
3. During the summer months (especially fathers!), bring your household to the services of God’s house. If you are on the road, worship while you are away and bring back the bulletin for Pastor Zumwalt to see. Do this for accountability and to let the pastor see what other congregations are doing.
4. Fathers and husbands, give your lives away in humble service to your wives. Die to yourself.
5. Hang a crucifix or cross opposite your pillow so that the last sight you see before turning out the light is your Lord’s cross and the first sight of the new day reminds you to pray.
For Husbands and Wives
Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”