Sermon “Welcome to the Invisible Kingdom”
Lord, bless us to hear and receive your word with a willing heart. Amen.
Our Gospel reading for today compares the kingdom of God to growing seed. That’s not foreign to very many people around here. We’re used to the idea of seeds, plants, growing, whether we’re involved in farming or not.
(You might want to use a different or more detailed story here.) I remember when I was a little boy, though, it didn’t make much sense. A seed doesn’t always look much like the plant you want to grow in your garden. And once you put it in the ground it seems like nothing happens. I didn’t understand that it took patience, that the plants just need to take their time and go through their course. I know quite a bit more now about how seeds and plants work. The more I find out, though, the more I realize I don’t know about what’s happening inside the seeds and plants as they do their work. But we put the seed in the ground. We take care of it as well as we can. And as we wait, day by day, week by week, it grows into a crop. Sometimes it’s a better crop than it is at other times. But the seed does its work. Once the crop is ready we won’t gain anything by waiting longer. When it’s time to harvest it’s time to harvest. So we bring in the harvest our Lord has given us and we rejoice that he has provided for us.
When Jesus talks to his disciples like this, in parables, he is not being completely clear. Remember that a parable doesn’t always say precisely what the main point is. He lets us try to figure it out. And somewhere in that parable we can see what Jesus is talking about. He gives it to us in verse 26. It’s about the kingdom of God. How does the kingdom of God work? Someone sows the seed. It takes effect somehow, though we can’t explain it. Yet as the seed, the word of God, does its work, we see the Christian growing in grace. Sometimes we see that more clearly, sometimes less clearly. And we see believers growing in some ways here, some ways there. But as God’s word works in us we do grow in grace. We gradually become more like the mature grace-filled follower of Jesus, being conformed into his image.
But how are we going to look at this kingdom, the kingdom of God, the kingdom that’s right here, where God’s Word is being proclaimed? After all, we aren’t all alike. Some people have some gifts, others have other gifts. And we’re different in the ways our gifts have developed and how we use those gifts. We’re all being equipped by God’s Word to participate in His kingdom. But we are not at all the same as each other. Something we need to realize, something we need to remember every day of our lives, is that we are not all the same. God’s kingdom is not uniform. We aren’t all supposed to be the same. We’re simply all busy being changed into the image of Christ our Savior. And that change looks a little different for each of us. It makes us uncomfortable because we expect to see a visible kingdom. We expect the kingdom of God to look a lot more like the kingdoms of people. We expect to see the Church growing through the same kind of means, the same kind of quantifiable measures that we would expect in other parts of life. We can measure the growth rate of crops. Shouldn’t we be able to measure the growth of our church in the same way? We can tell by looking at the fruit on a tree how it is developing. Shouldn’t we be able to look at godly growth the same way?
It isn’t that easy. It isn’t that straightforward. The problem is that God’s kingdom is not always visible. We saw that in our reading from 2 Corinthians chapter 5. We saw that we shouldn’t be too at home here in what Paul calls our “earthly home,” our “tent.” We find out that as long as we are mortal we haven’t been fully born yet. We aren’t fully alive as long as we are earthly. We get to spend our time in this life waiting for God to make us truly alive. We wait for Jesus to take us to our real home, his home, our heavenly dwelling.
To come back to the parable of the farmer, we’re like the seed that’s still under ground. We haven’t really come up and matured yet. Or if we’ve sprouted, we aren’t finished maturing yet. The harvest time is not yet. Some of us are closer to the harvest than others, but we aren’t there. It’s God who will choose when to put in the sickle and harvest us. And he will do it in his good time, when he is ready, when he sees that we have borne the fruit that he has appointed for us, when he has conformed us into his image.
The kingdom of heaven, then, is really invisible. We don’t see it. God has revealed himself in these last days in the person and work of Jesus, coming to live a perfect life for us, die a perfect death on our behalf, and rise again as the firstfruits of the resurrection. But he has not given us the full view of himself. We don’t get that until we come face to face with him, after the harvest. Until then we are busy growing and maturing. Until then we are still under development. We walk by faith and not by sight. We know that one day we will no longer be walking by faith because we will see Jesus as he is. Then we look to him and see him face to face. Faith has borne fruit, our hope is fulfilled.
But there’s one more parable in our reading today. I think we need to move back to Mark and look at this other parable a little bit. It’s the parable of a mustard seed. Jesus says it is the smallest seed there is. He’s just exaggerating here. There were plenty of smaller seeds known to gardeners of his time. But have you ever looked at a mustard seed? It’s pretty little. Not much to it. Yet when it grows, the tree is pretty big. Not a huge tree, but not a tiny little shrub either. There are plenty of smaller garden plants. What is Jesus saying about the mustard seed and the kingdom of God? As God plants his seed, his Gospel in this world, it grows. From something that seems insunbstantial, powerless, from a little water, from words on a page or spoken through someone’s voice, through a little drink of wine and a bite of bread, our Lord builds his kingdom, a kingdom of power and might, the kingdom which he says the gates of Hell cannot stand before. He builds his kingdom in which all nations of the earth will be blessed. He builds his kingdom in which we have no reason to fear, because he has conquered all our enemies, even death itself.
So even as we are growing, even as we are seeking to be clothed with immortality, even as we are away from home because we are still living here, we are God’s instruments of blessing to our world. We are the people of God. We are the visible part of his kingdom. We look to the invisible reality, but we show that reality through what we are, how we are visible. What do people see when they look at Faith Lutheran Church? Is this what our Lord would have them see? Do people see the family of Christ, a family that cares for one another? Do people see a fellowship centered around the Word of God and prayer? Do people see a Church that looks to Jesus its master in faith and true hope? Do people see that God has chosen to bless all nations through the Church? Do we see that as well? May the Lord have mercy on us as we, the people he is bringing forth as a result of the Gospel, seek to live out this mortal life as a blessing to our neighbors. May the Lord have mercy on us as we strive to love and serve those around us. May the Lord continue his work, the work of the Gospel, dwelling in us through Word and Sacrament, until he brings us to fruition, until the day of harvest.