Sermon 3/5/2014 Ash Wednesday

Pastor Walther

Ash Wednesday

March 5, 2014

Mark 4:26-29 - The Garden of Proclamation

26 He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

    

    Have you ever had a conversation like this: Hey. Hows it going? Good! The weather’s these days! Terrible! Did you hear about the packer’s new water boy? Seems like a good guy. Probably will bring a lot of experience to the team.  Maybe you’ve had a conversation just like that on a plane, either with a completely random person you’ve never met or even a family member or friend.  That’s great! I’m glad you’re at least a friendly person.  But did you ever stop to think, there’s a possibility that the person I was just talking to isn’t going to heaven? We cared enough to occupy ourselves for that brief time, but did we care enough to approach a deeper subject? When we think about it, how did God bring us salvation from Jesus? How does he give us rescue from death and damnation and make it ours? 

    I’ll be honest, I know nothing about farming, or botany.  I don’t even know how people make flower arrangements look good.  But I think it is such an awesome picture that Jesus uses to describe to us the importance of sharing God’s word and how it works. He uses the picture of a person throwing seeds onto the ground.  

    God proclaims his promise of salvation in Jesus to us. That means he tells us. When he tells us, he is at the same time giving it to us.  He does not promise to speak it to us in our hearts because only sin resides there by nature. He does not ask us to wait for some inner feeling or experience to make something real to us. God arranged something outside of us. God had it all written down for us on the pages of the Bible. It’s his Word. 

    God also instituted the holy ministry and publicly appointed certain individuals in the church to speak to us for him.  The word in verse 26 could be translated “man,” or even in the context, “farmer.” But really it just means a person. On the one hand, Christ instituted the public ministry, but on the other hand, his Word is effective through any representative of his.  The seed is not dependent on the person sowing it.  God backs up any mom or dad or any believer at all. Whenever any believer speaks the truth of God’s Word from the Bible, it is the same as God himself proclaiming it and giving it to you. Jesus said things like, “Go . . . and preach the good news to all creation”. He who listens to you listens to me”. The apostle Paul wrote, “How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?

    It’s easy to let this slip past us.  We need to realize the reality that some of our friends and family are not going to heaven because we don’t share God’s Word with them.  Do you realize the gravity of that? So often we think, ooooh I don't want to feel awkward for 5 seconds out of the several billion out of my life!  Obviously, I say this somewhat tongue-in-cheek.  Yet, so often we let our own laziness or even our own narcissism get in the way of doing what God has commanded us to do of sharing his word.  And we wonder why it seems like our church may be shrinking!  Are we, on a personal level, doing what God has commanded of all Christians, or do we hide that light under a bushel? I’ll be honest, I hide my faith under a bushel far too often.  It’s as if I’m Peter in the courtyard denying Jesus all over again when I’d rather plug my earbuds in to my iPod than speak to the neighbor about Jesus.  

    Just think of that picture of the seed again. Did you ever hear about how they had found seeds in an old tomb, which may have been an Egyptian pharaoh's tomb. They planted the seeds, some 2000 year old seeds, and they still grew!  You never know how God may work in the heart of the person that you speak to.  The Holy Spirit could work immediately in their hearts, or maybe 10 years down the road.  

    In Genesis we hear God utter the very first gospel promise in the Garden of Eden. It was the promise to give us a Savior—a rescuer—from sin, death, and damnation. Jesus Christ is our Savior. By his own sufferings and death on the cross, he has saved us from everything that would keep us out of heaven.  He’s the one that has given us life.  He is our motivation to share God’s Word.  The life he has given us is our motivation to share.  The love he demonstrated for us is our motivation to share.  The fact that we want all people to share the peace that we have in Christ is our motivation!

    God proclaims. He plants the Word in us, and it becomes a garden of life and salvation.  Whenever God speaks to us through his representatives who speak his Word, he is planting the seed of salvation in us. We were created from the dust of the earth.  And we are reminded on this Ash Wednesday that we will return to the ground because death is inevitable.  But we are also his soil. And when God plants his Word in us, new life emerges—never-ending life by the power of the Holy Spirit.

    We are Christians living in God’s kingdom right here and right now.  Christ’s words remind us of what Martin Luther wrote in his Small Catechism: “How does God’s kingdom come? God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives his Holy Spirit, so that by his grace we believe his holy Word and lead a godly life now on earth and forever in heaven.”  Keep in mind that the word kingdom is not static. Rather, this is God’s ruling activity. God rules in a way no earthly ruler could. He brings us to faith in the gospel. By the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word, he takes captive our every thought and makes it obedient to Christ. He motivates us to obey him willingly by his unexpected kindness. The kingdom is continually at work night and day.

    Think of a small mission congregation for two decades always remained about the same size—30 or 40 souls. But in that time it served hundreds of members with the gospel. It reached people all throughout the neighborhood through fliers. It broadcasted potentially to thousands through the radio. 

    You are a teenager who went to church this week. You didn’t think you heard anything relevant to your life in the service. You go with your friend to the mall in the afternoon. She’s very upset about her parents. She talks about committing suicide. Something from the morning service jumps into your thoughts, something about the peace of God guarding your hearts and minds. You want her to have that peace. Maybe she’ll talk to your pastor. 

    Or maybe in the privacy of your pastor’s office you unload to him what you’ve been hiding for so long. You wouldn’t dare tell another soul. You’re half afraid that the pastor will think differently of you. To your great surprise he smiles. He reminds you that you are baptized and says, “You are forgiven.” Your guilt is lifted away. You are restored. Your emotions start to settle because of the forgiveness that is made yours.

    The Word produces results.  However fruitless our efforts may seem in sharing God’s Word, we never know what life-giving action is happening underground.  Even during his lifetime, Christ's message received a cold reception – from Pharisees and even family. But Jesus wanted the disciples, and us, to know that what is observable on the surface may not be an accurate measure of the final outcome.

    Imagine sitting on that plane again and having that same conversation.  Knowing the reality that the person you are talking to may not be a christian, wouldn’t that change your conversation a little?  We need to remember to actually proclaim his word! After sharing God’s Word, we can relax, knowing it's not our job to convert people. As verse 27 says, "whether [the sower] sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how." The Holy Spirit speaks life into hearts through the Word.

    We have a wonderful message.  You can’t sit still with such an awesome message.  You can’t just leave church today and leave it at that.  This lenten season, we will see the extremes that our Savior went to for our salvation.  We are truly loved.  Let that be our motivation to share our faith with every single person we come in contact with.  Amen. 

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.