Scottsdale, Arizona. Watertown, South Dakota. Saginaw, Michigan. New Ulm, Minnesota. Clifton Park, New York. Waco, Nebraska. Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Tacoma, Washington. Palm Harbor, Florida. Dallas, Texas. Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Watertown, Wisconsin.
Over the past two weeks, in those twelve cities, Jesus gave us a glimpse of the mystery he revealed in next Sunday’s gospel (Mark 4:26-34). While Jesus, in his state of exinanition, may not have been consciously thinking of the twelve cities listed above, they still serve as a powerful glimpse of a mystery of the kingdom of God hidden from the eyes of our reason but revealed by Jesus’ parables.
The mystery of the kingdom of God in the twin parables held before us this week is essentially one with beautiful gospel nuances to each parable (they are fraternal twins, if you will, not identical!). The powerful seed of God’s Word is at work in this world in ways far beyond our human comprehension (the 1st parable) or expectation (the 2nd parable).
The Word of the Son of Man who suffered, died, and yet rose for us, comes to this world by all appearances in a form as weak and powerless as his lifeless corpse on his cross. Yet there in his saving Word and sacraments is power that defies human explanation. That outwardly humble Word produces all by itself all the stages of spiritual life from sprouting to harvest. The seed about which the world (and our own hearts) scoffs overwhelms all human expectations as it produces a rest-giving tree under whose shade gather redeemed sinners from every corner of the globe.
And now back to those 12 cities! If we open our eyes beyond the outward mundanity of the district conventions most of us had the privilege (yes…I used that word intentionally to spite my own sinful nature!) of attending are we not at such moments privileged to see a glimpse of the very truth these parables reveal? As I sat as a guest at the Minnesota District Convention’s opening service in the Chapel of the Christ, it suddenly struck me that I was seeing right before my all too weary eyes the glorious evidence of the mystery of Sunday’s parables!
There all around me was evidence of the Word’s power in all its human-comprehension-and-expectation-defying reality! There for the eyes of faith to see was a harvest of souls produced all by itself by the power of the Word scattered abroad.
And all of that was a glimpse of something far, far bigger! For even if all those district gatherings were all in one place, that would still represent only one tiny corner of one small part of God’s world encompassing field! Even if we add in our brothers and sisters in the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference, we are still only glimpsing one half-acre of God’s massive harvest field. For, as much as we rightly grieve the false teachings and corruption that plagues so much of the Christian Church, yet do not forget for a moment that “We believe in one holy Christian and apostolic Church!” Forgiven-in-Christ-souls of every nation, tribe, people, and language are coming to roost in the mustard plant’s shade! Behold the mystery revealed…
…and yet still concealed. On most days, we do not so clearly see the human-comprehension-and-expectation-defying power of the Word! In many ways, it remains a mystery still concealed! So often the harvest we would love to see as we preach and teach, counsel and encourage, evades our notice! The time between planting and the first glimpse of life breaking the ground in the hearts of unbelievers seems incredibly long…so often, to our eyes, nothing seems to be happening at all. So often even with those already within the kingdom of God that glorious progression from planting to harvest seems interrupted and in danger of being stunted completely. So often, if we honestly observe the natural thinking processes of our own hearts and the often shameful and thoughtlessly loveless patterns of our lives, the powerful opposition to that tiny seed seems so strong and the Word so powerless to further even our own growth toward harvest!
Impatience and discouragement for our church families, our own families, and yes, our own lives, becomes the daily tangible reality against which we struggle. Cynicism and skepticism raise their ugly heads threatening our zeal for gospel ministry and our faith itself! The human-comprehension-and-expectation-defying power of the Word? A mystery revealed…yet still often concealed…
…but at all times real! The truth of Jesus’ twin parables remains no less real! The human-comprehension-and-expectation-defying Word we seem to cast so heedlessly out into the world and into human hearts (our own included!) is doing wonderful things even as we merely sleep and get up. That tiny mustard seed is most assuredly growing into a world-wide provider of saving shade for birds to find shelter from every nation and tribe and people and language. Don’t be fooled by the seed’s own humble outward appearance – or by the doubts and deceits of our own hearts. Jesus is promising you that his saving Word will defy our human reason’s lack of understanding and low expectations.
And right there is the reason to treasure those wondrous moments when he allows us to enjoy a glimpse of the reality of our fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ that transcends our usual narrow world! In all those hearts – with opposition no more or less stiff than the opposition within our hearts – is revealed a glimpse of a reality of the kingdom of God that is so often still concealed from our sight. Those glimpses of the seed at work can steel our hearts to remember that this mystery is no less real whether revealed or concealed. Just as it is no less true that we are forgiven in Christ whether our hearts delight in it or doubt it, so it is no less true that his Word is doing amazing things on days we see it or on days when that reality seems so hidden from sight.
Scottsdale, Arizona. Watertown, South Dakota. Saginaw, Michigan. New Ulm, Minnesota. Clifton Park, New York. Waco, Nebraska. Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Tacoma, Washington. Palm Harbor, Florida. Dallas, Texas. Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Watertown, Wisconsin. To the hearts of your people, to the hearts of your family, and to your own heart, comes the promise of a Word whose power defies all human ability to understand and goes far beyond all our expectations. Whether today you believe you are glimpsing its reality clearly…or whether everything you see seems to deny it…thank God the truth of these parables is no less real!
Behold…a mystery revealed…yet still often concealed…but at all times real!