The Second Sunday After Pentecost
June 13-14, 2009
Text: Mark 4:26-34
Dear Friends in Christ,
Late in his life, Luther was asked how he carried out the work of the reformation. Luther replied: I did nothing. The Word did it all. Melanchthon and I just sat around drinking our good Wittenberg beer, and God’s Word carried out the Reformation. At first we might be tempted to say that this was just a hyperbole. For surely Luther and his fellow professor, Philip Melanchthon did a great deal. Princes like Duke Frederick and later his brother Duke John the Steadfast played crucial roles. Each of these people was a lynchpin without whom there is no Reformation at all. Yet, I would like to suggest to you that Luther is not exaggerating at all. The problem is that we really undervalue the power of God’s Word. Nor do we fully comprehend the very nature of the Word itself. For the Word is Christ, Himself and Christ is the Word. Yet, to the world, the Word looks like nothing. This is the mystery of the Church itself.
In our text, Christ is speaking of the Kingdom of God. How is God’s kingdom built? First we must understand the nature of God’s kingdom. God can build His kingdom by the might of His power. He is unstoppable. Philippians 2:10 tells us that one day, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that of Jesus is Yahweh - the Lord and ruler of all things. This isn’t what God hopes for. This isn’t what ought to happen. This is what will happen. The question is whether one bows in response to the promises of God’s grace, or if one is compelled to acknowledge this before being sent to hell. While this is true, it is not the aspect of God’s kingdom that is usually meant in Scripture. Scripture, by the Kingdom of God is speaking of the Church on earth and in heaven. It is speaking of those who live in God’s presence by the grace of God and the forgiveness of sins.
Seed is a very small thing. It is often not very reliable. We prefer to plant potted plants. I’ve planted a bunch in my flower bed. If we do start with seeds, we often start them in pots in the house. Or if we have to plants seeds, we watch the weather reports and make certain we have “certified” seed. I remember my father getting sugar beet seed from the sugar factory, to make certain it was good seed. And even then we sometimes had to replant. I remember walking out in the field with my dad or with my uncle Fritzie to see if the crops were coming up.
The Word of God is the seed that is planted to grow the Church. But it is always good seed. In
Isaiah 55:11 we are told that God’s Word will always produce some result. It might bring people to faith, or it might confirm people in their unbelief and seal them for doom. Either way it does something. It never does nothing. Thankfully, many people hear the Word and come to faith. This is how the Church, that is the Kingdom of God is built up. St. Paul tells us in Romans 10:17 that faith comes by hearing the Word of God.
The problem comes in understanding how the Word comes to us. The Word of God is divided into Law and Gospel. The Law is what we are to do and not do. The Gospel is what God has done for us in Christ Jesus. The Law is always about doing. The Gospel is about receiving the free gifts of God. Both Law and Gospel are good gifts from God and intended for our good. They both serve an important purpose in our lives. They both are truly the Word God. All too often in recent years, in the Missouri Synod, we have spoken as though the Law were a bad thing. True, it accuse us of our sins. Melanchthon in the Apology to the Augsburg Confession, one of our official confessional documents, states that the Law always accuses. (Article IV para. 38) Yet, is this a bad thing? Further, while the Law always accuses, it is how God communicates His will for our lives. In this, it is a good and helpful thing, though we understand that human beings can never do all that the Law demands. And so we must not set aside the Law. Yet, without the promise of forgiveness won by Christ, the Law would only lead us to despair. The Law becomes something we can embrace only through the Gospel. If Christ has not died for our sins, the Law only serves to justify God in sending us to hell - and it still does this for the unbeliever. So we must always have both Law and Gospel side by side. Then we have the full counsel of God, which reveals both our sins and our Savior.
But even here, we do not have yet, a clear picture of the power of God’s Word. God’s Word is true. That is well understood by most among us. Though perhaps we don’t always have a clear picture of what the Word actually says. But what is often not understood is that God’s Word creates truth. What does that mean? If God says something that is not true, then the universe changes, and what God says becomes true. God said let there be light and what happened? Nothing right? It stayed dark. No. God said let there light and there was light. God said let the air be filled with birds and the oceans teem with fish and what happened? The world was filled with birds and fish. This is what we mean when we say that God’s Word creates the reality it expresses. Such is the power of God’s Word.
This has huge implications for us in our life. Christ teaches us that in Baptism we died with Him. We were placed in the tomb with Him. This is not mere symbolism. This actually happened. In Baptism we were buried with Christ. How did this come to be. I mean that happened nearly two thousand years. How could I have been placed into a tomb two thousand years ago? Well, because God’s Word says it. It says it, that makes it so. Christ says, that bread and wine are His Body and Blood. His saying it makes it so. The bread and wine are now His Body and Blood. His Word has the power to create this reality. When the pastor speaks the absolution, sins really are forgiven, in heaven and on earth. Why, because Christ gave this authority to His Church. He said it. That makes it so. His Word creates the very thing it says.
We live in a time when many do not believe that the Word of God builds the Church. Many of our top Church officials spew out programs that reflect the idea that man rather than God builds the Church. It is in our parishes as well. How often do we hear people say things like, we need to get the right pastor in here to make the congregation grow? No. We need to be in the Word and trust in that Word to build the Church. This is God’s plan for Church growth. It doesn’t look like anything to the world, just as little seeds don’t look like anything. But God’s Word is living and powerful. It creates what it says. And from that Word, which seems so weak and impotent, grows up the vast bulwark of the Church. For Church is the creation of the Holy Spirit as we confess in the creed. It is created by the Holy Spirit through the Word. It is the Word that brings forgiveness, life and salvation. For that is what the Church is all about. The Church is the place where that Word of life is applied to us each of us. The Church is the place where the Word creates life in us.