SCRIPTURES – Ezekiel 17:22-24; 2 Corinthians 5:1-17; Mark 4:26-34
“The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come." Mark 4
These words of Jesus seem at first glance to have little application to us. For, He is speaking to His closest disciples during a time of great success. Crowds of people have been coming to see Him, be healed by Him, and listen to His teaching. He is at the height of His popularity and all seems to be good. Is that the way it is here at St. Peter’s, or with Christian churches in general? Are we packed to the gills with crowds of people who are eager to hear about Jesus? If only that were so.
Nevertheless, Jesus proclaims an important truth that we need to learn and take to heart. “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself.” The growth of Christ’s kingdom is a hidden thing. It is His work alone, not yours or mine. Don’t judge it by what you see with your eyes!
This can bring great comfort in this day when faith in Christ seems more and more to be disparaged and rejected. He is still doing His work! Recently ran across a wonderful example of this in a book I’ve been reading, A Heart For Freedom. The author, Chai Ling, is a woman who was born in China in 1966 and who in 1983 was chosen to attend the prestigious Beida University in Beijing. She writes:
[At Beida] I met a young man – his family name was Wang… He soon opened a world to me I had never known before: faith in God. This was another taboo in China, where all forms of spiritual belief were condemned as capitalism’s poison to the working-class soul.
Wang told me he had spent the previous summer traveling by bicycle along the Yellow River… He had wanted to see the lives and culture of the Chinese heartland with his own eyes. On his journey… he came upon a mountain village so poor that no woman could marry into it. When the local girls reached the age of matrimony, they left the village to marry elsewhere. No one in the village knew how to read, and the villagers clothed themselves in rags. It shocked Wang to see such dire poverty.
When the people heard that a college student had wandered into their midst, a village elder gathered everyone, young and old, into a small, mud hut and invited Wang to join them. As everyone stood around a tiny oil lamp, the elder brought out a bundle wrapped in black cloth. Slowly, with trembling hands, he unfolded the cloth, one layer at a time, until it revealed an old Bible. The pages were wrinkled and yellow.
The old man told Wang that, many years before, an American missionary had left the Bible before he was driven out of China by Mao’s liberation. Because none of the remaining villagers knew how to read, when they gathered to secretly worship, they simply passed the Bible around, hand to hand, and each person was allowed to touch it once. In this way, they received the presence of God. Still, they longed to know what was in that Bible, and they prayed for someone who could read it to them. When Wang showed up, they were overjoyed and said their prayers had been answered. Wang had no idea what they were talking about, but he was happy to oblige their request.
With all eyes on him, he read the Word of God as the people listened intently. He said it was if they had all fallen into a trance. No one moved or left. Wang, too, felt the special bond these people shared. Without feeling tired, he kept reading late into the night. Each time he paused, the peasants begged him for more. Before he knew it, the rooster was crowing, and the peasants went out to work in the fields. Wang took a nap. After sunset, the peasants returned, and Wang continued reading to them.
After several days, Wang had to resume his trip in order to be back at school on time. The entire village turned out to see him off…
When Wang told me this story, I felt like one of those villagers who had longed to hear the Word of God. Though religion was outlawed in China when I was growing up, to me it was neither foreign nor intimidating. As I listened to Wang, I was attracted to that powerful spiritual force. (Chai Ling, A Heart For Freedom, pp. 40-41)
It took a while – years, in fact – and interactions with many other Christians, but that attraction blossomed in Chai Ling into faith in Jesus as her God and Savior. Through those simple villagers who had next to nothing and who, in people’s eyes, are next to nothing, the Holy Spirit reached into the heart of China, into the heart of atheism and despotism, to snatch from its rulers one of their brightest and best and claim her for Christ’s kingdom! His kingdom may appear to be “the smallest of all the seeds on earth, 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."
Take comfort, then, in the love of God in Christ and the forgiveness and eternal life He has won for us all by His life, death, resurrection and ascension. Although many reject and oppose Him and His kingdom may appear to be on the decline, Jesus is building His kingdom. What is now hidden will be seen in its glory, and will never pass away!
But, as you rejoice in this, take also to heart that there would be no mighty tree without the seed. Christ’s kingdom grows from the seed, and that seed is His Word. Here is where He confronts us to shake us out of our sleepiness and complacency. Be like those simple Chinese villagers who treasured the Bible they had because knew that it conveyed God’s presence and blessing! When the opportunity came to hear its words they seized it. They sacrificed their own personal comfort and the need for sleep to hear it; and the love of God in Christ which filled them overflowed to Wang, and then through him to Chai Ling.
I fear for us, who have so much and don’t seem to realize it – and I do not mean earthly possessions. We have God’s Word in such great abundance! You all own Bibles. You can read it without fear whenever you want. You can gather together with your fellow believers in church and hear it taught and proclaimed every week. You can study and discuss God’s Word together.
Don’t be complacent in this! Receive the seed, God’s message of His love and forgiveness in Christ. He will in turn make you His seed, a bearer of His love and forgiveness in Christ to be scattered and bear fruit among others. How He will do so is in God’s hands. But, He will do so. God will change you and use you to plant Christ within others. As St. Paul says, “the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.” Let our prayer, then, be: control us, Lord!
Blessed Lord, since You have caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning, grant that we may so hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that we may embrace and ever hold fast – and hold forth! – the blessed hope of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (Collect of the Day for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost)