The mysterious way

The Text: Mark 4:26-29


In today’s Gospel, Jesus is addressing the frustration and impatience of humanity as we try to understand the mysterious way the kingdom of God grows and extends itself in the world. I say that because of the way the ‘parables of the Seed’ follow close on the heels of the ‘parable of the Sower.’ The parable of the Sower and Jesus’ explanation help us understand why it is that not everyone who hears the Gospel believes it and bears the fruit of faith.

There’s a background story for every set of ears that hears the word of the Lord, and some of those background stories get in the way. Having said that, notice how the parable of the Sower ends: some of the seed falls on good soil and produces a yield, some thirty, some sixty and some a hundred-fold. That’s exciting, and that’s what we want to see happen, but it doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen as often as we would like it to. And so today’s gospel assures us: “Night and day, whether the farmer sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, but he doesn’t know how. All by itself the soil produces grain, first the stalk, then the head, then the kernel in the head,” and there is no shortcut to that process. Modern fertilizers and farming techniques might help a little, but there are no short cuts. It takes as long as it takes, and that’s what Jesus says the kingdom of God is like. There are no short cuts. His work in the Church, his work in us, and his work in others takes as long as it takes, and that can frustrate us, just as it frustrated the people of old, as we see what’s happening to the Church in our time.

The book entitled: “The Benedict Option” begins by tracing some cultural changes right back to the 14th century, when the western world in general stopped distinguishing the connection between God and his creation. Then there was the Renaissance in the 15th century, the Reformation in the 16th century, the Scientific revolution of the 17th century, the so called Enlightenment of the 18th century, the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, WWI and WWII in the twentieth century, capped off with the sexual revolution in the 1960’s.

The author gives an overview of how those historic events have altered the way people think since the days of the Medieval Church. Not just in terms of knowledge, and what humanity has learned in the last 700 years, but the thought processes we have, and most especially about ourselves. He names the people of the Medieval day “Religious man,” and says, “They were born to be saved.” That’s what they thought about themselves! Then he names the people of our day “Psychological man” and says “They were born to be pleased.” That’s what we think about ourselves. A key idea in the book is that the Christian Church needs to detach itself from today’s culture, because the two are incompatible.

An article from the Lutheran Theological Journal titled “Reflections on the status of the Church as we look towards the future” makes these observations[1]:

.. “A completely new form of culture is upon us, one which rejects the long Western tradition of commonly held beliefs (namely, the Christian faith) and the structuring and ordering of society which flows from it (namely, the Church, family and state institutions such as government). It rejects the moral code of sacrificing self-interest in favour of community interest. Instead, this culture puts the individual first and at the centre of everything, with the highest good being individual freedom and choice, personal happiness, self-definition and self-expression… Anything that restricts the individual must be re-shaped, deconstructed or destroyed… It believes we are inherently good, and that more individual freedom will improve the world… He says “It’s easy to see why this culture is called post-Christian, but in fact it’s actually stronger than that – it’s actually anti-Christian and we can see that by its aggression toward the Church in the media… This is the culture which has shaped those born into it over the last 50 years and explains much about why our churches are emptying out of people under 50. Even those with the best Christian upbringing are being pulled in this direction…

The idea that strong biblical Christian faith can be maintained with little or no friction with contemporary Western culture doesn’t hold up. The two are incompatible…It’s time to hunker down and keep the gospel alive for those who are wrecked by this new culture.”

The authors of these two works recognise that our Western culture is toxic in terms of faith in Jesus Christ. Finally there is recognition that buying into today’s culture is something we need to repent of for faith in Christ to survive.

It is a grim picture I’ve painted for you this morning. You might even say it’s a depressing picture, and yet it explains so much of what we’re seeing all around us.

So, is there any good news for us to hear today? Thank God there is! Night and day the seed of God’s word, the seed of Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour, has continued to grow in us and sustained us in the faith.If that weren’t the case, then we might have joined the exodus from the Church as well. But God in Jesus Christ has kept his word. As often as we have been troubled and perplexed by the experiences of life, his word has strengthened us and held us in the faith. And as often as we’ve been tempted to take this new culture on board and live that way, his word has called us to repent.

What about the friends and loved ones we know who have turned away? How are we going to save them? The reality is, we can’t. We can’t save anyone, not even ourselves. That’s Jesus’ work in us, and it’s actually dangerous for us to even try. The very best thing we can do is bear witness to Christ, and the very best witness we can give is to live the life Jesus is calling us to live; to come regularly to worship, to pray for the lost, show loving kindness for them, and be there for them in need—to “to hunker down and keep the Gospel alive for those who are wrecked by this new culture.”

So Lord, we thank and praise you for grace and mercy to us, that day and night your word has been at work in us, drawing us into your kingdom. Help us give a good witness to you and your kingdom, so that others might join us, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

[1] The article was written by Pastor Greg Pietsch, former Bishop of the Victorian District.