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Worship Theme: How does the Church grow?
Sermon Theme: Kingdom Work Is a Matter of Faith
I had a professor at the Seminary that regularly and persistently declared that God is a farmer. He grew up on a farm in Northern Wisconsin and he lovingly referred to his old stomping grounds as “God’s country.” His idea of beauty was the flat lands with fields of wheat and corn that extended as far as the eye can see. He would defend his idea that God is a farmer by reminding us that God made a garden for Adam and Eve to live in! But probably his most persuasive argument was the number of farming analogies that God inspired to be recorded in Scripture. I have a list in my Bible of 40 different parables that Jesus told to reinforce his heavenly truths, and of those 40, 17 of them have some sort of connection to farms or farming (that’s over 40%). And that’s not even considering the magnitude of farming references in the Old Testament. Whether or not you think of God as a farmer, it is certainly worth noticing the fact that he talks about farming a lot.
In our Gospel today - we have two of those farming parables. Jesus makes two observations about the Kingdom of God by drawing two comparisons with nature. As we look at these pictures we’ll learn about growth in God’s Kingdom. Through his teaching, Jesus guides us to understand that Kingdom Work is a Matter of Faith. God gives us the faith to recognize a few things about his Kingdom: that his Word is working and that the Kingdom is growing.
Have you ever had a problem and no matter what you try, you can’t find the solution? It just doesn’t seem to be working. Maybe you’ve tried every diet in the book, but you can’t seem to shed those pounds. Maybe you’ve sprayed every type of weed killer on the grass, but the dandelions come back every time. Maybe neither you nor your mechanic can find the culprit to the rattling noise in your car. It can be frustrating not seeing the results that we think we should from our efforts.
Work in God’s Kingdom is not immune to this type of frustration. You’ve got a friend that you talk about Jesus with all the time, but she never seems to take the next step. Elder’s work can be frustrating - saying the same thing to the same people and often seeing no change. We try all sorts of things to reach out into the community, but no one seems to notice, no one seems to care. It can be pretty easy to pack it up and give up, can’t it? But that’s exactly what the devil wants. He wants us to forget what we learn from Jesus’ parable today. He wants us to forget that God’s Word is powerful to change hearts and lives.
Jesus wants to us to recognize that the Word provides the power to grow faith. He shows us that the Word will work without our guidance as he makes the comparison to the seed. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. It is a miracle that the preaching of God’s Word can produce faith in a heart. We don’t know how it happens, but we know that it does. We are like the sleeping farmer who wakes to sprouts and buds. We don’t cause faith to grow. We don’t convince a person that our words are true, that is the Holy Spirit. He works with the Word to create and strengthen faith.
But God does use us. He calls on us to plant the seed. He gives us the privilege of bringing the words of the gospel to the people in our lives. He calls on us only to faithfully preach the truth, then he takes over. But aren’t there times when we fail to plant the seed? We sometimes underestimate the gospel’s power. We predetermine who will and won’t listen and miss out on planting for some that need to hear. We decide that this person or that won’t react favorably so we don’t even try. Have we forgotten how the gospel works? It worked on a murderer named Paul and God used him to advance the kingdom. The gospel brought a reluctant prophet Jonah to Nineveh and then God used it to bring thousands of Ninevites to faith. Foreign kings and stubborn enemies of God have heard the gospel and had it change their lives. It even worked on me! It put faith in a heart like yours as well!
The Word of God is more powerful than our rejection. It’s mightier that our resistance to speak. The times that we fail to speak the gospel are the times when it speaks the loudest to us. We have forgiveness for our failures. We have remission for our rejection. We have salvation from our sins. Think of what Jesus took on for us - more than just our flesh, he took our pain. More than just our temptation, he took our punishment – more than just our lives, he gave us his life. He became our sin and our death so that we could be perfect and so that we could live forever with him. He faced death so that when our time is come, we can face it with confidence, knowing that physical death leads eternal life for those who believe in him. With our Savior’s blood shed for us on the cross, we need not fear what sin might do. He has taken away its threat and given us hope and the promise of a future. He has given us faith to believe that just as the Word worked in my heart, so it works in the hearts of others as well.
The second parable that Jesus teaches in today’s text looks at the Kingdom of God from a different perspective. The Parable of the Growing Seed pointed us to the sometimes-hidden inner work that is carried out by the gospel, but the second parable prompts us to consider the outward growth of God’s Kingdom. Jesus compares his Kingdom to the mustard seed and in so doing directs us to recognize that the Kingdom has impact in our lives. We’ll learn that God gives us the faith to believe that his Kingdom is growing.
I’d like you to evaluate the following statement: “God’s church is growing!” Do you agree with that statement or not? There are many that would disagree. Looking at the stats for our church body might prompt a person to wonder if our church is growing. WELS membership in the US has declined over by 56,000 people in the last 25 years. Our church in America is not growing statistically, but our World Missions are. We have a presence in 40 foreign countries and are exploring possibilities that would put us in 17 more. Together our church body funds 39 world missionaries who train 400 national pastors and there are 380 students training to workers in those fields. And that’s not even counting the immeasurable, like how many people are hearing the gospel through TV broadcasts that air here in America and around the world. Or how about the tens of thousands of people who are benefiting from the materials of our Multi-Language Publications – who translate the Bible and spiritual books into 56 different languages. The bottom line is this - Gospel ministry is alive and well in the WELS.
In 2011, a pastor of the Hmong Fellowship Church in Vietnam reached out to one of our WELS Hmong pastors with some questions. Those questions were the beginning of a relationship that continues and thrives to this day. All of the pastors of the Hmong Fellowship Church are now being encouraged and supported by WELS ministries. During this time, their church grew from 50,000 to 120,000 people. The growth was so positive for overall moral in the country and so pronounced that even the communist government of Vietnam took notice. They searched for the cause of this change and when they found it was the influence of our church body, they invited us to build a seminary in the capital city of Hanoi. That makes us the only protestant church body that is allowed to conduct ministry and train pastors in Vietnam. And through that seminary we’ll train more pastors and build more churches and preach more of that same gospel. Never something we could have planned! God dropped an entire church body into our lap! Can you believe it? You can, because the word works and under God’s blessing, the Church is growing. And the future in Vietnam and in so many fields around the world is so bright!
Kingdom growth is about more than numerical growth. God is concerned with more than balancing the numbers of members who come with the number of members who go. His concern is with the Great Commission. He wants his children to take the gospel and proclaim it. He wants people to hear it, to repent of their sins, and to rely on Jesus for salvation. That is happening in our church and in Christian churches around the world. The Kingdom is growing and God is blessing our efforts.
It’s an interesting comparison that Jesus makes when he says, (The Kingdom of God) is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.” Do you remember the mindset that the disciples had about Christ’s kingdom? They thought he was coming to set up a political reign. They thought he was going to expand the borders of Israel and reestablish David’s reign. They wanted him to release them from Roman rule. That was the kingdom that they longed for. And what did they get from Jesus. It must have seemed like a mustard seed. They got a simple carpenter from Nazareth. They got fair weather supporters that followed Jesus until the miracles quit coming. They got a ruling court of 12 fishermen and an approval rating that was pretty low. They got three years’ worth of teaching from their king and then he was killed. That’s what they saw of Jesus’ kingdom. But Jesus words were true. The resurrection brought confidence and hope to weary citizens. Look at the growth of the kingdom within days of Jesus’ ascension. Pentecost saw the baptisms of 3,000 people and exposed the truth to many more. Paul preached the gospel faithfully thought Asia and Europe. Within 300 years, Christianity went from being the source of persecution and scorn to being the official religion of the Roman Empire. Missionaries have reached every continent, and proclaimed the gospel to millions of blood-bought souls. The gospel has touched millions and the Kingdom continues to grow. For 2,000 years God has answered the prayers of his people who plead “Your Kingdom Come,” and he shows no signs of stopping.
Our self driven world convinces us to think that reality is how we see it. The devil uses that mindset against us to get us to think that the kingdom of God is shrinking, but it is not true. There is a ripe field around us all and a harvest to be gathered. We can be a part of advancing the kingdom of God. What a privilege to be able to tell others of the forgiveness that Jesus has won!
God’s kingdom is like a seed. It grows through the power of the Word, even when we cannot see it. It grows from meager beginnings to be a mighty and wonderful plant. God reveals these truths to us through his Word and he gives us faith that believes his Words are true. God’s Kingdom Work is a Matter of Faith - faith that he gives to us and strengthens through his Word - faith that he grows in the hearts of others as his Word is spread. Let it always be our prayer that he uses us so that his kingdom work is done. Amen.
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