June 17, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
”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.”
Jesus speaks of the kingdom of God as something planted. He tells two parables with planting at its heart: the Parable of the Growing Seed and the Parable of the Mustard Seed. That should not be unexpected: the Scriptures are replete with descriptions about the kingdom of God and the members of that kingdom that use planting imagery. The nation of Israel is often described as a vine planted by the Lord. Today’s psalm speaks of the righteous man being “like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.” Jesus has other parables about planting. Following on this, the apostle compares the resurrection of believers from the dead as a seed planted in the ground that is raised imperishable.
All of these usages of planting imagery reveal truths about the nature of the kingdom of God and those who belong to it. First and foremost is that the kingdom of God has its origin in something done to it. The kingdom of God is planted. It does not sprout up by itself. No, the Lord purposely plants it according to His will. That origin must always be recognized. It shows the dependence upon the Lord for existence—not only for earthly life, but for spiritual life also. His good and gracious will is to have a kingdom, to have people under His merciful and benevolent rule and influence.
This is the activity promised in the Old Testament Reading for today. The promise is for divine action to be done for people, a people conquered and afflicted by enemies. The Lord declares that the exile to Babylon will not be the end for the Covenant People He has established. He pledges a restoration that is found in what He will do: “I Myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and will set it out…. On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest.” The Lord declares that this action will testify about Himself: “And all the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord; I bring low the high tree, and make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.”
The Lord’s promise is fulfilled in the appearance of Jesus, the Messiah. His appearance in Israel is the planting that starts the kingdom of God on its way to being the noble cedar with all sorts of birds living in it. The Lord’s promise in the Old Testament is the foundation for Jesus’ Parable of the Mustard Seed: “[The kingdom of God] is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is 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.” This is the purposed goal of Jesus’ work: the establishment of a kingdom with people of all ethnicities to be part of it. His obedience to the Father, His sacrificial death, and His resurrection are all done to make individuals belong to Him. It is done, so that you can say: “that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.”
But how is this accomplished? How are people brought into the kingdom of God? That is what Jesus’ Parable of the Growing Seed discloses. Jesus says that people are brought into the kingdom of God through a planting that is done. He explains the purposeful act that brings about people who belong to Him: ”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.”
The key to understanding Jesus’ parable is to know that everything has a purpose. Everything has a particular role that it is meant to fulfill. Jesus speaks about a planter who does what he is meant to do: the planter scatters seed on the ground. That’s what makes the man a planter and not a butcher, baker, or candlestick maker. But the planter only scatters the seed; he does not make the seed grow. Making the seed grow is not the assigned role of the planter. Instead, this is what the planter does: “He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.” But the seed does indeed grow. The seed grows because that is what the seed is meant to do when placed into the ground: “The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.” And then the planter can go about doing what he is meant to do: “But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” The planter goes out and harvests what the seed produces: all is done according to the particular role that the Lord has assigned.
What Jesus describes is the way that you are made part of God’s kingdom. This is important to note: you are made part of God’s kingdom. It happens as assigned roles are fulfilled. A planter comes and scatters the seed on the ground: the seed of the Gospel is planted in you. It is planted into your hearts, minds, and souls. You have the testimony and witness about Jesus spoken to you. You hear about who Jesus is. You hear about what Jesus has done. You hear about the purpose of this, the reason why the acts have occurred. Without this happening, you would remain a fallow field, something with no life in it. But since the seed of the Gospel has been planted in you, it brings forth faith and the fruits of faith. That is how you are made part of the kingdom of God.
Your being part of the kingdom of God is dependent upon His will for you being fulfilled. Membership in the kingdom of God is given to you. Various planters have come doing what they are supposed to do here. You have had Planter Paar, Planter Lindenmeyer, Planter Kraus, Planter Nemoyer, Planter Nickel. You have had fathers acting as spiritual heads of their households who handed down the Gospel to you. You have had your own Eunice and Lois, mothers and grandmothers who spoke of the gracious acts of Jesus. Other planters have been present doing the same thing: scattering the seed of the Gospel on you. That is how you entered the kingdom of God, how your sins were forgiven, your life created, your salvation bestowed. The same Gospel was proclaimed by the planters, just as the first apostles spoke: “For 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.”
But none of the planters made that seed grow. No, they just scattered the seed. Then they slept and rose night and day. The Spirit of God caused the growth. It looks automatic: there is no method, no process, no strategy that the planter designed to make the seed grow into plants. The only command followed was the one that came from Jesus who gave the seed to be planted: “Scatter the seed of the Gospel. Baptize people. Teach them to observe what I told you. Give them to eat and drink for forgiveness of sins. Tell what I have done. That is how the field will bring forth plants.” And so what was purposed came to pass. For what do you see around you? All that the seed of the Gospel has brought forth—the members of the kingdom of God, those who confess Jesus as Lord and follow. You see all the plants that the seed has produced in all the various stages of growth: “The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.”
This is how the kingdom of God came to this place. Speaking in the language of Jesus’ parable: this is not a fallow field; there is a field of corn here at Calvary. You are it. It has come as the Lord willed it. He gives purpose to your lives here on earth, even as the kingdom of God strives toward the goal of life everlasting. The Lord means for a crop to arise and be gathered: “When the grain is ripe, at once [the planter] puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” It is as Paul wrote: “For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” Even now your lives have a purpose: “Whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please Him.” You are different because of the planting that has happened to you: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” This is the path of growth that all of you are on. It is the role that you are meant to fulfill.
But note this well: you did not determine this purpose for yourself. No, it has been given to you. It has happened according to the way that the Lord determined. You have been made members of the kingdom of God by the scattering of the Gospel seed. You cannot explain how it worked, but you know the truth of what has happened. You know the activity that the Lord has done in and for you: “I bring low the high tree, and make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.” He has done it for you, taking you from being a fallow field with no life to being the vibrant, living plants that produce the fruits of faith. You have been planted by Him. That gives you your identity. This is what Jesus desires you to know with His parable: “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground….”
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.