26He also said, ???The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground,??27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.??28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.??29But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.???
30He also said, ???With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it???31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth;??32yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.???
33With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it;??34he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
As we look at this text, I want to take the perspective of ???Faith as Obedience.??? ??Last week we saw the family of God as being those who were obedient to the will of God. ??God the Father is head of the family???the Church???raising the family up in the way it should go. ??We are being trained in the way of God when we spend time together???in study, in mission, and in prayer. ??I try and remind us often of Jesus words in John 14, where he says in v.21,??
???They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.??? ??
Keeping God???s commands means obeying God. ??Obeying God means that we do what he says, that we place our faith in him, believing that God will do both what he has said and what he has promised, and he has said he will love us and reveal himself to us. ??As Hebrews 11.1 reminds us,??
???Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see??? (NIV).
The morning???s text does play into this idea in an important way. ??Jesus talks about what the kingdom of God is like and tells a parable of a man who???s job it is to sow seed. ??If you???ll notice, the man doesn???t understand everything about how the process works. ??The science and inner-workings of the seed???s growth are beyond him, but the seeds are not going to plant themselves. ??The man, though he does not understand the details, takes up his bag and spreads the seed so that the seeds and the earth can work together. ??The man in the parable, then, is obedient to the work that has been given to him. ??
The sower has faith that the seeds and the earth will work together once they are brought together. ??Once the seed has has been planted in the earth, the process begins, and the man and his work are left to the mercy of the natural process. ??He is obedient to a process that he doesn???t fully understand???and that is ok. ??Our spiritual life is very much the same way, in that we do not always understand the details and the mystery of our faith but we can believe and grow nonetheless. ??For us, the Church is the place where the seed of faith is planted and is mystically grown. ??Through God???s grace in the work of the Holy Spirit, we, too, begin to go through stages of growth, like the seed in the story. ??Each of us will sprout in time, first the stalk, then the head, then the blessed grain that grows inside the head. ??And when we are ripe, we are harvested for usefulness in kingdom of God.
The parable has several applications for us. ??We may see it as the process of our general faith, how we come to know God and have the Spirit grow within our hearts. ??But it can also represent the many periods of growth that take place in our lives. ??There are times when the seed and its growth may represent our prayer life, how prayer takes root in our lives and through our relationship with God we begin to grow closer to him and deeper in our faith. ??Maybe the seed represents our service to the world, how we grow in our preparation to reach out to the world around us and then step out in obedient faith to bring Christ to those around us. ??Whatever the case, our great encouragement today is to see God as the initiator and energy behind our faith, the One who causes the growth.??
Our participation in our growth is seen in our obedience to the process. ??Paul says in Philippians 2.12???13,??
???continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.??? ??
As God mysteriously works within you, use all your strength and energy to align your will with his. ??It is very difficult, but embracing this mystery of faith is part of the growth process, like the seed that slowly shoots up to become useful grain. ??But at the same time, we must acknowledge the battle that exists within our hearts. ??The soil of our hearts is not a perfect garden, free of weeds and insects. ??You must tend the garden of your heart and understand that your allegiance is to the fruit of God and not the weeds of the devil. ??Therefore, as the Psalmist says,??
???…guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life??? (Proverbs 4.23, NIV).
Romans 7 may help us understand just what exactly I mean by battle. ??I love the way Eugene Peterson translated this, so let???s listen to it. ??Looking at vv.17???25,??
???17 But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can???t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! ??18 I realize that I don???t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can???t do it. ??19 I decide to do good, but I don???t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. ??20 My decisions, such as they are, don???t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. ??21 It happens so regularly that it???s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. ??22 I truly delight in God???s commands, ??23 but it???s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. ??24 I???ve tried everything and nothing helps. I???m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn???t that the real question? ??25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.??? ??
If you???ll see it this morning, planted within soil of your heart can be a tiny mustard seed of faith that needs nothing for you to do than to accept it and to guard its ground so that it can spring forth a mighty tree that will house within it the beauty of creation. ??The word of God is something small, something given to you today by a servant who offers it freely to you and without price. ??My encouragement to you would be that whether it is the seed of salvation or the seed of discipleship, that you would take it and protect it today; that you would nurture your faith with great reverence and care, knowing that the fruit of this seed leads to life.
Do not think that you must fully understand faith this morning in order to have it. ??If you would believe, then trust in what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for us all
on the cross and know that he died for you. ??Should you choose to accept the seed of redemption that has been offered to you now, you can receive the Holy Spirit, be filled with God???s love, and begin to take and spread the seed of the Gospel that God has provided through faith. ??Seek out, O Christians, how you can sow seeds of faith, in both your own life and in the lives others, and do what is necessary to be obedient to its mysterious process so that you and the world can be blessed by its growth and its harvest. ??Amen.
Rev. Whit R. Martin??
Pastor,??New Liberty United Methodist Church