Sunday, June 17, 2012
God Will Grow the Kingdom
Rich and I have been enjoying working in our garden this spring. Although we could use more rain, it’s been a great year to start gardening early because of the warm weather. We’ve already eaten homegrown lettuce, cilantro, and parsley. Right now, we are enjoying our first strawberries and radishes. The potatoes and tomatoes are almost ready to be harvested. Beans, cucumber, carrots, and corn will come later. It is very satisfying to literally taste the fruits of our labor. Every day, we look forward to going into the garden to spend some time working outside. We are continually amazed by how fast our garden has grown. But we are learning that you have to be vigilant, looking every day at how the garden is doing or else other critters will get to our ripe produce first. Especially with our tomato plants, you have to look closely and even push back the bushy leaves to see the green tomatoes ripening on the vine.
It is interesting that Jesus describes the kingdom of God as a mustard plant – a shrub—rather than as a bigger tree. Yes, the mustard shrub can grow pretty large for an herb, but it’s not quite as dramatic or prominent a comparison as it could be. Sometimes it can be frustrating that it is difficult to see where God is at work in the world. In the Lord’s prayer, we pray, “THY kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven”. We know Jesus’ promises in scripture that he comes to establish God’s kingdom here on earth. Wherever God’s people are growing in faith and working to serve God’s people, that is a part of the kingdom of God, right here on earth. But the world is also overgrown with weeds and brush that often keep us from seeing the goodness and the fruit of our labor as followers of Jesus, working for God’s kingdom.
Dads– on this Father’s Day, we celebrate all you’ve done as parents to plant seeds in your children’s lives so that they would grow to be responsible, contributing citizens and faithful workers in God’s kingdom. For anyone who’s been a parent or a Sunday school teacher or a mentor to one of our young people, you know what it’s like to struggle to see the fruits of our labor at times with our children. Some of us may wonder if we’ll ever see our children become the children we have hoped and prayed they would be. When our children are rebellious, when we fight all kinds of battles to do the best we can for our young people, it can be tough to trust that God is growing those seeds we plant. When we look at our society and wonder what kind of world we’re leaving our future generations, when we live day to day in a world where children more often play inside or behind fences than out in the neighborhood, because it’s unsafe and we can’t even trust our neighbors, we ask, “where is God’s kingdom growing in all these weeds?”
Jesus’ word of grace to us this morning is that God WILL grow the seeds we plant. We can plant the seeds as caretakers in God’s kingdom, but God is the ultimate gardener. Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.” Farmers can irrigate and put pesticides and herbicides and insecticides on their crops, tending it day and night. But farmers know that ultimately, it’s up to God whether the harvest is a good one or not. It’s up to God to grow the plants we need to eat and make a living. Max Ernst once marveled that you can plant a corn kernel any way you’d like, and the plant always grows up. We don’t know how, but God has designed seeds to always grow up and produce fruit.
In the same way, we strive to be the best parents we can and offer our children the best life possible. We bring our children to Sunday school, youth group, and confirmation. We can read scripture with them and pray at mealtimes and before bed. We can be teachers and mentors for other children who we know have a tough life ahead of them. But for all our work and investment in our children’s lives, sometimes we just don’t know how they grow into mature, faithful adults in the end. We plant the seeds, but God is the grower. God the creator and our loving Father will always take responsibility for nurturing all of his children. God grows people and his kingdom in ways we can’t even explain. We can participate by watering, weeding, and feeding God’s people, but ultimately we trust that God WILL grow the kingdom.
When I was a camp counselor in Okoboji Iowa, I took great comfort in the idea that our job is to plant seeds of faith in children’s lives, and we trust God to grow those seeds to bear fruit. For twelve weeks, we had a different batch of kids each week. I have never run into one of them again since that summer, yet sometimes I wonder what God is doing in their lives almost ten years later. God knows.
This weekend, though, I had a rare opportunity to see some of the fruit of God growing those seeds planted for the kingdom. I went back to my home congregation, Lord of Love Lutheran Church in Omaha, for their 40th anniversary celebration Saturday night. In just forty years, that congregation has produced three pastors, who now all serve in Nebraska: myself, Pastor Paula Lawhead, and Pastor Chris Meier. At the reception, I was amazed to see some men and women there around my age whom I had not seen in probably over fifteen years. Like many adolescents, these former members of my congregation had gone through confirmation and then dropped off the face of the church world. Now they’re adults with their own kids who came back to the church for the anniversary. They talked about how they knew that at this church, they were safe and loved. They knew that at this church, you didn’t have to be perfect or hide your imperfections. They were touched by the difference the church had made in their lives and in the world. I don’t know how or when they decided to return to church, or how often they go, but it was evident that God was growing the seeds of faith in their hearts that had been planted years ago.
It’s not too often we get to see the fruits of faith that have grown in someone over the years. Most of the time, we send our children and grandchildren out into the world hoping and praying for them, but unsure where God will lead them. God promises to grow the seeds we plant. God promises to grow the kingdom. The ways the kingdom of God grows to us may not be easily visible. Like the vegetables in my garden, you might have to pull back the leaves and vines to find the fruit. But Jesus promises that even the smallest mustard seed, the smallest word or action we take to plant faith in the life of someone else, God will grow that seed into something great.
When you take a moment to pull back the branches and the leaves, what fruit is God growing in this world today? Where do you see God at work? It could be something as small as card that someone sent when you were going through a rough week. It could be a phone call from your child or grandchild calling to thank you for all you’ve done for them. When we hear of the church growing in South America and in Africa, when we hear of diseases being treated and hunger rates dropping, that’s also a sign of God’s kingdom peeking through all the depressing weeds of the world. This morning, we welcome new members into our congregation and celebrate the gifts that they bring to us. Seeds of faith were planted in them a long time ago, and we rejoice that God has grown the kingdom through them.
God is our great gardener, who knows how to nurture us and grow our faith better than any of us. We are called to plant seeds, no matter how small, and trust that God will grow the kingdom with those seeds. No matter how a seed is planted, it always grows up. In the same way, God promises to grow and tend to our faith, growing the kingdom of God. God takes our small, humble offerings to make a difference in the world to bring the kingdom of God here on earth. May we continue to mean what we say when we pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” Amen.