Philip Casmer

The Successful Seed of Salvation

by Philip Casmer on June 16th, 2024
Mark 4:26-34

There are a lot of ways to tell if a business is successful, a lot of metrics we can use. You can look at a company’s bottom line, their productivity, brand recognition, you can see if they’re growing or shrinking. Again, there are a lot of ways to objectively tell if a business is a success or a failure. But I wonder, can you do the same with a church? Looking at Christ the Lord, this church, your church, would you say we are successful or not, and how would you determine that, what metric would you use? 

Well, we have a nice building. There are a decent number of people here, many new faces, and young families, overall attendance has been up. We’re fully staffed, and the church and school are growing. Our general budget is tight, but our offerings aren’t horrible, we’re still paying the bills. Our worship has a variety of sounds and liturgies. Yeah, if you’d ask me, on paper, we’re a successful church. God be praised! Except, what does any of what I mentioned have to do with a successful church? Is a church of 8-900 people with a nice worship space and growing ministries more successful than a church of say 50 people who faithfully meet each week in a storefront and are barely able to pay the rent?

Maybe you see where I’m going with this. Our measure of success so often lines up with what society says success should look like, and so we strive for that. We strive for higher numbers in worship and offerings, we push for more programs, we expect nicer facilities and a certain level of excellence. And, don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with any of that – there certainly is not – but is it a true measure of success? And is it ultimately what we should be striving for as a church, as a family of God?

You see here is the thing, when it comes to success, what we believe and teach from God’s Word, doesn’t really mesh with society’s view of success, in fact we tend to believe and teach a kind of unsuccess. We don’t preach about gaining power. No, we boast in weakness. How about fame? No, we seek anonymity; we’re called to be humble. Beauty? It’s nice to be pretty, but our Christian focus rests on the ugly reality of sin and the hideous crucifixion and death that won us salvation. Are we winners? I wish, but we confess the first are actually last. Money then? No, the love of it is the root of all kinds of evil. Face it. In the eyes of the world, we preach and teach how to be losers, but that’s the point as it leaves us with empty hands so that, as we sing, “nothing in my hand I bring simply, to the cross I cling.” 

And – it took us a bit to get there – but that is the point of our parables today. These are parables about success, but that success comes in a way that is contrary to everything we see and hear in the world around us. Take a look at our parables for today. These two parables describe how the Kingdom of God grows, but the process of growth, that is where it becomes complicated. Take a closer look just at the first parable, there is a man sowing this seed. And, that is all he does, that’s his job, that’s his mission, sow the seed. Then he goes to sleep. Then he gets up, And what happens? That seed grows. It grows, “though he does not know how.” 

The tense of that verb “know” indicates that the man doesn’t know and will never know how that seed grows. That’s interesting. If you saw a beautiful garden, most likely you’d credit the gardener for the beauty of that garden. But what actually made that garden a success? The seed. You can have the greenest of thumbs, you can be a fantastic, well-read, experienced, gardener, but if you have bad seed, or the wrong seed, your effort and skill means nothing. You have to put your trust in the seed. That’s the point of Jesus’ first parable – trust the seed! And it seems simple. The seed is God’s Word, go and share it, and watch it grow; it will grow as God wills it to grow! Now bring that back to the kingdom of God and this thought of success. 

What is success in God’s kingdom? What is success in God’s church? Again, is it numbers – people sitting in the pews and attending the plethora of events that we host? Is it programs and an army of volunteers? Is it three-year goals, five-year goals, seven-year goals? Thos are all good things and are often signs of a healthy church. But don’t you see? Jesus didn’t send his disciples out with the command to count the sheep or to create volunteer positions or even to grow the flock. He simply told them to “feed my sheep” (John 21:17). The Great Commission in Matthew 28 was not to increase offerings and achieve optimal worship attendance each Sunday but to gather disciples from “all nations.” And, so when Jesus ascended into heaven, he left his disciples, and us, his Word – the seed – and with it baptism and the Lord’s Supper because through these means of Grace the Holy Spirit works and grows his church as he wills, delivering Jesus to sinners like you and me. 

And if that is what is being shared, if that is what is being sown, if we are grabbing handfuls of the Word, handfuls of Jesus and his love, and casting him out like a seed to friends, and neighbors and strangers, that is success in God’s kingdom. And, if you look at the rest of this parable, there will be a harvest. “All by itself the soil produces grain…as soon as it is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” So do you see what this parable does? It doesn’t give us answers as to why that person came to faith or this person walked away. It doesn’t necessarily explain why some churches grow and others shrink. But do you know what it does do? It offers success, not an earthly success, nothing that lives up to the worlds’ standards – those aren’t our standards anyways. So, where is the success? 

It’s Jesus being faithfully brought to people. People happily married or shattered by divorce. People free or incarcerated. People who are a day old or a hundred years old. People lost. People hurting. Republicans. Democrats. Independents. People rich. People poor. Anyone…everyone. We bring them Jesus. We bring them the answers to every hurt, every failure, every shame, and every desire. And though we don’t know what the Spirit will do with that seed that we sow, we do know that he, and he alone, is what the church has to offer: a crucified God for a dying humanity, a risen God who breathes life into dying souls, a reigning God who wields power over creation by loving us into a state of re-creation. 

And – I get it – often it seems so small and insignificant, like there should be more. You know what though look at Jesus’ second parable.  Jesus talks about a mustard seed, likely the tiniest seed that the Jewish people were familiar with, Jesus said this tiny seed will grow into one of the largest plants in a garden. I think a mustard seed can grow 8-12 feet in fact – huge! And what does Jesus say? This is a picture of the kingdom of God, but it’s appearance in Jesus and his Word, that seed we share it’s really not that impressive. I mean think of Jesus. There he is in a manger. A poor carpenter to guard him and a peasant girl to care for him. Fast forward to the cross. Sure, he’s getting attention, but none of it is good. Soldiers nail him to the wood like any other criminal. Priests and powerful men mock him. Friends abandon him. The whole world is a witness to his failure and lack of power. But, then okay, a moment of glory; he lives! But no one of real importance was a witness. 

And now? Where do we see him? In his Word and the sacraments. But what are they? Mustard seeds. Words on paper that are often abused or drowned out by other words that seem more important. Water that is quietly and quickly sprinkled. A small piece of bread and a sip of wine received for but a moment. All mustard seeds, easily passed by, thought of as symbols with no real power, or forgotten in an instant. 

But look at your own life, what have those small mustards seeds accomplished? The good seed of the Gospel was planted in you at your baptism, was watered by confession and forgiveness, and fed by the body and blood of Christ, and it has worked a miracle – it has saved you! Those seeds have made you good and clean in God’s eyes even when you feel dirty with sin. They give you confidence that God will provide, even in times of physical or financial or emotional distress. And, it’s those seeds that will take you from a six-foot hole in the dirt to a new life –a harvest – body and soul, in heaven with your Lord and your God. 

Whether you see it or not, you are a story of its success, an example of the power of God’s Holy Word freely sown, freely given, and now growing and bearing fruit. And here is the best part of your success story. You are not alone. Everyone in this room, and countless people outside this room, have experienced the success of God’s growing kingdom. It lasts and lasts from generation to generation, from place to place all over the world. It may not look like much. We often don’t look like much, but here we are a product of God’s patience and love, children of God, sinners saved, and now we join a long list of faithful sowers, And, friends, it’s sowing time…it’s not harvest time. 

Look, like that sower in the parable we may never understand how just sharing God’s Word – preaching it, teaching it, reflecting on it – how that will create and strengthen faith in, not just my heart, but in what I might think are the hardest of hearts. But, we don’t need to understand how it works. we just need to trust that God says it will work.

And, here is the other thing, you don’t need years of training to share the Word. Many of you have better training than those prophets of old with your years of Sunday School, Lutheran Elementary School, confirmation and beyond – you’re far more qualified to share this seed than you think –  and our church doesn’t need all the right programs and people, though those things are nice. All we need is this: the very Word of God. It’s only this that brought you to faith, and it’s only this same successful seed of salvation that will plant faith in the hearts of others.

 Our responsibility then is to scatter the seeds of God’s Word, the good news of Jesus Christ, out into the world when and where we have opportunity and to trust that the God of the universe will create the right circumstances and environment in which he will spring forth spiritual life. When this happens, you will find God’s kingdom and with it success as God brings souls to himself, as God works faith, in a few people, or hundreds of people. You see this then? Our calling is not to create faith in the hearts of the people around us, but to sow the seeds of faith and trust that God will do the rest. He will do the rest. God grant it. Amen.

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