Thursday, October 21, 2004

Sermon: Trinity 19

21 October 2004 at Chapel of Lutheran High School, Metairie, LA

Text: Luke 13:18-21

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

A thousand years before the coming of our Lord, the Psalmist wrote: “I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old.” Jesus himself speaks in parables, uttering sayings that confuse those who refuse to listen, but creating faith in those who will believe.

Our Lord gives us two parables today, two short explanations of the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ listeners were perhaps more familiar with the planting of seeds and the kneading of bread dough than we are today, but the message is still there. Faith looks tiny, but is, in fact, great and mighty. Faith starts small, but in time, spreads, grows, and provides food and shelter to many. Faith is not a human process, but a mystery that is under the loving direction of God himself.

Let’s start with the first point: faith looks tiny, but is, in fact, great and mighty. God often uses the humble and weak to work his powerful deeds. The incarnate God who would crush the head of Satan didn’t look like much as a newborn in an animal’s smelly food trough. And yet within the flesh and blood of this baby is the very essence of God himself. The defeated, dying convict gasping naked on a cross being mocked by those who hated him looked like the biggest loser in the world, and yet at that very moment, he was destroying death and sin for all time. Faith itself works is this way. To the world, Christians look like the world’s biggest fools, falling on their knees to pray, reading an ancient book, and taking part in rituals involving water, bread, and wine – and yet there is more than meets the eye. The Christian faith makes men and women fearless in the face of death and empowers them to mighty works of compassion. Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a tiny mustard seed. And yet, buried in that speck is the God-designed DNA that makes a tree out of seemingly nothing – a feat that modern man in all his glory can’t even come close to doing. The Kingdom of God is like yeast – a microscopically-tiny living organism that can convert flour and water into puffy, nutritious bread. For all of our modern technology, we still make bread using these same humble ingredients.

The second point is that faith begins small, but over time spreads and grows, providing food and shelter to many. The Christian faith began with a pregnant teenage girl from an obscure village in Palestine. In her womb was a tiny seed, even smaller than a mustard seed. This miraculous child grew to manhood, carried out his Father’s work on earth, and then passed this ministry on to a small band of followers, the church. In a short period of time, this faith took the Roman Empire by storm, converting men and women around the world. Today, the Christian Church is the largest organization in the world. Every day, people come into communion with the living God, just as the birds in our Lord’s parable find shelter in the branches of the great mustard tree that grew from such a humble seed. The Gospel goes forth like leaven in a lump of dough, resulting in nourishment for the life of the world, the Bread of Life who came down from Heaven – “take and eat, the Body of Christ, given for you!”

The third point is that the Kingdom of God is mysterious. We cannot grow the church by our own means no matter how hard we try. Just as our brightest scientists and best chemists cannot create a mustard tree, but must rely on the mysterious God-created process of seed germination, our sharpest marketeers and slickest salesmen can’t make people come to Jesus. How people come to faith is a mystery. The Holy Spirit blows where he wills, using the same mysterious, God-created process of Word and Sacrament, and men and women come to faith. It is all done, as with a seed, on God’s plan, in his time, using his old-fashioned methods. Similarly, we have no modern chemical that will cause dough to rise. The finest restaurants in the world still employ God’s tiny pre-programmed bread machines called yeast cells in order to carry out the mysterious process of making bread. The church still grows by the preaching of the Gospel – just as it did in 30 AD.

This sense of mystery makes the Christian faith an adventure. The process is not our own. We don’t know where we will end up, what we will do, or how the world will be a different place because of us. God uses each of us in his own mysterious way. There is comfort in this. For no matter what strange and terrifying turns our lives take, we know that God is working out his plan – even though his plan is a mystery to us. We don’t have to know the “whys” and “hows” of the Kingdom of God any more than we need to know the “whys” and “hows” of a seed becoming a tree, or a lump of dough becoming a loaf of bread. God does all the calculating and programming, using us to mix the ingredients, wait, and enjoy the results.

So, dear brothers and sisters, don’t be deceived! When the preacher tosses about God’s Word like tiny seeds, beware of the power contained therein! When the little wafer comes to you, along with a small sip of wine, remember the mighty work done by microscopic yeast. For what seems tiny is really great, and what seems weak is really the most powerful thing in the universe. And when you are tempted to think of yourself as not of much consequence, remember that you are also a means by which God works mysteriously in the world to spread his kingdom, to give shade and rest to the people of the earth, and to bring the leaven of the Good News of Jesus to the entire world. Thanks be to God. Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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