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Seeds of the Kingdom

00:00 / 20:37

16 Jun 2024

Third Sunday after Trinity

Ezekiel 17:22-End; 2 Cor. 5:6-17; Mark 4:26-34

And now, gracious Father in heaven, we pray that you would send down your Holy Spirit into our hearts. Speak to us by your word. Guide and direct us in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. Please be seated.


I'd like to talk to you today about the reading we've just heard from the Gospel of John, the teaching of Christ on the kingdom of God, two parables about the kingdom of God. But before I say anything about the specific content of the parables, what is the kingdom of God?


Jesus talks about the kingdom of God a lot, if you pay attention for that phrase, all throughout all four of the Gospels. And we might say that a summary of Jesus' whole mission, his whole purpose is in coming to earth in the incarnation is to preach and to bring about the kingdom of God on the earth.


So what is it? Well, as the name might suggest, the kingdom of God is the place where God is in charge, where he is the king, and it's the place where his subjects listen to him and do what he desires. It is also a description of the way that God does things.


It's a description of the way that God does things. And we can see this very clearly in the teaching of Christ today. So there are two images here, two parables, if you like. And both of them are about seeds. Both of them are about seeds. And here,


Christ in the teaching about the kingdom of God is going to challenge some of our presuppositions. Because the way that the kingdom of God is, is frequently very different to the way the kingdoms of men operate. So let's listen. The first image. is of a man who scatters seed upon the ground. And he rises night and day.


And the seed begins to grow. He knows not how. It begins to grow by itself, the text says. There's a lovely Greek word behind that phrase. The Greek word is automatos, which is where we get words like automatically from, of course. It grows by itself. It grows automatos. So the man scatters the seed, he sleeps,


he rises night and day, and then the seed begins to grow by itself. And that's what the kingdom of God is like. Now, what is Christ talking about here? Of course, there is a sense in which what he's saying is literally true.


You sow a seed in the ground, you just leave it there, and then it starts to grow maybe. But this is actually a picture of what we might call spiritual growth, the growth of God's kingdom. growth in personal holiness, the growth of the church,


our hearts as they are converted to Christ more and more and to his ways. When people's hearts are strangely turned towards God over the course of their lives. This is the kind of thing that this parable is speaking about. A couple of observations about the parable. The first one is that people are involved in this.


People are involved in the work of God himself. this earth and we could step back from that observation for a moment and wonder why that is it's very odd isn't it that god would want to use us god could do everything himself of course he could he could do everything that he wants by


himself without any of our involvement at all but he wants to involve us in bringing about his kingdom God uses us. And so God calls us to labour for him, just like that man who sows that seed. We do something. We cooperate with God. We take the initiative. The man takes the initiative in this parable.


So we sow the seed. We make an effort in the spiritual life. We contribute to the church. We serve the church. We cultivate our own souls through prayer, through reading of scripture, through meditation upon scripture, through an intentional living out of the Christian life. We make an effort. We do something. We are involved.


It doesn't just happen, ironically, given the language, automatically. We are involved and God calls us to labor. But second, and friends, we mustn't miss this point here. Second, The seed grows. Why? Why does the seed grow? Ultimately, the seed grows not because of the man's labour or because of the man's effort,


but because a power comes to it from the outside. The man sows, he leaves the seed in the ground, and then something happens to it. Now, the point here is that when we labour in the spiritual life, when we give of ourselves, our time, our talents, our efforts...


When we have done all those things, ultimately the power and the result come from God. Friends, it's only God that can turn our hearts towards him ultimately. It's only God who can truly bring about a work of holiness and devotion to Christ in the human heart. Yes, we make an effort. Yes, we labour. Yes, we try.


But ultimately, it's God's power that does everything to bring about his kingdom. When I was licensed here almost a year ago, I had to choose the scriptural reading that Bishop Norman would preach on. And I chose, I don't know why it was on my mind at the time, but I chose scripture from 1 Corinthians chapter 3.


The Apostle Paul said, I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. And that summarizes what I'm trying to say exactly. I plant, somebody else waters, but ultimately the power comes from God. I've been watching recently a programme, a very famous programme about farming.


I won't actually name the programme, but I'm sure many of you could probably guess what it is. Now, I actually grew up next to a farm, but I have to say I didn't know very much about farming before I watched this programme. But something that becomes very,


very clear as you follow the farmers through the agricultural year is that there comes a point after all the labour is done after the buying of the seed, after the cultivation of the soil, after the sowing of the seed, there comes a point at which nothing else can be done. And things are in the hands of God.


So what do you do after planting? What do you do after your labour and through your labour and in your labour? You pray. You pray. Because ultimately... We need God's power to move in order to change us, in order to change other people, and in order to change situations.


So I take from this first parable of Christ that the application is to labour, yes, but also to pray and to rely entirely upon the power of God, even in the midst of our efforts, labour and pray. Now what about this second image, this tiny mustard seed which is sown in the ground.


Again, lovely Greek word here, mikroteron, the word Christ uses. Mikroteron, something very, very small. You've seen a mustard seed. It's very small. If you've got poor eyesight, you could hardly even see it. It's so little. But Christ says it's sown in the ground and then it grows up to become larger than


the other plants so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade. This tiny seed. The kingdom of God is like this. It's sown as the ground and then it grows up. It's forgotten about. It was never particularly impressive to begin with. But then it turns into this great shrub, this great tree,


this great plant, which is more significant than all the rest. The kingdom of God is like that. Now, what is Christ talking about here? Well, the first thing that we need to observe, friends, is that the mustard seed that is spoken of is Christ. Christ is speaking about himself in this parable.


His life was like that mustard seed. Consider Jesus of Nazareth. If you know the Gospel of John, you'll know that at the beginning of the Gospel of John, when one of his disciples, Nathaniel, is introduced to the idea that the Messiah comes from Nazareth, he says, Can anything good come from Nazareth? Can anything good come from Nazareth?


And that's because Nazareth was a place of obscurity. It was a backwater, somewhere that wasn't very impressive. Not wishing to offend anyone here, but it's less like London and more like maybe Grimsby or Skegness. Or I'm from an island that nobody has ever heard of. Maybe somebody somewhere like that. Jesus was from nowhere, in other words.


So Christ was of obscure origin. Now, he had a normal job, and when he went into ministry, he had no advanced degrees. He was nothing in the eyes of the world. He did not have a position in society. In fact... According to the religious establishment of his day, he was a heretic and he was a troublemaker.


The greatest empire that the world had ever seen eventually agreed with that religious establishment that he should simply be snuffed out in order to stop him causing trouble. He hung around with similar people. dropouts and people who were not particularly impressive in the sight of the world.


And of course, what happened in the end is that as the creed says, Christ was crucified, dead and buried. Crucified, dead and buried. Now that phrase, dead and buried, has entered into our language, hasn't it? Something is dead and buried. That means it's over. It's finished. There is no longer any hope for it.


And yet, we know, of course, what happened next. The tomb did not hold Christ, but he got up and he walked out of it again. Having conquered the power of death by the power of the Holy Spirit, the mustard seed began to grow. And Christ would proclaim the kingdom to his disciples and that they would proclaim


the kingdom to others. And the gospel and the message of the kingdom would go forth to Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria and to the ends of the earth. And look, here we are 2,000 years later, the recipients of this message. And this rainy, very rainy archipelago of Great Britain,


which was at the time the edge of the known world, the kingdom of God, has gone everywhere. The plant has grown up. It has put forth branches. And those branches have reached unto the ends of the earth. The mustard seed is Christ. The kingdom of God is shed forth.


Now I want to make two brief points about this, which I think we can apply to our lives. The first thing is that God... clearly wants to use small and obscure things like the life of Christ, but we could point to many, many other examples in Scripture and examples probably that we know of also.


God wants to use small, in inverted commas, things in this world. Why? He wants to do it to demonstrate his power. He wants to do it to demonstrate his power. This is a very counter-intuitive notion, of course. An example from Scripture. The Apostle Paul, who we all see now as a very great man, of course,


in the second letter to the Corinthians, he talks about a thorn in the flesh. which was given to him. He actually describes it as a messenger of Satan that was given to him to harass him and to keep him from becoming conceited. A thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan.


And he says that he petitioned the Lord three times. Please take this thorn in the flesh away, Lord. Please take away this messenger of Satan. And we might all think, well, that's a very reasonable request. I'm sure God would say yes to that and remove the thorn in the flesh, remove the messenger of Satan.


But God's answer was different to what we might expect. His answer was, my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. And as I say, that might be something people wouldn't expect God to say. But what does it mean?


Well, it means that even in that place of weakness in which the apostle Paul found himself, even in that place of pain, even in that place in which he felt insufficient to the tasks that lay before him, that was precisely the place that God would make his power known. He goes on to say, therefore...


I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness. For when I am weak, then I am strong. Now, as I said earlier, the ways of man are very different from the ways of God. The ways of man is not when you're weak that you're strong. It's when you're strong, you're strong.


You operate from a place of strength if you are strong. And if you are weak, then your strength is limited. And you can only put forth weakness into the world. In a spiritual life, it's very different. When we rely upon our own strength in pride, God humbles us. But if we humble ourselves before God,


if we recognize that the power that we have comes from him and not from ourselves, then we are in the place of weakness forever. And then God will manifest his power through us. And so feeling small, feeling weak, feeling inequipped, feeling unequal, this, friends, is not necessarily a bad place to be.


In fact, I might actually go so far as to say it's a great place to be. Because it's in that place that we are driven to prayer and driven to reliance upon God and his power because he seeks to use things that are small in the eyes of the world in order to demonstrate his greatness.


So that's the first thing here. God demonstrates his power, his greatness by using small things. And then just one more thing, very quickly. The second thing we see in this parable is is that there is no limit to what God can do. There is no limit to what God can do. Now,


to all the eyes of the world, that seed which is sown in the ground is very, very insignificant, and it has a significant lack of potential. It looks small, it looks like nothing is going to happen, but... That is not the case. And we know that that's not the case because ultimately Christ is describing the


work of God in this world. Now if it was up to us, if it was up to our strength, if it was up to our power, if it was up to our gifts, if it was up to our abilities, there would be a significant lack of potential because everything would be limited


by what we are capable of doing. But because it doesn't rely upon us and it relies upon God, there is no limit. There is no limit to what God can do through our lives and around us. Sometimes we look at things which have happened and we think, how exactly did that happen?


How was that person turned to Christ? How did I manage to deal with a certain situation or to respond in a godly way or to achieve something that God was calling me to? And we look back and we recognize, well, actually, that was the power of God that enabled me to do that.


And I don't think I didn't think that that was possible before. So, friends, you are facing a challenge. If there is something that God is calling you to do, if you are seeking growth in a certain area, remember this, that the power relies upon him and not upon yourself.


This is one of the reasons I'm so optimistic about the church, our church and the Christian church in general. Now, sometimes things can seem small. Sometimes things can seem irrelevant. Maybe some of us have thought that about this church here. Small group of people, maybe. Maybe not the biggest church in Winchester and so on and so forth.


But none of these things matter. And the reason that they don't matter is because we're not looking to ourselves and to our power, but we're looking to God and to his power. And so we see things not with the cynical eyes of the world, but we see things with the eyes of faith.


As the Apostle Paul says in our New Testament reading today, we walk by faith and not by sight. So a question for you. If you saw things in this way, If you recognize that God wants to use small things, weak things, humble things,


if you realize that there's no limit to what God can do in and through your life, how might that change your perspective on the challenges and the difficulties that you face? Because we all face challenges. We all face things which are difficult. Sometimes those things are very positive. Sometimes those things are very painful.


But whatever they are, whatever they are, if God is present, he can transform them. And so we can have faith in him. We can trust him and we can pray and seek his power. So how might that vision transform that which you face? So friends, we've heard about the kingdom of God today. Labour today.


And pray for God's kingdom. Humble yourself before him. Recognizing that it is his mighty hand that will exalt you eventually. And have faith. Have faith. Because there is no limit to what God can do in and through you. By his power. By his grace. So we give him the glory.


And we seek him for his work in our lives.


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