Monday, June 18, 2012

The Gospel Runs Its Course

In Nomine Iesu
St. Mark 4:26-29
June 17, 2012
Pentecost 3/Proper 6B

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus~

When I first began to serve as a pastor sixteen years ago, I quickly developed a serious problem. You see, I couldn’t relax. I couldn’t unwind. I couldn’t stop worrying about my work because I had quickly come to realize that a pastor’s work is never done—never finished. There’s always another sermon or Bible study to prepare. There’s always another hospital call or shut-in visit to be made. There’s always another conflict to mediate. There are always inactive members who need to be contacted, as well as prospective members who need to be visited. Meetings, new member classes, confirmation classes, pre-marital counseling, births and funerals—there was always something more. And it was the constant onslaught of “something more” that prevented me (at the end of the day) from unwinding, relaxing, and disengaging from the work of the ministry.

But then, at some point, by the grace of God, I learned the lesson taught by Jesus in the first little parable we heard today. “The kingdom of God,” He said, “is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.” The only thing the farmer does in this parable is plant the seeds and await the harvest. Everything else, for the most part, is out of his control. The seeds, the soil, the sun and rain take over once the planting is done. The farmer doesn’t have the power to make the seeds sprout and grow. So he’s content simply to plant the seeds and see what happens.

It works the same way with the Word of God—with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel is “the power of God for salvation.” The Word of God gets scattered like seed and it grows. It gets results. It eventually yields a harvest. It doesn’t depend on the personality of the preacher. It doesn’t depend on the goodness of the hearer. No, the power for salvation is in the Word of the Gospel—the good news that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them—that if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come.”

If there was ever a preacher who could lay claim to great results—if there was ever a man who could claim that his proclamation of the gospel literally changed the world—it would have to be Martin Luther. Popes and kings and church councils could not stop the spread of the Gospel unleashed by Luther. Yet, when asked to explain the secret of his tremendous success, Luther simply said, “While I drink my little glass of Wittenburg beer, the gospel runs its course.” While Luther was content to sit back and quaff a cold one, the gospel—the good news of God’s free gift of salvation in Jesus Christ—was rolling across the world like a tidal wave, changing lives for all eternity. In other words, it wasn’t Luther’s powers of persuasion or his preaching skills that changed the world. It was the gospel. The gospel always runs its course—always gets results—allowing even preachers like me to relax every now and then with a nice, cold beverage.

The kingdom of God grows in much the same manner as a farmer’s field. God’s Word is preached and “scattered” from pulpits around the world. The preacher then steps out of the pulpit. He tends to other things. He sleeps. He eats. He runs a few errands. He drinks a cup of coffee, talks to friends, spends time with his wife. He goes through the ordinary routines of life. And, lo and behold, all the while, the gospel runs its course. The Word does its job! Faith is strengthened. Sins are forgiven. God’s people live and die in victory. No one knows exactly how the kingdom grows; and the growth can’t always be seen or measured. But the kingdom of God grows because the gospel runs its course—propelled by its own divine power.

How terrible it would be if the gospel didn’t run its course. How awful it would be if the gospel had no power of its own, but was completely dependent upon the power and personality of the preacher. How could he ever stop preaching? How could he ever relax or unwind if everything was dependent upon his efforts? How could he ever be sure that he’d said enough, or that he’d said it in the right way? I didn’t fully realize that at the beginning of my ministry. I would mow the lawn and begin to feel guilty that I wasn’t making visits at the nursing home instead—even though I had just been there recently. I didn’t trust God. I thought it all depended on me.

As if that isn’t bad enough, how terrible it would be if the gospel had no power of its own, but was completely dependent upon those who heard the word. What if your salvation depended entirely upon you—upon your intelligence, your strength of character, your ability to stop sinning and shape-up? What if it was entirely up to you to fix all the trials and tribulations in your life—if your wisdom and your fervent prayers held the key to healing that person you love, or to getting a new job? Some of us live that way. We don’t trust God. We think it all depends on us. If that’s really how it was, then there would be no hope for this preacher (or for this preacher’s hearers). We need to re-learn the very first commandment, and how it leads us to fear, love and trust in God above all things.

Thank God it doesn’t all depend on us. The gospel is the power of God for all who believe. The gospel always runs its course. God promises that His Word will never return empty, but will always accomplish what He desires and always achieve the purpose for which He sends it (Is. 55:10-11). The growth of God’s Word in us is something like the growth that’s been going on in my garden for the past month—slowly, steadily, surely. While I tend to other things, that garden is growing—and will continue to grow until the time of harvest arrives.

We need to remember this in the church. We need to remember that God gives the growth. Our efforts, our strength, and our smarts are not what keep this church growing and flourishing. In too many churches today Christians think that they have to “dress up” the gospel—market it and sell it using the same savvy techniques that Madison Avenue uses to market deodorant, blue jeans, and beer. Too often, we think that we need to add something to the Word of God to make it really effective.

What about you? Do you believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ is running its course in your life? Do you believe that His power is enough—that it’s sufficient to carry you through whatever troubles or trials you face? At times, we don’t believe it. When worry takes over, when the tyranny of anxiety robs our lives of joy and peace, when we start to think that we’re carrying the weight of the whole world on our shoulders—those are the unmistakable signs of our utter faithlessness, our total lack of trust. That was my sin in those early years of ministry. I thought it all depended on me—super pastor. But now I know better.

Now I know that it all depends on Jesus. He carried the weight of the world’s sin upon His shoulders. You can cast your anxiety on Him because He loves you with an undying love. We walk by faith, not by sight. And by faith we know and believe and trust that God is working all things for the good of those who love Him—those whom He has called to be His own. The gospel always runs its course. That gospel leads us to live lives of faithfulness. Faithfulness is simply doing and speaking the things that God has called us to do and speak. The faithful farmer scatters seed. The faithful father is the father who brings his children to the Divine service and teaches them about Jesus. The faithful employee does her job to the best of her ability. But the faithful people of God also believe this: the results of our work and labor—the results are in God’s hands. And it can be tremendously freeing to realize that.

God is already getting results in your life. In you that Gospel is giving growth and life and faith. The seed of the Word is growing in your heart, ripening ever so surely so that you will be ready to spend a blessed eternity with Jesus, and with those who are already with Jesus today. The gospel planted in your heart will one day bloom and blossom into a life without sin, a life without tears, a life that lasts forever.

Let there be no doubt. The Lord has laid down His life for you. His death on the cross was the payment for your forgiveness. Jesus is the reason that the gospel always runs its course. He was delivered over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification. Let there be no worry, for in the midst of all your troubles and cares, God is at work. The faith and life He gives is growing and maturing and ripening through every earthly trouble. So let go and let God, as they say. Believe what you cannot see. The gospel is running its course you. Amen.

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