Saint Paul's Lutheran Church

We Know Not How

The Text: “[Jesus] said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.’”

In the Name of Jesus. Amen. Why does it take so long? Psalm 90:13: “Return, O LORD! How long? Have pity on your servants!” Psalm 13:1: “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” Revelation 6:10: “They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign LORD, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Habakkuk 1:2: “O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?” We struggle through waiting, especially when we feel affliction. “How long will this disease last?” When it goes on for a long time, it’s called “chronic” and that’s a depressing word. There is something about the waiting. We sense the need to exert our will in- order-to last longer. We press ourselves to be able to endure. We can start to feel our knees buckling, we can feel our grip weakening…how much more can we take? How much longer will I have to wait?!

This goes way beyond impatient children in the back seat, “How much longer?” “Are we there yet?” We are the impatient children in considerably more dire circumstances, “LORD, I know that patience is a virtue, but I’m running out…help me O LORD, how much longer?!”

St. Paul dealt with what he referred to as “a thorn in the flesh” at 2nd Cor 12. Something was afflicting him. We don’t know what it was. This can happen to us. It may be happening to you right now. It can come in many forms: it can be physical. “Will this inflammation ever go away? Will my energy ever be restored?” It can be emotional and mental. “When will I feel like coming out of this cave? When will I stop feeling so desperate and afraid? When will this loneliness subside?” It can be practical: “When will we be able to get out of this hole? When will we be able to manage this debt?” It can be spiritual. “When will God give me the virtues I need to control this temper, this anger, this frustration, this lust?” Sometimes, it can be all the above. “How long O Lord? How long?!”

And sometimes we find ourselves in impossible situations as we wait: “I don’t want to say goodbye to this loved one, but they are suffering so much…how much longer? I can’t believe I’ve asked the question. Now my impatience is compounded by my guilt.” And with this pain our thoughts and emotions start to drive us insane…we want them to be relieved of suffering, but we don’t want to let them go…and when we grow impatient for release we feel as if we are losing our compassion…and yet compassion wants to relieve the beloved…dear LORD, I’m losing it. How long O Lord? How long?”

The real-life scenarios are countless: when will this child finally grow up? When will my mom or dad ever act like they love me? When will these workers ever start to care? When will my boss ever notice? When will our country stop this downward spiral? When will I stop being so insecure? When…when…when? This is the side of waiting that grates on us.

But there is another side. The waiting itself is what faith does.

28Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. 29He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. 30Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; 31but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

Furthermore, our LORD waited, and our LORD still waits. He waited for His first-century disciples. He waits for us. The LORD waits, and it is a waiting that is certain and confident. It is waiting that knows it will see the good. About those first-century disciples: over-and-over again we see their hardness of mind and heart. The tables are turned: God was waiting for them, just like He is waiting for us. How long it took those first disciples to put 2 & 2 together to know who the LORD was and what His mission was. How long does it take us? But, in time, they got it. In time they went from being afraid and ineffective to being bold and courageous…in time, at the right time it happened; and the LORD knew it.

I’ve seen this. I have seen children of God go from feeling lost to having the confidence of faith even as the spiritual battle continues, even as the pressure from the world doesn’t let up, but there is something called maturity…a growing that takes place. Yes, the virtues of faith can and do increase. In time; and when the time is right. This happens as we learn to wait on the LORD.

But I can’t leave you here people of God. All I’ve covered thus far are two perspectives about waiting. But what do we do with this? Are we supposed to flip a switch? That doesn’t work. We can’t. No, we need Good News. We need help. We need saving.

St. Mark is the only one who offers this parable in God’s Word, as James Voelz calls it, the parable of the “Automatic Fruit-Bearing of the Soil and Seed (Voelz, James W., Concordia Commentary: Mark 1:1-8:26. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2013. 312).” There is something that breaks the tie; there is something that will not permit a standoff or a reduction of just two different ways of looking at things.

One day Jesus told this parable at Mark 4:26-34: four verses, four sentences:

Verse 26: “[Jesus] said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground.”

Verse 27: “He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.”

Verse 28: “The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.”

Verse 29: “But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

In the original language the seed is not just any seed, it is THE seed, and we know from God’s Word that THE seed is the Word of God itself. 1st Peter 1:23: “you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.”

God comes in love and mercy to break the tie…the tie between our afflicted waiting and the waiting we know we should all be a lot better at…waiting on the LORD…how can we do it? The LORD comes Christian. He comes and gives you the kingdom of God, the rule of God, the reign of God…God getting your life under control…and what does Jesus do when He comes? What ministry of His does God want you to receive? Answer: HIS scattering of the seed, the very Word of God in and upon you, the good earth, the good soil, the baptized child of God.

I am not talking about acting religious and treating church as the performance of a work, a magic routine, etc. But I am talking about taking the LORD at His Word and in faith trusting Him. He is telling us what is important in life. Years ago, I had to figure something out for my marriage. My wife was asking me for quality time. I didn’t get it and I was content to put in too many hours to save the world in the holy ministry. In time, she helped me get it through my thick head that we needed more time as a couple. This was not about going through the motions, it was about sharing life as husband and wife. The increase in quality time together made all the difference in the world. No, we don’t have a perfect marriage…who does? But our marriage has matured. It’s better.

The reign of Jesus in your life Christian…where He is the One leading you and blessing you…is experienced by His Word in your life, in your heart, in your soul, and in your mind. The Word of God is not about information transfer. It is not just a set of good lessons for life that if you would only learn to apply, you might get somewhere. It is wisdom certainly, but it is more than that. The Word of God is a seed that causes growth. The Word of God brings life. The Word of God is powerful. The Word of God changes our lives. The Word sprouts fruit of faith and the fruit of faith grows…it grows from a blade, to an ear, and then to the full grain in the ear. It is a fruit of faith that experiences the implications, the results, the impact of God taking charge of our lives…faith grows in its virtues so that we literally experience Christ in our lives in real and tangible ways. We experience His leading us more and more. Gregory the Great: “To produce ‘the blade’ is to hold the first tender beginning of good. The ‘blade’ arrives at maturity when virtue conceived in the mind leads to advancement in good works. The ‘full corn’ [happens] when virtue makes such great progress that it comes into its fullest possible expression (Oden, Thomas C. and Christopher A. Hall, eds., Ancient Christian Commentary On Scripture, New Testament II: Mark. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1998. 60).”

But this growth is in God’s time, and God’s time is a perfect time, and what is most important is that the growth is guaranteed, because of the Seed of the Word that is in you! Again, the One who sows the seed is Christ and verse 27 is not insulting Christ as if to say He just sits around in some detached manner, not taking any interest in our increase. No, verse 27 is rather emphasizing what happens with the Word…it contains life (Christ’s life) and it is grows in a way similar-to the growth in nature. One teacher explained, “The mystery of growth still puzzles farmers and scientists of today with all our modern knowledge. But nature’s secret processes do not fail to operate because we are ignorant (Robertson, Archibald Thomas, Word Pictures In The New Testament, Volume I: The Gospel According To Matthew, The Gospel According To Mark. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1930. 288-289).

This is how we are able to wait in a good way; in the way of faith, because we know through faith in Christ that by His Word planted in us when we were baptized; by His Word that continues to feed and nourish our faith in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar; by this Word that is actually growing in you Christian…that the growth will come…so that our waiting is the waiting of faith and never in vain…it is the waiting of confessing that God keeps His promises. Isaiah 55:10-11: 10For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

We don’t know how this works. We just don’t know how! But we know it works, because God has promised it. Jesus has said so. And when He speaks, what He speaks happens. It will happen. Our waiting will lead us to see the growth…and because the Word is in you Christian, it may seem like a long wait, but this waiting on the LORD will renew your strength, the blade will grow to fullness…it will happen, Jesus has said so…and His blood shed for you and His victory over death for you guarantees it. The Word is in you…and the fruit of faith will only increase, because you are in Christ and because Christ is in you. Remain in Christ…keep being filled with His Word!

Read More