Sunday, June 14, 2009

What You Don’t Understand Is What You Know

Second Sunday after Pentecost
Commemoration of Elisha
June 14, 2009
Mark 4.26-34

Do you know what November 26 of this year is? You might be able to guess. If I tell you that it’s the last Thursday in November you’ll know that it’s Thanksgiving. But how about November 22? It’s a Sunday, and therefore is a specific day in the Church Year. If you don’t know the Church Year well, you probably won’t know that it’s the Last Sunday of the Church Year and will mark the Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost. That’s five months from now and twenty-three Sundays from now. The season of Pentecost is a long one compared to the others, which usually last a few weeks. But whereas there’s usually a lot of action in the other seasons because they’re concentrating on the life of Christ, the Pentecost season can seem like it’s going nowhere with each Sunday simply growing in number after the festival Pentecost: the Second Sunday after Pentecost, the Third Sunday after Pentecost, and so on, all the way down to the Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost on November 22.

But there’s a reason for that. It’s because it is the season of growth. That’s why the color has now turned to green and will stay that way, with the exception of a couple festival days, until we change it for the season of Advent. Green is the color of growth. When there is abundant growth a lush green usually marks that.

But if the season of Pentecost seems like it’s going nowhere slowly so does actual growth itself. A seed planted in the ground doesn’t sprout the next day. For a long time it seems like nothing is happening. But growth is occurring. Early into this Pentecost season it’s good for us to know that this is what this season is all about. It may not seem like much is happening, but in hearing the Gospel week in and week out you are growing.

The Gospel reading today orients us on this path of growing. It does it with two parables, one which we know well, the Parable of the Mustard Seed. Jesus is specific in how this growth takes place. The Old Testament reading and the Epistle also lend assistance to the process by which we grow as Christians.

Simply put, it is by faith. It is not by sight, as the Epistle reading says. It is not by power or strength as the Old Testament reading alludes to with its symbolic language. It is not by understanding as Jesus makes clear in the Gospel reading. It is, simply, by faith.

This doesn’t mean it’s simple. It doesn’t mean, either, that no understanding is involved. It means that the Triune God is the one who brings about the growth. When the seed is sown, it grows. The man who planted the seed didn’t understand how the seed grew into a plant, but it grew. You don’t understand how you grow in faith, but you do. You do because God creates the faith. He causes the growth. The man didn’t understand how the growth was taking place but he knew there was growth.

We don’t usually think about the process of growth. We see the flowers and plants and trees and their beauty. It’s remarkable, isn’t it, that these beautiful things come from tiny seeds? But it doesn’t seem all that remarkable when they’re actually growing. If you look at the place in the ground where the seed was planted you’ll get bored quickly if you’re waiting to see an actual sign of growth. It’s over the long term that you see the results. When you plant the seed, in addition to watering and ensuring sunshine, you have to take it on faith that the seed will grow into a plant and that the plant will keep growing.

How does one grow in the faith? How do you and I grow as Christians? How do we grow in sanctification, more and more living as God would have us live? What does God say? “I bring low the high tree, and make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.” Most of us aren’t biologists or botanists. If we want a garden we’ll plant the seeds and tend the garden, but we won’t concern ourselves with how in the world those seeds and plants are growing. We simply want to enjoy the fruits of the garden. When it comes to our growth as Christians, God is clear that He is the one who brings it about. He causes the growth and sustains the growth.

If you are dried up spiritually God will cause you to flourish. If you are down in the dumps God will lift you up. This is what God says: “I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.” If you don’t understand how He does it, well, He doesn’t say anything about you understanding it, does He? He simply says, I will bring it about. I will do it. I am the Lord. He is the one who plants the seed of the Gospel and causes you to grow and flourish.

God says that He brings low the high tree and dries up the green tree. Those who put their faith in how much they do for their Lord and Savior raise themselves up and come to the point, perhaps without realizing it, where they don’t need Him. So He brings them down. So many times we hear the Scriptures and when they don’t comport with the reality of our reason or even common sense we try to explain them away, or even dismiss them. God goes to work to dry up this ungodly reason.

The growth He brings is not through our understanding or through how good we are, but through the humble ways of the Gospel. He doesn’t tell us to chuck our minds and reason, but to let His Word stand as the final say. The mustard seed isn’t much, but grows into something beyond what you’d expect. The Gospel, also, doesn’t seem like much, but produces things greater than we could ever imagine.

Do you think about your Baptism much? That’s because you think that not much can really come of it. But if you walk by faith, rather than sight, you will see that the waters of Baptism actually bring new life and life that never ends. This is something you can never understand, but you do know, because the Holy Spirit has given you the faith to know it and believe it. Does it seem that simple bread and wine sitting on this altar isn’t much? Yes. But though you can never understand how Jesus Christ delivers to you His very Body and Blood in and with that bread and wine you know He does.

Faith is not understanding. Faith is not what you do. Faith is not sight. It is not reason, explanation, or anything that can be quantified. It is, simply, faith. It is what trusts solely in the one man who was born of Mary and suffered in the place of the world. The one man who conquered the grave by raising Himself from it. The one man who ascended into heaven and even now brings Himself to you in His Gospel and His Sacraments. Why? So that you may be forgiven. So that you may grow. So that you may be sustained in faith. So that you may know that He is the one who sustains you in your growth.

He doesn’t insist that you understand but invites you to hear. What you hear, then, is not what you understand but is what you know. You are forgiven. You grow in faith. He creates it and causes you to bear fruit. He gives you life in which you will continue to grow and life in which you will live forever. Amen.


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