Rejoicing in the Sowing
Though not sung in Lutheran churches like ours, you all know "Bringing in the Sheaves." But did you know that the song isn't about bringing in the sheaves as much as it is about sowing? You remember "bringing in the sheaves" because that's the memorable chorus. But the verses have "Sowing in the morning...Sowing in the noontide...Sowing in the sunshine...Sowing in the shadows...Sowing for the Master." Although the refrain is "We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves," it could be "We shall come rejoicing, going out to sow." And that fits our text: a 4 verse parable unique to Mark.
The fact of the matter is we're not rejoicing in the sowing. Let me take that back. It's probably fairer to say I'm not rejoicing in sowing the kingdom of God. That's what the parable is about. It's about sowing the kingdom of God, not just about sowing. As parents are always teaching their children regardless of what they are doing or not doing, so Christians are always sowing something. If we sow things the world wants and needs, we will be praised for it and prosper outwardly.
"Bringing in the sheaves" proves the point. Most think this song written in 1874 is about bringing souls to salvation, but the only thing it specifically talks about sowing is "seeds of kindness." I would rejoice in sowing that. That's what the world wants, needs, and expects from us. We have more people coming to this building seeking money, child care, a wedding, or a funeral than we do forgiveness, God, or salvation. If we'd sow to these felt needs, we'd be regarded as kind and have a harvest. But here's the rub, you harvest what you sow. You don't sow corn and get cabbage. So you sow the kingdom of the world and that's what you'll harvest. You sow the kingdom of God, and that's what God will one day harvest. But as I said, I don't rejoice in sowing that. I want results men will praise and reward and I can be proud of.
My sin grows ever blacker and bleaker. I don't rejoice in sowing what leads to harvesting the kingdom of God because I don't think the kingdom is growing. This is contrary to the promise in this parable. Jesus says, "The seed sprouts and grows." I say, "No it doesn't" because I don't see it. The parable even deals with this sin of mine. Rather than translate "though he does not know how" that Greek word for "know" here is in other places translated "see." So Jesus says, "The seed sprouts and grows, though he does not see it."
Because I don't see it, I don't think the kingdom is growing so I'm ever tempted to sow something else. I don't see people growing "in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." I don't see people growing in the certainty of salvation. I don't see souls relieved of their shame and guilt. Don't you see? If I sowed stewardship I could measure the giving and see growth. If I sowed evangelism, I could measure the "contacts" you made and see growth. If I sowed something that could be measured visibly, I'd have something to see and others could talk about. I don't see the kingdom growing, so contrary to what Jesus says, I don't think it is, and so I don't rejoice in sowing.
My sin is greater still. It's revealed by translating "know" not "see." As I said, that verb is translated both ways, so Jesus can be heard to say, "The seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how." I said that I don't see the kingdom growing, but sometimes I do. Then, contrary to what Jesus specifically says, I think I do know how it grows. Good preaching, good teaching is how the kingdom grows. It's friendly people. When 9/11 happened, a crisis caused the kingdom to grow. When the Texas economy is strong compared to the rest of the nation, that causes the kingdom to grow. I don't take Jesus at His word. He says, "You don't know how My kingdom grows," and I respond, "O yes I do." This is rebellion; this is unbelief; this is trusting someone other then God, me!
I may have set you up. My title is "Rejoicing in Sowing," and that really does fit "Bringing in the Sheaves" overall. But this parable says nothing about the attitude of the sower. The important thing is to keep on sowing the seed from which the kingdom grows regardless if you're happy or sad. The author of "Bringing in the Sheaves" would agree. He was inspired to write the song by Psalm 126:6, "He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him." The promise in the verse before inspires me. It says, "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy." So regardless if every seed sown is watered with a tear; regardless if every seed of the kingdom is sown with a sigh; what is important is that the sowing of the kingdom, and not the world, go on. While we don't have to rejoice while we sow, I think this text shows us we can.
We Lutherans are helped by our Small Catechism. We say in the explanation to the Lord's Prayers, "The kingdom of God comes indeed without our prayer." The kingdom coming, being sowed, growing, and harvested, is not dependent on you or me. Years before Jesus told this parable He proclaimed that the kingdom of God had come. It came in His person, and Jesus worked to bring lost souls into it. He is much more concerned than we could ever be about His kingdom. Away with this pious, I should say impious, fiction that we can love the lost more than Jesus because this leads to no good.
We wring our hands and hearts over those not in the kingdom. We don't see it growing as we think it should, so we drop His seed bag and start sowing something else. Something that will work, produce results that we can see. But if bringing lost sinners into His kingdom cost God the blood, sweat, and tears of His Son, do you think you could be more concerned for a lost soul or all the lost souls in the world than He? Do you think the Word and Sacraments He has given us to sow His kingdom could somehow not be the best, the most powerful things in the universe to grow it? They must be.
The kingdom of God doesn't depend on my prayers let alone my sowing. It depends on the Person and Work of Jesus. That's where I am to focus; that's where I find sustenance; that's where I find my joy, and the Scripture lays this out beautifully, poetically. Who is the Promised Seed promised to our first parents? Jesus. All the Old Testament is about passing on the Promised Seed. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the Promised Seed, after thousands of years, spouts in the Virgin Mary. He is the One to whom all the O. T. promises were made. As St. Paul says, "All the promises of God are "yes" and "Amen" in Him. He has all the promises of God.
Unlike me and perhaps you Jesus believed them without doubt; unlike me and perhaps you Jesus lived from and to them. Unlike me and you too, He was a perfect Son, but "except the Seed fall in the ground and die it remains alone, but if It dies it bears much fruit." When Jesus came to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, He was the only Man who had a right to the kingdom. He deserved it. But He gave up His life, so the whole world could have it too. All the anger, all the hatred, all the judgment a world of thistles and thorns rightly calls forth from God, was borne by the Man Jesus on the cross. The big, beautiful, mature Tree that Jesus had grown into was stripped of its foliage, whipped, beaten, punctured with nails, and buried, but then the buried Seed spouted anew on Easter.
Come under His shade; come find shelter from the storms in His branches. Come find forgiveness for all your sins; life for all your death; hope for all your fears. This is the fulfillment of Isaiah 61:11. Listen carefully to it and you'll find the answer to what troubles you in the parable, i.e. "all by itself the soil produces grain." Isaiah 61:11 shows this is an illustration. It's not that people produce the kingdom apart from what is sown, but God is the force, the power behind salvation. Isaiah 61 says, " For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Lord God will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations."
The emphasis is on the Lord God. He is what is sown, what gives the growing, and He is the Tree under which we have shade, shelter, and salvation. Life in the shade looks much different than life under the sun relentlessly beating down on you. A life sheltered from sin, death, and the devil is much different than one lived as if you were at the mercy of these beasts. A life lived under, attached, anchored to the Tree of salvation is not one under the law but under Jesus' grace, mercy, and peace.
We wait with Jesus, and Jesus is waiting on the grain. Notice the word "sickle." In the Greek New Testament it's only found here and 6 other times all in the Book of Revelation. The 6 times it's used in Revelation are in Revelation 14 to describe the Judgment on the Last Day. Jesus isn't waiting for the wicked to stop sinning or the church to start sowing more. He is waiting on the harvest. Jesus emphasizes this in the parable. "As soon as [not a moment too soon, not a second too late] As soon as the grain is ripe, He puts the sickle to it, because the harvest is come."
Can't you breathe a big sigh of relief? The harvest is in the hands of Jesus not my hands. He is out in His garden everyday checking to see how things are coming along. He doesn't expect me to do that or wring my hands over His delaying the harvest. He isn't waiting for the sake of the weeds any more than you gardeners do. He waits for the sake of His grains, and Jesus says elsewhere that not a single grain of His will be lost.
It is true; on the Last Day, "We shall come rejoicing," as He brings in the sheaves. And it's because they're His sheaves from the moment of sprouting, through growing, right up till harvesting that we can come rejoicing, going out to sow. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (20090628); Mark 4: 26-29