Monday, April 22, 2013

Be Patient!

[Jesus said:] “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (Matthew 13:32)

When it got to be this time of year back when I was a kid, the hardest thing in the world was knowing that school was going to end soon, but having to wait and wait and wait for it!

Waiting for good things to happen, having patience, is tough.

But this brief parable told by Jesus is part of a string of parables He tells in Matthew 13, all of them with the same theme: the Kingdom of God comes to the patient.

That’s true not only of those who patiently trust in Christ.

It’s also and even more true of the God Who patiently puts up with a world that wants nothing to do with Him.

For centuries now, the God of all creation Who has patiently put up with human sin and all its manifestations--including selfishness, greed, bigotry, injustice, violence, and arrogance--has planted the seeds of His kingdom in this fallen world.

Jesus Christ died and rose again so that all who believe in Him may not perish but may have eternal life as part of God’s new creation, the kingdom of heaven.

Some days, like the days that saw the Boston bombings, that kingdom can seem pitifully small; churches can seem like nothing more than holy huddles hanging in there in a world where materialism and passing pleasures are the gods of choice.

And there are times when the kingdom doesn’t grow as we pray and hope: Husbands, sons, daughters, friends, neighbors, and grandchildren for whom we’ve prayed and with whom we’ve shared our invitations to get to know Jesus for years still don’t believe.

The society in which we live has become so arrogant, so materialistic, and so far from God that many Christians--conservative, liberal, mainline, evangelical, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox--have, in practical terms, given up on God altogether.

An elderly woman, a lifelong churchgoer, told me not long ago after I had talked about Jesus’ second coming to finally and fully institute His kingdom “I don’t think that will ever happen.”

Early Christians faced a world similar to our own and were disappointed that Christ hadn’t yet returned. How long would they have to wait? When was Jesus going to make His kingdom manifest and powerfully present to the world?

The apostle Peter told them to be patient, to see the seeming delay of the kingdom of heaven as an opportunity. “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some think of slowness” he writes in 2 Peter 3:9 to the first-century Church, “but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.”

Christ hasn’t fully established His kingdom yet, Peter is saying, in order to give His Church the chance to reach more people with the gospel.

Instead of lamenting the sorry state of the world and of our congregations, we need to stir ourselves to prayer and to witnessing for Christ.

We need to be about the great commission, to make disciples, to teach people all that Jesus has commanded, to baptize people in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, knowing that no matter how puny the kingdom may seem to our faulty, sin-tinged, earthbound eyes, Christ is with us always and He is still doing new things in the lives of those who trust His Word.

Jesus is telling us in this little parable: “Church, Christians, don’t lose patience!”

We who follow Christ have a simple task: To keep speaking the Word about Jesus Christ.

Paul says in Romans 10:17 that “faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the Word of Christ.”

So, if by words and actions and invitations, we will keep true to the Word of Christ and keep sharing it with others, faith will spread and the mustard seed Church will grow.

If you’ve become discouraged by the evil and the hard-heartedness you see in the world, the aversion to God, that tenacious human desire that can be traced back to the garden of Eden, to “be like God,” let Jesus’ words encourage you this afternoon.

Jesus is not absent.

He hasn’t left us orphaned: He’s given us His Holy Spirit.

And the Holy Spirit has inspired God’s Holy Word, He’s created the Church, and He uplifts us with the promises of the forgiveness of sin, the resurrection of the dead, and the life everlasting to all who endure in faith.

Still we can sing with confidence of the old hymn: “This is my Father’s world; Oh, let us not forget/That, though the wrong seems oft so strong. God is the ruler yet.”

God is still at work. In your life. In my life. In the life of the world.

And one day the kingdom built on Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life, the only way to life with God the Father, will blossom in full.

Until that day, keep planting the seeds of faith in yourself and in the world: Trust in Christ as your only true and lasting hope, worship God with other Christians, pray in Christ’s Name, read and study God’s Word, receive the Sacraments, let the whole world know about the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.

I promise you that in ways none of us can imagine, the seeds of the Word about Christ that God has patiently planted in you and that you, in turn, patiently plant in others, will be infinitely greater and more beautiful than words can describe.

Like the grace He gives freely to those who repent and believe in Him, the kingdom of heaven will be “so high you can’t get over it/So low you can’t get under it/So wide you can’t get round it/Oh, wonderful love!”

What a day it will be when Christ returns and reigns over His new creation!

If it seems far away and leaves you dumbfounded, afraid, or impatient, just remember how patient God is with you and then, in response to His love, be patient with Him and keep planting the word about Christ everywhere! Amen

[This message was shared during a gathering of the local conference of Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (WELCA), held in the facilities of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, yesterday.] 

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