Monday, June 14, 2021

Letting Go of Our Anxieties

Below, you'll find both a video from yesterday's 11:00 AM worship service at Living Water Lutheran Church and a text of the message presented during the service. Have a great and blessed week!

Mark 4:26-34

They never have been. 

In the mid-and late-first-century Church, we know, Christians were anxious because the world was getting so bad. All the signs of Jesus’ return had already happened. Yet Jesus hadn’t returned. What was the hold-up? How much worse did things have to get before the risen and ascended Jesus came back to the earth and welcomed His people into the Kingdom of God? Some believers were beginning to doubt that Jesus would ever return or that Jesus really was the Savior or that He could give anybody eternal life. These anxieties became such an issue that sometime before 67 AD, about three to four decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the apostle Peter felt compelled to write to the Christians of Asia Minor: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

It may have been because He anticipated the onset of anxieties among Christians that Jesus told the two parables we find in today’s Gospel lesson, Mark 4:26-34. 

Parables, of course, are stories or illustrations that have a deeper meaning wrapped into the narrative. When Jesus told parables to unbelievers, they either whetted or lost the unbelievers’ interest. When believers hear them, they challenge us to consider their meaning for our daily lives, our faith, and our salvation. Generally speaking, in His parables, Jesus describes the Kingdom or the reign of God that He initiated through His earthly ministry.

The first parable Jesus tells in today’s lesson is the parable of the growing seed. 

In it, Jesus says that the kingdom is like small seeds scattered in a lot of soil. The man in Jesus’ parable has just one job: to scatter the seed. Everything else is done by the seed itself. The man sleeps, but without any effort on his part, the seed grows, first sprouting and then enlarging into a huge harvest.

In this parable, the seeds are the Word of God. When the Word of God--the Gospel Word about new and everlasting life for all who repent and believe in the crucified and risen Jesus--when that Word is scattered in the soil of human hearts, minds, and wills through the Word shared, taught, preached, and given in Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, there is a harvest. The seed won't grow in every person who receives it. But there will be a harvest. The harvest is disciples, people who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, receive the gift of faith in Jesus and have life with God. Faith in Jesus makes people part of the harvest, part of the Kingdom of God.

This first parable addresses one enormous source of anxiety among some Christians. 

In it, Jesus says that our job as the Church and as disciples isn’t to produce crowds. 

Nor is it to congratulate ourselves when our churches grow numerically or to wring our hands and ask what’s wrong when our churches remain the same or decline in numbers. 

Our job is to keep sharing the Gospel, to keep scattering the seed. 

That seed doesn’t come from us; it comes from God. 

The seed won’t grow into a large crop by our efforts; the growth comes from God alone. 

As Jesus says elsewhere, “I will build My Church” (Matthew 6:18).

Last month, I was talking with a pastoral colleague who serves a congregation in a small town in another state. His church’s facilities were ample enough to provide for social distancing midway through the worst of the pandemic and reopened in January. “We lost three or four families,” he told me. “Why?” I asked. “They were upset that we were reopening.” The loss of those families triggered the anxiety of some of his church’s members. “What are we going to do, pastor?” they asked him. His answer was very wise: “Keep spreading the Gospel!”

That’s our job as Christ’s Church. We scatter the seed and trust God to do the rest, no matter what the apparent results

The task of every Christian is the same as that given by the apostle Paul to the young pastor Timothy back in the first century: “Preach the word [meaning, of course, spread the Gospel]; be prepared in season and out of season...” (2 Timothy 4:2) 

I have known megachurches that had a handful of disciples of Jesus on their membership rolls. 

And I have known tiny country congregations that gathered twenty people for worship on Sunday mornings and every one of those twenty people was faithful disciples of Jesus. 

Jesus wants to banish our anxiety in this parable by telling us, “I died and rose for you. That's an accomplished fact. I sit at the right hand of the Father to hear your prayers and be your Advocate. That's an accomplished fact. I sent the Holy Spirit to empower you in spreading the Word. The Holy Spirit created that Word and the Holy Spirit will work in people’s lives through that Word to create faith. All you have to do is share it. Don’t wring your hands or feel anxious. Share the Word. Period.”

The second parable Jesus tells today, the parable of the mustard seed, assures us that just as a mustard seed is tiny and becomes a great bush that accommodates birds looking for places to nest and sing, the Kingdom of God may look tiny, vulnerable, and overmatched by the sin, death, and darkness of this world and our common enemy, the devil. 

But as the Gospel is shared with the world and people hear the good news of a God Who is for them, died and rose for them, and is with them always in this world and, in ultimate perfection, in eternity, many people will take refuge in Jesus. They’ll hear Jesus’ invitation, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened…” (Matthew 11:28) and they’ll find rest, peace, hope, and joy in Him.

One of the biggest anxieties you hear among Christians these days is, “The world is going so badly and nobody wants to be in Church. What’s going to happen?” 

These laments ignore the fact that, when counting the numbers of conversions, Christianity is the fastest-growing religion in the world. 

But they also miss the point. Our call, as Mother Theresa used to say, isn’t to be successful--as the world counts success, but to be faithful. 

Do I want the Church to grow by leaps and bounds? If the “leaps and bounds” is composed of people who are seeking to follow Jesus, yes. Absolutely yes! But if people want the church to be a business enterprise and the biggest show in town, I am definitely not interested. 

I’m certain that Jesus isn’t either. 

In His time on earth, through a traveling ministry that included miracles and raising people from the dead, Jesus had, at most, five hundred followers. 

What were 500 people compared to the world Jesus was sent to save? 

Some people would say it’s a drop in the bucket. Jesus didn’t see things that way. 

Instead, He pursued His mission and trusted God the Father and God the Holy Spirit to take it from there. 

Our call is to let go of our anxieties, all of which are ultimately expressions of our desires to be in control and to be like God, and instead, trust in Jesus, to follow Him and spread His Word, trusting Him to expand His kingdom. 

Even here. 

Even now.