Blog / Book of the Month / “Birds of a Feather Brought Together” Mount Olive Lutheran Church Season Of Pentecost Sunday Sermon June 16, 2024 – Mark 4:26-34

“Birds of a Feather Brought Together” Mount Olive Lutheran Church Season Of Pentecost Sunday Sermon June 16, 2024 – Mark 4:26-34

“Birds of a Feather Brought Together” Mount Olive Lutheran Church Season Of Pentecost Sunday Sermon June 16, 2024 – Mark 4:26-34

Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday June 16th 2024: Season of Pentecost / Mark 4:26-34 “Birds of a Feather Brought Together”

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

And He said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

With many such parables He spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to His own disciples he explained everything.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.

Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. What is the kingdom of God? How big are its boarders? Are you a part of it? If so how are you a part of it? Let’s start with another question: How big is God? Does He have limitations? And what would those limitations be? God is omnipresent, which is to say He is everywhere, all-pervading, existing both inside creation and outside of it. And not just in the moment but eternally present in the past and in the present and in the future both inside of time and outside of time. God is so big that there is nowhere to go where He is not. The psalmist of Psalm 139 explains it like this:

        “Where shall I go from Your Spirit?

               Or where shall I flee from Your presence?

        If I ascend to heaven, You are there!

               If I make my bed in Sheol, You are there!

        If I take the wings of the morning

               and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

               even there Your hand shall lead me,

               and Your Right Hand shall hold me.”[1]

In His ascension into heaven, forty days after His resurrection from the dead, we are taught from Scripture that all authority in Heaven and Earth is given to Jesus, that Jesus who sits at the right hand of God the Father fills all things.[2] All things would include space and time, the material, the intangible, the spiritual both inside all of these things and outside of all of these things simultaneously. The resurrected Jesus with His body, mind and soul does this by virtue of being God and it can boggle our thinking if we contemplate it. And yet our Old Testament (Ezekiel 17:22-24) and Gospel readings today point to another mind boggling miracle, they point to a time and place when Jesus was made to be—for your sake —smaller than a mustard seed; one made to be like unto “a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar.”[3] We’ll come back to this thought.

But now let’s switch back to the kingdom of God. The resurrected Lord Jesus says of Himself, “for where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them.”[4] Two or three people don’t amount to much in our thinking: that may as well be as small as a mustard seed in the eyes of the World. Let’s go smaller. Near the very beginning of the Gospel of Saint Mark we hear what Jesus first preaches after His baptism in the Jordan River, a sermon that has reverberated through history down to you today,

“The time is fulfilled,” Jesus says, “and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”[5]

First, this is a call to individual action, that’s less than two or three people by the way, that’s one person, that’s a call to little ol’ you. Secondly, this kingdom of God is at hand because Jesus is there with the hearer. And this is the Gospel Good News you’re being called to trust that the promise of His incarnation, His taking on our flesh and blood, was fulfilled in Him. Dear ones this call to repentance is a call for each of us to turn away from our selfish, self-directed lives of self indulgent desires and insatiable appetites, to turn away from those things to God; to be gathered up together into Christ Jesus. In such a way that starts as small as little ol’ you, yet grows by the grace of God into something much bigger than you. For wherever Christ is there the kingdom of God is. God is your heavenly Father, Jesus Christ His Son and the Holy Spirit, three persons one LORD. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah puts the call to personal repentance like this:

        “Seek the LORD while He may be found;

               Call upon Him while He is near;

        Let the wicked forsake his way,

               and the unrighteous man his thoughts;

Let him return to the LORD, that [the LORD] may have

compassion on him, and [let him return] to our God,

for [the LORD] will abundantly pardon.”[6]

Now in the Lord’s Prayer we pray: “Thy kingdom come.” And in the catechism we ask this question: “What does this mean?” And the answer is, “The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also.” Then we ask, “How does God’s kingdom come?” and the answer is “God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.” Today our new little brother Carter was given the Holy Spirit of God the Father during our 9am Service and in Carter’s baptism into Jesus Christ the kingdom of God has come to him. What did Carter do to initiate this? What did Carter do to make this happen? Nothing, the kingdom of God came to Cater by the will of God. Carter did not drive himself here today, he didn’t march up here to the baptismal font all by himself, he didn’t answer the questions put to him for himself with his own voice, no Carter simply “received this washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” as a gift, which is “poured out on [Carter and each of us who are baptised] richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour.”[7] Even if you’re in your late sixties (as an example) and you get baptised, that is how it happens too, the Holy Spirit is the one who brings you to the waters of Holy Baptism. This work of salvation happens not because of anything we do but rather according to the mercy of God.[8] And so Carter is added into the kingdom of God. And while Carter is small, and started out very small at the time of his birth, he is still a lot bigger than a mustard seed. Yet the faith that is implanted in Cater today by God is something that will likewise grow over time, providing of course that this faith is nurtured along the way that it is not actively brought to destruction. Throughout Carter’s life he will be given opportunity to acknowledge this gift of faith by his thoughts words and deeds as well as by how he turns to the LORD when his thoughts words and deeds fail to live up to the gift of faith he’s been given today.     

Now we return to the mind boggling miracle, that point when Jesus was made to be—for our sake—smaller than a mustard seed; one made to be like unto “a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar.” This will be of particular interest to fathers, and because it is the Father Day Weekend we will focus on their part in this. In the Apostles Creed we confess that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. Your conception began with a cell dividing’ the fertilised egg of the woman bringing forth life. The Holy Spirit is not physical in nature so in the conception of Jesus in the Virgin Mary’s womb there is even less physically present there than is the case when one of us is conceived. The fertilised egg of a woman under normal circumstances is certainly smaller than a mustard seed and in Jesus’ miraculous case it is even more miraculously small as His conception comes from the spoken Word of God into the Virgin’s ear and not by the seed of a man. How precious and small is life as it begins to take shape. And fathers you know how vulnerable your child is, how much protection and care they need from the point of conception through pregnancy, through birth, through childhood and those hard teenage years into their adult lives. Jesus, for His part, endured the vulnerabilities and uncertainties of life in order to win eternal life for you and this began for Him from the very beginning of His miraculous conception right through to His final breath upon the cross.

In the Gospel of Saint John Jesus provides this description of Himself when He says “I am the Vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”[9] Thinking on today’s parable and what we likewise hear from Ezekiel it is not the image of a vine that is provided but rather an image of a tree that is given. Here the LORD uses a tree to explain who He would be to His people. Jesus stretches out His arms like branches and we then are like the brides of every kind that rest in the shade of those outstretched arms, we are like the brides of every kind that make our nest in the shade of His almighty arms.[10] Press this further and see in it a picture of the coming cross of Jesus’ crucifixion where His arms are outstretched and nailed to the wood of the tree,[11] to the wood of the cross. And where do we find our rest from Sin, Death, the Devil and the World? We find our peace under those outstretched arms, in the shade of Jesus’ outstretched arms. And in His resurrection from the dead and His ascension into heaven what started small like “a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar” broken off and planted in Jesus’ crucifixion on the mountain top of Golgotha on Good Friday outside the gates of Jerusalem becomes now a mighty cedar tremendous in size even bigger than what a mustard seed can grow into with room for every sort of bird, with room even for you. In Jesus’ life the Son of God made Himself to be one man out of billions and billions of men; in Jesus’ death He made Himself to be a single man dead upon a cross for this sins of all men, for the sins of all people; and in Jesus’ resurrection God made Himself to be the first born of from the dead[12] so that you will have eternal life in Him. Out of all the billions and billions of births, out of all the billions and billions the deaths, this one small birth, this one small death promises eternal life to all and over turns the eternal power of death for all people.

Again what are we to think of the kingdom of God? And how are you a part of it? The kingdom of God is where the LORD is to be found, the kingdom of God is Christ Jesus Himself. You are part of it by virtue of the gift of faith and your baptism. Think of it like this: Fathers let’s say you have an umbrella and food to eat and it is raining and you’ve been out in the rain a long time, and you also have a child, the child is yours and they are standing in the rain getting wet and they are hungry. Do they have a place under your umbrella to keep out of the rain? Yes. Do they have food there that is for them to eat which will put away their hunger? Yes. Now if you call to them and they dig in their heels and refuse to come under the umbrella they will remain both wet and hungry. Does their refusal to come under the umbrella change that they are your child? No. Does it change that they have a place to come to be out of the rain? No. And so it is with the kingdom of God. You have a place in it. The LORD calls you to Himself and at times the LORD will graciously come to you even without your asking and stand over you with His almighty umbrella sheltering you from the heavy downpours of life in this fallen World. Jesus might seem small to you today in your life, but remember He is actual omnipresent, which is to say He is everywhere, all-pervading and He is yours yesterday, today and always.

A father is called to protect his children and care for their needs, to provide for them in good times and in times of trouble. (Earthly father do not always do this. Good fathers do, but the World has in it fathers who are not good.) Now with God the Father, you have a good Father who loves you and loved us all by sending His Son, Jesus Christ,[13] by likewise sending the Holy Spirit through His Son who now binds us all together under Jesus’ outstretched arms for our ultimate protection and care in good times and in times of trouble. Dear ones stay close to the LORD and remember He brings low the high tree, and make high the low tree, He dries up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish,[14] from humble beginnings He makes great things. All of this happens where and when He wills it; for the kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray that it may come to us also. You need not run from what Jesus provides you. Set aside your resistance and seek after Him, turn to Him and you will have rest for your souls. If you refuse to come under the umbrella to stand in the place prepared for you, if you refuse to nest in the branches of the tree provided by your heavenly Father, then you’re in danger of spiritual death and everlasting condemnation. Fathers where would you have your children be; under your care and provision, lead by you, or left open to the ravages and savage conditions of the World? The birds of the air fly to and fro and they have to nest somewhere where will your nest be? Will it be within the kingdom of God, where a place has been prepared for you, or outside of the kingdom of God? Is there a place you can fly off to where He will not be? Is there a place you can fly off to where you cannot return to the shelter of His branches? I ask you today, “Can you make yourself so small that the LORD cannot find you?” “Are you so big that you do not need Him?” Amen.    

Let us pray:

Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

[1] Psalm 139:7–10
[2] Ephesians 4:10
[3] Ezekiel 17:22
[4] Matthew 18:20
[5] Mark 1:15
[6] Isaiah 55:6–7
[7] Titus 3:5–6
[8] Titus 3:4
[9] John 15:5
[10] Ezekiel 17:23
[11] Acts 13:29; 1st Peter 2:24
[12] Colossians 1:18
[13] John 3:16
[14] Ezekiel 17:24

Photo Credit: Main photo of drawing of birds on a tree branch from rawpixel.