Sermon / Pr. Ted Giese / June 14th / Mark 4:26-34 / Birds in The Branches
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Rev. Ted A. Giese / Mark 4:26-34 - Birds in The Branches
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. "With many such parables [Jesus] 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." The "them" there is the people who came to hear Jesus speak. Parables need some explanation. Today let us look at the Parable of the mustard seed.
One of the repeating themes in the Gospel of Mark (and in the other Gospels you see it too) is the theme of "Jesus under wraps," in many ways Jesus is kept hidden until His crucifixion, death and resurrection. Jesus Himself sternly warns His disciples against saying too much, too soon. In this way Jesus is that mustard seed sown by the Sower. Amidst all the chatter of the world, all the speeches and talk, the mean words and kind words, the loving words and the words that hurt, hidden away in all the words ever spoken, every song sung by the birds of the air, are the angle Gabriel's words from Luke's Gospel when He came to the Virgin Mary and said, “Greetings, O favoured one, the Lord is with you!” These words, and Gabriel's other words, are as small as a mustard seed and yet in them is the largest of promises being fulfilled, when Gabriel says, “the Lord is with you!,” He was: Jesus was in His mother's womb, hidden away, planted there by the power of the Most High, not by human means but by the Holy Spirit, by the Word of God. Smaller than a muster seed, a cell dividing, growing there in His mother's womb, the womb of the Virgin, and then after the birth, Jesus is still just one baby boy in all the history of baby boys. Like one mustard seed. Yes, it is true that King Herod at first does see Jesus for what Jesus might grow into but Herod has no joy in his heart over this, and he treats young Jesus like a noxious weed, seeking to uproot Him. Aside from a handful of people most everyone else go about their lives, they sleep and rise night and day, and as the Parable says, "the seed sprouts and grows." Luke's Gospel tells us that, "the Child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favour of God was upon Him." And so it was, Jesus simply grew alongside everyone else.
From His mother's womb, to His childhood, to His adulthood Jesus grew, "first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear." Once the time had come, after three years of public ministry, Jesus turned to go to Jerusalem, where He knew the Cross awaited Him, the time was ripe, He was ripe for it and as the parable says, "When the grain is ripe, at once [the Sower] puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” Jesus in His Parable asks, “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.”
From Adam, to today, until the Last Day, with blessed few exceptions,all men and women die. Amidst all of these deaths, what is one single death? One death amidst them all is as small as a mustard seed, it would be insignificant and yet Christ Jesus' death yielded something miraculous. When He died for you and He was buried in the ground of the Tomb, planted in the grave, a miraculous work was underway and Jesus foreknew what that miracle would be. In John's Gospel during that first Holy Week leading up to Jesus' crucifixion, death and burial, John records how, "among those who went up to worship at the feast [of Passover in Jerusalem] were some Greeks. So these [Greeks] came to Philip ... and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." Seed in a bin does nothing, seed in the earth will grow and yield a crop, a crop for harvest. Jesus the Mustard Seed, in His resurrection is like the Mustard Plant that, "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.” What was secret in the Mustard Seed is secret no more once it is full grown into the Mustard Plant. In Ezekiel, Jesus is described in similar terms, He is not describe like a Mustard Plant but rather Jesus is compared to a noble cedar planted on the, "mountain heights of Israel," where under its fruitful branches, "dwell every kind of bird, [and] in the shade of its branches," as Ezekiel says, "every sort of bird will nest."
Who then are you? You and I are the birds. Those Greeks who wanted to see Jesus, those first Jews who heard Jesus tell these Parables and couldn't have peace until they knew what the Parables meant, they too are the birds who nest in the Nobel Cedar's branches, the branches of the Mustard Plant. The Holy Spirit invites us to nest ourselves under the outstretched arms of Jesus nailed to the cross, under the risen and nail pierced hands of Jesus who gives Himself for the feast at His Supper, at Holy Communion, who gives Himself as heavenly food. Into those branches the Holy Spirit "calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies" you and the whole Christian Church. Yes, He has called you by the Gospel, by the Good News that Jesus has paid for your every sin and though we do not deserve it, based on own actions: all the same, He died for you and for me and for the world and by this death He cancelled sin, this cancelling of you debt of sin against God, against your neighbour, is given to you and everyone free of charge as a gift. The Holy Spirit has enlightened the Church with this gift, and has declared us Holy, sanctified, making us so by the Word of God and the washing of Baptism, even while we still muddle our way through everything. In the midst of weal and woe, good times and bad times, joy and sorrow, the Holy Spirit calls you into the branches, into the arms of Jesus.
Have you flown away from God like a bird? Have you made your nest under the tree of Hockey, or Camping, or Golfing, or Family time, or Drugs, or Work or whatever? Have you built little nests of worldly things under some other tree, a tree that isn't the Cross of Christ with Christ Crucified upon it? A nest under a different pair of arms, arms that don't belong to Jesus? Is this you? Listen to the call of the Holy Spirit. Growing next to Jesus, the Mustard Plant, who is like the Nobel Cedar, are those other threes and of them Ezekiel says, "all the trees of the field shall know that I am the LORD; 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.” Whatever other tree you might make your nest in, it will not last, it will flourish for a time but then it will be gone, the only one that lasts is Jesus, return to the Lord your God for He, "is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love." He has forgiveness for you: In His branches is The Everlasting Home, listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit as He calls; for He, "daily and richly forgives all my sins," all your sins, "and the sins of all believers. [And] on the Last Day He will raise me, [you] and all the dead, and give eternal life to me, [to you,] and [to] all believers."
You look at those branches and they are either home or they are not, you think, "If I am like a bird, as you say ... then I am a crow, a magpie, a black bird ... I am no faithful robin, no courageous eagle, no humble sparrow. No, like the crow I am a murderer, like the magpie I'm shrill, like the black bird I am territorial and I am poor at sharing space with others, I gossip like an old hen clucks, I am like the proud and vain peacock, I am no early bird that gets the Gospel of Jesus in the morning - should I roost in this tree I would be the last to come at the Holy Spirits call and I would worry that the branches would break and come down on top of me the moment I landed in my nest. Who would want this old crow?" Fear not Jesus wants, "this old crow:" There is room in His branches for every bird that has ever taken wing, even for the penguins and the ostriches who have never flown: If they have been in the branches their whole life, if they have flown the coop there is a place for them here. Listen: It is not the quality of the bird, it is the quality of the one who calls - the Holy Spirit - It is not the fineness or beauty of a birds feathers, it is the branches that give the bird it's shade - Jesus The Son of God - When God the Father looks at The Tree He sees His Son and you are hidden in His branches, part of The Good Tree, Jesus' goodness. His flawlessness becomes yours and you are counted amongst the best of birds because you are in The Good Tree. Look again at the branches, it is your home, come nest, feed, be shaded in the branches - the word of welcome and invitation may be ever so small (as small as a mustard seed) in Christ watch and see into what it will grow: A promise fulfilled yesterday, today and forever. 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.
Mark 9:9, Following the Transfiguration Mark's Gospel says, "And as they were coming down the mountain, [Jesus] charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead."
 Luke 1:28
 Luke 2:40
 Enoch and Elijah: Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven (2 Kings 2:11) and Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death (Hebrews 11:5).
 John 12:20-24
 Ezekiel 17:23
 Luther's Small Catechism, The Creed, Third Article, Concordia Publishing House, 1991, pg 17.
 Ezekiel 17:24
 Psalm 145:8
 Luther's Small Catechism, The Creed, Third Article, pg 17.