November 1, 2010
Sermon for Reformation Sunday
Stewardship of Bread - Growing
October 31, 2010
Texts: Luke 8:4-15
To you has been given the secret,
the mystery of how God works.
That’s what Jesus said in the parable of the sower.
And the mystery is as deep and uncontrollable
as the growth of seed in soil.
The whole parable is about the mystery
of bringing together seed and soil
and what happens when the combination is fruitful.
I’m using the word “mystery” instead of “secret”
which was in the translation of Luke we read.
Secret sounds like something you want to keep from others,
like when something is top secret,
or we know something we whisper to those we trust.
But the message of the way God works among us
is meant to be shared with all,
not with a whisper, but with a strong voice and a song.
It is, however, always a mystery,
always something beyond us as much as within us.
The way God works is a mystery
and Jesus bring us fully into that mystery.
The parable says this mystery of how God works
is like seed scattered on the earth.
Some of it doesn’t produce much of anything.
And some of it produces far beyond what you expect.
The typical yield in ancient world farming
might be 7 to 10 fold what you plant.
In the parable, the yield is 100 fold.
Jesus tells this parable to bring people into a new understanding
of God and themselves,
something they can’t control, but only relish and celebrate:
God is the one who provides the seed,
and we are the good soil.
And this, Jesus says, is the mystery of how God works:
By God’s own grace, and within folks like us.
That mystery became powerfully renewed
493 years ago, when an irascible Augustinian monk, Martin Luther,
realized that the heart of it all was obscured
by corruption and misguided religion.
Luther rediscovered the mystery,
or rather, it rediscovered him.
And once it was in him,
it could only sprout and grow and flourish.
He couldn’t contain it or quiet it.
The growth was 100 fold when he only expected maybe 10 fold.
It got much bigger than he even knew what to do with,
and brought life and vitality to the whole Western world.
Even the Roman Catholic church,
which at the time could only reject the threat of the Reformation,
eventually became reformed by the same word, the same seed,
that Luther celebrated.
Today we do not observe Reformation as a time of pride
or self-righteousness about Lutheranism,
but as a celebration of the power of God’s word
to renew, bring good news when we least expect it,
and grow in us so that love, mercy, and generosity
flourish and bring 100 fold where we only expect 10 fold,
if we expect much at all.
What did Martin Luther reconnect to
and help the whole church rediscover?
What is the mystery that Jesus says is ours to treasure and nurture?
It is the mystery of how God works.
It is the mystery that God brings love, mercy, and goodness
even when we only bring fear, self-centeredness, and cynicism.
The mystery of how God works
is that God always brings more to the table than we do.
God in Jesus brings us the word that says:
Love, mercy, and goodness are ours for the taking,
they are the seeds God plants within us,
and when they are ours,
they plant themselves in the soil of our souls
and they sprout, and they grow.
In Lutheran tradition,
we quote Paul and say it like this:
We are justified by grace through faith.
We are OK with God by God’s endless mercy,
and our trust in that mercy makes all the difference.
In the parable of Jesus,
we can see it another way:
The seed is God’s.
The planting is God’s.
The goodness of the soil is God’s.
And the growing of the seed is God’s.
None of that is ours to create, control, or contest.
And what we get to know and enjoy and experience
is that God works all of this in and through us
for the sake of a world of abundant mercy and grace.
Jeremiah understood this same mystery
when he brought the word of God to his people:
But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
after those days, says the LORD:
I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts;
and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other,
"Know the LORD," for they shall all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD;
for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
The ways of God will be planted within people,
and will grow, and will be fruitful,
everyone will know this mystery planted in them.
God’s mercy and grace will make this happen in everyone,
and it will lead to mercy and grace for all.
The mystery of seed and soil is all right there.
I’m not much of a gardener
but I have learned that soil is not dirt.
Dirt is just, well, dirt, and it doesn’t supply nutrients
and life to anything.
But soil is a living, life-giving medium
for whatever is planted in it.
To be called good soil is not an insult,
it is not like calling us dirt, or dirty,
in spite of some of our tradition that wants to say
that we are more or less dirt.
But Jesus says here that we are soil, and good soil at that.
A living, life-giving medium
for whatever God plants in us to grow and produce.
The mystery of how God works in us
it is that it happens at all,
that you and I get caught up in a message of hope and love and mercy
while we live in such despair and doubt and fear.
The mystery is that we are able through faith and trust
to be part of the way God works in the world.
And our reaction and response to this grace of God
is twofold: To give thanks and praise,
and to be good stewards of what is growing in us.
We don’t have to spend much time
figuring out how this happens, or why it happens in us,
or whether we are really good soil or just dirt,
or whether we are doing enough,
or whether God may have made some mistake.
It is all part of the mystery of how God works,
and it is always a work of grace and mercy.
I looked up the word mystery in the New Testament,
the same word Jesus uses in the parable to describe
God’s working in the world.
It only occurs a few times.
One of the other uses of the word is in First Corinthians,
where St. Paul writes:
We are stewards of the mysteries of God.
We are stewards, caretakers, responsible partners with God
in the growth of love, mercy, and generosity in the world.
Stewards are those who care for something with responsibility,
thoughtfulness, and gratitude.
So we who have been given the gift of knowing how God works,
through grace, mercy, love, abundance,
are also stewards of that mystery.
As we experience the love of God in Christ growing in our lives,
we are moved by gratitude to good stewardship,
thoughtful and generous use of this abundance
for furthering the mysterious ways of God.
Without anything we have done to create it
we are the good soil in which the seed of God’s good news in Jesus
and the fruitfulness of that grows beyond us
100 fold, when we only expect maybe 10 fold,
if we really expect anything at all.
We are not the only good soil,
and there is much fruitfulness in the rest of the church
and beyond the church.
But we are stewards
of the things growing and bringing life among us:
grace, love, mercy, generosity.
If we are thankful and celebrating the Reformation
it is because it brought so much of the good news back to life,
so much of the mystery that God works good and renewal among us
simply because of God’s endless mercy for us and the world.
These are the things Jesus the word plants in our souls
that grow without our understanding or control.
So we are stewards, good soil stewards of these things:
stewards of the Reformation,
stewards of the mysteries of God,
stewards of the abundance God provides,
stewards of our hearts and minds and bodies,
stewards of mercy,
stewards of love.
The Word has been planted in us,
the word that is Jesus and the word about God’s mercy enacted in Jesus.
This Word has taken root and is growing in us even now.
The question then is this:
what are we going to do with all this abundance from God?
Keep it to ourselves?
Or let it flow outward in acts of mercy, love, and generosity?
Yes, God has caused an abundance of love and mercy to grow in us
by God’s word in Jesus, the word that is Jesus.
And with 100 fold of love and mercy growing in you,
you cannot keep it all for yourself.