Sermon for Pentecost 3, year B
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Creator, Savior, and Comforter. Amen.
We are meant to grow.
It has been said that growth is the primary sign of life. We are meant to grow. God made us to grow into mature Christians.
Today we hear stories about seeds and trees and growth. In the first lesson from Ezekiel, it is none other than LORD God who breaks off a twig and plants it on a high mountain. The twig grows and becomes a noble cedar and birds of every kind make their nests in it. It becomes an example for all the trees of the forest. By that great cedar, all know that the LORD is God.
In our Psalm, we hear that the righteous ones will flourish like palm trees and cedar trees. If they are planted in the house of the LORD, they will bear fruit and be green even in their old age.
Paul tells us in our second lesson that if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation, everything becomes new. Newness is a sign of growth.
Jesus tells two parables in today’s gospel. In the first parable the farmer scatters the seed, then trusts the earth to nourish it until the harvest. The seed grows on its own, the farmer is the sower and the harvester.
In the second more familiar parable of the mustard seed, the kingdom of God is compared to this tiny little mustard seed that grows into a great shrub, big enough for birds to make nests in it.
What can we learn about growing into a mature Christian from these stories?
First of all, God is the one who starts the process. Nothing grows unless God plants it. God planted the cedar tree on the top of the mountain where it could be seen from everywhere. God plants us in places where our growth in faith will be obvious to others. We are not supposed to hide our faith. We are called to let our light shine.
What does Christian growth look like? How do you know a mature Christian when you see one? How do you know if you are growing in your faith?
In this month’s issue of Christianity Today, the cover story is titled, “When Are We Going to Grow Up?” The author, Thomas Berger, states that American Christianity has become a juvenile religion. By this he means that the religious beliefs and practices of adolescents have become accepted for adults. We are acting like teenagers in our faith.
He traces the problem back to the 1930’s and 1940’s. Back then, the churches became worried about losing the youth. Evangelical churches and mainline Protestants like us and the Presbyterians and Methodists began active youth ministry programs. These programs were very successful and helped the churches grow. Church members were pleased with the growth and many youth ministry ideas became accepted as normal for adults.
During this time, American society changed too. We had the Great Depression, World War II, and then the Cold War. Society began to recognize the category of teenagers.
Some characteristics of teenagers have not changed since then. They still want to live their own lives, have fun, and not be in a hurry to grow up and be serious about life.
In the past, adulthood meant being responsible. It meant self-denial and service to others. Until the 1950’s and 1960’s being an adult usually meant getting married, getting a job, and having children. Since the 60’s though, being an adult in our society has placed less emphasis on obligations and responsibilities, and more on individual needs and wants.
This immature adulthood has worked with the youth culture of the church and made many of us into adolescents in our faith. People who are adolescent in their faith see God as a means to personal fulfillment. They want their faith to help them feel better and be happy.
People who are adolescent in their faith want to be good people. They want the church to help them live moral lives. But since you can live a basically moral life without religion, they see the church as one of many options available.
People who are adolescent in their faith see God in the background of their lives, always watching over them, ready to help, but not the center of their lives. They believe that God, faith, and the church exist to help them with their problems.
Youth ministry and adolescent faith are for teenagers though. We are meant to grow. God did not make us so that we could stay in adolescence. God means for us to grow up.
What does a mature Christian look like?
Let’s go back to the trees in the stories. The cedar on the mountain grows tall. It can be seen by everyone. It is an example for all the trees in the forest.
Mature Christians stand tall and set an example for others. They don’t hide who they are, but they aren’t prideful either. They boldly proclaim that all that they are comes from God. All who see them will know the LORD.
The palm trees and cedars that are planted by the house of the LORD continue to bear fruit even in old age. They stay green and fresh.
Mature Christians know they need to stay connected to the house of the LORD. They know that the church and the community of faith are their source of life. They know that we don’t retire from serving the LORD.
Mature Christians realize that others will know them by their fruits and they continue to serve God and neighbors willingly.
Mature Christians know that everyone who is in God is a new creation. They embrace this newness as one of the gifts of God. They know that forgiveness and love come from God and they try to see others from God’s point of view and not from a human point of view.
Mature Christians know that even small seeds grow into large trees. They know that even small things done in God’s name can help others grow in faith.
Mature Christians are like the large trees, they can provide a place to nurture those who are young in their faith, just as the birds make nests in the large mustard tree.
Mature Christians know something else about mustard seeds. They know mustard grows like a weed. It would invade the wheat and barley fields and take over. There were strict laws in Jesus’ time about where it could be planted.
Mustard seeds remind me of the thorny honey locust trees that grew at our house in Lincoln. They grew rapidly and made a nice shade and the birds made nests there. They have lots of seeds though, and they spread rapidly throughout the yard. They grew at least a foot each week, way faster than the grass. So within a few days after we would mow, there would be dozens of tall thorny switches sticking out of the lawn.
The Kingdom of heaven is like those thorny honey locust trees. It spreads like weeds, and sometimes it is inconvenient for us. Mature Christians have the kind of faith that spreads like weeds.
Mature Christians know that following Christ can be inconvenient sometimes. It requires sacrifice. There are obligations and responsibilities.
God plants us and means for us to grow into mature Christians. When we stay connected to God’s house, God provides all that we need to grow and bear fruit. Then all who see us will know that God is the LORD. Amen.