Special invitation: On Tuesday this week I had the opportunity to be a guest on the conservative Christian radio talk show “Point of View” discussing my new book Paradox Lost: Rediscovering the Mystery of God. I’m told that “Point of View” airs on 340 stations, in 42 states, reaching 1.4 million listeners. If you’d like to hear what I had to say, here’s the link to a video of the conversation. Since I was the second guest of the day, I suggest you advance it to about “44:35,” which is where my interview begins.
One of Martin Luther’s great one-liners is this one: “While I drink my little glass of Wittenberg beer, the gospel runs its course.” I was thinking of that today as I pondered this not-so-well-known parable of Jesus.
He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” Mark 4:26-29
The Kingdom of God is not coming with overwhelming fanfare, Jesus says. It’s not taking the world by storm. Rather, its like a tiny seed (he actually says a “mustard seed” later in Mark 4) that eventually grows into a huge bush. From our perspective 2,000 years later, this is no longer a surprise—we all know that Christianity has grown from the original 12 disciples to the largest world religion, with over 7 billion adherents worldwide.
But this parable IS surprising to us. It challenges something very ingrained in lots of us…that imagery from the world of business is how we should think about the Kingdom of God.
When you’re selling a product, you first create the product, then market it, then watch carefully how your customers are reacting and tweak it accordingly to their response, all the time on the look out for the next big idea or sales opportunity. If we study our consumers so we determine what they want in a church… If find the most attractive ways of marketing what we offer to connect with our consumers’ felt needs…If choose a charismatic CEO to lead the whole effort…our business will flourish.
But here’s the surprise—Jesus’ imagery about how the Kingdom of God works comes entirely from agriculture, NOT business!!! It’s all about planting and harvesting, not selling a product. When you’re a farmer hoping for a harvest, you plant seeds…then sit back and watch them grow. You might even go to sleep!
The explicit point is the farmer does NOTHING except sow the seed, the word of God. That word of God, when planted in receptive hearts, has within itself the potential to transform human lives. The division of labor is clear. Our job is to scatter the seed of the gospel as widely as we can…We then can wait faithfully, confident that it will produce a harvest all by itself. Indeed, the word in Greek translated “all by itself” is the word automate—from which we derive the word “automatic.” Once the seed really gets planted, the growth is automatic.
This is the reminder I needed for today. Not an excuse to slack off…but a reminder that much is beyond my control. I scatter the seed of God’s word as best I can. The rest is up to God.
In my reading today I discovered that the great German evangelical Helmut Thielicke wrote about Luther and his little glass of beer! Here’s what he says:
That is truly the finest and most comforting thing I have heard heard said about beer. The conversion of a man is not something that can be “produced.” The new life comes into being only by letting God work. Therefore, Luther can cheerfully and trustfully step down from the pulpit; he doesn’t need to go on incessantly crying, shouting and roaring around the country. He can quietly drink his little glass of Wittenberg beer and trust in God.
I’d guess many of us have our own personal application of where we must “drink our little glass of Wittenberg beer and trust in God.” What’s yours?