Luke 13:18–19 (NKJV)
18 Then [Jesus] said, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? 19 It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden; and it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches.”
As Americans, we tend to have a love affair with that which is new, spontaneous, or instantaneous. As American Christians, therefore, we tend to grow tired of what we call the “same old thing” and hanker for some new fad or new teaching to invigorate our Christian walk. Now, of course, it is always good to push ourselves to grow and develop; to long for God to continue His work of sanctification in our lives; but the longing for some new experience rather than the pursuit of steady faithfulness reflects our cultural bias not our biblical grounding.
After all, what Jesus articulates for us in His parables of the kingdom is that the way the Holy Spirit works both in our individual lives and in the life of His Church is better pictured by the growth of a tree than the lighting of a sparkler. Sparklers, of course, are fun and exciting – they burn bright and shed their fire on all around them. But sparklers soon burn out while trees, planted and taking root, slowly grow over time; growing almost imperceptibly, soaking up the nutrients in the soil and increasingly displaying the glory of their Creator and becoming a nesting place for the birds of the air.
This steady, slow, natural growth is the way Christ typically works in the lives of His disciples. Normal Christian growth involves long periods of steady plodding – plodding that brings prosperity but plodding nonetheless. Typically God’s work is characterized by slow growth, gradual transformation – through what theologians have called the ordinary means of grace: reading and hearing the Word of God and participation in and meditation upon the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Steady plodding. Few sprints; mainly marathons. A long obedience in the same direction.
You may not know, but the last six months in the Church Year – roughly June through November – are called “ordinary time.” During these months there are no special feasts or celebrations; just the regular time of the Spirit’s work in the Church, during which we count one Sunday after another. This season fittingly follows Pentecost – for after Christ poured out the Spirit, the Spirit began working in the Church, gradually transforming the people of God into the image of Christ. Hence the color of this period is green, a color of growth. Tree-like growth.
In a couple weeks we’ll be introducing some liturgical changes as we enter a new church year with Advent’s arrival. We will have a different Call to Worship, a different Confession, a different Creed – this year we’re even going to be introducing a change in the order of songs. Before we change, I wanted to draw to your attention the fact that for the last six months we have not changed these things.
Why have we done this? There’s no biblical requirement that we use the same words week by week. We could have changed them weekly, monthly, or periodically. God has left such decisions to the wisdom of church officers. And for six months we’ve chosen to use the same ones. Perhaps you noticed; perhaps you’ve wondered if this is ever going to change. And perhaps you’ve thought the same thing about periods in your own life and spiritual development. And the message of Jesus is that He is at work growing His kingdom and even growing you – so trust Him and keep plodding. Look to Him in faith; He is at work.
Reminded that Jesus’ work in our lives is often gradual, like the growth of a tree, we are alerted that often our hankering for something spontaneous or new or different is not an impulse of our Christian faith but our Americanness. And this reminds us that we need to confess our fickleness to the Lord and ask Him to enable us to practice a long obedience in the same direction. So let us kneel as we confess our sins together.