Sometimes, despite our best efforts, traces of cynicism or discouragement set in. Nothing seems to be happening in and through the church. Critics seem to be everywhere. The church is going nowhere, and we can’t seem to get it started again. Where do we turn for sustenance? For encouragement?
Jesus once told a parable—about a seed that grows secretly.
This may be my favorite parable. I like to imagine a setting in which Jesus told this particular story. The disciples are a dejected and discouraged crew. They are sitting with Jesus and asking doleful questions: “Teacher, is any of this really making any difference? Will anything come of all that we are doing in these days? We don’t see any results.” I imagine they are asking, “Will it matter that we were here?” Or, “Will there be any fruit from all of this?”
The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. (Mark 4:26-27)
And Jesus says simply, “Listen, let me tell you a story. The kingdom is as if you would scatter see on the ground. The seed sprouts and grows. And you do not know how it happens.” Here is an encouraging word from the Master story teller.
Somewhere in my growing up years, my parents instilled in me a durable truth: The local church is God’s best hope for a sane and stable world. They never spoke those exact words as I recall; but they helped me to believe. They instilled a rock-solid confidence. The church’s work is Kingdom work.
I resonate with the words of the Psalmist: “Lord, I love the house where you live, the place where your glory dwells.” (26:8)
Yes, the local church is somewhat fragile right now. Yes, membership and attendance are in some decline. Yes, the financial costs of “doing church” keep going up. Yes, leadership is a difficult and confusing task at times.
Yet, we remain faithful to the task. As clergy and laity! We press on toward the upward call. We continue to take the higher ground. We continue to tell and re-tell the old, old story—a story that reflects what God is saying and what God wants life to be like. And the fruit comes. Maybe not as quickly as we might like or hope. Maybe not in an immediately visible way. Maybe not this year, or even next. But it comes.
Discouragement is not a worthy option. The odds are always on God’s side. We know that our faith position is not always clear or obvious. We know that we “walk by faith, not by sight” all the time. But the seeds we plant will grow. We may not know how or exactly when, but they grow.
One of my strongest convictions comes from a former liturgy of the church: “Dearly beloved, the church is of God and shall be preserved until the end of time.” Yes! And thanks be to God.
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