The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost July 11, 2010

INI

Rejoice in God’s Gospel Garden!

Colossians 1:1-14

Scripture Readings

Deuteronomy 30:9-14
Luke 10:25-37

Hymns

782 [TLH alt. 437], 414, 442, 46

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colosse: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints; because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the Gospel, which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth; as you also learned from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, who also declared to us your love in the Spirit. For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.

In the name of the Lord Jesus, the Light of this dark world, dear fellow Christians:

Have you ever had one of those days when you were just out-of-sorts, when you were generally dissatisfied with everyone and everything around you? And why not? Every trip to the grocery store means higher prices and smaller packaging. There is talk of state taxes doubling. Wars grind on without an end in sight. On the home front, maybe your washing machine leaked all over the floor, or your car broke down. There are all kinds of problems, frustrations, stress, and blame, but seemingly few answers.

But if that is all we see, we are not getting the full picture. Have you seen what else is going on? Have you seen what God is doing? Take a walk in the neighborhood. Step outside your back door. Drive through the countryside. Be amazed at God’s handiwork. Everything is green and growing! Flowers produce blossoms of exquisite shapes and colors. Gardens supply fresh vegetables and fruit which taste far better than anything a factory makes. And while we have no idea what the stock market is going to do tomorrow or how work will go this week, the blessings of creation are a sure thing. God promises: “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22). Looking at all that God causes to grow for our good lifts our spirits and fills our hearts with gratitude.

Did you notice that same note of praise in Paul’s words? He was looking over a thriving, green garden, but not one of tomatoes, beans, and corn. This was a garden of precious souls. May we, too, rejoice in this garden—not just in seeing it, but in being part of it.

I.

Joyce Kilmer wrote: “Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree.” Redwood trees are among the largest living things on the planet, and they start out as a tiny seed. A packet of carrot seed looks like a handful of small cardboard shavings, but God has built into each seed the potential for life. When they are planted in bare earth, they transform it into a living green carpet.

Paul rejoiced in the faith of the Colossians which had sprouted in their hearts through the preaching of Epaphras. This pastor had told them about God’s grace in Christ and how, even though mankind deserved only God’s punishment, God in love sent His Son to pay the ransom to save sinners. Jesus laid down His holy life on the cross to make peace between sinners and God. By that Gospel seed the Holy Spirit worked faith and transplanted the Colossians from the darkness of sin and unbelief into God’s bright, sunny garden. They became “saints”—people pronounced holy by God, and “brethren”—fellow members of God’s family.

The Gospel seed has been scattered and planted down through the centuries all over the world. It was planted in us already at baptism. Peter wrote: “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23 NIV). Nothing else works. There is no manmade seed-substitute which can sprout into eternal life. Peter continues: “For, ‘All men are grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever’” (1 Peter 1:24-25 NIV). False teachers were telling the Colossians that they needed to keep the Old Testament rules and rituals and that they needed to learn “new” things in order to be saved. Many today believe that if they try to be good, decent, kind to others, and have some belief in a higher power, that they have eternal life.

But it doesn’t work. It can’t, because there is no other name, apart from Christ, under Heaven given among men by which we are saved. To trust in one’s own works for life would be like making a seed out of plastic, planting it, and expecting it to germinate. Only God can make a tree or any other living thing. Look at what is going on around us. In spite of all the sin and heartache in the world, the seed of the Gospel is being planted and is sprouting in souls. Rejoice that it has been planted in us too!

II.

It’s exciting to see the first green shoots emerge in the garden, but that’s just the beginning. As the weeks pass we look for the plants to rapidly grow in size and strength. To do that they need sunshine and rain from God. Manmade substitutes won’t work. We can’t water the garden with 5W-30 motor oil or make it grow with a laser beam.

As Paul looked over God’s Gospel garden, he prayed that the Colossians’ faith would likewise grow stronger and larger through the sunshine and rain of the gospel Word. “We ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will…increasing in the knowledge of God, strengthened with all might.[vv. 9ff] The Colossians needed growth in order to withstand the wind and storms of false teaching, temptation, and persecution.

We need this growth as well. It was a wonderful, life-creating miracle of God’s grace when we were brought to faith in Jesus as Savior from sin and that is all that is needed for eternal life. “Whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). But if we do not grow in faith by soaking up the rain and sunshine of the Gospel, the tender shoot of faith is going to weaken, turn yellow, shrivel up and die.

It is cause for celebration when a baby is brought to faith in baptism, but that young faith-life needs the sunshine of the Gospel in Mom and Dad teaching him about Jesus and what He has done. The purpose of our school, Sunday school, and Vacation Bible School is to aim the Lord’s life-giving light on the young plants in God’s garden so that they will mature.

The need for spiritual water and light never diminishes, regardless of our age. All of us pray for a stronger faith. There are certain times especially when it hits us that we are alarmingly weak and susceptible to attacks of fear and doubt. Have you ever been shocked at how a temptation suddenly blindsided you and knocked you flat on your back before you even knew what hit you? We can relate to the plea of the man who told Jesus: “I believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

The Lord has the answer. Bask in the Gospel light as much as you can! It can make a huge difference. During our cold months I have my potted plants indoors. They get enough light to stay alive, but that’s about all. They don’t really thrive. But about the middle of May I put them outside in the backyard and the change is dramatic. Within a few weeks they begin shooting out new growth. They turn a deeper, healthier green color, and some will double in size over the summer season.

Are we satisfied with giving our faith the bare minimum amount of Gospel light? As a result, are we spiritually rather weak and straggly and not growing much at all? What would happen if we were to spend more time in the Lord’s light and take in more of His Gospel rain? What if we really did keep up with daily reading of Scripture, instead of just saying, “Yes, I should do it, but…”? What if we made family devotions a top priority? What if we did get together with one another to study and discuss the Word in Bible Class? What if each of us would add just one additional hour per week to our time with the Lord?

Try it and find out! As you dig into the Word, focus on the good news of who Jesus is and what He has done for us all. That is the overall purpose of the Bible: to show us God’s grace in Christ Jesus our Savior. Sure, there is fascinating history, beautiful poetry, and good advice, but the only thing which causes faith to grow and flourish in an individual, congregation, or church body is the Gospel of Jesus.

That Word comes with an ironclad guarantee: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish…so is my Word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11 NIV). Try it and see for yourself what the Lord can do. Make a plan today to soak up more spiritual sunshine. Trust the Lord’s promise and rejoice in His growing garden!

III.

We don’t plant gardens just to watch them grow. There is a practical reason. We look for them to produce fruits and vegetables. We keep the weeds down and prop up the tomato vines so that we can enjoy BLTs in a few weeks. The same is true in God’s Gospel garden. He causes faith to grow through knowledge and understanding of His gracious will for a reason. He wants His garden to produce. Paul rejoiced that the Colossian believers were doing that. “We heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints…that you may walk worthy of the Lord…being fruitful in every good work.[vv. 4,10] The fruit was not the source of their spiritual life, but the product of it.

Our faith is not an academic exercise, just a matter of intellectually grasping Bible doctrines. Rather, it is the new Spirit-worked life which is evident throughout our lives in many different ways. The Good Samaritan in the Gospel lesson is an example. While the priest and Levite knew God’s Word, there was no evidence of living, growing faith. They left the injured man lying beside the road. The Samaritan, on the other hand, put love into action by caring for the man and taking him to an inn.

Our lives are to be loaded with the fruits of good works done in love for the Lord who first loved us. Read Colossians chapter 3—In one of my Bibles, the editors titled it: “Rules for holy living and rules for Christian households.” But Paul is not laying down rules at all. He is encouraging fruits of the Spirit in words, attitudes, actions, and the use of time. He says, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above…Do not lie to each other…since you have put on the new self…Therefore, as God’s chosen people…clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience…Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you…sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God(Colossians 3:1ff NIV). Paul sums up the section: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17).

Whatever you are doing, whether working, playing, or relaxing, let love for the Lord show. Let it show in how you speak to others and what you do for them. Let it show in Christ-like forgiveness. Let it show in how you spend your money and time. Let it show in how you face life’s troubles and embrace its joys. Rejoice in the fruit of God’s Gospel garden.

I have been told that the most dedicated gardeners feel such an attachment to their gardens, that they will talk to their plants. But I’ve never heard of the plants talking back, except in God’s garden. He is the master Gardener whose Word is so loving and strong, that it brings forth praises from His “plants.” We are His garden: planted by grace, growing in faith, and producing in love. May we never stop praising Him in return with our voices and lives! Amen.

Grant us hearts, dear Lord, to yield Thee
Gladly, freely, of Thine own;
With the sunshine of Thy goodness
Melt our thankless hearts of stone
Till our cold and selfish natures,
Warmed by Thee, at length believe
That more happy and more blessed
‘Tis to give than to receive.

[TLH 442:2]

—Pastor Michael M. Eichstadt


Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.