How to Develop an Umbrella Faith


A small farming village was threatened with drought because the rains had failed to arrive. On a hot and dry Sunday, the pastor told his congregation, “There isn’t anything that will save us except to pray for rain. Go home, pray, believe, and come back next Sunday ready to thank God for sending rain.” The people returned to church the following Sunday. As they sat down the Pastor gently rebuked them. “We can’t worship today because you do not yet believe,” he said. “But we prayed” they protested, “and we do believe.” “Believe?” he responded. “Then where are your umbrellas?”  Faith is made visible by our actions.  So let me ask you this morning “Where are your umbrellas?” Do you have umbrella faith?

Please turn with me to Mark 4:26-34. Our gospel lesson this morning speaks about developing umbrella faith. Jesus is speaking about the kingdom of God and how that kingdom grows. It grows with an unwavering faith, a faith that we cannot see or understand but a faith demonstrated by results.

To illustrate the growth of the kingdom of God, Jesus tells two little stories, two parables, one about growing seed, the other about a mustard seed.

The word “parable” literally means “to cast something parallel.” Jesus’ parables describe the nature and activity of the Kingdom of God by comparing them with simple, everyday events from ordinary life. Jesus put the common in direct juxtaposition with the uncommon, the seen with the unseen, the natural with the supernatural and the human with the divine. Jesus is a master at using this parallelism to convey deep spiritual wisdom, especially in the face of opposition to his claims or resistance to his authority. P.G. Wodehouse once said, “A parable is one of those stories in the Bible which sounds like a pleasant yarn but keeps something up its sleeve which pops up and knocks you flat.” Let me make three simple observations from these verses:

The growth of God’s kingdom is mysterious.
The growth of God’s kingdom is momentous.
The growth of God’s kingdom is miraculous.

The Growth of God’s Kingdom is Mysterious

“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.” (Mark 4:26-27)

When Jesus says of the sower, “he does not know how” (4:27), he reminds us that the mystery of the origin of life, physical and spiritual, is beyond our knowledge. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. We live by trust not explanations.  They say knowledge is power but for many it is also about manipulation and control. Psychology, for example, is the science of the prediction and control of human behavior.  B.F. Skinner developed the theory of classical conditioning to explain the development of personality and the motives for action. He took his theory one step further in his novel, Walden Two, in which he imagines a perfect society in which human behavior is not only explained but controlled. Skinner was not wrong in searching for an explanation for human behavior. But he entered the world of fiction when he assumed he could close the circle of knowledge and predict and therefore control human behaviour. He failed just like every other attempt at eugenics or social engineering. Jesus insists there is mystery and majesty built into creation that should lead us to wonder and to worship. The growth of God’s kingdom is mysterious, so don’t be anxious. God is in control.

The Growth of God’s Kingdom is Momentous

“It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.” (Mark 4:31-32)

Jesus uses the mustard seed to illustrate a second profound truth. Don’t underestimate the power of a seed. Don’t despise that which is small and seemingly insignificant. A mustard seed can grow into a bush and provide shade for birds. Just give it time. Go to a clergy conference and pretty soon you will find clergy comparing the size of their congregations, their staff or budgets. In a world that rates everything by size, Jesus is embarrassing.

He makes risk and insignificance, essential ingredients for the growth of the kingdom of God. Contrary to our secular standards of success, the seed of the gospel may appear insignificant and impotent to change the world.  That is why Christians have been tempted to take a short cut and hitch the church to the state or big business and align the kingdom of God with earthly power. We see it only too well in history – such as the Dutch Africaan Church in White South Africa that justified apartheid, or the Lutheran church in pre-war Germany that compromised itself with Nazism, or the Catholic and Presbyterian churches of Northern Ireland who insisted God was only on their side.  And whenever it happens, and it happens all too often, the kingdom of God is perverted. This parable reminds us that humanly speaking kingdom work may appear small in size and significance but grows momentously over time and through sacrificial service. The growth of God’s kingdom is momentous; so don’t be discouraged by small, seemingly insignificant signs of growth. Remember its not how much faith you have but who your faith is placed in that matters. The growth of God’s kingdom is mysterious.The growth of God’s kingdom is momentous. Because ultimately,

The Growth of God’s Kingdom is Miraculous

“This is what the kingdom of God is like…”  Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it?” (Mark 4:26, 30)

Take a seed in your hand, any seed and examine it closely. Does it show any sign of life? Any sign of  movement? No. To all intents it is dead. It maybe indeed be hundreds of years old and yet, and yet, plant it in good soil, water it and leave it to germinate and “all by itself” as Jesus observes, “the soil produces grain. We are increasingly victims of a culture that demands instant answers, instant foods, instant relief. Jesus slows us down when he describes the process of growth, “first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel…” (Mark 4:28). He reminds us we cannot short circuit God’s timing. Humbling as it may be, God has only commissioned us to sow the seed by sharing our knowledge of Jesus with other people.

The results, the harvest of new souls and transformed lives, is the work of God, mysterious, momentous, miraculous. That is why I don’t count attendance figures or conversions any more – Because I know that if there are many I will become proud. If there are few I will become depressed. I don’t count because kingdom growth is not a result of human efforts. Success in witnessing is sharing Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit leaving the results to God.

It is a very humbling but reassuring principle that we can never talk anyone into the Kingdom of God.

We are saved by grace through faith, not by argument or explanation. Only God can raise the dead. Only God can open blind eyes. Only God can make the seed of the word germinate. Only God can bring us to new life. That is why we must have confidence in the seed – the word of God – and share it liberally, indiscriminately, widely and repeatedly. Why? Because it is living and active. It has great power to change lives, to transform whole communities, to influence entire nations. That is the point of these two little parables. To encourage us to trust God. To believe him for miracles, especially among those he has entrusted to us, especially among those he has given us a love for. Because, as we have seen,

The growth of God’s kingdom is mysterious.

The growth of God’s kingdom is momentous.

The growth of God’s kingdom is miraculous.

So lets thank God and lets cultivate an umbrella faith.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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