Summary: On the occasion of a weekend conference for training men in worship, this sermon challenges the men to expect God’s blessing on their small beginning.
From a mustard seed
One things that grabs the attention of St. Athanasius parishioners today is the presence of all these men in our fellowship for the Lord’s worship on the Sunday morning. To those of you here this morning from that seminar, I thank you for your presence and participation with us. Seth N. is playing the organ for us today, and the lectors – Mike S. and Joel B. are elders in their home congregations. And, since the seminar we concluded last evening had for its topic “Men at Worship,” it is additionally pleasant that the men from that seminar are here with us this morning, to worship the Lord.
But, the conference has two purposes: first to equip men to deploy centuries-old patterns of worship that are particularly friendly to men’s souls. The things the men here today have practiced or begun to learn have been the bread and butter of godly and manly worship at least since the days of King David – in other words for the past 3,000 years. Though what we have introduced and practiced this weekend will seem novel to some of you men here, the efficient worship we have practiced over the past two days, and the worship we offer the Lord this morning – both of them reclaim something very good and very ancient. The patterns and forms of worship we embrace here are have brought great blessing and strength to men for thousands of years.
The second purpose of the conference has been to brainstorm how we might help other evangelical, Protestant men in America reclaim the things we have been reclaiming this past weekend. The American church – in all its forms – has lost something very precious, something of tremendous value and blessing for its men – and what is lost are the simplest habits of worship, particularly the habits of worshiping in the company of other men.
When Joel B…. arrived early on Friday morning, he showed me something amazing. It is a reference work of hymn tunes which his sister had found in an antique store. It was published sometime in the mid-1800s by the Boston Academy of Music, and it was used by a wide range of American Christian denominations. As well as melodies for a great number of metrical hymns, it also contains a large number of single and double chants, and Psalm texts and canticles pointed for those chants. They are identical in form and function to what we sing every Sunday here at St. Athanasius. And, yet, as I have discussed hymnody with a wide variety of Christian pastors, I find that this jewel – this very ancient jewel of worship – is essentially unknown in our land TODAY, and it has been unknown for about a hundred years now. Even the memory of singing the very words of Scripture, or singing directly from the Psalms of David it has faded away. “Men at Worship,” whatever else it seeks to do, seeks to restore this blessing to Christian men in American.
Does this sound quixotic, or what? I need to say again that the conference we are concluding here does NOT have as its purpose to transform you into Anglican Christians. The sons of the English Reformation are – as a group – in a very sad state today, and it will be at least another couple of generations before a truly vibrant communion of those sons will ever be visible in our land. But, the things we are striving to reclaim are not the exclusive property of Anglicans, or Lutherans, or Roman Catholics, or the Orthodox. ALL of these communions USED TO HAVE ways and means to nourish a man’s soul in the worship of Christ, and NONE of them retain it to any degree. For men to join with one another in the worship of their heavenly Father is a treasure worth reclaiming for the sake of the church that our children and grandchildren will inherit from us.
And that, finally, brings us to the gospel lesson for today. In it, we find two parables. These parables have direct bearing the outcome of the Men at Worship conference here this past weekend.
The parables are both drawn from agriculture, which all of Jesus’ listeners would have understood very well. First, he tells the parable of the man who sows seed, but who has little of consequence to do from the time he sows the seed until he puts in the sickle for harvest. The second parable is mostly known because of skeptics who insist that this shows that Jesus knows nothing about botany, because Jesus is supposedly claiming that the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds in the world, when in fact it is not.