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And He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:26-29)

They called him Automatica, partly because of his accuracy under pressure, and partly because of his last name. Martín Grammática was a field-goal-kicking, extra-point-scoring machine. Automatic? Not really. His attempts sometimes fell short or sailed wide.

When Jesus said, “the earth yields crops by itself,” He used a Greek word that is pronounced: auto-mah-tay —”automatically.” It’s as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how.”

An agronomist can tell us how a plant progresses through its stages. A plant geneticist can tell us which character traits have been switched on or off. A farmer can tell us when it’s time for planting and when the grain is ready for harvest. But no amount of knowledge can cause a seed to germinate, grow, and reproduce. The seed does that by itself.

That’s how it works in God’s kingdom, too. The Spirit creates faith through the Gospel in Word and Sacrament. We can see evidence of faith, but we cannot see how a person is transformed from an unbeliever into a believer. Jesus said, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)

Each spring, a farmer trusts the seed to do its job. He probably won’t toss handfuls of it into the air and hope that it lands in a good place. Modern planting is a lesson in precision. Seed goes into the ground at precise depths, in precise intervals, and with precise amounts of fertilizer. Every measure is taken to give it the best chance for success. And yet, the crazy thing? The seed still works even when it’s dropped or haphazardly scattered on the ground.

Give that truth a moment to sink in. Because you, the sower, will find reasons to keep the seed of the Word to yourself. “Why should they listen to me?” “What if I say the wrong thing?” “What if I can’t convince them?” God’s answer? Trust the seed. It works. Paul explained, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.” (1 Corinthians 3:6)

The seed itself is effective. No one knew that better than Jonah. His fear of going to Nineveh was not that he’d be run out of town or that his message would be rejected. Jonah fled because he knew that God’s Word would work. It did. Jonah was arguably the most successful missionary in the Bible. An entire metro area was brought to repentance by the power of the Word he proclaimed.

Is there a time when the seed won’t work? Yes. The famous basketball statistic, that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, is also true of the seed that goes unused. Let’s repent of our failures to trust the Gospel to do the Lord’s work. God grant us the ability to recognize opportunities when they come, and give us the courage to let His Word work. Automatically.

James Albrecht is pastor of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Okabena, Minnesota.