Sermon: Reformation Sunday, 29 October 2017, Bishop Ross Nicholson

Reformation Sunday- Mark 4:30-34

-I’m sure we’ve all heard Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody’s song ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’.

-It’s a protest song based on the story of the Gurindji Strike in 1966,

-When 200 Gurindji stockmen walked off the Wave Hill cattle station in the Northern Territory,

-In what became an eight year strike and the birth of the land rights movement.

-Public opinion began turning as the strike continued,

-And in 1967 over 90% of Australians supported the referendum to give the federal government power to make indigenous laws.

-In 1975 the Whitlam government handed back to the Gurindji a portion of their land,

-And in June 1992,

-The High Court upheld Eddie Mabo’s Murray Islander claim to native title in the Torres Strait.

-From little things big things grow.


-I doubt that Kelly and Carmody got it from Jesus,

-But his parable of the mustard seed makes the exact same point;

“What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 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 4:30-32

-It’s a parable I’m sure we’re all familiar with.

-The mustard seed was the smallest seed in Palestine,

-That could be seen with the naked eye.

-Yet when it matured it was the largest of garden plants.

-It’s this contrast that Jesus has in mind between this tiny little seed,

-Which grows and grows to the point that it can support birds perching in its branches.

-As we sit here nearly two thousand years since Jesus told that parable,

-We know the reality of those words.

-There are around 2.3 billion Christians in the world,

-31% of the world’s population.

-Not bad from a start of just twelve.


-But there’s something else in this parable that’s often overlooked.

-I’m sure we’re all familiar with Jesus’ use of horticultural illustrations to describe the kingdom of God or the Christian’s life;

 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

-Jesus is the vine in whom all his followers are grafted.

-He’s the source of life,

-And as we abide in him,

-Live our life following and obeying him,

-We’ll bear the fruit of a changed and changing life.

-Similarly, people will bear fruit that indicates what sort of relationship they have with Jesus;

“Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” Matthew 7:17-1

-If you’re a follower of Jesus,

-Your outer life will reflect your inner relationship with Jesus.


-The apostle Paul obviously picked up on the power of the metaphor,

-Because he wrote about the Gentiles’ relationship to the kingdom of God saying;

“But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the rich root of the olive tree, 18 do not vaunt yourselves over the branches.”

-Paul obviously sees Jesus as the root of the tree that brings nourishment to the branches.

-And just as branches can be cut off if they’re unfruitful,

-So other branches can be grafted in to receive the same nourishment,

-And that is all by grace alone.


-Back in the Old Testament there were other stories that bear the same allusions.

-And maybe Jesus had these stories in mind when he used that parable.

-In the book of Daniel,

-You might remember Nebuchadnezzar had a dream where he saw a tree at the centre of the earth.

“The tree grew great and strong, its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the ends of the whole earth.12 Its foliage was beautiful, its fruit abundant, and it provided food for all. The animals of the field found shade under it . . .” Daniel 4:11-12

-Now here’s the clincher;

“. . . the birds of the air nested in its branches, and from it all living beings were fed.” Daniel 4:12

-Daniel interprets the tree as being King Nebuchadnezzar,

-Whose empire stretched right across the known world,

-And encompassed all the various nations under his rule.

-Commentators believe Jesus has something similar in mind when he speaks of the grown mustard seed having;

“. . . such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.” Mark 4:32

-The birds are the Gentiles,

-All the other nations of the world.


-Can you see now what Jesus is saying about the kingdom of God?

-The kingdom starts off as this tiny little seed that grows and grows until it covers the earth,

-And it’s not only those within the kingdom,

-The branches that are abiding in Christ,

-That benefit from the kingdom,

-It’s the whole world that will be blessed by the kingdom.

-I love this parable because it speaks not only of the blessings of salvation that the disciple of Jesus receives,

-But it alludes to the blessings that the gospel brings to the whole world,

-Even to those who don’t know of Jesus or even believe in him.

-Even these ‘birds of the air’ gain the benefit of the shade of its branches,

-And a place to nest.


-Well you might by now be thinking,

-‘That’s all well and good Ross but this is a Reformation Day commemoration,

-‘What’s this parable got to do with the Reformation,

-‘Where’s our Martin Luther story?’

-On October 31 1517 the monk and university professor Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the door of the castle church at Wittenberg.

-From that little thing big things grew.

-From what was basically a theological notice stuck on a church door along with notices for the school fete and the Wittenberg Mother’s Union,

-A revolution was born that would not only change the theological and ecclesiastical landscape for the next hundred years,

-But would ripple out and impact the lives of almost every human being that has lived in the last 500 years.


-This revolution began with Luther rediscovering the Bible.

-It was the Word of God that changed Martin’s life,

-Not his monastic disciplines,

-Not the superstitious repetition of the sacraments of the church,

-Not all the efforts he put in to appeasing an angry and judging God,

-And certainly not the diabolical indulgences being sold to assuage the fears of a credulous populace.

-It was the Scriptures alone that spoke peace into the troubled heart,

-And for Luther it was those words of Paul to the Romans;

“For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed – a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” Romans 1:17

-Faith alone.

-And Luther knew that if people where to understand this truth,

-Of faith in Christ alone for salvation,

-Then they’d need to be able to read it for themselves.

-So over a period of 11 weeks he translated the Bible into vernacular German.


-If you think that was a small thing you’re right.

-But listen to this quote from the historian and economist David Landes;

“Christendom was headed for break up. In the decades that followed, Protestants in several countries . . . translated the Bible into the vernacular. People read and started thinking for themselves.” ‘The Book That Made Your World’, Vishal Mangalwadi, p,86

-Until the sixteenth century superstition was rife.

-But as people started to read the bible these superstitions started to disappear.

-People started questioning and judging every tradition and judgement of the church and their rulers,

-And testing them by the Bible.

-This biblical revival not only led to spiritual awakening but an intellectual one.

-Modern education began with Martin Luther’s call for a complete overhaul of medieval education.

-And of course it’s been through education that our Western civilisation has been built.

-Knowing there is a God of order who created an ordered universe,

-Freed science to explore this world,

-To think God’s thoughts after him.

-As faith in Christ grew,

-As people read and acted upon the Word,

-The kingdom of God expanded and the birds of the air perched in the shade of its branches.

-From little things big things grow.


-The last verse of that song says;

“That was the story of Vincent Lingiari,

But this is the story of something much more,

How power and privilege can not move a people,

Who know where they stand and stand in the law.”

-Martin Luther’s last words at his trial at the Diet of Worms were;

“I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise. Here I stand. May God help me. Amen”

-‘Here I stand.’

-Martin Luther didn’t stand in the law,

-It was law that he knew had him bound in fear and superstition,

-No, he took his stand in the grace of a merciful God,

-A grace that was opened up to him through the Word of God.

-It was through the scriptures being opened for all to read that empowered the Reformation.

-Because of our biblical heritage our lives are very different to what they would have been,

-If the Bible had remained chained to an incomprehensible language, a priestly hierarchy and a superstitious church.

-Because of the biblical heritage of the Reformation the world is very different,

-The birds of the air can perch in the Kingdom’s branches and enjoy its blessings.


-But within Luther’s ‘Disputation Against the Power of Indulgences’ or the 95 Theses as we know it,

-Lies a warning.

-It comes in Thesis 62;

“The true treasure of the church is the Holy gospel of the glory and the grace of God.”

-The Bible is not some abstract book that makes life better,

-It’s the story of our merciful God whose glory is shown in creation and redemption.

-Luther lived and worked for the glory of God.

-If there has been great benefits that have blessed our world because of the spread of the gospel,

-If unbelievers have enjoyed the blessings of the Kingdom’s expansion,

-Then they have been because of the mercy and generosity of God,

-Not human endeavour.

-All these benefits have come about as an act of God’s grace in Christ.

-Let me remind you of those words of Paul to the Ephesians;

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:8-10

-But as our world slips further and further from the gospel that Luther rediscovered,

-As God’s people fail to live and proclaim that good news,

-Then the shade of the Kingdom will turn to the darkness of death.

-It was not without reason that Jesus called his disciples to be light in the world.

-That light is God’s glory reflected in us.

-And like Luther we too need to take our stand on the grace of Jesus,

-And for the glory of God.