Sunday, February 15, 2009

Today's Sermon

Sexagesima Sunday – February 15th, 2009 – Luke 8:4-15

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
When our Lord Jesus preaches His parables, He rarely directly spells them out for us. However, with today’s parable, the parable of the Sower, our Lord explains to His disciples, and thus to us, what every element, what every thing in the parable is. So. . . what then? Shall we skip the sermon today – get on out of here fifteen minutes early? No, we’re eating here today so even if we did get out early, we wouldn’t be beating anyone to a restaurant. Instead, while Jesus explains what the seed is, what each type of ground is, let’s take the time to ponder what this means, how this impacts us, what we learn from knowing this parable. It is important that we do, for as our Lord says, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the Kingdom of God” – it is important because in knowing this parable, we will know how God’s kingdom works, how His Church works, and we will avoid falling into the trap of trying to fashion our congregation in our own image, rather than God’s.

Let’s recap the parable very quickly, and then go into Jesus’ explanation. A Sower throws seed all over the place. Just scatters it. Some falls on the roads and gets trampled on, gets eaten by birds. Some falls on rocks, sprouts, but then dies as it has no real root system – couldn’t gather moisture. Some falls among thorns and are choked out by the thorns. And then some falls in good soil and yielded a hundredfold. Then our Lord explains: “Now the parable is this: the seed is the Word of God.”

Let’s ponder this for a moment. In this parable, Christ compares His Word to seed. This is a useful image. A seed brings with it something that hadn’t been there before. If seed is planted in a field, plants that were not there before, that had never grown in that place, suddenly come forth. Seed brings about a change. Dear friends, what we must remember is that the Word of God is active – Hebrews says, “For the Word of God is living and active.” The Word works. Whether that work is breaking down and crushing our sinful hearts by God’s Law, or whether that work of the Word is producing faith, turning our eyes and our trust to Christ Jesus and His saving death for us upon the Cross – the point is that the Word is active. It all centers around the Word.

So we have to remember first and foremost that this parable is a parable about the power of the Word of God. Sometimes we want to jump right to the various types of ground, but the key is the Word. What happens in good soil if there is no seed? Nothing. What happens on rocky ground is there is no seed? Nothing. The key, the focus of this entire parable is God’s Word – the Word that is active and living. Without God’s Word, nothing happens. This parable isn’t talking in any way about our own efforts, what we need to bring to the table, it’s all about God’s Word and how it works. God’s Word goes forth, and a harvest comes.

But Pastor, our Lord goes on to describe several types of soil. Shouldn’t we pay attention to the soils? Depends on what you mean. One of the dangers in dealing with this parable is we can get caught up in trying to identify, trying to pick out what kind of soil people are – oh, Chuck’s a rocky sort of person, we shouldn’t waste our time on him. If that’s how you are thinking about the soils, then you are wrong, and in fact you are missing the whole point of the parable. The Sower sows the seed and it falls everywhere. There is not a sort of ground that doesn’t receive the Seed. You would almost think the Sower is blind, just tossing seed anywhere and everywhere – or even like a little kid tossing it into the air. Likewise, we should be so carefree in our sharing of God’s Word – we should proclaim the Word, and then let the chips fall where they may. God’s Word is living and active – it is what causes growth – not our plans, not our trying to figure out who is “worthy” to hear the Word. We must avoid any ideas so arrogant as that – and rather preach the Word to all.

So then, what do we make of the different types of soils? What we ought to remember is that these soils end up describing the dangers that we face, any Christian may face – so that we ourselves might be prepared to face them. For example, our Lord tells us, “The ones along the path are those who have heard. Then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.” The reminder here is one that is simple and blunt. We do not live in a world that is merely indifferent to Christ. We do not live in a morally neutral place – but rather Satan is active, and Satan is active against the Word. Satan does not want the Word proclaimed, Satan does not want the Word paid attention to. Satan delights in having false doctrine proclaimed, so people are led astray. And there are times when Satan is successful, when his lies snatch the Word away and trample the Truth underfoot. That is why we are to continually proclaim the Word of God in its truth and purity to people, over and over again, throughout their lives. We ought not say, “We’ll, I told that person about Jesus once 7 years ago, that should be enough!” Satan is trying to beat down the Church – to thwart the Word, and so we are to continually proclaim that Word over and over – if Satan distracts, we proclaim again. If Satan snatches, we proclaim again. The Word goes forth – over and over, we proclaim Christ and Him crucified over and over in spite of the efforts of Satan. And the fact is, this can be tiring. We can sometimes wish to give up on people – they’ve heard and they’ve heard, why should we proclaim Christ anymore? We proclaim Christ because we understand what is going on – we understand the assaults of Satan – and we know that we are to continually to speak forth God’s Word – the Word that is sharper than any two edged sword to do battle against Satan. Christ warns us that Satan will try to hinder the preaching of the Word – this just means that we must be diligent in proclaiming it. When Satan attacks – we must rely upon the Word.

And then our Lord shows us another danger we can face in the Church. “And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the Word, receive it with joy. But these have no root, they believe for a little while, and in time of testing fall away.” There are people who show interest, who are excited, but then just slide away from the Church. This is nothing new – Jesus tells us this will happen. We have to remember that people will become less than thrilled with the Christian life, that when things get hard and life isn’t just a bowl of cherries they will become disappointed in God and blow Him off – that they haven’t developed deep roots. So, how do we handle this? Now, in the world there are all sorts of ideas. Let’s make Church more exciting. That’s not the answer – the excited fall away. Let’s tell people that if they are good Christians they will get tons of stuff. And when the money doesn’t start flowing in, what happens? People get mad. All these solutions are completely backward. If people haven’t developed roots, if their growth isn’t full – what do they need? They need the Word brought to them again and again. The only power that will drive those roots home is the Word proclaimed. Christ mentions this in context of a time of testing – and there are times when we have been tested – when the Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. What do we do then? Think of all the portions of Scripture that give comfort, that give encouragement, that help us to see beyond the present trial to the Kingdom to which God has called us. When trials are against us, we must rely upon the Word.

And then, there is the seed that falls upon the thorny ground. “And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” Satan is against us, our flesh is weak, and even the world conspires to drive Christians away from the Church, to make us forget God’s Word. This is probably the temptation, the trial we here face most often – things in life trying to make us too busy for the Word – not where we outright reject, where we defiantly turn our back upon God – but rather where we just get too busy, too caught up in life and then just fade away. Again, the solution is not difficult – we proclaim the Word – the Word that shows the vain and fleeting nature of the world, the Word that points us again to that which is truly important, Christ Jesus and His salvation.

And so the last soil makes perfect sense – “As for those in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the Word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” When we hear the Word, what happens? We bear fruit with patience. With patience and love towards our brothers and sisters we produce, we proclaim, we share the Seed, God’s Holy and Mighty Word, so that they might be given growth as well, so that the Holy Spirit might be given opportunity through that Word to bring about faith and growth in them. God, by the power of His Word and Spirit, makes us good and fertile soil – He brings forth His harvest in us.

You see, what this parable boils down to is this. We, in the Church, are the people of the Word – and everything in our lives as Christians is shaped by the Word of God. We live in the Word and we have growth only by the Spirit working through the Word. And we proclaim that Word, whether it is sharing it with a friend in need, whether it is teaching our children at home, whether it is gathering together here and being in that Word together for our own growth and edification. In all things we are centered in the Word of God – and through that Word God works on us, breaks through rocky and thorny hearts and makes us good soil – He calls us by the Gospel, gathers and enlightens us, and keep us in the faith. In all things God’s Word applies – that is how Christ cares for the church – for He lovingly continually applies His Word to us. Lord, keep us steadfast in Thy Word. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World. +

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