Saturday, January 30, 2016

Sexagesima Sermon

Sexagesima – January 30th and 31st, 2016 – Luke 8:4-15

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
Today, my dear friends in Christ, we are going to talk about the Word of God, the Word of God as it is preached and proclaimed throughout the whole world, the Word of God that declares that your sins are forgiven because of the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. The Word of God which is the Good News, which is the reason we gather here today, the reason we sing, the reason we rejoice in the face of a world filled with sin and death. The Good News that so many people seemingly couldn't care less about. So, what is going on with this Word of God – as we have been given ears, let us hear what our Lord says.

And again when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to Him, He said in a parable: “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as He sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew it withered because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As He said these things, He called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” There's the parable, the parable that describes the preaching of the Word of God, the parable that is in fact describing what precisely is happening as those folks from town after town come out to hear Jesus.

Now, last Sunday in bible class, I had made a point that because we are familiar with them, we can forget just how strange and bizarre a lot of Jesus' parables are. We love the parable of the sower. In fact, my class ring from the University of Oklahoma has a sower on it – it's a great image. We know this parable – we know that Jesus is going to explain it – but for that crowd listening there – it would have been odd, or silly. Even the disciples don't get it – the reason we hear Jesus explain it is because the disciples pull Jesus aside and say, “Jesus, we don't have a clue what the point of that Sower story was.” You don't think it's silly? Or that Jesus would dare to tell a silly story. Listen.

Suppose this spring one of our farmers thinks, “I know, I'll go have Pastor Brown help me with the planting. And putting Pastor Brown on the tractor, he sends him out to do the planting, but 20 minutes later he looks up, and there's Pastor Brown driving down 115 trying to plant it. Then 20 minutes later Pastor Brown's driving down the ditch line, planting there – then 20 minutes after that he's planting on that big pile of gravel over off of Leigh road. Then finally, there's Pastor Brown driving through the fields planting there. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” What would the point of that story be – other than “wow, don't let Pastor Brown the city boy anywhere near your farming operation”? What the sower in the parable is doing by any stretch of the imagination seems utterly idiotic and foolish. Is Jesus going to condemn the wasteful sower? You don't sow the pathways or the patch of weeds. Everyone knows that! What's going on here, Jesus?

And when His disciples asked Him what this parable meant, He said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets [mysteries] of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that seeing they may not see and hearing they may not understand.” I know the ESV puts “secrets” there the word in Greek is Mysterion, Mystery. Now – know what a mystery is. We think of them as a “whodunit” thing to solve – that's only because of Edgar Allen Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle. No, a mystery in the Ancient world was one of the profound truths of God that is beyond our ability to fully wrap our minds around. Baptism and the Lord's Supper were considered mysteries. In baptism, the world would see merely water, but behind and beyond that water is forgiveness, is being tied to the life and death of Christ Jesus Himself. The Supper – the world sees a bit of bread and wine, but the mystery is that in, with, and under that bit of bread and wine the Body and Blood of Christ is given to us for forgiveness and strengthening of our faith, and to unite us with Christians in all places and in all ages. Fantastic stuff. And the world just isn't going to get it. They'll see it, but they'll not really see what's going on. They'll hear it, but they won't understand what's really happening. Seeing they will not see, hearing they will not understand – that's the classic, Old Testament way of describing idols and idolaters. The stone statues have eyes, but they don't see. Likewise, the folks who worship idols have blinded themselves, so that they don't see or understand who the true God is or what He does.

That's the set up for this parable. Alright disciples – the parable is going to be strange; it's a reminder to you that when it comes to the things of the Christian faith – lots of people just aren't going to get it. Oh well – because you do get it, you have been given faith, you have been given ears to hears and eyes to see, you are not stuck in vain idolatry, so let's look at the parable and see. Now the parable is this: the seed is the Word of God. Here's the lynch pin for the whole parable. The seed is the Word of God. And what we learn first and foremost is that this is a parable about preaching, about speaking God's Word, about what each of you do during the week whenever you tell what Jesus has done. And you know what the point is. We speak the Word of God anywhere and everywhere, to anyone. It doesn't matter what they look like – it doesn't matter whether we think they deserve it or not. That's not the sower's concern – the Seed goes forth onto every type and kind of soil, the Word is preached in season and out of season. Jesus preached to the entire crowd there, even though many would not end up beliving. Doesn't matter – we proclaim the truth of Christ's forgiveness, that He has died and risen for the forgiveness of our sins and the sins of the world, and then we let the chips, the seed as it were, fall where it may.

Alright disciples, Jesus is going to send you out to sow the Word of God all over. And you know what's going to happen? A lot of it is going to fall utterly flat. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes the world away from their hearts so that they may not believe and be saved. There are going to be folks who smile and nod, but then just don't care one bit. It's going to happen. 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 while, and in time of testing fall away. And then there are going to be folks who seem eager and happy to be Christians, but then, something happens. Things get difficult, and they throw in the cards, decide this Christianity stuff is stupid. It's going to happen. 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. And then there are going to be folks who should know better, but then this comes up, or that, and don't you just know it, I am just so busy... and off they go. It's going to happen.

Now, I want to pause here, because there are a couple of bad ways we can take this. We can almost want to cut things off here and look at each of these cases and say, “Well, whose fault is it – who messed up so that so and so didn't get it, or who blew it so that the so-and-sos left? What can we do differently to keep that from ever happening again!” Not the point. The point is this – people will end up, for a variety of reasons, rejecting the Word. And Jesus isn't concerned with throwing blame. The sower never gets thrown under the bus in the parable, the seed isn't chastised. No, the Word of God goes forth as it should, and sometimes, sadly entirely too often, people just don't care. It's going to happen. And we can see what is going on. Satan attacks us, trials come, distractions come – that's not necessarily anyone's fault, it's life in the sinful world. In fact, we ourselves should be ready for all of these sorts of things to attack us. And when we look up, when we see so much failure – 75 percent failure rate in the parable, we are called to remember that our only hope is the Word of God.

As for that in good soil, they are those who, hearing the Word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience. That's such a loaded statement. What's the description of the good soil? What's the sign of a good Christian? That you cling to the Word of God. That “hold it fast” is clinging to it, it's pulling it close to your chest and not letting it go – it's what the guy who falls on a fumble in football is doing. Clinging to it. And even that “bear fruit with patience” - that's not so much a “get on out there and get active” phrase – that word for patience is a word for endurance, for steadfastness, for hanging on, for staying put and not giving up even though the other team is jumping on you and scratching and clawing at the football. Thus we are taught that even while the world around you doesn't care – you Christian, cling to the Word!

And why? Because the Word is the only place there is life. It is only through the Word of God that any of us have any life, any hope, any forgiveness. And apart from the Word, we are useless. Do you think that you should brag, O Christian, that you are good soil, unlike that rocky or weedy person over there? It's not about you – it's about the Word of God. Or what sort of yield do you get off of good ground that is never planted? You get zilch, nothing, squaduche. Nope. Our attention is the Word. We cling to it, we keep on hearing it – and more than that, we keep on proclaiming it and confessing it – because frankly, I don't know what sort of “soil” anyone is. If you look at Paul when he is persecuting the church before his conversion, you'd assume he's the hardest path in the world – yet the Word goes to him and there is a harvest a plenty there. All the disciples end up running away from the Mount of Olives on Maundy Thursday when the soldiers come – does Jesus wash His hands and say, “Oops, they were rocky, better get new disciples.” No – He rises and shows up to them and preaches the Word again – Peace be with you! Ours is not to sit in judgment over our neighbor and pretend we are soil scientists – we are people of the Word. We hear the Word, we cling to the Word, we proclaim the Word – for we know this wondrous mystery of God – that His Word works faith – that the Holy Spirit will create faith where and when He wills through the Word of God – and that this same Word gives forgiveness and life and salvation and so we keep preaching and hearing the Word.

And you know what? The world will think that this is silly. The world will mock the Word. And you will be told that you are foolish and dumb for clinging to it. The days of American culture praising Christianity are fast passing. The world is very hard and rocky and thorny. So what of that – you have been called out of Darkness into Christ's marvelous light – you have been baptized and brought into the kingdom of God, you are called even to His table to receive life and salvation. And you are forgiven, and you receive this forgiveness through that wondrous gift of the Word. He who has ears to hear, hear.

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