Saturday, February 18, 2017

Sexagesima Sunday

Sexagesima – Luke 8:4-15 – February 18th and 19th, 2017

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
Today's Parable, what we normally call the Parable of the Sower, may very well be the first parable Jesus tells. Not only in Luke, but in Matthew and Mark as well, it starts a whole slew of parables, where Jesus starts speaking in figurative language, giving verbal object lessons. And people are routinely confused and have no idea what in the world Jesus is talking about. We even hear that in our text today – the disciples end up asking Jesus what the parable meant – they couldn't figure it out. So when we approach this parable, or in fact any parable, we ought to approach them humbly and make sure we are paying attention to what Jesus actually says, lest we springboard off of the parable into some wretched interpretation of our own devising – because I've heard some really horrible takes upon this parable. But, my friends, consider yourself fortunate, for the meaning of the parable is right in front of your face.

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 up, it withered away 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 a hundredfold.” As He said these things, He called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” So we get the image – a sower sows, the seed falls in four different types of soils with four different results. So then, what does this mean?

Jesus gives an answer – “Now the parable is this: the seed is the Word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes the word away from their heart so that they may not believe and be saved. 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 times of testing fall away. 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. As for that 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.”

Alright – so there's the parable and its meaning. Now what? Now what do we do with it? I have heard some wretched, terrible directions that folks have jumped off from this parable. I heard one preacher say, “Well, clearly this means that we need to focus our time spent on outreach in finding people who are good soil and make sure we focus our efforts there.” Well, there's a couple of problems with that, aren't there? First of all – in the parable, the seed goes everywhere. In fact, that's one of the things that is most wild about this parable on the start. The sower apparently doesn't know what he is doing. You wouldn't sow the thorn bed, or the rocky, un-tilled soil, and most certainly not the highway. Seed is too expensive for that. In fact, I'm always surprised that more farmers don't have a conniption-fit when they hear this parable thinking of the expense and waste that is going on. Second of all – how am I supposed to tell how someone is going to react to the Word of God? Am I God? Do I get to see into the hearts of man? If I were going to limit whom I spoke the Gospel to, well, I certainly wouldn't have spoken it to St. Paul. He was killing Christians – if anyone looked to be tied to the highway it would be Paul... and yet, Jesus in His wisdom comes to Paul on the highway to Damascus, asks why Paul is persecuting Him, and then soon Paul is an Apostle. Seems rather fruitful to me. We can't identify who is or isn't good soil.

So a lot of times, when dealing with this parable – we preachers will focus on how the Word of God should be spoken to all, proclaimed to all people, irregardless of whether or not we think they deserve to hear it. And this is an approach that is valid, that has merit. I've taken this approach before, and if someday I notice that y'all are being stingy with the Gospel, disdainful of your neighbor and hestitant to tell them of Christ Jesus and what He has done, I'll probably emphasize this idea a bit more in that sermon. But that's not the main point. The main point of this parable isn't how you need to get on out there and start telling people about Jesus. I mean, that's a good thing to do – but it's not the point. I mean, I know we call this the parable of the Sower, but did you notice something? Jesus, in His explanation, never talks about the sower, never says who the sower is. He never makes an emphasis on the act of sowing, either. In fact, just like last week, we mis-labelled the parable. The focus isn't the sower – listen to Jesus again. Now the parable is this: the seed is the Word of God. This is the parable of the Seed.

This isn't a parable about what you or I do. It is a parable about the Word of God and what the Word of God does. And here's where we can again miss the point slightly. So often when we hear “the Word of God” we jump to thinking about the Bible as a book, as an entity. And that's right, but there's a better, a fuller understanding of this idea – and it's one that is right in front of your face. It's one that has been sitting in front of you, and it sits in front of you almost half the year. Pastor Brown storytime – this week just wasn't a good week for writing for me. Last weekend was busy, so come Monday I was tired, I didn't have the same creative spring in my step. Didn't even get the sermon drafted until Wednesday (which normally makes me rather cranky). At any rate, Monday morning I'm in here prepping for pre-school chapel, thoughts about this sermon going around the back of my mind. And I looked at the pulpit. And I saw the parament, the cloth that hangs here. And you know what – it's the best explanation of this parable that I've ever seen. Right in the middle you've got a stylized Chi-Rho – which is an ancient symbol for Christ. It's the first two letters of Christ in Greek – yet this Chi-Rho is specifically shaped like the cross. And what is springing forth from Christ? Seed. And that seed hits the ground, and there's water and the Word, and then there's growing, fruitful grain.

When Jesus says “the Seed is the Word of God” you realize that Jesus is talking about Himself, right? That Jesus is the Word of God – the whole “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” thing from John? This parable is about Christ Jesus, the Word of God. And Christ comes into this world, and He spreads His love everywhere, for God so loved the world, all of it, even the folks who couldn't care less. That's what Christ does. And Christ Jesus says to you, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Does that remind you of a few weeks ago, up on the mount of Transfiguration, where the voice of the Father boomed from the cloud - “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well pleased, listen to Him.” We're supposed to be listening to Jesus, paying attention to what He says, what He does – come let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, let us be determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified. Pay attention to Jesus!

So what in your life would try to make you stop paying attention to Jesus? Well, the Devil is out there, and Satan likes to just silence the Word, to stop any talk of Christ. “The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes the word away from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.” That's one way – get treaded underfoot and battered and bruised in the world and just stop – I don't even want to hear it. Separated from the Word. Or there's what happens with the rocky soil. They hear the Word with joy, but “these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.” No root, no water – and then there's times of testing, of just hardship, and folks can pack it up then. Jesus isn't my magical get out of jail free card, forget this. That was never the point, there was no root, no depth. Or there's the thorns - “as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” Too many things to do, so many blessings to use, so much money and wealth and all that – and there's no time for Church, there are other priorities – and they don't grow up, don't mature.

That's how Satan is going to attack you. Whether it's a bald faced attack, or trying to grind you down, or distract you. Over and over his playbook is to get you to ignore the Word, to ignore Jesus. So where does that leave you? As for that in the good soil, they are those who, HEARING the word, hold it fast – He who has ears to hear, let him hear. It is rough out there in the world. It is. It's a nasty, mean, spiteful place where we can get caught up and hung up in all sorts of things, especially when our impatient desires that want immediate satisfaction kick in and make us act the fools. Over and against that, we are given to hear Christ, to listen to Him, to hear again and again what He has done for us.

And here's the beautiful thing. Jesus never stops coming to you. Whatever your week was like – Christ Jesus who died for you still loves you, still has His forgiveness proclaimed in His House. The same love still get scattered all over the place, even if we've been a bit hard or rocky or thorny. Nope – over and over – Christ the Crucified is cast like seed from this pulpit, and we are watered in Baptism and fed in the Supper so that we might have strong roots and grow well and be prepared to stand in the face of this life – that from us would spring Christ and His love as well. Christ is always coming to you so that you would hear Him, receive His love, be comforted in the midst of your struggles with the world, and made to endure in Him. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

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