Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sexagesima Sermon

Sexagesima Sunday – February 23rd, 2014 -  Luke 8:4-15

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
          In the three Sundays before Lent, we are given by our Gospel texts a chance to review the three great "Solas" of theology, the three great "alones".  By Grace alone, through faith alone, and Scripture alone.  Last week with the parable of the workers in the vineyard, we saw the grace of God in action, His great love, His great generosity which we ought not let our covetousness or jealousy begrudge.  And this week, in the parable of the sower and the seed, we will be dealing with the gift of Scripture, of God's Word, of the proclamation of the Gospel and some of the frustrations we encounter when using God’s Word.  The explanation of the parable begins, "The seed is the Word of God."  So, with that in mind, let us examine the text.

          And 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."  Normally, when thinking about or looking at this parable, I will jump right into the parable itself.  It makes sense, if you want to study the parable, look at the parable.  But note the introduction.  There is a great crowd, people from town after town.  And what is Jesus doing?  He is preaching, He is proclaiming the Word.  Even as He is speaking this parable, Jesus *is* the Sower, He is scattering His Word out upon the crowd.  If you want to think of it this way - the parable is an explanation to the disciples, to us, of what is going to happen with that Word that Christ Jesus is proclaiming right then and there – it’s what happens with the Word of God that we proclaim even to this very day.

          And He does so by the image of a sower scattering His seed.  Now, this is still a very powerful image in our society today.  Even though its probably been a while since any of you farmers walked along with a bag of seed and just started tossing it, it's one of those images we have as Americans - be it Johnny Appleseed, who was a big deal back in the Great Lakes, or even the sower that I have on my class ring from OU – it’s one of OU's major logos.  We know sowers. And sowing like that was a haphazard way of doing things.  It's not cold, precise, and logical.  It doesn't measure the cost of the seed and make sure that none is wasted, it doesn't plant the seeds in the single precise spot.  It scatters, it throws the seed to the wind to let the wind take it where the wind wills.  And that too is an important idea - we say "wind" today, but in Hebrew, or Greek, or Latin - the word for "Wind" and "Spirit" are the same thing.  There is a parallel being set up here - just as the wind blows the seed where it wills, so too the Holy Spirit takes the Word of God where the Spirit wills.  Jesus tells this same idea to Nicodemus in John 3 when He says, "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."  So this is what we see here - we see the sower tossing out his seed, trusting that it will be carried to where it needs to go.

          "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 and yielded a hundredfold.”  Out goes the seed.  Some of the seed ends up not being very productive - not because its bad seed, not because it's not good.  Just, stuff happens.  The birds eat some of it.  Some of it hits rocky soil.  Some of it gets killed by weeds.  We're surrounded by fields here, we all know the sorts of things that can happen to a crop.  That happens to some, and then some of the seed sprouts and grows and matures yields a harvest.  This is just what we see happen in agriculture - if you toss in drought or hail or bugs, we get the same sorts of things, even with our well drilled fields today.  Jesus here is just pointing out the common, simple things that happen.  And then He adds, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

          And the disciples are confused.  What's the point, what does this mean?  And so Jesus says to them, "To you it has been given to know the secrets 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.’"  Jesus here is referencing a common refrain of the Old Testament about idols and idolaters.  The idols, the statues have eyes, but they don't see.  They have ears, but they hear nothing.  And those who worship them, who fall into idolatry - they don't see God's truth even though it's clear in front of them, they don't hear the Word even when it is proclaimed to them.  The truth is simple, as simple as what happens to a crop that is sown, but some just will not get it, will deny it, will fight against it.

          And then Jesus explains in detail.  "The seed is the word of God.  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."  Jesus is saying: There are going to be those in that crowd that just heard me preach who are going to blow it off right away.  Who shrug it off.  Whom Satan has convinced that there is no God, or that if there were a God He would be doing something much more spectacular than just talking about some crazy old farmer.  After all, we had heard that this miracle worker Jesus was passing by, and we come all this way to see Him, and all He does is talk about tossing seed.  This is simply the reality of what is going to happen.  There are going to be those who hear the Word and couldn't care less.  There are going to be those who hear, and just decide to mock, belittle, and ignore.  They remain fast bound in Satan's clutches - it happens.  Disciples, don't be surprised - and you here, do not be surprised when it happens.  Your beliefs, the truth of God that you proclaim will not always be respected or well received.  That is just the reality of life here in a fallen world. 

          There is another thing that happens in this world.  "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."  What else will you see, oh Disciples?  There will be those who love what you preach... but then life won't suddenly get better.  Things will remain hard, and they will flit away.  They will decide that the Word of God doesn't give them enough, and off they will go.  Does this not happen today?  Or the third possibility?  "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."  Oh, do we not see this one all the time?  Is not America the land of cares and riches and pleasures?  We have so much wealth and luxuries, and yet we worry about so many things - the artists of today point out how when there is more money there's just more problems.  And how many people today are just simply too busy, have too much going on for them to hear the word?  And they just slowly fall away, waste away.  This is just what is going to happen in the fallen world.

          And then, of course, there is the fourth possibility.  "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."  And in some, the Word, the precious seed takes root, springs forth and bears abundant fruit.  This too is something else that happens, something that we see.  So then, what do we do with this parable that we have heard?  Where do we go from here?  And I ask that question, and the first things that comes to my mind are all the stupid, foolish, wrong-headed answers that I have heard.  There is no parable that gets used as a springboard for more stupidity and tomfoolery than this one.

          I have heard people say that this parable teaches us that as Christians we need to focus our efforts at evangelization on finding that good soil, to make sure we don't waste our time, our churchly efforts on bad and rocky ground.  So, let's get this straight - the parable describes how the Word of God is generously proclaimed to call, carried by the Spirit all over the place... but oh no no, we need to focus on figuring out who is good soil... because we are the masters of reading men's hearts I guess.  Or the one take that I hear is where it becomes a giant law bomb - alright, so you people here better be good soil, you better start producing fruit, I want to see more fruit and I want to see it now!  An impatient demand for good works, even as we are told that we will "bear fruit with patience."

          No, what is this parable teaching us?  As Luther would say, as we ought to be able to recite - I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, My Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel.  That is the truth we see, we hear in this Gospel lesson, in this parable.  This parable is to be a comfort - and you have been give eyes to see and ears to hear by God not so that God could terrify you, but comfort you.  You live in a sinful world, a world where terrible and horrible things happen.  And God gets mocked, faith gets tested, and we are often just so busy.  That is true.  But God still comes to you in His Word.  The Holy Spirit still wields the Gospel - and He does so not coldly or harshly.  God does not sit combing the details of your life to see if He ought to cut you off of the Gospel train - but instead, the seed is scattered, the Word is proclaimed.  It is to be proclaimed here in this place, even if you've had a terrible week, even if you've been particularly nasty this past week.  A sower went out to sow his seed.  God's Word is to be proclaimed, without a care for where it lands, whether or not those hearing it are worthy enough.  My job as your pastor isn't to figure out how good or bad you are - it is to proclaim to you that Christ Jesus has died for your sins.  And then, the Holy Spirit will do His thing.  Likewise, in your own lives, do not be afraid to confess the faith, to confess Christ Jesus, to tell others that He has died for them and that they are forgiven.  Some won't care, some will fall away.  That happens - but as for you, you know the truth of what Christ has done.  Cling to Christ.  Hear the Word, know that the Scriptures are true, and that Christ has died for you, and your sin is forgiven.  He who has ears, let him hear.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

1 comment:

Steve Martin said...

Nice job, Rev.

Throw that seed.

Then, it is literally 'out of our hands'.