Sermon for Sexagesima
Isaiah 55:10-13 + 2 Corinthians 11:19-12:9 + Luke 8:4-15
The Word of God—what is it? It’s every word that’s written in the Holy Scriptures, which holy men of God wrote down as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. I think that’s what first comes to mind when we think of the Word of God, isn’t it? The written Word of God is our fount and source of doctrine and the judge of every preacher and of every teaching. But remember this: what the prophets and apostles preached to their hearers was also the Word of God, whether or not it was written down. So, too, the message of Christ in our day, if it is faithfully proclaimed, is also the Word of God. The Word of God, for example, is not only proclaimed in our Divine Service when I read to you from the Scriptures or when our hymns quote snippets from the Scriptures. A hymn or a liturgical response that faithfully and accurately proclaims the message of Christ is also God’s Word. And the sermons preached by ministers of the Gospel in agreement with the written Word of God are also the Word of God. Keep that in mind as you consider Jesus’ parable today about the Sower and the Seed.
The seed is God’s Word. The sower is God who sends forth His Word to be preached. The hearers are the soil. The plant that springs forth from the Word is faith, and the fruits that are produced from the plant are works of love and the godly life that flow from faith. Before we even discuss Jesus’ parable, there is a warning here not to despise or neglect the preaching of God’s Word. The seed already has enough obstacles to overcome when it is being sown. Those who refuse to hear the Word have already set up an idol to worship in place of God, something more important than the Word of God. I warn you, who are here today, to take care lest you fall into such idolatry in the future.
But now, you who are hearing the Word, you are the soil onto which the seed is now falling. And the parable is not just about the moment when the seed is sown, but also about what happens afterward. So think about that as we go through the parable and remember it as you travel home today, as you approach the coming week. How will the word of God that is sown today grow during the week? What effect will it have on you and those around you? What does the seed need in order to grow? What things in your life are attacking the seed and the plant that begins to grow from it?
May the seed that is sown today through your ears not be like the seed that fell by the wayside. The wayside, the road, is hard. The seed falls on it but doesn’t penetrate the soil at all. Instead people walk on it and the birds snatch it up right away. Jesus says that this happens when people hear the word but don’t think about it, don’t take it to heart. They’re distracted. Or they just stubbornly assume they know all that stuff already. Instead of thinking about the Word they hear, they focus on the preacher, what they like or don’t like about him, or they think about other things that are going on in their life. They forget what God said as soon as they hear it, and don’t give it a second thought. And so the devil comes and snatches the Word of God away from them so that it doesn’t take root and grow into faith.
And may the seed that is sown today through your ears not be like the seed that fell on the rocky soil. These people hear the word and rejoice over God’s goodness in Christ, but only for a little while. Then temptation comes. Persecution comes. The cross comes, and they fall away. They fall away because their faith wasn’t firmly rooted in God’s Word. They never bothered to grow in their understanding of God’s Word. Instead, they were satisfied with the little bit they heard, and so their faith remained superficial. But faith needs to grow roots. A superficial faith will not survive for long in the heat of the day, as Jesus plainly says, because all the false doctrine out there in the world, the culture around us that is so hostile to real Biblical Christianity, and the pressure from friends and family and society to turn away from the faith can only be withstood by a faith that is firmly grounded in the Word of God. It takes real arrogance for a Christian to imagine that he or she can hold onto his or her faith without a regular supply of God’s Word to keep watering it and nourishing it and making it grow.
And may the seed that is sown today through your ears not be like the seed that fell among thorns. These are the ones who hear the Word of God, and it does sprout in their hearts into faith, but then, the cares, riches, and pleasures of life choke it. How easy it is to let the cares of life choke the Word so that it doesn’t produce the fruits of love and perseverance! Work, school, sports, recreation, health, finances, washing, baking, cooking, cleaning, folding, ironing, repairing, maintaining, banking, retiring, dating, eating, drinking, partying, sleeping—who has time even to hear God’s Word, much less to think about it and meditate on it and study it and discuss it? Who has time to pray and to serve his neighbor and to grow into the image of Christ? It’s not that that list of things has to take over your life and choke the Word. It’s that people allow that list of things to choke the Word. And all the while, there is Jesus with this warning, and with His command from Matthew 6, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
Then there are the others, the seed that fell on good soil. Not good because the soil itself has done anything good, or because it has any natural properties that make it good. It’s called good because it receives the seed of the Word. It’s called good because these people have heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience. This! This is what God is seeking, and His Word itself has the power to create it: the hearer of His Word who listens, who takes it seriously, who cherishes the Word of God, believes it and puts it into practice. This is the one who hears the good report about Christ, who loved us and gave Himself for us, and takes comfort in Christ’s mercy and in His sacrifice for sins. Faith springs up from the Word. It isn’t flashy; it isn’t showy. It just grows, patiently. It’s watered by the Word of God, too, which, as Isaiah said, is like rain and snow that come down from the heavens and water the earth, making it bud and flourish. This faith sends down roots, so that, even though temptations and persecutions come along, these faithful hearers flee to Christ for refuge and strength and daily forgiveness. They are surrounded by the same cares and riches and pleasures as anyone else, but they heed the warning of Christ not to let those things take priority over the Word of God. And so, firmly rooted in Christ, they produce a harvest of good fruit, works of love and sacrifice and service, works of compassion and care and selflessness, ever hearing the Word, ever receiving the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood, ever praying for all the saints.
These are the hearers whom Jesus seeks, and it’s never too late to become one, as long as the Word of God is being preached, because every time the Word of God is preached, the seed is again being sown. How will you hear it today?
The fact that some people will always mishear the Word of God, the fact that some people will not take it to heart and keep it, doesn’t mean you have to be one of them. Instead, when God’s Word is being proclaimed, when Christ’s death and resurrection are being preached, when God’s commandments are being explained, when the Sacraments are being administered, know that God’s Holy Spirit is powerfully working to sow that seed in your heart and to make it bud and flourish, so that you will be blessed, as the Lord declares in the first Psalm:
Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.
May these words describe your hearing of the Word today. In the name of Jesus. Amen.