Sermon for Sexagesima
Luke 8:4-15 + Isaiah 55:10-13 + 2 Corinthians 11:19 – 12:9
You’ve heard today of the great power of God’s Word. God’s Word – the Bible, the Holy Scriptures – is God’s perfect revelation of himself to man. We might look around at the universe God has created, and we can certainly deduce some things about God from it, from that “natural knowledge of God.” But nothing reveals God more clearly and more powerfully than his own words given to us through the prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles of the New, whose words all center in the message of God’s holiness, our sinfulness, and his mercy in giving his Son, Jesus Christ, to atone for our sins and reconcile us to God. Through the words written down by the prophets and apostles, through the preaching of their words in our time, God has spoken to us and still speaks.
And when God speaks, it is always like rain and snow coming down from the heavens to water the earth and make it bring forth and sprout. God’s Word is the seed that falls on the dead soil of human hearts and creates life where there was only death, creates faith in God’s gift of Christ’s righteousness where there was only faith in our own pitiful attempt at providing a righteousness of our own.
But here’s the thing about God’s Word. It’s always powerful and effective, but the effects are not always the same, as Jesus reveals in the parable of the sower and the seed.
Since I’m not talking to a bunch of preachers today, I will speak to you from this Gospel in the two ways that apply directly to you: first, as the church that sends out the word to be preached – both here in this place and wherever else you send it, too; and second, as hearers yourselves of the Word, recipients of the seed, you who are the very soil in which God’s Word has been planted and is being planted right now at this very moment. In both of these cases, know what to expect when the seed of God’s Word is sown.
As a church that sends out the Word, that has called a pastor to preach God’s Word, as Christians who go out from this place and speak the saving name of Jesus in your vocations and discuss God’s Word with the people around you, what should you expect when the seed of God’s Word is sown, when others hear the Word?
Listen to what Jesus tells you. You should expect that the seed will fall on different kinds of soil.
Some will fall on the walkway where it does not grow at all, where people trample it and birds come and steal it. These, Jesus says, are those who hear the Word of God but don’t understand it. Why don’t they understand it? Because it wasn’t taught correctly? No. Because the devil is real, and he comes where the Word is preached and swoops in like a bird to steal the Word away wherever he can. He does that through lies and deception, through false teaching and false teachers. He makes God’s Word seem so difficult to understand that people stop trying.
So it should not surprise us when people hear but don’t hear, when they hear the Word of Christ and it goes in one ear and out the other. They don’t believe it, even if they call themselves Christians. Instead they may come to church just to socialize or to play around or to be entertained. Or they may embrace all kinds of errors and lies and always be fighting against the simple truth of what God says.
Some of the seed will fall on rocky soil. These, Jesus says, are people who hear the Word and are believing Christians for awhile. They rejoice in the message of Christ for a time. But then it gets hard. Persecution comes, and they have no roots and no moisture – no continual supply of the water of life to keep them alive. The dear Christian cross gets too heavy. It gets too hard to fight against the desires of the flesh, too hard to keep hearing about sin and our utter neediness before God. It gets too hard to speak the truth in the face of opposition, too hard to keep trusting in God when bad things happen. The Christian life just isn’t what they expected.
So it should not surprise us when Christians fall away in the face of persecution or hardship. They may stop going to church entirely. They may stop coming to our church and go out looking for a church that makes the Christian life seem easier, more fun, more enjoyable. Or they may keep coming, but the heat of trial has withered them into bitter and disgruntled people, or into fearful cowards who will keep quiet, fly under the radar, avoid conflict, do just about anything to keep the peace. We can expect that to happen where the seed of God’s Word is sown.
Some of the seed will fall among the weeds. These, Jesus says, are those who hear the Word and believe for a time, but then they don’t notice the thorns and thistles creeping up, growing right alongside them – innocently, it would seem, until the weeds choke the life out of the good plant. The weeds are the cares, and riches and pleasures of life.
So it should not surprise us when Christians fall away on account of family problems or work schedules or other worldly concerns or pleasures. And by “fall away,” I don’t just mean stop coming to church. They may or may not come to church once in awhile. But once they leave the Divine Service, it’s like God stops existing until the following Sunday. Faith becomes a mantel piece. There’s no clinging to Christ and his Word anymore, and love for the neighbor is replaced by love for self. We can expect that to happen where the seed of God’s Word is sown.
And some of the seed will fall on good soil. These, Jesus says, are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience. They know their neediness and they look constantly to God’s Word to supply their need, to give them forgiveness of sins and comfort, to grow their faith and to sustain them through the heat of the day and the cold of the night. They bear fruit “with patience,” Jesus says, because being a Christian isn’t about sudden and spectacular bursts of good deeds. It’s about a lifetime of steadily putting faith into practice, each day, over and over, little by little, serving your neighbor humbly, selflessly, whether he thanks you for it or not, whether it’s pleasant or not.
So it should not surprise us when some hear the Word of Christ, and believe, and cling to the Word of God and can’t get enough of it. It should not surprise us when some hear the Word of Christ and stand on it in the face of terrible trials and unjust treatment, when they say no to the career moves that might make them lots of money but would pull them away from God’s Word and would keep them from humbly serving their neighbor. We can expect that to happen where the seed of God’s Word is sown.
All of this is what you can expect when others hear the word. So when you see all of these things happening right here in our midst, or out there in the world where the Word of God is preached, don’t be amazed. Don’t be surprised, as if something were wrong. And don’t imagine that you can make it all better, that you should somehow remove the obstacles from the field where God’s Word is sown. Our task isn’t to till the walkway in order to soften it, or to remove the rocks, or to weed the garden, or to go out looking for good soil. Our task as a church – our only task! – is to scatter the seed of God’s Word. Period.
Now, now, remember that you, too, are hearers of the Word. Here you are, hearing it today. As hearers, how are you to hear it? You’ve seen that the Word will face great opposition as it falls from the sower’s hand. You’ve seen that the world will come and trample it, and the devil will pluck it away. You’ve seen how a plant with no root stands no chance against the blazing sun of persecution. You’ve seen the danger of the threatening thistles, and you’ve seen that there is nothing inherently good about the good soil – only that it receives the seed – it hears the Word of God and believes the Word and keeps growing in the Word.
So, as hearers of the Word, you are not to worry about what kind of soil you happen to be. You’re not stuck being one kind of soil or the other. There is nothing fatalistic about Jesus’ parable.
Instead, knowing that your heart is, by nature, hard like the walkway, and that men will try to trample God’s true Word with all sorts of lies and that the devil will constantly be trying to pluck God’s Word out of your ears, look to God for continual forgiveness and guidance into the truth. Hold onto God’s Word. Learn and study it, and pray earnestly for God to continually create a clean heart in you that will be softened by his Word and blessed.
Knowing that the heat of persecution and hardship will attack your faith and is attacking it even now, and that the only way to resist withering is to have deep roots and a constant supply of moisture, hold onto God’s Word and Sacraments. There you will find all the sustenance your faith needs to keep bearing up under the heat.
Knowing that thorns and thistles will come, that the cares and riches and pleasures of this world will seek to distract you away from God’s Word and choke your faith to death, be watchful for these things. How many times have I heard Christians say that this or that problem came up in their lives, this or that opportunity arose, and it required their time and attention, and they fully intended to get back to God’s Word after they dealt with the problem, after they made a bit more money, after they had a bit more “fun” – then it would be time for hearing God’s Word again. Thistles and weeds. When they come, don’t pretend that you can fight them off apart from God’s Word. On the contrary, when they come, cling to God’s Word all the more.
You see, as hearers of God’s Word, you are, right now, being tended by the farmer. Right now he is scattering the seed of his Word and calling you to repentance and faith in his Son, Jesus Christ, who loved you and gave himself for you, and rose from the dead that he might give you repentance and life. Right now God is giving you forgiveness of sins and his promise to care for that which he has planted. While the soils that receive the Word are different, the Word is the same, no matter where it falls, just as powerful, just as real, just as true. Know what to expect when the seed of God’s Word is sown – in others, and in yourself.
“So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” He who has ears to hear – let him hear! Amen.