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Sermon for Sexagesima
2 Corinthians 11:19-12:9 + Luke 8:4-15
The parable of the sower and the seed is such a vivid parable. You can picture it so easily. The sower reaching into his bag of seed and throwing it in a wide arc. And it falls in the four different places, as Jesus described: On the wayside or walking path, on the rocky soil, among the thorns, and on good soil, with different results in each case. Jesus’ parables are often described as “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.” The crowds who heard the parable understood the earthly story part well enough. But the heavenly meaning—that was revealed only to Jesus’ disciples, and now to us who have been taught by them.
The seed is the word of God, specifically the Gospel of Christ as He reveals our sin and our well-deserved condemnation, as He reveals Himself as the Son of God, our Savior, as He reveals His sacrifice of Himself for our sin, as He reveals His promise to save sinners only by faith in Him, as He reveals the work of the ministry in proclaiming that word, as He reveals the work of the Holy Spirit in accompanying the Word and germinating the seed, and in sanctifying believers through Word and Sacrament, so that they live according to God’s commandments and persevere in the faith until the end.
The seed of the Word—of that Word that I just summarized for you—is cast, thrown about, by Jesus, through His apostles, through all called ministers after them, through individual Christians in their vocations as they speak about the kindness and goodness of Christ Jesus, true God and true Man, crucified for our sins and raised to life for our justification. The word is preached from the pulpit, or simply confessed in the lives of Christians. It goes out over the airwaves, over the internet. And many hear.
It then falls on four different kinds of soil. It almost seems fatalistic, doesn’t it? But it isn’t. Because the kinds of soil weren’t predetermined in eternity. The sower doesn’t force the ground to be what it is, or force the conditions to be what they are. He casts the seed into it, however He finds it, and describes to us as we watch Him, what we can expect to see as we watch.
But more than that, He casts the seed today into your ears, and it isn’t predetermined what kind of soil you have to be today. On the contrary, the Word of Christ will shape your heart today, if you listen to it, if you pay attention, and take to heart the warnings your Lord sets before you in this Gospel.
And so we address this Gospel from two separate viewpoints: As the preachers (or watchers) of the word being sown, and as the recipients of the word that is sown, both to consider what happens among other people when they hear the Word, and to think about what happens to each one of you.
Consider the seed that fell along the path from the perspective of preachers or watchers. It was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it. When the word goes out, some pay no attention. They hear, but they don’t really listen. They’re distracted. They don’t consider what they hear. They don’t even try to understand. Jesus assures His disciples here, that when they preach and this happens, the fault isn’t with the Word or with their preaching or their presentation of it. They will often preach the Word, and it will fall on ears that are deaf, that are hard like a walking path. But those who hear this way aren’t innocent. They’re responsible for hardening their hearts. They’re at fault for their stubborn refusal to pay attention. And so the devil takes away even the little that they have.
Now consider the seed that fell along the path from the perspective of the recipients, those who hear. Are you paying attention right now? Or is your mind elsewhere, on other things? Will you take this word home with you and ponder it there? Or will you not give it another thought throughout the week? Take care how you hear the Word today. The Holy Spirit will bless the seed, if you don’t harden your heart against it. But if you do, the devil will come and take it away out of your heart. And without the Word, you cannot believe and be saved.
Consider the seed that fell on the rock from the perspective of preachers or watchers. As soon as it sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture. These, Jesus says, are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. We’ve watched many people receive the Gospel with joy, throughout history, and here in our midst. But then temptation comes—temptation in the form of persecution, where being faithful to the Word of Christ brings trouble, hardship, pain, or loss. And the cross seems too heavy to keep bearing. Then we watch with grief as the young plant withers and faith shrivels up. They were glad to be Christians when it was easy to be Christians. But when it required too much sacrifice, too much pain, they gave up, because they had no root. They didn’t use the Word and the Sacrament by which the Holy Spirit would have deepened and strengthened their faith to sustain the heat of the day.
Now consider the seed that fell on the rock from the perspective of the recipients, those who hear. You’ve heard and believed the Gospel? Good! You’ve crossed over from death to life! You’re a child of God! But you know what’s coming as you live in this world: suffering, grief, temptation, cross. Jesus told you that ahead of time. Will you pay attention to the Word, hear it, mark it, learn it and inwardly digest it, as an old prayer says, so that the roots of your faith go down and prepare you for the cross to come? Or will you only follow Christ as long as it’s easy?
Consider the seed that fell among thorns from the perspective of preachers or watchers. The thorns sprang up with it and choked it. These, Jesus says, are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. We’ve all seen this happen, too, and Jesus assures His disciples that they would see it very often when the Word is preached. People hear. They believe. They begin as Christians. But sooner or later, they allow earthly things to become more important. The seed that fell on the rock withered because of hardship. The seed that fell among the thorns was choked because of pleasure. Boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, children, career, pastime, the indulgence of the flesh—all these things crept in and slowly, subtly, became more important than Christ. The faith that was once there was choked, because these Christians didn’t pay attention to the Word that warned them against such things, that called them to daily repentance, that sent them running to Christ for refuge.
Now consider the seed that fell among thorns from the perspective of the recipients, those who hear. You know this life has you running in a thousand different directions. You know its cares, its riches, and its pleasures. Will you pursue them first, or will you seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness? Will you allow your Christian life to be restricted to a couple hours on Sunday morning—if that—or will you treat this time we share together here as just the jump start to a week of pondering the Word of Christ and living as lights in the world?
Finally, consider the seed that fell on good soil from the perspective of preachers or watchers. The seed sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold. These are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience. Not all the time. Maybe not very often. But sometimes, we preach the Word, and over the course of many years, we watch Christians both form and persevere, and bear abundant fruit. It doesn’t start out as something spectacular. A person is baptized. But we watch that person continue to hear and pay attention to the Word, continue to receive the Sacrament. We watch as hardship strikes and as the cross gets heavy, and they may groan under it and wrestle with doubts and fears and all kinds of temptations, but they don’t shrink back from Christ; they go running to Him instead. We watch as earthly things try to creep in, but then we see the Word of God win out in the end. We watch as these Christians stumble, but repent. We watch as these Christians bear the cross with patience, as they carry out the simple duties of their vocation, as they confess Christ before the world, as they grow in obedience to the Lord’s commandments. And we give thanks to God for them, because we know that it was the power of the seed that did it all. As St. Paul wrote to the Romans, I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.
There’s comfort for us as Christians in knowing that, for as powerful as the Word of God is, the rejection of it that we see all around us—sometimes too close to home—was prophesied by Jesus from the beginning. There’s comfort in knowing that the Word of God will not return to Him empty, but will accomplish the purpose for which He sent it, including the purpose of always finding good ground and taking root in that good ground and producing Christians who will persevere to eternal life.
But I hope you can see that this whole Gospel is presented to you today to make your hearts into that good ground, to soften your heart, if it’s been growing hard; to allow your faith to take root in Christ Jesus, if it’s been too shallow; to cut down the thorns, if you’ve allowed them to start creeping in; and to comfort you with the grace of the Holy Spirit, who has kept you thus far and who will continue to preserve you with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.
Now may the Word of Christ dwell in you richly and produce abundant fruit in you, by the working of the Holy Spirit, to the praise of God the Father. Amen.