Sunday, July 19, 2020
Wednesday, July 15, 2020
Sunday, July 12, 2020
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 10A)
July 12, 2020
Text: Matt. 13:1-9, 18-23
The Word of God is powerful to do what it says. God said, “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3; ESV), and there was light. God spoke creation into existence out of nothing. The firmament, the dry land and the seas, vegetation, sea creatures and birds of the heavens, livestock and creeping things and beasts of the field, and then His crowning achievement, man, to be the recipient of all that He had created, to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, subdue it and have dominion over it. God spoke, and so it was done. To this day, creation works, and is sustained, and children are born, because God spoke it so in Genesis 1.
And as it is in the matter of creation, so it is in the matter of salvation. God spoke His Son into the ear and womb of the Virgin for us men and for our salvation. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Jesus is the Word of our Father, the revelation of God as our God, gracious and merciful toward sinners, forgiving our sins and granting us life. Jesus spoke. He preached. He taught. He healed and cleansed by speaking it so. Wind and wave, the very demons were subject to His Word. He spoke as they crucified Him: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). And so the forgiveness of sins flows to sinners from that very place. He spoke from the cross, having suffered all in payment for our sins: “It is finished” (John 19:30), and so it was, our atonement complete. Now He is risen, as He said. And how is His saving work given to men? Preaching! God’s speaking! The Word! Your sins are forgiven, you are told in Scripture and sermon and Absolution, and so they are! You belong to God as His own child, for He speaks it so, names you with His Name, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” in Baptism. And then, here is Jesus, for you, as He says: “This is my body… This is my blood… given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” He speaks, and so it is. It is simply what we read from the Prophet Isaiah this morning concerning the Word: “it shall not return to me empty” says the LORD, “but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Is. 55:11).
“Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). The Word, the Word, the Word. That is how God does it. That is how He brings us to faith in Christ, so that we receive all the benefits of our Lord’s saving work in His death and resurrection. And the Word is mighty to do it. That is why we preach. That is why you confess Jesus and speak His Word in your daily life and vocation. And there is the Promise that keeps us going: It will not return empty. It will succeed. Period. Exclamation point!
Then why do so many hear the Word and reject it? It is a heartbreaking question, and it isn’t theoretical, because every one of us has a real, flesh-and-blood person in mind when we ask it. Probably several people. Perhaps many. People we love. People to whom we’ve confessed Christ. Maybe even people we thought believed at one time or another, people who came to Church, but don’t anymore, and don’t seem to have an interest. People who don’t want to hear it from us. Maybe children we raised in the faith. Maybe grandchildren. A brother. A sister. A dear friend. We know they’ve heard. And though in every case we’ll let God be their Judge and we’ll confess His great mercy toward them… as far as we are concerned, it appears they have no faith in Jesus. How do we account for the preaching of this Almighty Word appearing to result in… nothing? Directly counter to the Promise.
The problem is not the Word. It is the person who hears the Word. Jesus says the Word is Seed, cast by preaching and by confessing. We like to see ourselves as the Sower as we go about witnessing, but really, that role belongs only to the Savior. He is the Sower who goes out to sow. Yes, we witness, or in a preacher’s case, preach. But that is still the Savior doing the sowing of His Word. In this parable, we are the soil into which the Word is sown.
Now, Jesus says, there are several types of soil that are not capable of growing a crop of faith, that are hostile to the Seed of the Word. The first is the path. The Sower sows on the path, and the birds come and pick off the Seed. Well, that seems pretty obvious. The birds are the evil one and his demons. When a person hears the Word without understanding, the Seed is pretty easy picking for evil spirits. “God can’t really mean that, can He?” So they whisper. “That doesn’t make sense. That isn’t very loving. That doesn’t square with reality. Or science! You know better than that.” There are any number of ways they do it, but as the Seed is sown, it bounces off a hard-packed heart and is immediately snatched up by the devil and his lackeys. These are the folks who hear the Word and simply reject it.
Then there is the rocky soil. These receive the Word at first with joy. Jesus, love, life, wonderful things! But there is a hardness underneath the soil. No room for deep roots. So faith comes for a time, while everything is joyful and easy. But then things get hard. They always do for Christians. Your Lord promises it. Personal struggles and suffering in fallen creation and as the devil attacks. Persecution for the faith on the part of the world. The person who wants only a happy, feel-good religion (which describes so much of American Christianity), will shrivel up and die when the going gets tough. They’ll compromise with the world. Always. They’ll sell-out. And before you know it, there will be no crop, no faith. If anything, just pious, sentimental religiosity. But not the Jesus of the cross.
Then, of course, there is the Seed sown among thorns. The Word is choked out by the stuff of this life, worldly cares, the deceitfulness of riches. This is where Christianity becomes compartmentalized in a person’s life. Jesus gets only His little slice of time and attention, and that slice is ever dwindling. “I have to concentrate on my job. I have my weekend get-aways and vacations. I work so hard, I need my rest and relaxation, and that can’t include Jesus and His Sunday morning demands. I’ll get to Jesus later, when I’m not so busy.” I’ve even heard, so many times it would shock you, family named as the thing that prevents attendance at Divine Service and reception of Jesus’ gifts: “Oh, Pastor, we’d love to come to Church more, but you know, Sunday morning is our only chance to enjoy time together as a family.” Now, these are all good gifts of God to be enjoyed and tended: Jobs, vacations, family. But they’ve crowded out Jesus and His Word. They’ve become idols. And so they’ve become a curse. Thorns… as in thorns and thistles and the sweat of the brow!
But why is the Sower so reckless as to sow on all those inhospitable soils in the first place? Shouldn’t He sow only into the well-cultivated and prepared soil? This brings two very important truths to light. First, the prodigal grace of God. He’ll sow the Seed of His Word anywhere and everywhere! Because He does not desire the death of the sinner, but that the sinner turn from his wicked way and live (Ez. 33:11). He desires all to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4). Second, where in the world are you going to find good soil apart from and before the Sower’s sowing of the Word? Do you understand? You aren’t a believer because you were already good soil when Jesus came across you. You are a believer because Jesus came along, cast His Seed on the beaten and compacted, rocky, thorny soil of your mind and heart, and the Word transformed you. By grace. Don’t be such a semi-Pelagian as to think you prepared yourself by your good works and disposition to receive God’s gracious Word, and so come to faith. No, apart from the Word, you are every one of those other soils. The other soils aren’t just other people. That’s you apart from the Word. Repent of your hardness of heart. Repent of your desire for feel-good religion. Repent of prioritizing other people and things above Jesus. That is the Word of the LORD that calls you to such repentance. Even as the Word is sown, it is doing the plowing, the cultivating, the watering, the fertilizing. It is the Word that makes the soil into good soil, the Word cast by Jesus, implanted by the Holy Spirit, sinking through the beaten path, roots busting through the stone, choking out the thorns. If the Sower didn’t sow on the hostile soil, He couldn’t sow at all. But He does sow, because He loves you and has called you to be His own.
Why some and not others? Oh, you turkey. That is the question, isn’t it? We’re butting up against the doctrine of Election. We’re perilously close to looking into things into which we’re not given to look. “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever” (Deut. 29:29). Do not venture to look into the hidden things of God. The question actually is not one for you to answer. But you do know what is revealed. And that is this: God does not desire the death of any sinner. He wants all to be saved. Jesus died for the sins of all people. Jesus is risen and lives for all people. The Gospel is to be preached to all people. It is the Gospel, the Word of Almighty God, that brings a person to faith in Christ, so that thy receive all the saving benefits of Christ. And when they believe that Word, God gets all the credit for that. They didn’t do anything to prepare for it, or to merit it. Not so much as a decision for Jesus. To God alone be the glory. The Holy Spirit has worked faith by His Word. Just like God alone grows the seeds, so God alone grows faith. And if that Word is not believed, the blame rests on the unbeliever and the devil, and not on God in any way. God is not the Author of that evil. Do not try to solve the logical dilemma. That has not been revealed to you. Stick with what Scripture says, and live in the tension. Let God be God, and you just be His child. And rejoice that the Word has taken root in you, by grace alone.
And trust the Promise in spite of all appearances. The Word is doing what God sent it to do. Always. It is hidden from your eyes, but that doesn’t change the fact of it. Think again of that person, or those people, on your mind and heart throughout this sermon. God loves them even more than you do, and He desires their salvation. Christ died for them! Christ lives for them! We are only to view the doctrine of Election through the lens of Christ crucified and risen for sinners. Only God knows how the Word will accomplish His will for them. So do not lose heart. Keep speaking. Keep confessing. Keep praying to the only One who can make faith grow. The Word by which God created all things, the Word by which He redeemed all things, is preached to create faith when and where it pleases God in those who hear the Gospel (AC V). Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ. God is faithful. His Seed is sown. And His Word transforms even the most inhospitable soil into a rich yield. It can happen, and it does. Just take yourself, for example. Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. God has spoken, and the speaking continues to the end of the age. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.