SERMON FOR SEXAGESIMA, 2-24-2019
LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL, SHOREWOOD, WI
We’re in the season of Pre-Lent, which is a three-week series preceding Ash Wednesday. It’s got a very Lutheran sort of thing going on, even though the order of readings precedes Luther and the 16th century. So last week we had the parable of the workers of the vineyard, which I would much prefer we remember as the “parable of the lavishly generous vineyard owner” – because that’s what it’s all about – grace! You might call it “grace alone Sunday.” Next Sunday we have the healing of a blind man, in which Jesus extolls the gift of faith, faith which saves. So next Sunday is “Faith Alone Sunday”. And today, on this Sunday of the church year we’re directed to the parable of the Sower and the Seed. The seed being the word of God. So we’re directed back to the foundational solas – that is faith alone, grace alone, and Scripture alone.
The Bible, the Scriptures, are the Word of God. St. Peter writes that no prophecy, nothing in these Scriptures that we read and proclaim was ever produced by the will of man or by human initiative, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Luther writes, “Whoever believes and holds to Christ’s Word, heaven stands open to him, hell is shut, the devil is imprisoned, sins are forgiven. He that reads, hears and believes these words is a child of eternal life. That is what this book, the Bible teaches you – and no other book on earth.”
In Isaiah this morning we heard that just as the rain and the snow descend from heaven and don’t return without doing what they were sent to do, causing the earth to bud and supply seed for the sower and bread for the eater – so is the Word that goes forth from the mouth of God. Listen to this promise: It, the Word, shall not return to me empty, but shall accomplish that which I purpose, says the Lord.
Listen to the writer to the Hebrews this morning: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
Can’t run, can’t hide, folks! God’s Word does everything, lays everything bare and out in the open. God’s Word exposes the true state of a person before God, his sin, and misery, and that isn’t pretty. A two-edge sword is the law and Gospel. First, Christ Word breaks through and wounds. It pricks and wounds the soul. So that the truth might come out: every mouth be stopped, all excuses silenced, and you, along with the whole world become accountable to God.
So out with it! I have sinned against God! I have hurt those whom He has called me to love. I have harbored anger and resentment. I have stewed in self-pity. I have despised the Word of the Lord! We become guilty before the Lord. We recognize things as they truly are. We are exposed to Him to whom we must give an account.
Yes, Christ’s Word breaks through and it wounds! It stings. It takes away every bit of trust that we place in ourselves and our idols, and ascribes redemption alone to the blood of Christ. This wound of the soul, dear Christians, is a health bestowing wound, for God wounds in order to heal. He kills in order to make alive. He threatens with hell, that we might de driven to heaven.
We’re left with no choice but to drop to our knees constantly and plead for mercy. Mercy, dear Christian that God is so eager to pour out on you through His Word and Spirit.
In our Gospel today Jesus is the sower of the seed. He sows with reckless abandon, indiscriminately. He plants His Word into all kinds of soil and throws it out for whoever will bother to hear it. But here’s the kicker folks: not everyone who hears it will end up being saved. Not every soul who walks into Luther Memorial Chapel, and sits in a church pew, will be saved. “But Pastor, you’ve just been telling us that God’s Word does everything,” and it does, that’s true!
The Word of God has power! Every time it is preached and read – every time it is heard, God the Holy Spirit is present and seeking to give the gift of repentant faith to everyone who will receive it. But the gift is always a gift. And you know from your own experience, in certain dark periods of your life, or in the lives of your loved ones, that this gift is often rejected. Truth is, people they fall away.
Here at Luther Memorial Chapel, like every other church, we have an inactive list, with too many names of those who have fallen away from weekly worship. The devil, the world, the cares, riches, and pleasures of this life threaten the holy life of faith from every direction.
Jesus says: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.” Jesus shows us in this parable that only a small percentage of those who hear God’s pure Word will be saved. This parable is a warning against all complacency and a sobering call to faith. Jesus ends the parable by crying out with a warning voice: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
The first warning is against inattentive listening. The ones along the path are those who do hear but then the devil comes and snatches away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. It’s a warning not to sinners outside of Christ, but it’s a warning to those who park themselves in church pews. Merely tolerating, or patiently sitting through the reading of God’s Word or a sermon is not enough. The catechism teaches us to hold it all sacred and gladly hear and learn it. Even if the Lutheran preacher isn’t as dynamic as Billy graham or as scintillating as your favorite guest on Issues, Etc., you still have something wonderful - a called minister, dealing with you by divine command, baptizing, forgiving, comforting, and burying, with words just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself. So will you hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it?
Then there’s the second group of those who hear. It’s the seed that falls on the rocks. There are many who go through a new member catechesis – they rejoice, their hearts burn with joy! But they have no root, and so in a time of testing they fall away. These are good time Christians. When tragedy or trouble comes their way, they don’t persevere, they give up on the Word of Christ, and their faith grows weaker and weaker and finally withers away.
The third group are those who listen to the Word of God, but they let it get crowded right out of their lives. Jesus teaches us that the cares, riches, and pleasures of this life are threatening. Weekends at the lake, kids’ sports, relaxing in front of the TV. In and of themselves, nothing wrong, that’s all fine. But when anything that we enjoy crowds out the Word of God, and squeezes church into a smaller and smaller place in our lives, well then, the Word of God is chocked out and faith does not mature.
Dear friends of God, this parable is not directed at those outside of Christ. They are words of exhortation, a warning to us who call ourselves Christians. Simply put, it’s not enough to hear God’s Word and let it float in one ear and fly out the other. It must also be believed and preserved and used to direct one’s entire life.
Our Lord teaches us this morning that is truly possible to hear His Word in such a way that it bears abundant fruit. Those hearts that hear and hold fast the word as honest and good. How can your heart be honest and good? Paul writes that faith cleanses the heart, and faith cometh by hearing the Word of God, and letting that Word live inside of us, and find a home in us.
So redirect your lives to the Seed, which is the Word of God. Go to the Scriptures, and so find Christ We will be walking with Jesus up to Jerusalem. We will stand at the foot of the Cross and behold Him as He takes the sin of the world on His back and bears it before His Father– including the sin of our not hearing the Word, thinking other things in life are more important than what the God who created us has to say to us. He will bear that sin and all sins in His body. And He does it NOT so that we can rejoice that He forgives us and then just go on ignoring God’s Word. No. He does it so that we might be forgiven and so grow into grateful and faithful hearers of the Word. That’s what the Lenten Midweek Vespers are here for. That’s why Bible study is made available every week. Wonderful, engaging Bible studies, to give even more opportunity for the Word to come to you.
And when you listen to the Word that is whispered to you from the garden, and from the cross, and from the empty tomb, well that is a Word that gives and bestows life and eternal gladness. A Word which causes bread and wine to be precisely what He says - His body and blood – for the forgiveness of sins. A Word which joins you to Him and Him to you, and enjoy fellowship with Him in a life that never ends.
God speaks His Word, which is Christ. So listen when He speaks and know your Savior. Let His Word be planted inside of you and so grow and flourish in you that you may abide in Him through death and unto eternal life. That’s what He wants to give you and His Word has the power to do it. Let us all cherish the Word made flesh! Let us hold is sacred and gladly hear and learn it! “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” Amen.