And when a great multitude were coming together, and those from the various cities were journeying to Him, He spoke by way of a parable: "The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road; and it was trampled under foot, and the birds of the air ate it up. And other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it, and choked it out. And other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great." As He said these things, He would call out, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."
And His disciples began questioning Him as to what this parable might be. And He said, "To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, in order that SEEING THEY MAY NOT SEE, AND HEARING THEY MAY NOT UNDERSTAND. Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God. And those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they may not believe and be saved. And those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. And the seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. And the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.
Sermon for Sexagesima Sunday 2/04/24
The Parable of the Sower
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Our Gospel lesson is The Parable of the Sower. It is a picture of the Church, and more specifically, of the Gospel as it is proclaimed. Our theme this morning is the Parable of the Sower.
I grew up hearing that a parable was an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. I guess that is as good a description as any. I think of a parable as a picture, drawn with words, to help us understand the reality of something – or to keep us from understanding, if we are not God's people. Jesus said it in our text, "To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, in order that SEEING THEY MAY NOT SEE, AND HEARING THEY MAY NOT UNDERSTAND."
That's hard to accept, isn't it? Jesus taught in parables precisely so that only those who were chosen by Him to be His people would understand. He intended that others would not understand. That doesn't fit the popular picture of Jesus, but it is the truth. Those who believe are not believers by their own choice, but by the choice and the grace of God. It is to those who believe that God chooses to reveal the secrets of life and of the truth. Those who refuse to believe, He leaves in darkness - deliberately. We should not be surprised, then, that the world around us fails to understand Jesus.
But to you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom. And the mystery we are given this morning is the parable of the Sower. In this parable, the Sower goes out to sow. The Sower is Jesus. He doesn't tell us that explicitly, but since the seed is His Word – the Word of God – it makes sense.
The seed the sower is spreading is the Word of God -- more specifically, the Gospel. Jesus tells us that. It is His Word and it is about Him. It is useful, at this point, to remember that the method of sowing in those days was "broadcast sowing". They cast the seed everywhere in the field, rather than planting it in specific spots as we do with our planters today. After they cast the seed about, they would plow the field and thereby work the seed into the soil. That is how some of the seed ended up on the path and in the rocks and among the thorns.
Naturally, the paths were not plowed, so the seed would lay on the ground like bird-food. They would not work in the really rocky areas because the going was just too rough, and their plows were simple implements, usually made of wood, back in those days. The seeds among the weeds were at the edges of the fields, or where things just got too overgrown. They did not have the equipment or the technology to cultivate or apply a herbicide. Some of the seed was simply wasted.
It is a wonderful image for the preaching of the Gospel. I am the Sower's hands. Preachers and pastors are the equipment, if you will, which is used to scatter the seed. We preach it everywhere. We proclaim the goodness of God and the salvation He has purchased for us wherever and whenever we have the opportunity. Even here on Sunday morning, anyone who walks in the door is welcome to join us and listen and hear about the marvelous grace of God in Jesus Christ.
Of course, not everyone who hears believes. Some people are like those seeds that land on the path. The ground - their heart - is too hard. The Word doesn't penetrate. The devil comes and snatches away before they have opportunity to really think about it and come to faith. For them the Word of God is utterly fruitless.
Others are like the seed on the rock. You have probably all known someone who came to faith and was so happy that they were a Christian and their joy burned so bright and loud. Then, one day or another, they seemed to slip away. Maybe they lost interest all at once, and maybe they just grew less and less regular, and less and less enthusiastic, and finally simply stopped coming. Before long, they didn't want to come. They found other priorities. Even in this small parish, we have seen that happen. They are the temporary Christians. Sometimes they think they are still Christian even after they leave us, just not so "on fire for the Lord". Sometimes they know that they don't believe anymore. It is all too sad, and all too common. Some of these people chase from church to church looking for the experience – that fire of the first faith. What they lack is depth and substance and root in the truth, and sadly, they will not believe that it is true when we try to help them see it. Like a seed growing in very shallow soil, they whither and die, spiritually, for lack of root and sustenance for their faith.
Then there are those who hear and believe, but whose faith is choked out after a time by the cares and worries of life, just like the seed that fell among the thorns. Some of these people wind up leaving the church, and some of them remain members of the local church for the rest of their lives. Notice that Jesus did not say that they lost their faith, just that they "bring no fruit to maturity". These are the people who get lost in life, and for them the Christian faith and the church is just one thing among many. Maybe it is family that distracts them. Perhaps it is their money. Sometimes it is sports - playing or spectating. There are those who are always going to games, or going hunting, or going to races, or playing in some sort of tournament, and so they miss church regularly. At first it bothers them, and after a while it is the normal state of things. For some it is camping, or traveling, or visiting family – or having company, which just naturally keeps one away from church.
Such people may never leave the church rolls, but they leave the faith. Our congregation's average attendance is something less than 100%, which indicates that for everyone of you who comes faithfully, there are others that are absent more often than they are present. Does that mean that those who are here less often are not Christians? Not necessarily, but it suggests that something else is more important to them than forgiveness of sins, more real to them than resurrection from the grave and eternal life, and more worthy of their time and attention than Jesus Christ Himself. Usually, those who are here only infrequently do not serve the congregation, and rarely bring others to the Gospel – likely because they themselves grant the Gospel such a low priority in their lives. God commands that you have no other gods before Him. Imagine how He must view it when virtually everything comes before Him.
Then there are those Jesus likens to the seed that falls in good ground. They are the ones who hear the Word of God and believe it. They not only believe it is true, they live in that truth. You see, saving faith is not merely accepting propositions of low probability, it is accepting the Word of God as true, and living in it. Luther called it "Fiducia Cordis", a trust in the heart that causes one to risk everything on the faithfulness of God. It means living your life as though you cannot die, except physically, and that only for a time. It means living as though you cannot lose, and all that you need is certain and sure, so you can think more about the welfare of others and less often about yourself. Living in faith means that you take God at His Word and live in it and live it out.
His Word says that He has rescued you out of sin and death and hell. If you understand what that means and believe that, it would difficult to ignore Him, or to resist coming to His house and hearing this wonderful news, and receiving the refreshment of both Word and Sacrament. Jesus thought it was so important that your sins be forgiven and that you have eternal life that He died for you on the cross – dying in your place for your sins. Just a day before He died, He instituted the Sacrament of the Altar, taking care to guarantee to us the gift of His true body and true blood, hidden beneath the elements of bread and wine for our blessing and strengthening and comforting and forgiveness.
If Jesus believed your salvation was worth all of that, how could anyone that believed the Gospel was true count hearing about it as not worth their time? How could they value worship as something to do only if there is nothing "better" going on that week? How could a believer count the fellowship which Christ died to create for their support and encouragement in the faith as less important to their lives than, say, football or company visiting or sleeping in another hour? How could anyone who believed that in the Holy Supper is forgiveness, life, and salvation bring themselves deliberately to miss it?
Those in whom the Word grows, in what Jesus calls "good and honest hearts" and who "hold it fast" will "bear fruit with perseverance." That means that those who genuinely believe it will add patience and perseverance to their hearing. They will listen to the Gospel and live in it with tenacity, and as a result, will bear fruit to the glory of God. They are not the sort that come and go, but stand firm and steadfast. They find their treasure in the Word and they do what they must to keep that treasure uppermost in their lives and in their hearts.
It is significant that Jesus ended the parable of the Sower with the words, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." This message isn't for everyone. God's people will recognize it, and live in it, but those who are not God's will find it hard to hear. They will not agree. They may see themselves in the parable, more or less, and be insulted. But Jesus presents the parable as though to say, be careful how you listen! The Sower is always Christ, even though He may use my hands to scatter the seed. The seed is always the same, the powerful and life-giving Word of God. It is the power of the seed to create faith in those that hear it. The only differences are in the listener.
Some don't pay any attention, their hearts are too hard. Some love what they hear, but they never allow it to take root in them, and so their faith comes and goes. Some allow life to distract them, and the troubles, or the joys, strangle their faith, and choke out all the fruits that they might present to the Lord. In the end, they end up unbelievers, too. The difference is in the listener. So what are you going to do with this Word? I hope and pray that you plant it deep in the rich soil of a heart humble before God. Live as though you have a written guarantee that you will go to heaven, because you do! Here it is!
He who has ears to hear, let him hear the parable of the Sower!
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
Sunday, February 04, 2024
The Parable of the Sower