Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Sexagesima (60 Days to Easter) + February 24, 2019
Text: Luke 8:4-15
In America, it’s fairly easy to “do” the Christian lifestyle. It goes long back in Western history, but especially in our land. Here, even the staunchest hubs of progressivism are dotted with numerous churches. We’re proud of our beautiful houses of worship, so much so that people look to get married in a church, even if it’s the last time they step foot in it afterward. If you do want a church to worship at, a Google search (“church Lebanon, OR”) or a look in the phone book will yield 47 different ones! It would take you just shy of a year if you went to a different one each Sunday!
There’s no shortage of media for the Christian lifestyle. You can go to Christian bookstores and fill up on Bibles, daily devotionals, topical books. You can find a coffee klatch and talk Christian things with them. You can find a book by a popular author and delve into a Christian self-help program. In the car, you can listen to no less than 7 Christian music/talk stations.
To accessorize your Christian life, you can go to Hobby Lobby or TJ Maxx, and find all kinds of wall crosses, decals, iron work, and other faith-based knickknacks. You can wear crosses on your neck, on your purse, even in studs on the butt pocket of your jeans.
These are all things you can do. Of those 47 churches, you could bring your spouse, invite your friends, and if you really feel it offers something, bring your whole family. But so far, these are all things man does toward God. But none of them promises to actually make a Christian.
4 And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable, 5 “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. 6 And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. 8 And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Despite all of the evidence that seems to say being a Christian is merely lifestyle choice, the Word of God teaches that it is actually something that happens to us, because it is God’s work. It’s very important to understand why the Lord tells the parable like this: The seed is the Word of God—preached, shared between people, taught, delivered in the Sacraments—He is the sower (or His servant). But what are you? You are the ground, the dirt. What does dirt do? There is no action dirt can do; it’s always acted upon—the dirt is moved, tilled, seeded, watered. By whom? The Sower of course.
That tells us that being a Christian has more to do with being the plant which grows from a seed than being the gardener who built the raised bed, laid neat lines, selected the seeds, planted, watered, and weeded. All those things are necessary, but understanding when and how God does His work has to be something we leave in the Lord’s hands.
But this is terribly frustrating. We bring our kids to church their whole lives, encourage them toward confirmation, we drag them out of bed in high school when they were up late on Saturday night, we pray for them to meet a nice Lutheran girl. And yet for all that doing, it’s ultimately not up to us to see if the Word which was planted in them will bear abundant fruit, or—God forbid—they lose their faith.
The other place this is frustrating is apologetics. How can we convince unbelievers that we follow the one true God, who created heaven and earth and gave up His Son as the only Savior of this sinful race? Throughout the centuries, Christians who were gifted and so inclined have gone to great extremes to evangelize the pagans. Today we’re gifted with information that supports the Bible’s claims—archeological evidence, hostile witnesses that confirm the historical facts, and manuscript evidence of the reliability of the Old and New Testament. So why won’t the unbeliever be convinced?
This week of Sexagesima, we learn that grace is passively received, like the rain coming down and watering the earth. Last week, we learned how undeserved this grace is, and this week, we hear how God makes His grace effective in a person’s life: It is received like water poured into the earth.
But if we are to be compared to plain old dirt, then we must be curious why that same Word has vastly different effects on the hearers.
11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. 14 And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15 As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.
Anyone who’s raised plants knows there’s more to it than just seeds, dirt, water, and sunlight. There are external, often harmful factors that inhibit the seed from becoming a mature plant. Here, the birds correspond to the devil, whose foremost desire is to blaspheme God and make people despise His Word in their hearts. But we can’t blame everything on the devil, because there are also those who receive the Word with joy for a time, but when the troubles of life come or when they are unpopular for being associated with Christ, they depart. Others become enamored with this life, so that earthly life glitters more than a God who they cannot see.
Yet, in spite of all that stands against the Word, there are those in whom it bears fruit. It accomplishes the purpose for which God sends it—to save and to keep us in His grace. “God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, and when He keeps us firm in His Word and faith until we die.” (SC, Lord’s Prayer, 3rd Petition) The one who has ears that hear—in spite of the devil, the world, and their own sinful heart—has those ears because God’s will is done.
But is the whole Christian life passive? Didn’t God created us with not only ears to receive His Word, but also with a heart and will that are meant to be conformed to it? Often Lutheran Christians are accused to focusing too much on being justified by grace through faith and neglecting what it means to live as a Christian. This parable shows that the ones whose faith proved unfruitful were actually the inactive ones, or rather the ones who “let life happen” to them.
The ones who spring up with joy experience a temporary high. But as we all know about great times, they can also be followed by great sorrow. Because they thought Christianity was a cakewalk or an easy one-and-done solution to life’s problems, they never delved deeper into their faith. They thought the purpose of worship was to get them juiced for the week, they neglected any Bible study once Pastor’s class was done, they neglected daily prayers and Scripture readings. So, when a time of trial came (as it always does), their faith proved to be a fad, a passing season in their life.
Those in whom the Word was choked, took the Word seriously enough. But as they go on their daily life, they neglected Christ’s call to renounce the world and divorce ourselves from it. When a person is saved by grace through faith in Christ, they cannot hold affection for the ways and the things in the world. The Apostle John writes to us, “15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:15-17) Faithless anxieties, riches, and pleasure are all dangerous to the Christian’s heart because our flesh is still weak. We must be ready to leave all of this whenever He takes it from us or takes us from it to His eternal dwellings.
Yet the Word does mature in the good soil—in the heart where the Word has its proper effect. But even in this heart, the emphasis never becomes what this one has done better than the others. This one continues to hear the Word and receive it gladly, thanking the Holy Spirit that He has called me by the Gospel and enlightened me with His gifts. This one by the power of the same Spirit holds that Word in his heart through thick and thin, riches or poverty, popularity or insult. They hold it with a heart that God has begun His good work in, and they gladly comply. They don’t do it perfectly, and their life may be filled with as much trouble as someone who has lost their faith, but in spite of that, they are convinced that God is at work in their life. They acknowledge that He has redeemed them, that He promises to be with them, and that He has called them to a life of free service.
“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” This part of the Small Catechism speaks volumes against our sinful nature which wants credit for getting where we are with God. But it also speaks amazing power and comfort when we realize that God undergirds our life with His Word and Sacraments to keep us in the faith no matter what happens to us. God is at work in every kind of soil, and His desire for us is to be strengthened in His Word, not stumble or be stolen by the devil. By His grace, may we persevere in this true faith throughout our days. Amen.