Sexagesima Sunday Sermon 2005
St. Luke 8:4-15
ďThe Seed and the SoilĒ
when a great multitude had gathered, and they had come to Him from every
city, He spoke by a parable: "A sower went out to sow his seed. And
as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trampled down, and the
birds of the air devoured it. Some fell on rock; and as soon as it
sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture. And some fell
among thorns, and the thorns sprang up with it and choked it. But others
fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold."
When He had said these things He cried, "He who has ears to hear,
let him hear!" Then His disciples asked Him, saying, "What
does this parable mean?" And He said, "To you it has been
given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is
given in parables, that 'Seeing they may not see, and hearing they may
not understand.' Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.
Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and
takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be
saved. But the ones on the rock 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. Now the ones that fell among thorns 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. But the
ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word
with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience."
Churches that take Godís word
seriously will not throw out the historic liturgy of the Church and
replace it with praise bands that play religious pop music borrowed from
the entertainment industry. They
will not replace biblical law and gospel preaching with a message about
the power of positive thinking. Churches
that take Godís word seriously will not be lured by the siren song of
promised success promoted by todayís Church Growth entrepreneurs.
So-called Church Growth experts will teach you how to package
your message just so. They
teach you how to test the soil, that is, to learn from your community
what it is people are looking for in a church so the church can be
sensitive to their felt needs. They seek to apply the tried and true methods of successful
businesses to the Church, as they show you how to relate to people in
such a way as to draw them into your church and keep them there.
There are, of course, things
that any sensible congregation will do to invite people in.
Being friendly to visitors and inviting them back would be nice.
Advertising in the newspaper and Yellow Pages might be a good
idea. Sponsoring a radio
broadcast through which the gospel is proclaimed over the airwaves is
also a good idea. But
according to many Church Growth ďexpertsĒ there are more radical
things churches should do if they want to grow.
They point to the fact that mainline churches have been losing
members for decades and they think they know why.
They know what people are looking for.
Or so they claim. It
is not a formal liturgy that features confession and absolution.
It is not binding doctrine.
It is not the sacraments. None
of these things is relevant to potential church members.
Instead, people care about their relationships, money, job, sex,
marriage, their future, and how they can overcome their many personal
problems. The church must
address these felt needs and not focus in on irrelevant religious
matters that just donít resonate with todayís religious seeker.
Well, itís perfectly true that
Godís word does address such things as relationships, money, job, sex,
marriage, and so forth. And
so we must preach about these things.
But you can have good relationships, a good job and income, a
healthy attitude toward sex and marriage, and still be without God and
without hope in this world. The
reason you need to hear Godís word is because you need Christ.
But you donít know that you need Christ until God Himself
convinces you of it. And
you donít by nature want to be convinced.
You think youíre right and Godís wrong.
This means that the central truth of Godís word is completely
irrelevant in the mind of the religious seeker.
This fact is apparently lost on the contemporary Church Growth
Movement that looks to unbelievers for advice on how to turn them into
The heart of the Christian
gospel is Christ, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world for
the sins of the world. Sacraments
are considered irrelevant to people who donít know Christ for the
simple reason that Christ is irrelevant.
After all, He instituted the sacraments in order to bind Himself
to His Church throughout the ages until the end of time.
But if you donít need Christ you certainly donít need Holy
Baptism. Why be baptized
into union with Christís death and resurrection if His death and
resurrection are irrelevant to your life? Why eat and drink His body and blood for the forgiveness of
your sins if you donít need His body and blood or the forgiveness of
your sins? No wonder the
vast religious market out there isnít looking for a church with
sacraments! Why should they be looking for sacraments when theyíre not
looking for Christ?
The religious seeker isnít
looking for binding doctrine that doesnít relate to his felt needs.
Well, God doesnít tailor His teaching to the sinful desires of
sinful people. He teaches
us what He knows we need to know, not what we think we need to know.
And His teaching is binding.
It doesnít change from day to day because the truth doesnít
change. What God taught
last year Heíll teach next year and as little as God can change so
little can His word change. It
is people who must change Ė not God or His teaching.
Godís word changes people.
They donít change themselves.
Itís not as if the soil can choose to grow a crop when no seed
has been planted. The word
of God is like seed. Without
receiving the seed the soil grows nothing.
We donít convert ourselves to Christ.
He preaches His word to us and His word brings us the new life of
faith. St. James writes,
ďOf His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we
might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.Ē
(James 1:18) The
word of God is His power to change us into Christians and to keep us
steadfast in the Christian faith.
It sometimes appears as if the
word of God has no power. But
appearances can be deceiving. In
His parable about the sower and the seed, Jesus gives us three reasons
why the word of God does not take root in peopleís hearts.
He does so by comparing the word of God to seed falling on
different kinds of soil.
The first kind of soil on which
the seed falls is the path where people walk.
The seed is trampled down and the birds come and eat it before it
can take root. This refers
to those who hear the word of God and the devil takes the word away from
them before they can believe. He
simply falsifies what God says. Every
assertion of God is met with a contradiction.
If God says the world was created in six days the devil will say
it evolved over billions of years.
If God says that Jesus is His only begotten Son who died for all
and took away the sin of the world, the devil will say that Jesus was
only a man or that He didnít really take away all sin.
Whatever God says the devil says the opposite.
The first group doesnít receive the word at all.
It goes in one ear and out the other.
The devil blinds them to the truth of what God says and so they
dismiss it outright and simply donít believe.
There was nothing lacking in the word.
It simply wasnít given the time of day.
The second kind of soil on which
the seed falls is the rocky soil that has no depth.
These are those who believe for a little while, but because their
faith has no depth they fall away as soon as they are tested.
They are full of joy in learning of their God and Savior, the
forgiveness of sins, and eternal life.
They receive the word with joy.
And they want that joy to continue.
But life isnít always full of joy.
The Christian must often suffer pain and losses and this is
Godís holy will. But they
refuse to accept this. They
experience a loss and then think that God is at fault.
Their faith is shallow. It
is based on how they feel and not on what God actually promises.
When Jesus speaks of the joys of the kingdom of God they think
only of those joys and they ignore Jesus when He says that it is through
much suffering that we enter into the kingdom of God.
They confuse emotional sensations with Godís truth.
They are bored with doctrine because it doesnít make them feel
good about their spirituality. They
become impatient with instruction in the faith because they think that
their religious feelings are more important than knowledge of the truth.
So when they are tested they fall away from the truth.
It never took deep root within them.
The third kind of soil on which the seed falls is where the thorns grow. These are those who hear the word but do not prize it. They do not regard it as the one thing needful. They care more about their personal problems, their money, the pleasures they have or want, and their affection for everything else but Godís word chokes their faith to death. Their so called ďfelt needsĒ are not the needs identified in Godís word. But they think they know better than God knows. The gospel of the forgiveness of sins for Christís sake becomes so much excess baggage to be discarded in favor of something that looks more impressive to them.
Then there is the seed that
falls on the good soil. This
soil is not hard like the path where the seed just sets there to be
spotted by a bird and eaten. This
soil is not a thin layer over a rock that cannot be plowed deep.
This soil is not hidden under weeds that will choke any new
growth. No, this soil is
cut deep. It is plowed and
turned over. It has
suffered. And from this suffering it has been opened up so that the
seed may fall in and go down deep to do its wonderful work of growing
into everlasting life.
This soil cannot plow itself. But God can. And when He does, He isnít being cruel or unkind. He most certainly isnít being thoughtless. He knows how His word will work in our hearts. He knows what there is within us. He knows what there is surrounding us. He knows what will falsify His word. He knows what will appear more attractive than His promises. He knows what will distract us from the truth that we so sorely need. So he prepares us well. His hard steel plow digs deep so that the seed of His gospel can transform our lives.
We want so much to play an
active role in our salvation! This
is why the self-centered praise services with their songs that celebrate
how pious we are attract so many people.
Who wants to moan and groan about being such poor miserable
sinners? Who wants to come
to church week after week only to hear the same condemnatory law and to
go right back to where we started, clinging to the crucifixion of Jesus
for the forgiveness of our sins? Canít
we move beyond this basic Christianity to something a bit more
But when you are hurting you
know where you must go. If
my life were just a long list of successes and my spirituality a growing
and flowering bouquet of righteousness, then I might perhaps be able to
progress a bit beyond where I began.
But I keep on sinning. I
keep on offending my God. I
keep on loving the things of this world, putting myself and my wants
above the needs of my neighbor. And
I need a righteousness that is greater, purer, and lovelier than
anything of which I am capable. So
I must go to where Godís word is proclaimed.
I must go to where Christís sacraments are administered.
Not because I am a righteous man looking for something righteous
to do, but because no matter how hard I try I remain a sinner every
single day of my life. I
need God to show my faith what will penetrate my deepest pain and bring
me true spiritual rest. I
He is the One who makes my heart receptive. He, Who bore the pain of all my sins, understands whatever pain I must face and feel. He brings to me His own righteousness. He forgives me my sins. He bore them. He has authority to forgive them. He gives me the Holy Spirit Who chooses to live within me and bear fruit in my life. He turns my doubts into faith. He keeps my pains from becoming bitterness by joining me through my baptism to Christís death and resurrection. United with Christís death my sins are washed away, just as surely as He bore them on the cross. United with Christís resurrection, I have eternal life in heaven, just as surely as Christ has ascended to the right hand of the Father. No pain of this life can falsify Godís promises. No joy of this life can compare with the joy of my sins being fully forgiven for Christís sake. Nothing this life can promise me can tear my faith away from the word of God that He has planted inside of me. And if He must cut through the soil of my pride and self-centeredness, then let Him cut away. With the power of Christís grace resting on me, why should I complain? His strength meets perfection in my weakness.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus