Sunday, March 9, 2014
Matthew 4:1-11; 1 Corinthians 6:1-10; Genesis 3:1-21
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
On this first Sunday in Lent, let us together repent of a particular error of Scriptural interpretation that we have all made, that we have all believed, that we have all trusted in, and that we have all taught to others at one time or another: Our Lord Jesus did NOT face the devil’s temptations in the wilderness in order to teach us how to resist the devil by quoting Bible verses at him. If that were the purpose of today’s Gospel then we would be the saddest lot and the most to be pitied of men, for we would remain in our sins and the devil would be victorious. But that is NOT why our Lord Jesus faced the devil’s temptations in the wilderness. Our Lord Jesus faced the devil’s temptations in the wilderness for us, in our place. He stood in for you, and for me, for all men, as the Second Adam, to undo the sinful failings of the First Adam. It was the Garden of Eden all over again, only, this time, it wasn’t a garden full of foliage and fruit, – paradise – but it was a barren wilderness and our Lord was hungry and thirsty from having fasted forty days since the Holy Spirit lead Him, no, threw Him to the wolf, to redeem all you sons and daughters of Adam from death and separation from God, the fruit and wage of your sinful rebellion and unbelief.
To take the emphasis off of Christ is to make this Gospel a mere moralism and Law, a Law that you cannot keep and that cannot save you. Jesus alone is your Savior, not the Law, not your obedience, not your works, not your good intentions, pious thoughts or actions. Christ was baptized for this confrontation. Christ was baptized for you. The Son of David faces your Goliath for you and He overcomes by the Word of the LORD. And yet, even for Him, the Word of the LORD was not an offensive weapon, but it a defense in which He trusted. You see, I know how you like to think of the Word of God as a weapon. You think that’s what St. Paul teaches in Ephesians six where he says to take the “sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.” No, St. Paul says to take the sword, but he mentions nothing about wielding it. Further, the sword of the spirit is named last in a list of purely defensive armor: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the readiness of the gospel as shoes, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.
Christ does not wield a weapon any more than you, but He trusts, perfectly, in the Word of God. He did this for you, in your place, making satisfaction for all your failing to trust in the Word of God, trying to fight the devil by your own devices, and failing again and again and again. No, this Gospel is no lesson in how to fight the devil. This Gospel is REAL Gospel, the Gospel that Jesus is your Champion, your Victor, and has resisted the temptation of the devil for you, in your place, trusting in the Word of God alone, and walking away in sinlessness and holiness. This was necessary, and it is pure Gospel, for now Jesus could take His sinless flesh and blood body and soul to the cross and die there for your sins and it would actually count, it would actually mean something, because it would really be finished, just as He said, there was not, there is not, and there will never be anything that you need to do to be holy and justified before God. You believe in God? Believe also in Jesus, that He has done it all for you, and you will be, you are, saved.
Let us take a moment and consider the specific temptations our Lord Jesus suffered. The devil’s first temptation was not a test to see if Jesus doubted His Sonship to the Father, as some might think, but this was a direct test of where Jesus would place His trust; would He trust in God and in His Word or would He trust in His own understanding or in His ability to wield the Word of God as a weapon? Jesus was extremely hungry after fasting forty days. The devil’s temptation to turn stones into bread was a temptation to place His own needs above obedience to His Father. Jesus answered the devil by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3 saying, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.” You see, our Lord did not fight the devil, brandishing the Word of God like a sword, but He trusted in God’s Word and found strength in it to persevere through His hunger and temptation. The Word of God was His food and His sustenance.
The devil’s second temptation was, once again, a test of Jesus’ faith and trust. This time, our Lord’s faith and trust in the goodness of God was put to the test. The devil tempted Jesus, telling Him to throw Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, even quoting the Scriptures saying that angels would catch Him in His fall. Here we see what a slippery and cunning deceiver the devil is. He uses the Word of God, but He twists it, and he takes it out of context, and he intentionally leaves out related and explanatory passages. In this case, while quoting from Psalm 91, “He will command His angels concerning you,” the devil intentionally left out these words, “to guard you in all your ways.” “All your ways” means the ways of God, His will and commandments. To put God to the test in this way would be to intentionally deviate from the ways and the will of God and His commandments. Therefore, once again, Jesus placed His faith and trust in the full counsel of God’s Word and replied to the devil quoting Deuteronomy 6:16, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”
The devil’s third and final temptation was, yet once again, a test of Jesus’ faith and trust. However, this time he got right to the crux of the matter, Jesus’ faith and trust in God Himself. The devil offered to Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their glory if He would fall down and worship him. This was a temptation set against the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me.” If Jesus were to succumb to this temptation, He would have submitted to power and glory as a god, and the devil himself as a god, above and before His God and Father. The temptation to sin against the First Commandment was also behind the first two of the devil’s temptations, for the transgression of any Commandment is always, first and foremost, a transgression against the First. Jesus answered the devil one last time, quoting Deuteronomy 6:13, “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.” Then Jesus commanded the devil, “Be gone, Satan!” And the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to Him, just as the Scriptures had said, just as Jesus had believed – for you.
All this Jesus did for you. He was baptized for you. He suffered temptation for you. He was obedient for you. He trusted in God’s Word and submitted to His will for you. Then, He took His faithfulness and His obedience to the cross for you, where He suffered all, even death and forsakenness by His Father, for you – for your sin, for your disobedience, for your faithlessness and unbelief, for your rebellion against your God and Creator, for you. All this Jesus did for you, because He loves His Father, His God, and because He loves you.
Jesus didn’t do all this to show you how to go and do likewise. The Gospel is no “What Would Jesus Do?” manual of moralism! Jesus came, the Seed of the woman promised in Genesis 3:15, to crush the serpent’s head for you, to restore you to a right relationship with God the Father, and to Shepherd you out of death back into Paradise with Him, His Father, and the Holy Spirit forevermore. Our First Parents are a tragic example of what happens when we try fight for ourselves by using God’s Word as an offensive weapon that we wield against the devil. How quickly they, our perfect and flawless parents were deceived and fell. And you think that you can stand on your own against the devil, even with the Word of God? Don’t be a fool! Jesus did not teach you to fight. Jesus taught you to trust. More than that, He trusted for you and He died for you that you may trust in Him and live.
God knows that you have no way to fight against the devil, therefore He promises to protect you and to fight for you. All you need to do is trust in Him. Not long, perhaps immediately after our First Parents sinned, God uttered His first Gospel promise that woman’s Seed would crush the serpent’s head. Then, as a foreshadowing of the Sacrifice God would make to restore you to Him, He shed the innocent blood of animals in order to cover the nakedness of the Man and Woman He had made. All of the sacrifices on Jewish altars, all the sacrifices in the tabernacle and the temple, all the blood of bulls and goats shed over millennia pointed to the Sacrifice that God would make to cover your sins, to take them away, and make you right with your Creator once again. What Abraham confessed on Mt. Moriah as he prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac, “The LORD will provide for Himself the Lamb for a sacrifice, my son,” God did indeed provide in His Son Jesus upon the cross. Of that day, Jesus said, “Abraham saw and rejoiced and was glad.” Indeed, we also remember that dark and terrible day, and we rejoice and are glad in it. For, on that day, “he, who once by a tree overcame, likewise by a tree was overcome.” All this He did for you. And, you are baptized into Him so that His blood has cleansed you from your sin and His Name now marks you as His own. In Holy Baptism, His death is your death, and His resurrection and life is your resurrection and life.
Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of God, is your Champion and your Victor. God does not call you to fight with the devil, or to wield His Word like a weapon, but He calls you to trust in Him, to trust in His Word, and to trust in His Word made flesh, Jesus. For, “With might of ours can naught be done, soon were our loss effected; but for us fights the valiant One, whom God Himself elected. Ask ye, who is this? Jesus Christ it is, of Sabbaoth Lord, and there’s none other God; He holds the field forever.” And now your Champion, your Victor, your Shepherd, your God has prepared this table before you in the presence of your enemies. Come, eat and drink and be satisfied by these fruits from His Tree of Life as a foretaste, until you dwell with Him once again and forever in Paradise.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21; 2 Peter 1:2-11; Joel 2:12-19
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Today, on this first day of Lent, we remember. We remember that we are dust, and that to dust we shall all return. We remember that this is so because we are sinners, conceived and born in sin, sin that was inherited from our fathers, and from our fathers’ fathers, all the way back to our First Father Adam, and sin that we also have committed in the past and sin that we continue to commit in the present. And, not only do we remember that we are sinners, but we confess this fact about ourselves each and every time we gather in this place to receive our Lord’s gifts. However, this day we remember and confess our sins in a different way. Today, we wear our sins. We show them for all the world to see. We hide nothing. We wear our sins boldly, and not in shame, but in confidence, because we know and we believe that all our sins, all our guilt, that which we have committed ourselves along with that we have inherited from our fathers, has been forgiven, washed away, and absolved in the precious, holy, innocent, and cleansing blood of Jesus on the cross.
This day you were marked with ashes, you were marked with dust, as you heard these words: “Remember, O man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” God made your First Father from the dust of the earth. Because of his sin, and because of your sin, you are destined to return to that earth and dust from whence you came, for you were conceived and born in sin, and sin continues to dwell in your flesh, and the wages of sin is always and only death. And yet, the ashes you wear are in the form of a cross, for your sins are absolved and forgiven in the holy and innocent shed blood of Jesus, the Second Adam, who, having no sin, submitted to the death you justly merit, in your place, that He might give you, in blessed exchange, His holy, righteous, and eternal life. For, in your Holy Baptism you were marked and sealed with a cross you cannot see, and even more, with the Word and Name of God that forgives your sin and seals you in God’s forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ. This is what you must remember this day, and every day of your life: That you are dust, but you are forgiven dust. That you are a sinner, but you are a forgiven sinner. We are all forgiven sinners, for only sinners can be forgiven, and Jesus Christ has laid down His sinless life unto death for you, and for me, and for all people so that, though we all return to dust, we all may be raised a new creation.
And so, today we remember. And what we remember is the goodness, the grace, and the mercy of our Lord and God. And so, we prodigal children also return to Him in repentance: “Return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents over disaster.” Today we remember that our Prodigal Father is good, gracious, merciful, and unchanging. Today we remember that, though we have often wandered far from Him and squandered His gracious gifts, He remains for us, steadfast and waiting to receive, to forgive anew, and to restore. Therefore, remember and return. Return, therefore, remembering, that there is something, there is someone, to return to. Make your confession, but offer Him nothing; only receive what He gives: forgiveness, life, and salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. And, instead of mourning, He calls you to a feast and a blessing: grain, wine, and oil, His gifts of love to you, for “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.”
And, what shall you render to the Lord for all His benefits? Eat the bread of His body by which He gives you the forgiveness of sin, life, and salvation. Take the cup of salvation, and call upon the Name of the Lord. The highest worship of the Lord is to receive His gifts. Therefore, lay up your treasures, not on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up your treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Your treasure is incorruptible, for it is not a thing, but a person. Likewise, your treasure cannot be taken from you, for your treasure is Jesus.
And, because you have a treasure that cannot be taken away, that cannot be corrupted or lose its value, you have the freedom to live freely. For, you have been made partakers of Christ’s divine nature and are no longer ruled by the passions of the flesh. Remember. Remember who you are in Christ and do not submit yourself once again to the passions and the desires of your flesh. Therefore, this Lententide, take the opportunity to focus more upon those things that proceed from your heavenly treasure and less upon those things that merely satisfy the desires of the flesh. The traditional Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are useful and beneficial, for they focus the soul upon the true gifts that the Lord provides and they strengthen faith, love, and charity.
But, most of all, throughout this Lententide and all the time, remember this: There is always a home to come home to, and a Father with open arms watching and waiting for His wayward sons and daughters to return to Him. Even now the fatted calf is slaughtered and the feast prepared. Come, for everything is ready. Come, bringing nothing but your repentant and contrite hearts. Come, and receive forgiveness, healing, life, and salvation anew. For, the Lord is gracious and merciful, abounding in steadfast love for His children. Return, because there is something, there is someone, to return to.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, March 2, 2014
Luke 18:31-43; 2 Corinthians 13:1-13; 1 Samuel 16:1-13
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
You know, we take so many things for granted in life. Take, for instance, seeing and hearing. These senses are so extremely fundamental to us, so much a part of our human experience, of what it even means to be human, that we assume them, we take them for granted, and we rarely stop to think what it would be like to not have them. Oh, sure, we can pretend, play a little parlor game and imagine being deaf or blind, but that’s a far cry from the reality that truly deaf and blind people have to endure every day of their lives.
As I’ve mentioned in other homilies and Bible classes, seeing and hearing are passive activities. What I mean is that our eyes and our ears receive information, they don’t transmit it, but they are passive. Light and sound come to our eyes and our ears, and then our brains interpret the data it receives from them. Thus, you don’t decide or choose to see and to hear, but sights and sounds come to you completely apart from your will or decision. You are passive in regard to your sensations. Sensations are not something that you do, but sensations are something that you experience, something that happens to you. Only if you desire to not see or to not hear do you have to do something; you have to close your eyes and cover your ears. Even then, it is extremely difficult and it takes much effort to stop seeing and to stop hearing completely.
So, here we are just days away from the beginning of Lent, a season of penitential reflection upon our sins and upon our merciful Savior Jesus Christ who suffered, died, and rose again that we might not die but live through faith in Him. And, in our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus exhorts His disciples to “See.” Jesus said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day he will rise.” Jesus exhorts them to see. He commands them to see. However, they do not see. And, they do not see because they do not hear. Now, God made their eyes to see, and God made their ears to hear, so what is the problem? Why did they not hear the continuous message of the prophets? Why did they not see the signs demonstrating that Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophet’s prophecies? Why is it that a blind man sitting by the roadside could see who Jesus was and what He came to do when His twelve seeing and hearing disciples struggled so to believe and to understand? Sin, of course. It was sinful rebellion and the refusal to believe the Word of the Prophets, the Word of God, and to submit to His will rather than force their own reason and interpretation upon God’s Word. They effectively stopped their ears and shut their eyes to the Word of the Prophets, therefore they could not hear, therefore they did not see.
Peter had this problem more than a few times. He had just confessed Jesus to be “the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” for which Jesus praised him saying that His Father in heaven had revealed this truth to him, but then, moments later, when Jesus taught His disciples, just as He did in today’s Gospel lesson, that the Son of Man must suffer and die and rise again, Peter could not hear and he did not see – Peter stopped his ears and shut his eyes and would not believe that the Messiah should come in this way or suffer and die. Peter’s rational wisdom simply would not accept, would not believe, the Word and the will of God. Likewise, Thomas had this problem too. Following Jesus’ death and resurrection, though the other disciples told him that they had heard and seen the resurrected Lord, Thomas said “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.” Indeed, seeing and hearing are passive activities. One must willfully and intentionally stop his ears and shut his eyes to keep from seeing and hearing the Truth.
And yet, too often, you do precisely that. The Word of God does not make sense to you. It seems to say something that is hard for you to believe and to accept. It seems to go against the popular wisdom of your culture, your brightest and best minds, and your world. Then you, like Peter and Thomas, say to yourself and to others, “Well, that can’t be true. Surely God’s Word must mean something else. It must be a metaphor or a symbol. It’s not meant to be taken literally. For, if that is true, then what so many believe to be true is surely wrong. Or, if that is true, then what I have been believing is wrong.” Whereas Jesus praised Peter for his bold confession of faith, what did our Lord say to Peter when he denied and refused to accept the path that the Son of Man must go? He said, “Get behind me Satan.” Now, Jesus was not calling Peter Satan. However, just as He told Peter that his bold confession of faith came, not from Peter’s flesh and blood, but from His Father in heaven, so Jesus also told Peter where his denial and unbelief was coming from – Satan, the father of lies himself. It was Satan, after all, who was the first to tempt man to disbelieve God’s Word saying, “Did God really say?” Indeed, this is Satan’s great and only power – lies and deception. Truly, there is no need to fear the devil, for he is already defeated by Christ. He has no power to harm you other than that power which you give to him by believing and trusting his lies and deceptions, his word instead of God’s Word.
Jesus exhorted His disciples to “See,” but they couldn’t see. They couldn’t see because they didn’t hear. Well, they heard, to be sure, but the didn’t hear rightly: Hearing, they did not hear, therefore seeing, they did not see. St. Luke tells us the “they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” This is to say that there was a little something supernatural going on; in some respect, the disciples were kept from understanding Jesus’ teaching. We should understand this in this way: God does not force Himself upon anyone. As in the Parable of the Sower you heard last Sunday, God’s Word, the seed, is always powerful and efficacious to bring about faith, life, and fruit. If the Word is not successful, that is not, and can never be, the fault of the seed of the Word. No, it is the fault of the soil, for when the soil is receptive, the seed of the Word will do it’s work, creating faith and growing to fruitfulness. However, the condition of the soil will always limit the growth and fruitfulness of the Word. Could God force the growth and fruitfulness? Well, He certainly has the power to do so, but that is not His way; God does not force Himself upon anyone. Therefore, when your heart is receptive to His Word – when your ears and eyes are open and not intentionally stopped and shut, or blinded by human reason and wisdom – then you will grow in faith and understanding and fruitfulness, for the seed of the Word is always powerful and efficacious.
In contrast to His hearing and seeing disciples who did not understand or grasp what Jesus said, it was a blind man begging on the roadside that heard and therefore saw Jesus for who He truly was and what He had come to do. What the blind man heard was the sound of a crowd going by. Then, rather than leaning on his own understanding, he inquired of others what this meant. When he heard the word that Jesus was passing by, he cried out to Jesus for mercy using the Messianic title “Son of David.” Though the blind disciples rebuked and tried to silence the man, he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” The Lord Jesus asked the man what He wanted Him to do for him. The man replied, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” And, because his ears were open to the Word of God, Jesus granted him also to see, for those who have ears to hear the Word of the Lord will also have eyes to see differently, to see in accordance with God’s Word unclouded by man’s reason and wisdom.
Similarly, in our Old Testament lesson today, neither Samuel nor David’s father Jesse expected the lowly shepherd boy to be the LORD’s chosen king. Nevertheless, the LORD had said, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, […] For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” Likewise with St. Paul’s beloved epistle on love – St. Paul lists all sorts of spiritual gifts and abilities and yet states that they are all worthless, meaningless, and nothing unless they proceed from love for God and love for the neighbor. What is seen with natural eyes is the work. What is seen with the eyes of faith is the love that produces the work as fruit, indeed, that makes the work to be a fruit and the branch fruitful.
Children of God, be slow to speak and quick to listen as the Lord teaches through St. James. For, faith is created and knowledge and wisdom are gained through the Word of God that you hear, not through that which you observe with your eyes. Indeed, by hearing rightly will you receive eyes to see the truth of things as they really are, as God sees them and directs them. This is what St. Paul means when He says, “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully.” This is why physical eyesight is not necessary to see the things and the ways of God, for, when the soul rightly hears and hearkens to His Word, then true sight will be given with which you may truly see.
Your God is a God who does wonders. He has made known His might among the peoples of old. His Word has gone forth from His mouth, returning not to Him void and empty, but having accomplished the purpose for which He was sent forth. He is unchanging from eternity, His Word the only thing true and certain. He has kept His promises, and He keeps them now for you. Come before Him now, as His dear children, purchased in the blood of His Son Jesus, the Word of His mouth made flesh, and receive from Him bread and wine, what your eyes see, believing them to be as you have heard Him say, Jesus’ body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins, eternal life, and salvation. He who by His Word has opened your ears to hear will give you also new eyes to see what lies beneath the veil until He comes, when every eye will see Him and every tongue will confess Him to be the Lord, and God the Father will be glorified.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Thursday, February 27, 2014
I am pleased to serve as a panelist on a new topical radio program on Pawling Public Radio entitled "Clerics Corner. Each week the panel of local clergy will discuss relevant contemporary issues and topics such as "Who is God and Why does it Matter?" and "What is Marriage and is it Relevant Today?" Thus far I have participated in two programs, but I will be taping several new ones in March. You may listen to the first two programs online by clicking the links below.
"Who is God? How can we know? Why does it matter?"
"Who is God? How can we know? Why does it matter?"
Sunday, February 23, 2014
Luke 8:4-15; 2 Corinthians 11:19 – 12:9; Isaiah 55:10-13
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
A great crowd had been following Jesus for several days. The crowd included Jesus’ disciples, Mary His mother, and countless others who had heard His teaching and had witnessed His miracles and were hoping both to hear and to see even more still. However, not all who initially heard Jesus would remain with Him to the end. Therefore, to prepare His disciples so that they would not lose heart when it would seem to them that their preaching failed to produce visible or quantifiable results, Jesus taught them to trust, not in their own methods, techniques, and crafted oratory, but in the powerful and creative Word of God alone. This teaching Jesus presented in the form of a parable, the Parable of the Sower and the Seed. For, the truth is that many who hear the Word of God will not mature to produce the fruit of faith and will fall into unbelief once again. But, why is that? Is the Word of God to blame? Has the Word of God somehow failed to create faith or to sustain faith to fruitfulness? Heavens no, of course not! No, the problem lies with the enemy of both God and man and with man’s own sinful, restless, and rebellious heart, soul, and mind.
Thus, Jesus teaches that the Word of God is like seed cast by a sower. Like a seed, the Word has power in itself to live, grow, mature, and bear fruit. However, for this to happen, there must be soil, for the Word of God lives, grows, matures, and bears fruit in the soil of human hearts. Thus, if a heart is hard and is closed to the Word of God, the Word will not penetrate. Then the enemy, the devil, will snatch the Word away from a man’s heart so that it cannot take root. The heart will remain hard and closed until, perchance, the Word comes again. Indeed, this is the condition in which all of our hearts once were, for this is the condition in which we were conceived and born, a congenital condition which we have inherited from our fathers, and from our father’s fathers, all the way back to our First Father Adam, the very fruit of his original sin. Therefore, if faith fails to mature and bear fruit, the fault lies not with the Word of God, but with hardened human hearts, souls, and minds. For, it is by God’s grace alone, though His Word alone, that any human heart is broken, tilled, softened, and prepared to receive the Seed of His Word.
But, even when it does, maturation and fruitfulness are not guaranteed. That is to say, once again, fruitlessness is not a fault of the Word, which is always powerful, creative, and fruitful in itself, but the fault lies with the condition of the soil of the human heart. Even when the heart is receptive to God’s Word, it may be rocky or weed-infested, or both! As in your own gardens, rocks in the soil prevent your plants’ roots from rooting deep in the soil, which prohibits them from receiving the nutrients they need to thrive and to be fruitful, and which also prohibits them from gaining a strong anchor by which to remain firmly planted when drought, flood, and winds come. Likewise, when weeds, thorns, and thistles grow up alongside your maturing plants, they threaten to crowd them out and strangle them, and they rob nutrients from your plants, and they compromise their rootedness and stability. Like your gardens, rocks and weeds and thorns sometimes compromise the soil of your heart. Jesus teaches that the rocks are the remaining hardness in your heart which must be continually broken by the preaching of God’s Word of Law that the stones of unrepentance and unbelief may be removed, that your struggling and maturing faith will have root to weather the storms of trial and tribulation that will surely come your way. Likewise, Jesus teaches that the weeds and thorns are the “cares and riches and pleasures of life” which compromise your faith and threaten to choke it out so that it cannot mature and bear fruit.
Gardening and farming is hard work. Even with good soil and just the right amount of sunshine, warmth, and rain, weeds, blight, and insects harm and hinder the healthy growth and maturation of crops and limit and prohibit their fruitfulness. In modern agriculture, a crop yield of 1:3 is considered the minimum necessary to sustain human life. This means that for every three seeds sown, one fruit must be produced for human consumption, one for animal consumption, and one for planting to provide the next crop. A multi-billion dollar industry is built around making crop yield as efficient and plenteous as possible. In contrast to modern agriculture, however, Jesus’ indiscriminate sowing of the seed of the Word of God in places where it is likely to be snatched away by the devil, prohibited from taking deep root, or strangled out by material cares and anxieties seems foolish, reckless, and grossly inefficient. In fact, in only one quarter of the soil in which the Seed is sown does faith mature and bear fruit. However, when and where it does, it yields, not 1:3, but a hundredfold. Truly, God’s ways are not man’s ways, and the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom.
Then, what would Jesus have His disciples, His apostles, His pastors learn from this parable? He would have them learn to lean not on their own understanding, but to trust in the Lord and in His Word, the powerful and creative seed that will create faith in the hearts of men where and when the Spirit of God chooses and is pleased. Their job is not to devise more efficient means of sowing the seed, but to broadcast and proclaim the Word of God to all people at all times and in all places. Our God is not concerned with crop yields and ratios, but His Word has gone forth from His mouth and it shall not return to Him empty, it shall accomplish the purpose for which it was sent. That is a fact, a truth, and a promise. Thus, men are, and will be, without excuse. No one will be able to say, “I did not know,” or “I never heard.” Those who have ears to hear will hear because those ears are given by God Himself, they are a fruit of God-created faith, the fruit of the seed of His Word. However, those ears that are given to hear must continue to hear and not become closed once again, for the good soil in Jesus’ parable are “those who, hearing the Word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.”
Often it seems as if the Word of God is falling upon deaf ears. Even amongst those who receive the Word with joy, many fall away disillusioned that they still face trials and tribulation in their lives, that there is inefficiency or infighting in the church, that not everyone seems to be as spiritual as themselves, or whatever other rocks, weeds, and thorns Satan sows in their heart right along with God’s Seed of the Word. Jesus taught His disciples to place their faith and trust not in what their eyes see but in what their ears hear, in the Word of the Lord. The questions to be asked are never “Is our church growing numerically and financially? Are we producing more works, services, and programs? Are we targeting the right audiences, those who will strengthen our congregation and make us more prosperous?” No, these are not the questions the Lord would have us ask. The only question that matters is this: “Is the Word of God being proclaimed in its truth and purity? Is the seed being broadcast and sown wherever it can be?” If it is, then that’s all that really matters. All your rationalizing, all your attempts at efficiency, all your judging the faith and commitment of others, all your worrying, fretting, and anxiety – these are the rocks, weeds, and thorns that are making you fruitless and that threaten to destroy your faith altogether. Repent, and cling to the Lord and His Word in humility and patience. He who has begun this good work in you will bring it to completion in His way, in His time.
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Hearing is a passive activity. If you desire to not hear, that takes effort. You must stop your ears or drown out the noise, otherwise you will hear, you cannot help but hear. Therefore, you do not need to do anything to hear. But, you do need to not do something, that is, you need to not refuse to hear, to not close your ears, your heart, and your mind to God’s Word. For, indeed, the Word is near you right now for the forgiveness of your sins, the strengthening of your faith, and for life and salvation for all who believe. Hear the Word proclaimed to you. Eat, drink, and wear the Word of God made flesh in bread and wine and water. He alone who has made you to be good soil is able to preserve you as good soil and make you fruitful, even a hundredfold. The seed is the Lord’s, the soil is the Lord’s, and the fruit is the Lord’s. You are His precious planting, the work of His hands and the Word of His mouth. Remain in Him, and He will remain in you, and you will be fruitful, and the Lord will be glorified.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.