Sunday, February 23, 2014
Homily for Sexagesima
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.