Sunday, January 31, 2016
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.
The rain and the snow fall upon the Catskill Mountains, the Appalachian Trail, the well-tilled field of an organic farm, and the New England Expressway alike. There is no distinction. And, three-quarters of these will most certainly spring forth with life, if not fruit, but one-quarter most certainly will not. Yet, without the rain and the snow, there would be no growth anywhere. Likewise, without the seed, there would be no life. The earth might as well be formless and void, barren, empty, and dead. But, so was the soil of your heart until the Seed of God’s Word and the Rain of His Holy Spirit fell upon you. These came from outside of you and fell upon you as the LORD willed, just as “the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout.” Therefore, if you have faith, give glory to God. This is His will and work within you and for you, His sustenance and nurture that sustain you. But, will you be fruitful? Will you bear His fruit? Yes, you will, for that is what God’s Word does through you, unless you willfully resist His work and Spirit, reject Him, and choose to go your own way.
A great crowd had gathered to see and to hear Jesus. The crowd consisted of the four types of soil of which Jesus spoke in His parable: The hard path heart, the rocky soil heart, the thorn-infested soil heart, and the good soil heart. The Rain and the Snow of His Word and Spirit fell upon them each alike as seed that is broadcast here and there by an indiscriminate sower. But, what kind of foolish Sower is this who so scatters His Seed without distinction upon both good and poor soils? Why would He not cast his Seed upon only the most fertile and receptive soil that He might reap an abundant harvest? The Sower does not discriminate because He knows that fruitfulness lies in the Seed that is sown and not in the soil, and that the Seed that He sows contains within it the power to turn even hard, rocky, and thorny hearts into good and fruitful soil.
As the master of the vineyard went out in last Sunday’s Gospel to hire workers to work in his vineyard, so today a Sower goes out to sow His Seed. This is how the Gospel begins: with Jesus acting, by Him coming to us because we could never come to Him. Even the good soil does not choose to accept the Seed. Indeed, soil cannot make any movement towards the Seed whatsoever. Soil is entirely receptive. You are the soil. Jesus is the Sower. And, the powerful, performative, and creative Word of God is the Seed. But, the hardened path, just as the hardened heart, cannot receive the Seed of the Word. Its ears are closed to it, and the Word is snatched away by the devil as good seed by the birds of the air. The only hope for the hardened heart is the patient, long-suffering, merciful, and continual sowing of the Sower. He will not give up on you, but time is running out. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Some of the Sower’s Seed also falls among rocky and weed and thorn infested hearts. Under each of these conditions, the Holy Spirit creates real and true faith, however, because of the rocks, remnants from the broken up hardness of the heart, and weeds and thorns, the fleshly, worldly, and materialistic cares and anxieties of the heart, faith is not able to grow to fruitfulness. Sadly, many who are brought to faith by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God fall into these categories – fifty percent in Jesus’ parable. The rocky remnants of the hardness of heart keep faith from becoming deeply rooted, and so faith lacks the fortitude to withstand trial, tribulation, and temptation just as a seedling lacking depth of root lacks moisture and nutrients and is uprooted by wind or flood or withers in scorching heat. Likewise, faith that is forced to coexist and compete with fleshly, worldly, and materialistic cares and anxieties may grow well enough, but it is prohibited from bearing much or good fruit. Moreover, the weeds and the thorns are not interested in coexistence, but in the elimination of faith in the heart. Just as God is jealous and will share your heart and faith with no one and no thing, so Satan is also jealous and will not share you with God.
But then, some of the Sower’s Word-Seed will undoubtedly fall upon good soil. Why only some, you ask? Because God’s ways are not your ways, and God’s foolishness is wiser than man’s wisdom. Further, God would have you fear Him and love Him and trust in Him freely, without coercion. Thus, He created you with the freedom to reject Him, and not as an automaton. However, it must be noted that the good soil is known only by the fact that it produces good fruit. The Sower does not distinguish the good from the bad in His sowing, but He preaches His Word to all and lets the Seed of His Word and His Holy Spirit fall where they may. The fruit is born from the Seed, not from the soil. The soil can only hinder the growth of the Seed and the fruitfulness of faith by its hardness of heart or fleshly and worldly idolatries. Thus, Jesus teaches that you will know His children by their fruits. And, St. James teaches that faith without works is dead and no faith at all. Moreover, in St. Matthew’s telling, the Seed sown in good soil produces fruit yielding thirty-fold, sixty-fold, and, in some cases, a hundred-fold. The amount of fruit produced is not the point, but faith alone is.
And, the point is also this: The Seed of the Word ALWAYS produces results. If it is received in faith – faith given and created by the Holy Spirit through the Word – faith will begin to grow towards the potential to produce fruit. But, there is competition. Worry and anxiety and desires for worldly wealth, material, and pleasures compete in a battle for the soul. These must be resisted, a feat that can only happen with the assistance of faith, and faith must increase and prevail over these distractions. Likewise, the rock and stone remnants of the once hardened heart must continually be uprooted that faith may flourish and grow. But, when one gives themselves over to idolatries and fear, resentment, anger, and hatred, the same Word-Seed that created faith and caused it to grow will harden the heart to stone once again. Yes, it is true! For the hardened heart only became broken and receptive by the Word, but when the Word is rejected, it returns to its hardened state once again. This is what happened to Pharaoh when Moses preached the Word of the LORD to him and he rejected it. Similarly, Isaiah was sent to “make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes.” Thus, Jesus teaches in parables so that “seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.”
All the soils, all the hearts, all the ears hear, for they are passive in their hearing, they are receivers of the Word-Seed of the Sower. They all hear, and yet, many do not hear. Is this a paradox? No, it is not. For, there are many reasons that hearers do not hear – just ask any parent or teacher of children, or any pastor of a congregation. Distraction, laziness, boredom, apathy – these are all typical obstacles to a hearer’s hearing, and Satan will encourage you in all of these. Therefore, what is a hearer to do?
Jesus concludes His explanation of the Parable of the Sower to His disciples saying, “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.” “We cannot take refuge in the fact that we hear God’s Word; so does everyone. Hearing the Word, while necessary for salvation, does not guarantee salvation. We do not trust hearing the Word, but we trust the One of whom the Word speaks: We trust Jesus. Jesus is the sower who sows on all manner of soil, who would rather His Word be trampled and snatched and scorched and choked than that we poor sinners would be without it. His Word is like Him: Jesus is the Word that was sown on the Stone Pavement as He stood trial before Pilate and was taken away by the devil. Jesus is the Word that was sown on that rocky hill called Golgotha where He sprang up on the cross and withered away. Jesus is the Word that was sown among the thorns of Chief Priests and Scribes and Pharisees and Sadducees, who competed with Jesus out of love for the world. And it was by sowing Himself on our wretched soil, by dying and rising, that He made a little plot of good soil: people who are saved for His sake.”
What is a hearer to do? Remain hearing. And, how do you do that? Hold fast to the Word in fear, love, and trust – in faith – and receive His help through His means of grace: The Word of the Gospel which proclaims your sins forgiven in His holy shed blood through Holy Baptism and Holy Absolution, in His body broken for you and in His blood shed for you that you may be strengthened in faith and live, and in His Word of Law and Gospel which equips you for every fruitful work the LORD has prepared for you to do before the foundations of the world. In this way His Word will prevail in your hard and rocky, weed and thorn-infested hearts and you will bear fruit. How much? That is the Spirit’s concern. Do not judge yourself or others and you will not be judged. We are all on the receiving end of His Grace.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.