Saturday, July 12, 2008

9th Sunday after Pentecost

St. Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God”(Romans 10:17). St. Paul said that. Those words are the spotlight on the parable of Jesus in today’s gospel. We heard the reading of the parable of the sower. There is much to glean from this text. First, Jesus mentions that the sower goes out to sow. What does this tell us about the one who sows the seed? The one who sows is called a sower, meaning that this is not just a one time occurrence.

This is what the man does; He sows. He knows what he is doing, and when he sows seed it tends to go all over. We hear in the parable that some of the seed fell by the wayside, some fell on rocky places, some fell among thorns, and some fell on good, dark, rich soil. Notice that it’s the same seed, the same sower sowing, but different ground. So, what do the different types of ground signify? The hearts of the hearers.

The seed that falls by the wayside is quickly devoured by the birds. The seed that falls on rocky ground springs up quickly but is scorched by the sun. The seed that falls among thorns is choked out by the thorns, as they compete for the soil’s nourishment. What is important for you to know is what these different variables are and why they arise.

Why do the birds devour the seed on the wayside? Why does the sun scorch the quick-growing seed on rocky ground? Why do the thorns choke the seeds? Can’t they live side by side? Even the disciples needed this parable explained. Jesus explains that the birds who snatch away the seed happen to be the devil. But notice that Satan snatches away the seed sown because the people who hear the word of God are not understanding it. In other words, they are not cognitively listening to God’s word.

This is for all of us. You can come to church every Sunday, but if you are not actively trying to understand the scriptures, if you are not pondering the Holy Scriptures, then it is violently snatched away by Satan. If during the readings and the sermon you are daydreaming or thinking about all those things you are going to do for the coming week, Satan is snatching God’s word, His seed, right out of your heart.

We need to seriously consider and ponder God’s word, listening to the Majesty from on high speak words of life to us. But there’s more! He who receives seed on rocky ground is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, but there is no root and when the world creeps into your life, then you quickly fall away. The seed is scorched.

This is what happens in much of our culture today. When churches try to bait and hook people through emotionally driven services, people respond quickly and find joy in what they have found. But once the emotional high is gone, then there is nothing left.

Because these same kinds of church are usually low on substance, ie., they don’t teach doctrine or the scriptures, then people fall away quickly due to the pressures of the world, family, work, etc. The churches that often try to get people in through emotional services tend to see a high rate of turnover.

The seed among thorns, we are told, grows for a while, but when the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, then the seed dies. We see this today, particularly in young families. They go to church if there are no schedule conflicts, but when a schedule conflict exists, then the world’s agenda takes precedence. The world’s ways get in the way of the gospel. This world and church are difficult things to balance today, no doubt.

The world presses in like thorns, and it forces people to make decisions. Which shall I do? Shall I tend to the things of this world or shall I tend to God’s word? If we looked at things a little differently, it might help us in some of our struggles. If I went one day without eating food, I would be hungry. If I went very many days without food, I would start to lose weight. You would see a physical change in me after some time. We must look at God’s seed in much the same way.

If we are going to church to hear God’s word and gather for the Lord’s Supper, we are feeding ourselves spiritually. If we “fast” from God’s spiritual food, it begins to have an effect on our souls. We would do well to take heed to Christ’s warnings in this parable, but there is more. Seed is sown on good soil and Jesus says that he who hears the word and understands it will bear and produce fruit.

Did you notice an interesting point Jesus makes? Those who hear the word and understand it will produce fruit. Do you remember what Jesus said about the seed sown by the wayside that the birds violently devoured? By the wayside, they did not understand the word. In order to make this point clear, we have to understand what the Greek says.

The Greek word that St. Matthew uses for “understanding” means to comprehend and to put together ideas for better comprehension. In other words, this is an active endeavor, having received this seed to, then, take it to heart. Those who don’t try to comprehend and put together in their hearts and minds the scriptures, will not gain much but will lose what is sown.

But, those who do comprehend and put together God’s word in their hearts and really wrestle with the word will bear fruit, but did you hear what Jesus said about the fruit? Those who do actively work to understand God’s word will produce fruit in different measure: some will produce a hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. In other words, God the Holy Spirit works different things in different people at different paces.

Not everyone is a St. Paul. What it does mean is that Jesus works His salvation and sows that seed according to His good pleasure. The church is full of saints and you are all at different points on the path of Christ, but what is great is that you are on His path.

What I, your undershepherd, am concerned about is that you take to heart God’s word. May your hearts be the good soil. God plants His seed in your heart through the hearing of scripture and through the preaching of God’s word.

The gospel and the blessing in all of this is that Jesus knows each of you and understands you as His beloved creation. He gives to you as He sees fit and when Jesus gives, it is good. Through His Holy word, God leads us to muse on the mysteries: We cannot help but ponder the mystery of the cross;

We cannot help but ponder the resurrection from the dead; We cannot help but ruminate on the incarnation of God in the womb of a virgin and His birth; We are awed by the whole notion that God walked on this earth with footsteps—feet of a man who also breathed like we do and felt pain as we do.

We are further awed by God who promises to come to us under bread and wine, thereby giving us His body and blood to eat and drink. And to think that we become one with Christ through water and the word in Holy Baptism. Jesus means for you to ponder these things and take them to heart, because these things mean eternal life for you.

You are blessed, because Jesus knows what it is like to be tempted by the world. He knows what you are up against. The peace of Christ is yours freely. The seed that is sown in your heart is likewise free. It comes as a gift from the cross. Jesus, knowing what this world is like gave the apostles this seed to sow so that you may be continually strengthened and protected. The love of Jesus is here for you, now and always. Amen.