St. Luke 8:4-15
23 February 2014
The parable is not hard to understand. The farmer scatters seed in the expectation that some will take root, grow, and bear a harvest. That is what farmers do. Along the way, some stuff goes wrong. Some is snatched by birds. Some is parched and dies. Some is choked by weeds. This is no surprise to us. As surely as there are threats in this world that prevent every seed from reaching its potential, so also there are threats that would prevent every human from going to heaven. Some hear the Word of God and yet they succumb to false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice.
We sometimes forget that false belief is a real danger. We are tempted to think no one can know anything about God with real precision, that religious opinions are only opinions and completely subjective. We are fine with our faith as a private interpretation but our unwillingness to share our faith with others, to tell them that we think they are wrong, shows that we are, in fact, ashamed of our faith and ashamed of God’s Word. We prefer to worship God in secret rather than come off to our friends and co-workers as bigoted or stupid.
Repent. False belief is a problem. We are not free to ignore it in ourselves or in others.
Jesus isn’t talking about groups of people that worship false gods in the parable. He is talking about people who received the Word and then got sidetracked.
False belief usually has large chunks of truth in it, but if belief doesn’t submit to the Word, it is false. It builds upon man’s grasping for God rather than God’s self-revelation in His Word. In Christ’s own day, the Pharisees had large chunks of the truth. They believed there was only one God and that He had revealed Himself in the Scriptures. They believed the Law as given to Moses. And, yet, they rejected the very Messiah that Moses had foretold and waited for. They had false belief.
Likewise, there is a religiosity in our land that considers itself Christian and yet does not submit to the Word of God. It has its own morality – not based upon the ten commandments but based upon modern prejudices and sexual opinions. It is dangerous to saving faith. For it would imagine itself to be nicer than God, more tolerant of behaviors that used to be looked down upon, more welcoming to the Supper, less prone to judgment, than God. It is not based upon open evil and its sentiments are not completely false, but it is not based upon the Holy Scripture either. So even though it might have large chunks of the truth, it is a false and dangerous belief. It puts good, but abstract, ideas before the One Thing Needful.
It believes there is a God. It believes that He is nice. It believe that He wants us to be nice and that Jesus came to make us nice, or to be nice to us, and they believe that He will bring us to heaven, probably along with all nice people no matter what they believe. It is a corrupting, dangerous false belief. The chunks of Truth it has are threatened by the falsehood and usually overshadowed by it.
Here is the question for us: Do we love those who have false belief enough to tell them that they are in danger or are we ashamed of what we believe?
Make no mistake in this regard: we have a plank in our own eye. We are tempted also to false belief. We are not without sin. Before we dare to speak we must ask, “How might we be saved when we have also sinned against God’s Word?” By grace, by God’s intervening and correcting, by renewed listening to the Son in the Word. The Sower sows. His Word goes out. It is meant to speak. We are meant to listen. We are meant to repent and to be fed and saved. We cannot save ourselves. We are plants in a field and cannot go to water and sunshine. The water and sunshine must come to us and it comes to us by on-going application of His Word.
Jesus says to His disciples: “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’” (Luke 8:10, ESV)
That word “secrets” is the Greek cognate of our word “mystery.” It is sometimes applied to the Sacraments. St. Paul speaks of the ministers as stewards of the secrets. The parable warns us that there is danger. There are demons and the world and our fallen flesh. They would deceive and mislead us. In such treacherous waters, we need a guide, so God has given us the Bible, His Word. We dare not resort to popular or modern opinions as a substitute.
In such perilous times, we also need strength and forgiveness and encouragement, so God has given us Holy Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Holy Absolution, the Church, prayer, Holy Marriage, and pastors. These are the secrets, the mysteries, of His Kingdom that make and sustains us not simply as His citizens but as His children and His Bride. What we cannot go and get, God sends to us. He comes to earth in the Sacrament to feed and nourish, to strengthen and encourage us. We are in constant need of correction from the Word. We are in constant need of repentance and forgiveness. We are in constant need of the things God gives. So also we are in constant temptation to look elsewhere.
That is why the Sower sows so recklessly. The power comes not from the soil but from His Word. His Word is power and promise. It does what it says. We cannot continue, we cannot live, without it. When and where God causes it to take root, where the risen Blood of Jesus is poured into repentant mouths, God creates a harvest a hundredfold. Faith is always a miracle and it is always a gift.
False belief is dangerous because it creates doubt and distance from God. It makes man the judge and it undermines God’s promises. It creates a false sense of security apart from the Word. Christian love does not leave us free to walk by on the other side while our brothers and sisters say or confess things contrary to the faith. We aren’t called upon to damn them, but we are called upon to warn them. If we love them, we have to warn and witness to them. We have to pray for and encourage them.
We pray first that God would remove the plank from our eye. That He would forgive our sins for Jesus’ sake. Then we pray that He would give us the humility, patience, and courage that is needed for our times. That is what I pray for myself and that is what I pray for you. I pray that our hearts then would be counted as good and noble for the sake of Jesus Christ.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Ideas for this sermon were culled from an essay by the sainted bishop Bo Giertz entitled “Belief and False-Belief.” Bo Giertz. Then Fell the Lord’s Fire: New Life in Ministry, trans. Bror Erickson (Saginaw, Michigan: Magdeburg Press, 2012) 128.