Sexagesima 2016

January 31, 2016 A+D
St. Luke 8:4-15

In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

In the parable of the sower, the Lord isn’t talking about groups of people that worship false gods or who have never heard the Word of God.  He is talking about people who received the Word, some of whom got sidetracked and fell away from the faith. The parable is a warning.

It is not a difficult concept.  The sower scatters seed in the expectation that some of it 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 either in farming or in the Church. As surely as there are threats in this world that prevent every seed from reaching its potential, so also there are threats that prevent everyone who hears the Word of God from going to heaven. Some hear the Word of God and yet succumb to false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice.

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 and they did not go to heaven. They were stolen by the devil.

Despair is also a vice that destroys faith. It will not trust that God is good. It pushes Him away. It turns inward to self-pity and self-absorption. It is like seed in rocky soil without root. Psalm 44 in the Introit gives us the antidote to despair. It is not to buck up and try harder and put on a happy face. The Psalmist is hurting deeply. He does not believe this is because of his sins. Rather, he is suffering unjustly, maybe even randomly. That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have sins. He does. But his sorrow isn’t of his own making. He is being oppressed unjustly.

This then is a good Psalm for those who are not innocent but who are suffering from depression and bi-polar disorder or anxiety. It is good for those who are frustrated with the injustices in their lives or the world or their own bodies and minds. The Psalmist is hurting deeply, but He doesn’t despair. He doesn’t stop trusting God. Instead, he demands that God hear and answer him, that God keep His promises. He says: “Awake, why sleepest Thou, O Lord? Arise, case us not off forever. Wherefore hidest Thou Thy face and forgettest our affliction and oppression? For our soul is bowed down to the dust. Arise for our help and redeem us.”

He also confesses: “We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us, what work Thou didst in their days, in times of old. How Thou didst drive out the heathen with Thy hand and plantedest them, how Thou didst afflict the people and cast them out. But Thou hast saved us from our enemies, and has put them to shame that hated us. In God we boast all the day long and praise Thy name forever.”  

His suffering, being bowed down to the dust, hasn’t yet been relieved, but based upon the Word of God and the history of God’s gracious intervention, His forgiveness and rescue of unworthy people, the Psalmist has hope. He doesn’t say that God owes Him this because he, the Psalmist, is pure. He says that God owes this to Him because He has promised it. He clings to the Word, the promises. He waits for God to reveal Himself. The Psalmist is in rocky soil, he is amidst a test and temptation, but he has roots.

There are other things of great shame and vice that threaten us who hear the Word. These are the cares and riches and pleasures of life which choke out Christians.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. [1]

These are things that attack us: false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. We live, as the Church has always lived, in perilous times. We need strength and forgiveness and encouragement, so God has given us Holy Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Holy Absolution, the  mutual consolation of the brothers, prayer, Holy Marriage, and pastors. Do not neglect meeting together around the altar to hear God’s Word. For through the Word the Lord sustains us not simply as His citizens but as His children and His Bride. What Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Absolution, prayer, and so forth have in common is that they bring good news from God, rain in Isaiah’s image that softens and nourishes the earth, and the Seed in the parable of the Sower, that there might be a harvest of faith. What we cannot go and get, God sends to us. He guards and keeps us as His own by the Sacraments when He comes to earth for us, to feed and nourish, to strengthen and encourage us, to dig up the rocks, to cut down the thorns, and to drive off the birds, and to water.

We are in constant need of correction from the Word, in constant need of repentance and forgiveness. So also we are in constant need of the things God gives: of His mercy and comfort and grace.

That is why the Sower sows so recklessly and why He keeps sowing. The power does come not from the soil. It comes from His Word which does not return void. His Word is power and promise. It does what it says, creates what it calls to be and demands. 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, where the faithful give up making excuses and receive His Word, God creates a harvest a hundredfold. Faith is always a miracle, always a gift, and it always saves.

False belief, despair, and other great shame and vice are dangerous because they create doubt and distance from God. They make us the judge and undermine God’s promises. 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 nor does the Gospel free us to live like pagans who have no law. We aren’t called upon to damn others, but we are called upon to warn them. We aren’t called upon to pretend that we are holy in ourselves and without sin, but we are called upon to confess and repent and throw ourselves on God’s mercy. If we love our neighbor we have to warn and witness to them. We have to pray for and encourage them. And if we love Our Lord, it is because He has first loved us, given His life for us, paid for our sins, and freely accepts us back into His fold.

We pray then that God would remove the plank from our eye and that He would keep it out. That He would forgive our sins for Jesus’ sake and not let us fall away. Then we pray that He would give us the humility, patience, and courage that is needed for our times, that we would be His servants and witnesses. We pray that our hearts, according to His promise and by Divine intervention and mercy, would be good and noble.

In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Heb 10:23–31.

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