February 20, 2022
St. Luke 8:4-15
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The proper way to read this parable is based on Jesus’ explanation: the seed is the Word of God. It is sowed by God Himself. There is no truly good soil and therefore the Sower tends what He plants with His Word. He brings the soil to its capacity by His gracious attention, restoring it to His image. The soil might reject this Word. It might choose its own way, but it cannot save itself or be transformed by its own effort or bear any good fruit. This parable is about The Kingdom of Grace. Christ reigns through faith in His people by His death and resurrection. He sows in what looks like unlikely places to men, at His own expense. He plants and tends the hearts of the unworthy and brings home an abundant harvest. With God, nothing is impossible.
The worst possible reading is to see the good soil as being good in itself, as though Jesus were telling us that the reason some people are Christians and others are not is because Christians had good and noble hearts in themselves, even without or before God’s Word. Maybe they weren’t fully good, but they had a spark and others did not. When God’s Word came along, that spark made them somehow more clever or more disciplined or just genetically predisposed to goodness. Therefore they were able to take advantage of the Word, whereas the others were predestined for damnation. They never had a chance. All God’s Word does is reveal who is actually good and who is bad. According to this reading, God only wants good people. He lets the devil have the rest.
That is false. It undermines the glory of Christ and His Work. It either pumps up the pride of fallen men so that they think they don’t need the Word of God and His grace, or it leads them to despair so that they think that God could not and does not love them. Apart from Christ, there are no good men. The Word has the power to accomplish what it pleases. He does not force Himself on men, but with God all things are possible, even the conversion of sinners to saints, and the washing away of sin’s stain from this world by His own blood.
This parable directs us to the end of faith. What really matters is not when we first received the Word or how long we held on to it, but whether or not we cross the finish line with it. It doesn’t matter how bad the soil was or how much fruit it produced. What matters is the seed because the seed is good and has life within it.
This is not a parable about what happens to those who never hear the Word. This is a warning for us who do hear. We need to know that the Word can be rejected after it has been received. Some hear the Word but reject it out of hand and never believe. But others hear it and believe for a while and then they fall away later. They do so either because they have no root and give up in times of temptation or because they get choked out by the cares of this life. Don’t let that happen to you.
Deathbed conversions are possible. We have the beautiful example of the repentant thief on the cross. But that isn’t the norm, and this parable isn’t about deathbed conversions. It is about holding on to God’s Word over time and under pressure. Those who endured did so with patience. They did not give up no matter what it cost them. They suffered and outlasted temptations. They went without the false pleasures of this life. This didn’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Faith isn’t an exercise of the will or reason, though it puts those things to use. The saints who obtain the reward do so because during this life they enjoyed the constant, gracious attention of the Sower in Word and Sacrament.
The Sower doesn’t doesn’t throw out the seed and then walk away only to come back years later to see what has happened. He is a constant gardener. He pours on His Word, guiding, teaching, forgiving, feeding, strengthening His children. This He does in the Church according to His promise. This is why He instituted the Sacraments, the Office of the Ministry, and the mandate to weekly worship. Some of what He does is pruning and digging around the base. Through His Word He corrects, exhorts, and rebukes. Some of what he does is gentle. He consoles, comforts, and encourages with expressions of His love, forgiveness, and acceptance, sending His Spirit into us, forgiving our sins, welcoming us back into His embrace. He watches over His fields, guarding what He has planted. He is here always, urging us toward the good life and the finish line, wanting us to enjoy what He has bought for us at such a terrible price.
We are baptized. His Name is upon us. In Him, we have good and noble hearts, hearts transformed by His gift. We are tended by Him. And yet, for the time being, we are also attacked by the devil, threatened by temptation, and seduced by worry or fear of missing out. This is a parable about the Christian life, hanging on to the Word to the very end.
Our presence here today is a fruit of the Spirit, an early harvest. We are obeying the 3rd commandment. We are not doing so perfectly, but we are doing it. We are in the right place. We are hearing the Word of God. We have come in the fear and trust of the Lord, eager to repent and confess, to receive His renewing Word, to be fed by His Word and the Holy Sacrament. We have come to offer our prayers together with our brothers and sisters in Christ and to be upheld by theirs. We are here to receive and give our mutual encouragement and admonition to one another. We are branches growing on the Vine of Jesus Christ, grafted into the true Israel by Grace.
This is how the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is delivered to us, how He tends us, and how we can face the devil himself, the temptations of the world, and our own sinful nature and still have faith.
Our road is dark. There are dangers all along the way. We need what God provides. At the same time, our path is lit by God’s Word and is lovely. We are surrounded by His angels, cheered on by the great cloud of witnesses, free to come to Church, to read the Bible, to say our prayers, to tend to one another. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.