Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, AD 2020

Sermon Text: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” So Tolstoy begins his novel Anna Karenina - the point being that the same influences work together every time to create happiness, but just one of a multitude of different problems needs to occur to destroy that happiness. There is a similar principle in Jesus’ parable of the sower. All that is needed for things to go right is a sower, soil, and a seed. Combine these three and you have a fruitful harvest. Yet things go wrong - birds, rocks, and thorns don’t have to work together to stop the growth, but each bring their own individual hindrance to the harvest. So it is in the Kingdom of God. The devil, persecutions, wealth and worries all work to pull us away from trust in Jesus Christ. We should not fear, because the sower, the seed, and the soil remain. God’s Word continues to go out to all, and it does the work of converting our hearts. Christ grants great fruitfulness to those who hear and understand His Word.

It is the sower and the seed which do the work. The sower spreads and the seed brings forth the fruit of the growth. God calls all to repent and believe, and it is that Word of God which causes men, women, boys, and girls to believe. It is possible to misunderstand this point of the parable if you approach it with the wrong question. One wrong way is to start backwards and make the parable about ourselves. We start with “I need to bear fruit” and see the seed in good soil bears good fruit, so we say “I need to make myself good soil” and come up with all different ways of what this means to us. The parable is about our own doing and ignores the sower and the seed who are doing the work. We rob ourselves of what Christ is giving to us.

Or we interpret the parable as it matches our experiences and feelings, as if Jesus was giving us a personality test. We might think “I’m mostly a rocky, but sometimes I’m a weed, especially Mondays. Sundays I usually feel like good soil. And at least I’m not a bird like that guy!” This can make us feel comfortable, like none of this really matters that much. We may think, well, nobody’s perfect, and we all get to the same place in the end. No, this not only takes away from the seriousness of what Jesus is saying, but it deprives us of the comfort that He will preserve us and give us that fruit.

Jesus speaks this parable to answer a simple question – “Why isn’t Jesus’ ministry successful?” Of course, this is success as the wisdom of the world would measure it. As we heard last week, Jesus is preaching and teaching throughout the towns of Galilee and very few seem to be getting it. Jesus ministry today, as He works through the church isn’t any different. Just look at Lockport, over half of our town confesses no religion at all. If Jesus, the very Son of God, has performed such great acts of salvation for us by taking our sins in his death and rising from the death, defeating death forever so we can be with Him eternally – why doesn’t everyone believe it? It’s an uncomfortable reality we try to avoid, but Jesus confronts it directly.

Like the seed on the path, to some the Word is heard, but never takes root. People hear the gospel and do not understand. Like the crowds that followed Jesus, they may be more interested in style than substance. They like to watch the miracles, but don’t really hear what is said. Maybe these come to a big old church just because of the historic and beautiful architecture or are drawn to the local megachurch by the excellent audio-visual experience and coffee bar. Christmastime is such a beautiful time to be in church. Jesus shows that ultimately no one can sit neutrally in this way, admiring Jesus for the aesthetic only. With no faith in Christ, the devil will come and snatch the Word out of their hearts. Even seeming very religious or spiritual, they have no faith at all.

In some the faith may take little root, like in the rocky soil. That faith is a dead faith. This is the most difficult to see, because the person received the Word of God with great joy. It seems like great fruit is going to happen in their lives. These hear and understand the gospel, they are joyful that Jesus has taken away their sin, but they do not take seriously Jesus’ warnings of persecution and trouble for believers. They hear “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” but do not hear, ““Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” They understand the gospel and assent to it, but the trust isn’t there, and they fall away. Expecting that their life should be easier than Jesus, they put their hope in living peaceably, not that Jesus is with them in the midst of their troubles. They fall away and their joy is taken from them.

St. James must have had this parable in mind when he wrote, “the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.” Persecution and riches both work to pull us away from the faith. Those who are like the seeds growing in thorns have a little faith, but are pulled many ways trying to serve Christ, their worries, and their wealth. Money is not evil, and can be used to do much good for the neighbor. Love of money is when people do not use riches properly, for the benefit of others, but seek to gain wealth for their own satisfaction. Love of money also manifests in being so worried about sustaining this life that we trust in what we can gain for our daily bread rather than trusting in God. One will always end up trying to serve God and the dollar, and the dollar will win. No good fruit, no love for the neighbor is produced because everything is focused inwards.

Therefore, with the devil, tribulations, wealth, and worry, it’s a wonder anyone could be saved. In the sinful condition we inherited from our parents, we want the plant to die. We work with the devil and world, seeking after things besides Christ. Without his work we would be nothing but a dead field of trampled down weeds and thornbushes. Thanks be to God, He sows His seed, and His seed is powerful. Jesus Christ, the God-man lived the perfect life we could not, was crucified for our sins, buried, and rose again in three days defeating death and the devil. That good news roots down deep into our hearts and produces fruit of love and good works thirty, sixty, or a hundredfold.

Dear baptized Christian, you have been given that good seed, and you are that good soil. Your baptism has put you in Christ, and the devil or anything else cannot snatch you out of his hand. As He endured suffering and persecution, He is with you as you suffer. He was tempted by the wealth and worry of this world to abandon His mission and He defeated the temptation. He will be with you even as you endure the worries of this world. We know because the true Son of God who died and rose has said it. His powerful Word will produce fruit.

Therefore, you must not do anything but cling to His Word. Nothing can grow if there is no seed, and no one can believe unless they hear. Hear the Word, read it, consider it, pray it, confess it, and live according to it. Many do not believe because they reject the Word. Faith comes to us no other way. God continues to use this powerful but very resistible means to extend His kingdom.

If others do not hear, how can they believe? Parents, it is imperative that you teach your children the Word. They cannot decide for themselves because they are already disposed against God. Baptize them, teach them, read the Bible and speak the Word of God to each other every day. There is nothing more important than this, not even meeting bodily needs. Teach your children so that the Word of Christ dwells in them richly. The devil will have no power to snatch it away, the roots will run deep and as Isaiah the prophet wrote, “Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the Lord, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

Christ grants great fruitfulness to those who hear and understand His word. Know that the Holy Spirit will work powerfully through that Word. Yes, just like Jesus, we will spread the gospel to whoever will hear. And just like with Jesus, many will not understand. Yet be assured that there is no message more powerful than that of the forgiveness of sins won by Jesus Christ our Lord. To Him be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.  

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