Sermon for Sexagesima, AD 2021

Luke 8:4-15

All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass.” (1 Peter 1:24a) One doesn’t have to have been alive very long or very perceptive to recognize that almost nothing in this world lasts. Things that are extremely popular one day are forgotten the next. The newest tech item that is impossible to buy anywhere one day is found on shelves at Goodwill a few years later. The popular singer who attracts millions to stadium concerts is doing the county fair circuit in a few years. Things fall in and out of fashion seemingly from day to day. It is good to recognize this. For nothing in this world lasts, and when we recognize that then God is beginning to tear down our idols, tear down things we fear, love, and trust in besides Him. For “The grass withers, the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” (1 Peter 1:24b) It is Christ’s Word that is the only thing we should ultimately trust for it is the only thing which endures to the end.
Even Jesus experienced worldly popularity. You could say that for much of His ministry He was the trending topic and the next big thing. “A great crowd was gathering and people from town to town came to him.” Imagine this man with interesting teachings, doing miracles, healing people’s relatives and friends, and he is coming even near your town. It was common for ancient people to never leave their village, never go more than five miles from where they were born in their entire lives, yet people were gathering from other towns to see Jesus. The question may arise in the disciples’ minds – is this what they should expect when preaching the gospel? Will Jesus’ huge popularity always endure?
We who know the rest of the gospel know that it will not. Jesus will lose the support of the crowds. When he is arrested and tried and brought before Pontius Pilate, there is no crowd gathering to support Him, only one that gathers to demand His death by crucifixion. So is Jesus just a flash in the pan? With popularity fleeting, is he another thing that fades out of fashion? We may be tempted to think so today. Jesus’ popularity seems to be falling to an all-time low. Churches are closing, almost every Christian family has members who left the faith, and even pastors complain that no one can relate to the gospel anymore. Despite all the church growth strategies that have been developed over the last 40 years, people are only being shuffled from church to church. The demographics are just getting worse.
In this place of desperation, this parable becomes the most comforting. The parable and explanation surround like a beautiful frame these words of Jesus, quoting Isaiah, 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.’ Despite seeing the many miracles of Jesus, the people do not see who He is. Despite hearing His teaching of God’s word, they do not understand. The disciples will also preach the gospel and people with neither see nor understand. We can also expect this today.
The parable explains why. It is not the problem with the Word of God. The seed is the Word of God, and the seed is good. Yet God works in a very resistible way – through preaching. This is the spreading of the seed, and the seed goes out to all. Preachers may preach to great crowds, and the seed of the Word of God will go out among them. Yet most of the time, this seed is thwarted by the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh.
Sometimes the word of God is heard, but the devil snatches it away before if affects the heart. We see this in the crowds that followed Jesus, but only wanted someone to provide miracles for them. They came for the show and never understood the teaching in their hearts. The devil is always working to make sure this happens, that the Word never takes root. The same happened in Acts 26 when St. Paul spoke before Festus and Agrippa. Though St. Paul was the greatest evangelist and an incredibly intelligent and insightful preacher, they merely replied, “Paul you are out of your mind!” (Acts 26:24). It is not enough to hear God’s Word, it must be believed and preserved. Not all hearers will enter eternal life.
Or the Word may be heard and believed, but the pressures of this world cause the person to abandon it in hard times. Judas heard the word and became Jesus’ disciple with great joy, but when he found that being a disciple was not a path of might and glory he sold it for thirty pieces of silver. The Israelites who escaped from Egypt also celebrated when God saved them in crossing the Red Sea, but soon turned to grumbling in the wilderness when things became difficult and only two out of millions in that generation, Caleb and Joshua, would see the promised land. When the cares of the world overpower trust in God’s Word, people fall away.
The flesh also is weak, as the seed among thorns, and cares, riches, and pleasures of this world can cause man to care more about and trust in created things more than God. King Saul received the anointing of God and the Holy Spirit and did great works for God’s people, but soon his worry about what the people thought outweighed what God wanted, and he disobeyed God and fell away. Saul even turns to a medium – witchcraft – before his end, instead of God. We see that those who do believe and then are entangled in the world even end up with a worse situation than when they began.
So many factors contribute to this. Pastors do not preach the Word of God in its purity, adding their own ideas, finding God’s ways to be insufficient. Parents do not raise their children in the Word of God and bring them to hear preaching, but teach them explicitly or implicitly, that other pursuits of wealth or comfort are more important. Authorities and rulers do not cling to God’s Word as they ought and encourage it in their land.
Knowing what the problem is, the answer is evident. The answer is God’s Word. This is not new, and it is difficult. It is a mystery received by faith. God’s Word goes out and many do not receive it, and many do not bear fruit. The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh are effective at resisting God’s Word. Yet the mystery is that Christ is there in His Word, in that seed, and some do bear fruit. This seed does find good soil and grow, and when it does it is miraculously fruitful. While many times there is no fruit, where they is fruit it is extremely abundant. The Word works in weakness. Everything is stacked against preaching, yet as Revelation tells us, in the end there will be a group of tens of thousands on tens of thousands worshipping the Lamb, Jesus Christ, greater than anyone could number.
You have been born from above, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding Word of God. (1 Peter 1:23) The Word in you, given to you in your baptism, is not a fad or a flash in the pan. It does not go out of fashion. For it joins you with the living Christ, the one who died for your sins, rose from the dead, and rules and reigns over all creation. It strengthens you through the Lord’s Supper and produces endurance in the midst of temptation. It produced endurance in St. Paul, who through many trials and tribulations persevered and continue only to boast in the Lord, in God’s Word working through Him.
Treasure God’s Word. Pray the Lord’s Prayer, that you may not be led into temptation and God’s will may be done in you and His kingdom come to you. For God has given us many great and precious promises in His Word. My word…shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. God sends His Word by preachers for the purpose of your salvation. I tell you today that if you are hearing my voice, God wants you to be saved. He wants you to bear much fruit in love for Him and your neighbor. And He desires do to this in you. Do not reject Him, but cling to Him. The way is difficult, and passes by the devil, through tribulation, and under many pleasures and temptations. Yet the seed is good. God’s Word is effective. What He has planted in you will continue to grow, and He always comes with open arms, welcoming the repentant.
Don’t fear your weakness, for God’s power is made perfect in it. Don’t worry about the ineffectiveness of preaching, for it pleases God by the folly of preaching to save those who believe. Endure patiently, for you have been united with Christ, and He is with you through all your trials. This will not always be popular, but popular things fizzle out. Only the Word of the Lord endures forever. Amen.

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