Saturday, July 26, 2014

Christ Is the Good Ground

 Due to an argument I've been having with my computer, the last couple of sermons didn't get posted.  So here they are, as well as tomorrow's, all at once.

Sermon on Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
July 13, 2014 (Fifth Sunday after Pentecost)

It may seem stupid to fling the seed randomly at every type of soil instead of carefully testing the soil by doing market surveys and using other techniques to find out where the best soil is.  But it’s the only thing we can do in the Christian church.  Despite what it seems like to human reason, there is no way to tell whether a particular person, a particular neighborhood, a particular region of the country will react in any of the four ways we see in our text.  Often it’s tempting for church officials to “invest” the mission dollars where the money is, in growing suburbs populated by those who have money to spare and who would seem therefore to be better able to support their congregation and the church body to which it belongs.  Of course, that ends up being a way of making decisions based on what the church can get out of people rather than the love for people and concern for their eternal well-being which Jesus would have us exhibit.  But apart from the question of selfishness, the fact is, all of the sociology in the world is useless in figuring out who will and will not bear the fruit of salvation.  After all, the fruit we are looking for isn’t an externally healthy church (though that’s certainly helpful).  It isn’t a lot of mission dollars for the District or Synod (though that can be an important way we as a congregation give thanks for the blessings God has given us).  The fruit we are looking for is souls in heaven.  And that’s something you can’t predict or analyze with human reason.  Jesus’ statement about those who hear yet don’t hear means that in every plot of ground there will be some of each of the four categories.  And the seed can often bear fruit in places that look to human wisdom as completely unlikely and wrong.  Indeed, those whose lifestyles have been overtly contrary to God’s will are often more receptive to the Gospel of forgiveness than are those who think of themselves as good, upstanding citizens.  And so instead of engaging in marketing tactics and all the other nonsense that so many refer to as evangelism in our day, we simply preach the Word and administer the sacraments here on Sunday morning, and we confess our faith to those we encounter in our lives.  Whether it be in our day-to-day business or in some intentional outreach project, we still simply confess what we have heard.  That’s how God’s kingdom grows even in the most unlikely places.

The next question that this parable raises in our minds, of course, is the question about us as individuals.  What kind of soil am I?  Am I the hard soil that doesn’t even let the Word sink in but lets the devil snatch it away?  Am I the rocky soil which, even though the Word begins growing in my heart, it is not allowed to get very deep roots and so it doesn’t survive long?  Am I the thorn-infested soil that simply has too many other things going on around me to allow my faith to grow and mature?  What kind of soil am I?  This question is, of course, a natural question to ask for anyone who is concerned with their own salvation.  And it may be helpful for us to see if any of these things is true of us so that we can fight against these things in ourselves.  But it can also be a dangerous question, because if I conclude that in some ways I’m like the hard path or the rocky or thorny soil, then I might give in to despair because I can’t hope to be saved.  It’s too easy to look at these four categories and assume that everybody falls into only one of the four, and that’s that.

Fortunately it’s not that simple.  All of us fall into all of these four categories.  We are by nature sinful and unclean, and we are constantly bombarded with the attacks of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh as we hear the Word of God.  According to our old sinful nature we are hard-packed, rocky, and thorn-infested all at the same time.  But according to the new person that has been recreated in us by Christ, we are good soil, which will produce the hundredfold fruit of everlasting life.

The hard-packed soil didn’t even let the seed in.  Sometimes the Word simply doesn’t make it into our minds and hearts at all.  Sometimes we think that we are too busy to stay and listen to God’s Word in the first place.  We don’t even come to where it is being preached at all.  Or we come and we doubt the truthfulness of what we are told.  Or the preacher says something in his sermon that hits us the wrong way and we tune out the rest of what he has to say because of anger.  Or we are simply too tired to stay awake during the preaching of the Word.  These kinds of things can happen to any one of us, and in this way the devil snatches the Word of God away from us and prevents it from taking root in us that day.

The rocky soil allowed the seed to start growing, but it didn’t allow a good, stable root system to develop.  We are always tempted to base our confidence in God in things that are shallow.  Emotions such as feelings of happiness and warmth are a good thing; they are a good response to the Christian message.  But they are shallow and they can change.  The true joy and peace that Christ gives are not the same thing as warm feelings.  The true joy and peace of Christ are still ours even when we don’t feel particularly happy or particularly peaceful.  Too many people in our world think that they have lost their faith because they don’t feel the same way about God or about going to Church as they did when they were younger.  And so when things in this world go badly for them they don’t think that Christ is still there for them to rely upon.  The world is a cruel enemy of the Christian, and often things do go badly for people precisely because they do believe in Christ.  Unless faith is grounded in something deeper than feelings and emotions, it’s not going to be able to stand up to the blistering heat of the world’s attacks against Christianity.  Only God’s Word itself can create the truly deep roots that a Christian needs to survive even when everything in the world seems to be going against him and his shallow emotions no longer hold him upright steady in the faith.

The thorny soil allowed the seed to grow, but then it cut off the light that it needed to continue to grow and bear fruit.  Our old sinful flesh pays attention to all sorts of other things besides the Word of God.  We are by nature easily distracted from God.  Even perfectly innocent and good things can distract us from God’s Word.  Things like our work, our hobbies, sports, caring for our families, and the desire to sleep in at least one day a week can distract us from continuing to bask in the light of God’s Son.  Our old sinful flesh wants to keep our energies away from sustaining the faith that has been planted in us.

But God has recreated our hearts.  His Word acts as a plow to break up the hard soil, to turn up the rocks and remove them, and to destroy the thorn bushes.  The rocky soil may not bear fruit one season, but the roots that the plants tried to put down will eventually over the course of the years break up the rocks and turn them into good soil.  The same thing is true of the hard path.  Plants and even big, strong trees can grow even in hills composed largely of flint and limestone.  The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh are beat down and killed by the dying and rising again of Christ our Lord.  He is the good soil, because ultimately He is the one who bears the fruit of eternal life.  His good soil is spread upon our poor soil through Baptism, preaching, and the Lord’s supper, just as good, black dirt is often put on a garden or a flower bed to make up for the poor soil already there.  In this way he remakes us in His image.  We become part of Him.  And through Him we will become a hundred times more than we are right now, because we will be reborn, perfect, on the last day when He comes to harvest us and take us into the barns of His eternal presence and joy.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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