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Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

July 25, 2011 Leave a comment

Matthew 13:44-52

Click here for mp3 audio – 45 Sermon for Pent 6

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

We’re on the third of three Sundays hearing Jesus’ parables.  Jesus says three times today that the kingdom of heaven is like this or that, a treasure hidden in field, a pearl of great value, a net thrown into the sea.  Remember, Jesus is teaching in parables to describe the kingdom He has come to reestablish.  The parables are not just morality plays written in everyday language but rather descriptions of what the situation on earth now looks like because Jesus, God’s own Messiah, has restored the rule of God in Israel and the world.  It’s vitally important that we start here because otherwise we cannot possibly understand the radical totality of what God has done in Christ Jesus.

Remember the context.  Jesus is doing kingdom work but the people do not understand Him.  Jesus has been healing but they don’t understand that we weren’t created for sickness and disease and that God is now directly intervening to restore people.  He’s been casting out demons but they don’t understand this too is part of His mission to restore the rightful rule of heaven in the midst of God’s creation.  He’s been reordering the religious laws like the Sabbath but they don’t understand that he has the authority to do precisely that and again restore God’s will for people.  So he tells these parables so those who have ears to hear might truly hear.  To his disciples, he is like a master of a house revealing treasures both new and old.  “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field.”  “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls.  This is Jesus’ kingdom work.  Do you understand these things?

The first two parables really are a pair that go together.  “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.  Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”  Jesus doesn’t give us the explanations like He has the last two Sundays.  We’re left on our own.  Let’s see how we do.  The man in the first parable who finds the treasure is?  Yes, us—that’s how we typically read it.  The treasure is the Gospel.  The parable is that once a man finds the Gospel, he sells all that he has in order to have the Gospel for his own possession.  Second verse just like the first.  We should be like the merchant searching for pearls and now that we’ve found the most beautiful pearl ever, the Christian pearl, we should sell all that we own to buy it.  Right?  That’s no doubt how you’ve heard these parables taught.  Jesus is trying to motivate the disciples to take their faith and lives of discipleship seriously and He’s trying to get them to grow in their commitment to following Him.  These parables are about the cost of discipleship.  Except…  Except that those interpretations do not agree with the rest of what we read in the Bible and they do not agree with what we understand Jesus to be doing—really what God is doing through Jesus—to reestablish His kingdom on earth.

The standard reading about the cost of discipleship does not match with the rest of what we read in Scripture.  Tell me, Christian, what, exactly, have traded so that you may have the kingdom of heaven for yourself?  As it says in the notes of The Lutheran Study Bible I included in the bulletin this week, “we inherit the kingdom by grace through faith in Christ, who purchased and redeemed us with His precious blood.”  We are not able in any way to purchase the kingdom of heaven or anything else for our own salvation.  The Scriptures are clear on this.  God acts to save His children solely by His grace in Christ.  And so these parables are not about what we do to have the kingdom for our own possession but rather what God is doing through His grace in Christ.

We’ve already had two Sundays of parables.  In the parable of the sower, who was the central figure?  The sower was.  Who’s the sower?  That’s right it was Jesus.  In the parable of the weeds, who was the Master who saw to it good seed was sown in the field and would make sure that the weeds were separated, bundled and burned at the harvest?  Right again, it was Jesus.  And so we see this common feature of kingdom parables that when there are multiple characters in a parable, the one in the central position always represents God and so the parable is about what God is doing to bring about His kingdom.  So, look at these parables this morning.  The same line pops up in both of them.  “He went and sold everything and bought.”  This is what Jesus did.  He gave up everything and bought the hidden treasure.  He sold all and bought the pearl of great value.  Paul puts it this way, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Co 5:21)  Jesus Himself says, “the Son of Man came to give His life as a ransom in exchange for the many.” (Mt 20:28).  Jesus is describing Himself has our substitute, the one who stands in our place under God’s wrath for sin, and we stand in His place as God’s beloved children.  He has “purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.”  The Small Catechism gets it right.  Jesus’ entire ministry, ending in His sacrificial death and resurrection is the act of purchasing that buys us into God’s blessed kingdom.  And so we should see the man in the parable of the hidden treasure and merchant in the pearl of great value as Jesus or possibly God the Father, but definitely not us.  The parables are always about what God is doing to restore His rule in the world and so this parable is too.  God gives up all He has to buy His treasure, His precious pearl, for Himself.

But what is the treasure? What is the precious pearl?  If Jesus is the man who buys the field so He can have the hidden treasure and if Jesus is the merchant who sells all He has to buy the peal of great value, then what is the hidden treasure and what is the pearl?  You are!  You are the treasure that Jesus has searched for and given up all the glories of heaven in exchange for.  You are the pearl of great value that Jesus has sold all, even His honor to rescue you so that He might have you as His own.  You are God’s great treasure.  You are God’s precious pearl.

Go back to last week’s parable.  Jesus said you’re the good seed, the wheat that bears good fruit.  What is your destiny?  “The righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”  You are God’s precious possession.  That’s what He calls Israel throughout the Old Testament.  “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine.” (Ex 19:5)  “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” (Dt 7:6)  Israel is God’s treasured possession.  You are God’s Israel whom He sent Jesus to rescue.  You are God’s treasured possession; you are His precious pearl.  He has searched for you and found you.  He has given up everything, even heaven itself to make You His own.  This is the nature of God’s love for you: you are His treasured possession.

There are people who hear these two parables today and yet do not hear the beautiful message of the Savior King come to rescue His great treasures and buy back His precious pearls.  They don’t feel treasured or precious.  They feel dirty, miserable, and unworthy of God’s love.  They do not feel like God’s precious.  Most of them are not here but some are.  Most don’t come to church because they feel they are too contaminated to be here.  They’ve had hard lives, lives where they have suffered through terrible things, terrible things done to them or they were forced to do terrible things or even did things that only now do they see were terrible and hurt others or themselves.  Soldiers after the heat of battle are often terrified of what came out them during the fight.  They did not realize they were capable of such hate toward other people.  Others are victims of another’s lust but now they bear the scars of the impurity and filth of another.  Still others have sinned terribly against someone and hurt them in terrible ways.  And yet these are the people Jesus gave up everything to buy for His very own.  In truth, none of us can look at ourselves too closely because the rot of our own sin would start peeking through the whitewash of our outward religion.  Jesus did not come to save those who needed no saving.  Jesus came to seek and save those who needed saving.  They are the ones precious to Him.  And sadly, these are but a few examples of the people who do not see themselves as the precious treasures Jesus says they are to him.

I think most people misunderstand Christianity, even many Christians.  If Christianity was a religion of spiritual ideas for good people, I couldn’t blame people for not wanting to be a part of it.  But Christianity is not about that.  Our faith is that God has broken into the world to fix it.  Look at what the critics of our religion say is wrong in this world.  If God were real, how could He let disease, famine, storms, and evil happen.  True.  All true.  And we look at Jesus.  Jesus, God’s Son, intervened in the world and healed the sick, and feed the multitudes, cast out demons and preached truth.  Jesus, God’s Son, intervened in the world and reestablished the order of heaven here on earth.  This is our faith even in the midst of what remains of illness and evil and the lies of the prince of lies.  This is our faith.  Jesus, God’s own Son has entered into our world to fix it, to restore the kingdom of heaven.

And yet, Jesus says, the treasure was hidden and when he finds it, he hides it again.  God’s kingdom is hidden, at least until the last day.  Unfortunately, those who wish God would intervene do not see how he has already begun to reign again in the world.  Even Jesus’ disciples often feel overwhelmed in a world that seems to be increasingly rebellious against the king.  And yet we are encouraged.  Yes, there is terrible opposition to Jesus as there was in his own day.  It doesn’t matter, because Jesus has gone through extraordinary lengths to secure his own for himself.  The man and the merchant did whatever it took, even to the point of selling everything he had.  So Jesus has done what needed to be done to possess his holy precious Church on earth even today.  Though we often may feel buried under the challenges and dangers created in our own flesh, by the those in the world around who know not their true king, and even by the great enemy and father of lies, there is no doubt among us that we belong to Jesus.  We have been bought.  In understanding this breathtaking outpouring of his grace toward us we are precious to him.  Secure in that confidence, we can continue to follow him all the days of our lives.

Jesus is teaching in parables what people have not understood since the beginning of His ministry of healing and casting out demons.  The parables are not just morality plays written in everyday language but rather descriptions of what the situation on earth now looks like because Jesus, God’s own Messiah, has restored the rule of God in Israel and the world.  The content of our faith is about what our Savior Jesus did in this world to make it right again.  He gave up all He had in exchange for His hidden, precious treasure, you.  We are the ones who need so desperately, His saving grace, His perfect self as our substitute on the cross for the punishment of our sins.  This is our faith.  Jesus, God’s own Son has entered into our world to fix it, to restore the kingdom of heaven.  He has already begun this great work and He will bring it to completion.  Amen.

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Fresh from the sermon editing room floor

July 25, 2011 Leave a comment

Judging by the reaction, or lack thereof from yesterday’s sermon, leaving this paragraph out might have been a serious homiletical mistake, not a doctrinal one, just getting folks from point A to point B, homiletical mistake.  At any rate it should probably be inserted into the sermon above after the second paragraph. — PS

I think most people’s seriously underestimate what God has done for us in Christ.  I think most people would say that Christianity has something to do with believing in God and but mostly it’s about living a morally good life.  Jesus Christ taught many important things about how to be nice to one another but inevitably ran afoul of the Jewish leadership and was executed by the Roman occupying authorities of the time.  What a pity.  He seemed like such a nice man.  He taught some very important things.  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Pray a bit when you get lonely or sick.  Be thankful for what you have. Come to church when you have time.  Celebrate Christmas by being kind and generous to others.  Preachers and church leaders go on and on about all sorts of other things but the most important things are believing in God and being nice to others.  This may be a characterization but I don’t think it’s too far from what most people, even most Christians believe.  This understanding of Christianity misses the point so profoundly so as to be most unhelpful and in reality, inaccurate.  Whenever pastors try to get people to see a little deeper into the eternal things of God, people back away because we end up saying things about people that they are not comfortable with, that they are not comfortable hearing about.  This leads to a serious underestimation of what God has done for us in Christ Jesus.

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Sermon for Pentecost 5

July 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Sermon for Pent 5 – Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43

Click here for mp3 audio – 44 Sermon for Pent 5

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon today is the Gospel text for today, the Parable of the Weeds.

I mentioned last week that now that we’re in the non-festival half of the church year the Gospel readings are chiefly concerned with reminding us of Jesus’ teachings.  And we’re in the middle of three Sundays of Jesus’ parables here in Matthew chapter 13.  The parable of the sower was last week, today is the parable of the weeds and next week, the parables of the hidden treasure, the pearl of great price, and the parable of the net all at once.  Jesus, God’s own son, came down from heaven to restore the rule of heaven on earth.  These parables are Jesus’ way of describing how the rule of heaven has been restored.

At the risk of completely losing you less than a minute into the sermon this morning, I want to mention a technical point of Greek grammar and I don’t want to lose you but it really is rather important.  When Jesus starts teaching this parable he says in our text, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field…”  But the Greek is a little more awkward to render in English.  It literally reads, “The kingdom of heaven has become like a man who sowed good seed in his field.”  In that awkward grammar there is a wonderful truth.  The kingdom of heaven has already come.  It has already become like the situation Jesus is about to describe in the parable.  The kingdom of heaven is not something that will hopefully come one day.  We are not like Jews who wait for and wish that one day Messiah will come.  He’s come already now.  It’s a technical point of grammar but its pure comfort.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Son of Man has already come and He has restored the rule of heaven on earth.

And so Jesus begins, “The kingdom of heaven has already become like a man who sowed good seed in his field but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.”  That’s what you experience isn’t it.  “If God’s kingdom has already come, if God is really in charge,” we wonder, “why does He let our dear Christian brothers and sisters all over the world suffer at the hands of evil people who persecute them and kill them?”  Because the devil has sown evil seed in the world in amidst the good seed.  We wonder, “But if God’s kingdom has already come, how does He allow sickness and weakness and evil to beset His people even to the point that it obscures and hinders the work of the Gospel?  If the kingdom of heaven has already come, quite frankly, why does it so often feel like it hasn’t?”  What Jesus is saying is that the kingdom of heaven has already come and yet the final ending, the last day is still delayed.  Jesus is telling this parable to describe the time of waiting for us who must still suffer the effects of the work of the devil in the world while knowing already that the kingdom of heaven has already come and it will come to completion at the harvest, the final judgment on the Last Day.

I want to go back to chapter 12 for just a minute and provide a little context for you.  Up to chapter 13, Jesus had been teaching plainly and straightforwardly about the rule of heaven restored.  At the beginning of chapter 12 Jesus is walking with the disciples through a grain field and as they walked they plucked some of the heads of the grain and nibbled it.  This caused the religious authorities to accuse Jesus and his disciples of breaking the Sabbath.  Jesus responded with a straightforward reference to David who entered the temple and ate the showbread.  He said very plainly that He is God come from heaven to restore the right understanding of the Sabbath.  Likewise, a little later after he had healed many on the Sabbath, including a man with a withered hand and a demon possessed man, the crowds began to wonder if Jesus really could be the promised Son of David, that is, Messiah.  But again the Pharisees said that it was only because Jesus was the prince of demons that He could command demons.  Again in response, Jesus taught very plainly that it was not logical that the prince of demons would cast out demons.  Chapter 12 verse 26 and following, “And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”  Jesus is teaching plainly that the one who comes to restore the rule of heaven on earth will come and heal and cast out demons and has authority to do so even on the Sabbath.  And so by the end of the chapter, verse 45, Jesus describes those allied against him as a wicked and evil generation, essentially opposed to the rule of heaven on earth.  And so these string of parables that come in chapter 13 come as a strategy to teach not necessarily less plainly or less straightforwardly, but rather to teach and preach in ways that sneak around the barriers people make for themselves against the truth of God’s Word.  He tells these parables to people who think citizenship in the kingdom of heaven is a list of rules perfectly followed or power and control over others.  Jesus tells these parables to challenge “religious” beliefs that have come to stand in the place of God’s own Law and to force people to rethink what it means to be a citizen of the kingdom of heaven.  Citizenship in the kingdom of God is first and foremost about faith in Jesus Christ who came to restore the rule of heaven.  He tells these parables in response to opposition of those around him because he wants them to see the danger they’re in.  That’s really is the context for these parables.

Again, as with the parable of the sower, thankfully, we know precisely what this parable means because Jesus explains it to his disciples privately.  He both identifies the characters and the actions that are important in the parable.  “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil.” And the reapers are angels.  Then he goes on to actions.  The harvest is the close of the age.  The weeds are gathered and burned with fire is the judgment at the close of the age.  (Mt 13:37–42)

I’ve already had a grammar lesson so I should probably mention here a bit of botany.  The weeds sown in the field are called zizania, what is known today as darnel.  Darnel looks like wheat in fact it is sometimes known as false wheat.  When they grow together in the same field, their roots even intertwine as they grow together.  The difference is when the ear appears on the wheat. The ears on the real wheat are so heavy that it makes the entire plant droop downward, but on darnel the ears are light and stand up straight.  End of the botany lesson.

The difference between wheat and weeds is the fruit.  Jesus doesn’t elaborate on the point but I will.  The difference between children of the kingdom of heaven and children of the evil one is their fruit.  The first fruit of children of the kingdom is faith in the kingdom bringer, Jesus Christ.  Friends, remember that Jesus is telling these parables in response to a situation.  People are not listening to Jesus’ plain teaching.  The Pharisees have rejected Him.  In fact all who reject Jesus, who reject who He claims to be and who reject His teaching are the sons of the evil one.  They will not produce the same fruit as children of the kingdom.  The difference between children of the kingdom of heaven and children of the evil one is their fruit.

But Jesus is not just speaking narrowly about the church.  Remember the field is the world.  Jesus is speaking about how evil exists in this world and how it got there and what it does.  And He is promising you what will happen at the judgment.  Evil, all evil in the world, will be judged and punished.  Jesus is describing the kingdom of heaven as it has come already now and how we experience it.

 

But there is also great comfort here too.  Dear friends look at the attitudes of the characters of this parable.  Look at the servants of the sower.  They want, just like you do probably, to get rid of every last weed in that field.  It is not right that the good plants should have to compete for resources with the weeds.  If Jesus has really come from heaven to set to right all that is wrong with the world and usher in the age of the rule of God it is not right that Christians should be beset on all sides by the devil and his sons.  But look at the field owner.  He is not worried about His good seed being choked out.  What He is worried about is them being uprooted in the process of getting rid of the weeds.  The owner is patient.  He is sure of the seed he has planted.  He is sure they will bear fruit even if they must live in amidst the weeds.  He has directed the sowing of the good seed in His field and He will oversee the harvest.  By the way, in case that doesn’t leap out at you, Jesus is making an implicit claim to being divine here.  Jesus the Son of Man is the Sower and He will direct the harvest and it is for your sake, for your protection, that the weeds are not uprooted until the harvest.

Let me go a step further now and speak a little bit about what this parable is not about.  This parable is not necessarily about the church.  Remember the field is the world.  The announcement that the rule of heaven has been restored in the world has become like this—a field where the Sower has sown the good seed and the devil has sown weeds so as to frustrate and sap the strength of the good plants.  There remains evil in the world.  It cannot be rooted out without a great deal of destruction.  The Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades are but two examples from history that fall along these lines.  Also this parable is not about prohibiting church discipline.  It is not about allowing to remain in the church people who preach and teach false doctrine or who live ungodly lives disobedient and unrepentant with regard to the rule of heaven.  Congregations and church bodies have the full right to excommunicate people who will not conform to godly doctrine and life.  Remember it is the fruit that is judged.  If we excommunicate someone, we are saying they are in need of repentance so that they are not condemned at judgment.  There is a great deal of mischief among leaders in the church who misapply the field to the church rather than to the world and so they say that Jesus is condemning the rooting out false doctrine or ungodly behavior.  “Leave the judgment to the angels,” they say.  That’s a deliberate and false reading of this parable.  The field is the world not the church.  Those are but two of the things that Jesus is not teaching in this parable.

Jesus tells these parables to describe to us how the kingdom of God has already come.  Whereas last week’s parable was centered around bearing fruit, this week’s parable is centered around persevering in challenging and less than ideal circumstances.  And so Jesus is explaining how the kingdom of heaven can be present in the world while not yet wiping out all opposition to it.  That must await the harvest.  The parable deals with eschatological expectation, not the deterioration of doctrine or life in the church.  He’s telling this parable to describe the delay between the restoration of God’s rule on earth and the final judgment.  He tells these parables in response to opposition of those around him because he wants them to see the danger they’re in.  The difference between wheat and weeds is the fruit, that is, the difference between children of the kingdom of heaven and children of the evil one is their fruit.  The first fruit of children of the kingdom is faith in the kingdom bringer, Jesus Christ.  Jesus is who He says He is.  It is for your sake, for your protection, that the weeds are not uprooted until the harvest.  Jesus, the Son of Man is the Sower and He will direct the harvest.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

 

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Sermon for Pentecost 4

July 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Sermon for Pent 4 –  Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23

Augustana 2011

click here for mp3 audio file – 43 Sermon for Pentecost 4

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon this morning is the Gospel reading, the Parable of the Sower.

This Sunday begins a series of three Sundays we will hear Jesus parables.  Today, the parable of the sower, next week, the parable of the weeds, and the week following we’ll have the parables of the hidden treasure, the pearl of great price, and the parable of the net all at once.  It’s more than just a theme, it’s part of the Church Year.  In the festival half of the year, that is, from Advent to Easter, we hear chiefly about the events of Jesus’ life—what He did to accomplish salvation for us.  In the non-festival half of the church year, from Trinity to end of the church year in November, we hear mostly the teachings of Jesus.  This year our Gospel readings come from Matthew and as we heard back in Epiphany, Jesus is teaching about the kingdom of heaven.  The four Gospels are similar to one another but they each have different emphases.  Matthew is particularly keen on recording for us what Jesus taught about the kingdom of heaven.  We heard it already in the Sermon on the Mount before the Lent and Easter seasons.  The festival half of the year is over now and we’re back now listening to Jesus teaching about the kingdom of God and what it means for us to be people subject to the rule of God.

Thankfully, we know precisely what this parable means because we have Jesus’ own interpretation of it.  Jesus is the sower.  God’s Word is the seed.  Jesus is answering the question of why, despite his ongoing ministry of preaching and teaching and healing and casting out demons, so many people are not responding in faith and discipleship.  This is an important point for us all to understand.  This is an important point for pastors to understand.  As a pastor, it’s comforting to note that people that heard Jesus preach did not respond.  It’s very often not me but the message that is rejected.  And it should be a comfort for many of you, also, whose family members over the years have chosen not to return to church for any number of reasons.  In this parable are all those reasons but the reality is that most of the seed sown never bears fruit.  “Some of the seed falls on the path,” Jesus tells us.  He wants us to know the sad fact that there is an ongoing battle for the lives of people and sometimes Satan takes away the message that God’s reign in the world has begun and some never understand that message.  Jesus says that some seed falls on the rocky ground and after springing up they soon wither and die.  This is a metaphor for who some hear Jesus’ preaching and initially believe and follow Him but for some reason they don’t put roots firmly down into Jesus and His truth and when they experience personal difficulty they turn away and no longer live as His disciples.  The third kind of seed falls among the thorns.  Some people initially hear and follow Jesus but are distracted and choked off when worries over how to make it in this world slowly choke off the hope and joy in their lives brought about by the power of the Good News that God is reigning.  Most of the seed that is sown never bears fruit.  And so this parable is ultimately about how God rules and how the kingdom of heaven comes.

There seem to be those people out there who are naturally born storytellers.  And we have to be thankful for them because they have an incredible gift not just to be able to chronicle an event but to find the meaning of events.  In years past, newspaper columnists saw this as their task, not to report the news but to tell us what happened might mean for us.  Sometimes these storytellers show up as characters in books helping the main character find his way or understand the latest setback to the plan.  I call them storytellers because the best ones speak in metaphors and parables, like Jesus does.  These columnists and characters and the authors who create them know that very often a carefully constructed story may better explain the truth of the matter in ways that direct, plain speaking could be resisted.  Up to this point, chapter 13, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus has been speaking very openly and plainly about the kingdom of heaven, the reign of God but the crowds coming out to hear him do not understand him.  So starting in chapter 13, Jesus changes tack and begins to speak in parables, not to obscure His teaching, not to hide the message of the kingdom of heaven, but rather to so a sneak attack against a hearer’s defenses.  He tells these parables to people who have turned their heart away from God and His message.  He tells these parables to get people to think, to challenge them, and to force them to rethink and ultimately to bring them to the truth about God’s ruling in the world.  Jesus tells these parables to have His way with us and to create and sustain faith in us.

God uses ways that are mysteriously humble and weak and resistible to come into the world to announce His rule and the beginning of His victory over His enemies, sin, death and the devil.  It does not make sense to us, in fact, it should not make sense to us, at least on any rational human level, how a bit of water and some words not only forgives all sin, but also gives eternal life and everlasting salvation.  The catechism questions stem from our own struggle to understand our swearing in as citizens of God’s kingdom.  “What is Baptism?  Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s word.  Which is that Word of God?  Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Matthew: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)  What benefits does Baptism give?  It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.  Which are these words and promises of God? Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16)  How can water do such great things? Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this Word of God in the water. For without God’s word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Titus, chapter three, “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying.” (Titus 3:5–8)  This saying is trustworthy for Roxy today as it is for you.  God uses ways that are mysteriously humble and weak and resistible to bring you to faith and a life of discipleship, a life of victory over death itself.

Still most of the seed that is sown never bears fruit.  Most of the sermons preached are never heard.  Most of the baptisms performed, most of absolutions for sin, most of the times communion is celebrated these gifts of grace from God Himself are not received.  It is a sad fact sad fact that many people are simply unbelievers.  Most times Satan takes away the message that God’s reign in the world has begun and many never understand that Gospel message.  Still most of the seed that is sown never bears fruit.   “Let the one who has ears, hear.”

But, Jesus says, “Some seed falls on good ground.”  That is, some hear the preaching of the Message that God the King has come into the world to reclaim and forgive His people and ultimately restore His creation.  Some hear and understand and in their understanding they are fruitful for God that is, they live as believing disciples of Jesus Christ.  And so there is the last question from the catechism about baptism.  What does such baptizing with water indicate?  It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.  Where is this written?  St. Paul writes in Romans, chapter six: “We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”  (Romans 6:4)  God sows new life, a daily dying and rising.  This is the content of our prayer for Roxy today as we asked God to keep her in her baptismal grace that she would grow to lead a faithful and godly life to the praise and honor of God’s name.  We could just have well prayed that she might bear abundant fruit, a hundred, sixty or thirty fold.  This is my prayer for all of you today.  That this Word sown might fall on good ground and bear fruit.  Because as much as this Word should challenge us to think again, it should also create great joy in us.  The metaphor is that God’s ruling in this world is like Jesus sowing the Word.  This message of God’s kingdom has the power to produce in us good works of all kinds in your life.  Jesus is not waiting until heaven to forgive you your sins; He has come to save you from your sins and to rule as your King already, even now.  This message is the encouragement to live with confidence in the power and authority of that message from God’s own Son and Savior sent for you.  Look at the generosity, the superabundant grace of God in how He sows, how He preaches this message of life and true hope.  The sower sows seed everywhere; no one is intended to be left apart from the Word of God.  The sower has sown His seed in good ground by preaching His message of the kingdom of heaven into you.  God’s Word will bear fruit in you.  He has sown it.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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