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Sermon for Pentecost 4

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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