"Seed, Scripture, and Sacraments"
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost—Second Sunday in Apostles' Tide
St. Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23
July 13 and 16, 2006
(St. John Lutheran Church, North Tonawanda, New York)
IN NOMINE JESU
It is a tremendous blessing that we are a liturgical church, making use of liturgical space and liturgical time. We are gathered in this space around the Word of God, delivered from lectern and pulpit, planted in our hearts, that it would take root in us and grow. We are gathered at a unique time. We also get to make use of liturgical time. Today is the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost; we are in the "green" season; that is to say, the liturgical color for this week is green. Green is used to symbolize the growth of the Church following the Holy Spirit's coming at Pentecost, growth that continues today in the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Eight. This "green" season is made up of five tides—mini-seasons within this longest season of the church year. We are in the second tide of this post-Pentecost season, having passed from Trinity Tide to Apostles' Tide, during which time the Church celebrates specifically the ministry of three of the Apostles and celebrates the so-called apostle to the Apostles: Peter, Paul, Mary the Magdalene, and James.
Before the Lord sent out His disciples as apostles, He taught them of the kingdom of God, using parables to do so. One of these parables is the basis for our text today: the Parable of the Sower. He would later send them out, as apostles, to sow the seed that is the Word of the Lord. All who hear the Word of the Lord are the ground upon which the seed falls. Some parts of the ground are more receptive to the seed than are other parts. Some of the seed falls on the path, and the birds came and devoured the seed. That fowl is that old buzzard, the devil, the foulest of them all, who, along with his minions, seeks to steal the Word from those who do not understand it, depriving them the opportunity to hear the Word of the Lord and keep it, and so they bear no fruit of the Gospel. Some falls on rocky ground, which are those who initially receive the Word with great joy, but panic in the face of trial and tribulation, and their faith withers away because it had no roots; their faith was so shallow that it was not rooted in the Word. The thorns are the cares of this world that choke a person off from the Word. Then there is the good soil, those who hear the Word of the God and keep it; the seed bears fruit in them. They hear the Word, they understand it, and they love it. They bear fruit, and the seed that is the Word spreads and abounds. It returns to the Lord, for it accomplishes His purpose for it, that through the reading and preaching of the Word He would draw us closer to Himself. This is why we are here, for the Word to be planted into our hearts, to take root and grow in us, that we would grown in our faith and be ever closer to the Lord, for "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God" (Rom. 10:17).
It is the Word of the Lord that comes to us, and it is the work of the Lord to cause that Word to bear fruit in us, for "this is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent" (Jn. 6:29). For this reason the Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts, sanctifies, and keeps us in the one true faith, that you would "let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the Name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him" (Col. 3:15-17). This is living liturgically, living in response to what our Lord has done for and given us. To this end, the public reading and preaching of the Word has been central to the people of God, gathered together for thousands of years. In Exodus we hear the Holy Spirit inspiring Moses to write:
So Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the judgments. And all the people answered with one voice and said, "All the words which the LORD has said we will do." And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD. And he rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars according to the twelve tribes of Israel. Then he sent young men of the children of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the LORD. And Moses took half the blood and put it in basins, and half the blood he sprinkled on the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, "All that the LORD has said we will do, and be obedient." And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, "This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you according to all these words." (Ex. 24:3-8)
The Word of the Lord was indeed read in the public assembly of the people of God from the beginning. However, there is a major difference between the responses of the faithful then and now. In those days they heard the covenant the Lord made with them, and they responded, saying, "All the words which the LORD has said we will do." They heard Moses read the words of God's covenant, words of Law, what they had to do to please God. Today you heard me read the Word to you a few moments ago, following each reading with the words "This is the Word of the Lord," and you responded with "Thanks be to God." They responded by the Law. We respond by the Gospel, for the Lord Jesus Christ has kept His covenant for us, shedding His own blood and not that of oxen, for we could not keep the covenant, even as our Old Testament forebears in the faith could not keep it.
It is easy for us to ridicule, criticize, and condemn the Israelites for their repeated unfaithfulness to the Lord and His Word—easy, but not fair. It is not fair for us to ridicule, criticize, and condemn them because we are no better than they were. They were lost in the wilderness for 40 years, and, like them, we are lost and condemned creatures, for sure. Like them, we have not allowed the Word to take root in our hearts and bear fruit. Two weeks ago we celebrated the Feast of SS. Peter and Paul, two apostles of our Lord who also were very much sinful and unclean. Peter, as a disciple, had denied the soon-to-be-crucified Lord three times. Before his conversion, Paul persecuted the Church. In fact, we heard in last week's Epistle Paul calling himself a wretched man on account of his sin. Like the Israelites, Peter and Paul were not on solid ground all the time, and neither are we, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. Paul writes in this week's Epistle: "Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die" (Rom. 8:12-13a). According to our sinful nature, we are carnal beings; that is to say, we seek to satisfy the desires of our sinful flesh. We may receive the Word with joy, but we don't remain joyful because we concern ourselves not with the higher things but with worldly things, forgetting these words of our Lord:
"Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?
"So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
"Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." (Mt. 6:25-34)
We sin as we preoccupy ourselves with the troubles of this world and our own sinful flesh, for we make these things our gods—fearing, loving, and trusting in these things above God. We allow these things to choke us off from the Word and do not allow it to take root in our hearts. The Word does not bear fruit in us. The wages of sin is death, as Paul also reminds us (Rom. 6:23a). This death is the direct result of our sin of preventing the Word from taking root in us, and we shrivel and die in our sins. In the words of the Psalmist in the Introit appointed for today: "As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more" (Ps. 103:15-16).
What, then, are we to make of the seed that falls upon the path? This is the seed the birds devour; that is to say, the devil seeks to steal the Word of God from the faithful by pouncing on it and devouring it, "because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Pet. 5:8). He has sought to steal the Scriptures from us and continues to work through the world and our own sinful flesh. He has a demon at work in Minnesota, a college professor who has publicly sought to desecrate the consecrated elements of the Eucharist from any congregation, asking someone to steal them for him, so that he would publicly desecrate them, desiring to do more than a college student in Florida did recently in merely holding the elements hostage. They desire to deny us the food that we need for our spiritual survival. Just as plants need to be fed to survive, we also need to be fed on the Word of God and on His Sacraments. We need to watch out for those who make a mockery of the Means of Grace, whether they are in Florida, Minnesota, or even here in western New York—and we need to pray for them and all who seek to deprive us of the pure Gospel, the right preaching of the Word and the proper administration of the Sacraments, that the Holy Spirit would convict them in their vile sin. We also need to pray for ourselves, that we would not lose hope, that our faith that would not shrivel and die, lest we face eternal condemnation in hell, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Kyrie eleison! Christe eleison! Kyrie eleison!
Our Lord does indeed have mercy upon us. He does not leave us as orphans, as those who have no hope. Listen to what He says through the prophet Isaiah: "All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, because the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever" (Is. 40:6-8), and again—this time in our Old Testament Reading for today: "For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it" (Is. 55: 10-11). The Lord has sent His Word, sending His undershepherds to plant the seed of the Word in us so that God would cause it to grow in us and that we would grow in Him. The Lord causes the growth of His Word. He uses men He has called to plant the seed, as St. Paul writes: "Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase" (1 Cor. 3:5-7).
God causes the increase of the Word in our hearts. He causes the growth in our faith. Through the Word He draws us nearer to Himself. Even as a plant needs water to grow, we also need water to grow and bear His fruit. In fact, we need a lot of water—so much so that we drown according to our sinful nature. This is what Holy Baptism does, as "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" (Baptism IV). St. Paul writes, "Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:4). This daily dying and rising is our living our Baptism; what was begun at the font continues in our liturgical living each day. In this daily living our Baptism, we live in the forgiveness of sins. Just as one speaks kindly to a plant to spur its growth, so also our Lord speaks to us with the sweet words of His Gospel, of His absolution, declaring us forgiven for the sake of His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Through His called and ordained servants of the Word—through His pastors—He declares to us that we are forgiven in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Our Lord planted the seed from the cross when He said, "It is finished," thereby declaring to the world, to you and to me, that the path to our salvation has been completed—perfected!—on our behalf. He has washed your sins away.
We see in Scripture numerous accounts of the Lord sending His undershepherds to plant the seed of the Word in people's hearts. In Acts chapter eight, the Ethiopian eunuch was reading Isaiah but could not understand until the deacon Philip proclaimed to him that Jesus Christ is the Suffering Servant, of whom the Ethiopian read. The Holy Spirit moved the Ethiopian to desire to become baptized. At Pentecost, Peter preached the Word, leading his hearers, convicted by the Law, to repent and become baptized, receiving the Gospel through water and the Word. As St. Luke writes, "Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers… praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved" (Acts 2:41-42, 47). Even as the Church began anew at Pentecost, she was already living liturgically, as there was, in those verses from Acts 2, a liturgy already in place: the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayers. The term "breaking of bread" was Luke's way of speaking in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles regarding the celebration of the Lord's Supper. The first Christians broke bread together; they gathered together around the Lord's Table to be fed on the body and blood of the Lord.
At a home-and-garden store, one can find food specifically made and sold for plants, as an aid in their growth. And so it is with the Lord's Supper; it is food for our souls. He gives us His body and blood, which is His Word attached to the bread and wine. Moses said to the Israelites, "So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD" (Dt. 8:3). And so it is with us, for our Lord has brought us to repentance, that He would wash us in Holy Baptism and Holy Absolution, and He feeds us in Holy Communion, that we would be forgiven and live in Him, bearing the fruits of faith, the fruits of the Spirit: "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Gal. 5:22b-23a). King David praises God in the Psalm appointed for today, Psalm 65, as he exclaims:
You visit the earth and water it,
You greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;
You provide their grain,
for so You have prepared it.
You water its ridges abundantly,
You settle its furrows;
You make it soft with showers,
You bless its growth.
You crown the year with Your goodness,
and Your paths drip with abundance.
They drop on the pastures of the wilderness,
and the little hills rejoice on every side.
The pastures are clothed with flocks;
the valleys also are covered with grain;
they shout for joy, they also sing. [Ps. 65:9-13]
Through His Means of Grace, our Lord makes you the good soil on which the seed that is His Word falls. Through His Word and Sacraments He continues to make you fertile ground for His Word. Through His Holy Spirit He brings you here each week to be fed on the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ, the Word-become-flesh who comes to you in His read and preached Word. Through His Office of the Holy Ministry He gives His gifts, that we would continue to receive "the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, 'Abba, Father.' The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God," as we heard in today's Epistle Reading (Rom. 8:15b-16). As we come to our heavenly Father in prayer, as we will do corporately in a few moments, we get to do so with an even greater closeness than a little child has with his or her daddy, crying out "Abba, Father!", making our petitions and intercessions known to Him through His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with Him and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
"Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness, while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God. For the administration of this service not only supplies the needs of the saints, but also is abounding through many thanksgivings to God, while, through the proof of this ministry, they glorify God for the obedience of your confession to the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal sharing with them and all men, and by their prayer for you, who long for you because of the exceeding grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!" (2 Cor. 9:10-15)
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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