Sexagesima + Luke 8:4-15 + Februrary 19, 2017

A-WAKE! - || Why do | You | sleep, | O - | Lord? *
            Arise! Do not cast us | off - | for- - | ev- | er. -
|| Why do | You | hide | Your - | face, *
            And forget | our | af- - | flic- | tion?
|| For our soul is bowed | down | to | the - | dust; *
            Arise for our help | and - | re- - | deem | us. (Psalm 44:23-24a, 25a, 26a)
|| We have heard with | our | ears, | O - | God, *
            Our fathers have told us, the deeds You | did - | in - | their | days.
|| You drove out the na- | tions | with | Your - | hand, *
            But them You planted, because | you - | fa- - | vored | them.
|| You have saved us from | our | en- | e- - | mies, *
            And have put to shame those | who - | hat- - | ed | us.
|| In God we | boast | all | day - | long, *
            And praise Your | name - | for- - | ev- | er. (Psalm 44:1a, 2–3, 7–8)

Isaiah 55:10-13
2 Corinthians 11:19-12:9
Luke 8:4-15 

Collect for Sexagesima
O God, Who seest that we put not our trust in anything that we do, mercifully grant that by Thy power we may be defended against all adversity; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. 

 Sermon on Luke 8:4-15

Grace and Peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. 

1)         A sower goes out to sow his seed. Seed isn’t cheap. It’s precious, which is why modern farmers go to great lengths to make sure that none of it is wasted, that each seed planted has the best environment in which to grow. Not so with this sower in the parable. He is quite reckless, almost thoughtless it seems. He reaches his hand into his seed pouch, grabs a handful of the precious seed, pulls his hand out and tosses it into the air. That precious seed lands on four different types of soil. Some seed falls by the wayside, that is, on a walkway or road. People’s footsteps have compacted that soil to make it hard and unyielding. Other seed falls on rocky soil. Finding a bit of soil, the seed sprouts and grows up quickly, but since it is on rocks, it has no moisture for its root. The seed that suddenly sprouted withers away just as quickly. Other seed falls among thorns. This weedy soil has moisture but because the weeds and thorns were not taken away, but allowed to remain, the thorns grow alongside the seed and strangle the small plant, choking it so that it does not mature and bear fruit. Finally, some of the seed falls on good soil, soil that is cultivated and receptive to the seed. That seed springs to life and bears much fruit. Jesus tells the parable of the sower for this purpose: that we examine ourselves to see what kind of heart we have, which kind of soil we are, so that we may be careful and circumspect about how we hear the Word, for “the seed is the Word of God” which Christ sows in the hearts of men. 

2)         We understand what the first type of soil is. This hardened, compacted soil is that which unbelievers possess. They can hear the Word preached from the pulpit or in private conversation and the precious seed is sown but it cannot take root. The unbeliever’s heart is hardened and unyielding, thinking that it doesn’t need God’s Word or Gospel, that life is just find without it. Our eyes see this as apathy. “No one cares to hear God’s Word,” we say. But it is more than just spiritual apathy. This comes about because a bird comes and plucks the seed from their hardened heart so that they cannot seriously consider it. It is tempting to think that if someone doesn’t believe the Word of God then the preaching isn’t good enough, winsome enough, or convincing enough. But the fault is not with the seed that is sown or the sower. The fault is the hardness of the soil and the bird of prey, the Devil, the ancient enemy of God, who swoops in and takes the seed of the Word out of the hearts and minds of those who hear it. St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 that “even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.” So this soil, this condition of the human heart, believes that it is just fine without the Word of God and goes about its merry way, pursuing the things of this life as the highest good. We see throughout the Gospels that many of Jesus’ hearers fall into this category. Personal experience shows that most in the world fall into this category too. 

3)         As Christians, we ought not to feel ourselves exempt from this type of the soil of the heart. It is possible for the Christian to harden their heart against the seed of God’s Word, so that over time one’s heart becomes stubborn and stops truly hearing God’s Word. This happens if we hear the Word that commands us to repent of our sins and we fail to repent but instead go on willfully sinning against God’s command. If we know that the Lord forbids anger and we willfully hold a grudge against our neighbor who has wronged us, eventually that willful sin will harden our heart so that the Devil can come and snatch the Word away from us. If we know the Lord forbids lust, yet give lust free reign over the members of our bodies, we harden our hearts against God’s Word and eventually drive out the Holy Ghost. If we know what God commands us to receive the Word and gladly hear and learn it, yet willfully stay away from His preaching and His sacrament, we harden our hearts against them so we become indifferent to hearing the Word and receiving the Sacrament for the strengthening of our faith. If we make a practice of sinning, if we cultivate sin in our heart, that will, at some point, lead us to forsake the seed of the Word so that we go back to the devil. Thus we must be careful that we hear the Word of the Law and seriously take it to heart so that we repent of our sins and seek to be rid of them. It also means we take the Gospel seriously, firmly believing that our sins are forgiven, lest we fall into despair, thinking we are beyond grace. 

4)         The second type of the heart of man is the rocky soil. Jesus says that these “when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away.” These are the hearts that receive the Word with great joy and rejoice over the forgiveness of their sins. But temptation and persecutions arise and these two forces prove too much for the young plant. Temptation to sin leads them away from the Word. Persecutions buffet that heart like a cloudburst’s downpour on a small seedling. This is the heart that receives the gospel with joy, but then abandons it when it learns that it must give up its favorite sin. So one receives the gospel with joy but then abandons it because it demands he give up cohabiting with his lover. This is the heart that rejoices in the Gospel but refuses to put aside its own false beliefs about God because it treasures those false beliefs more than the pure Gospel. This is the heart that believes with great joy but then abandons the Word because he values false teaching just as much, if not more than, the pure Word of God. Still another believes but is easily disheartened and dismayed when friends and family members ridicule him for his faith. This is the heart who become fainthearted when it finds that the world really does hate Jesus and the Gospel, so that it is scandalized and casts the true faith aside. Again, even Christians must be on guard so that our hearts do not become burdened with temptations and persecutions. We are daily attacked by Satan with his fiery darts. The devil tempts us to abandon the faith by showing us just how alone we are in a world that wants nothing to do with Christ crucified. Thus we must be careful that we not allow the lies of the devil and the smallness of the church scandalize us into hardening our hearts against God’s promises. 

5)         The third kind of soil, the third condition of the hearts of men, is the soil that has thorns in it. By thorns Jesus means  the “cares, riches and pleasures of life” which grow with the seed and choke it to death. We all have cares in this life. That’s part of having God-given vocations. The life has many cares that need attending to. What Jesus warns against is making those cares the center of our heart so that worry becomes our worship and anxiety replaces faith. The cares of this life must not become the thing we fear, for we should fear God above all things. We must be on guard that riches do not take center stage in our heart so that we trust them for our security. Again, riches and wealth are not evil, they are gifts from God to be used for our benefit and the benefit of our neighbor. But they must not become the object our love and trust. Cares and riches are not to take our hearts away from hearing the Word, contemplating it, and mediating upon it. For Christ tells us, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). He also adds the thorn of worldly pleasures, which are carnal lusts and an overindulgence in the finer things in life. Both of these can easily harden our hearts so that we look to our own comfort as the highest good, and that if we have pleasure and bodily comfort, we do not need the Word of God. Thus we must be vigilant so that we are always striving, with the help of the Holy Ghost, to place our fear, our love, and our trust in God alone and no other. 

6)         The final type of soil is the good soil that receives the seed of the Word and brings forth fruit. The good soil is the heart that does not set itself against God’s Word and harden itself against the Gospel. The good soil is the heart that hears God’s word and desires to learn it. The good soil is a heart that is set on the Word so that the Devil has no occasion to swoop in like a bird of prey and snatch the Word away. This heart is not frightened away by persecutions for it knows that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). This heart is not dismayed when temptations to sin and doubt rain down upon it, because it knows that “offenses must come” (Matthew 18:7). It also knows the promise of God in 1 Corinthians 10:13, that “no temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” This heart is not disheartened that it must be continually pruned by God the Father through trials and afflictions, because it knows that the Lord disciplines those He calls sons and chastens us “for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness” (Hebrews 12:10). This heart hears the Word joyfully and bears fruit. 

7)         That fruit is chiefly repentance, faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins, patience in afflictions, prayer, and good works of love that benefit one’s neighbor. Where the precious seed of the Word takes root in the heart, there you will find these fruits. The unbeliever cannot bear these fruits because the seed of the Word is snatched away. The heart that seeks after sinful pleasures, the cares of this life, and riches cannot bear these fruits, for their anxiety for these things chases away faith. The heart that is scandalized by temptations and persecutions cannot bear these fruits because they will doubt that God is truly good and gracious to them on account of faith alone. The good heart though, hears the Word, keeps it, treasures it, cherishes it, and that faith in the Word of the Gospel brings forth fruit with patience. May the Lord grant this heart of good, soft, receptive soil to us always, so that we may repent of our sins and believe the Gospel of Christ crucified for us, and bear fruit with patience. Amen.

May the peace of God which passes understanding guard your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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