9 Pentecost Proper A10
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 13:1-23 Sermon
July 13, 2014
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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
1 "Open Now Thy Gates Of Beauty"
371 "Jesus Thy Blood And Righteousness"
434 "O God Of Jacob By Whose Hand"
46 "On What Has Now Been Sown"
THE HOLY SPIRIT PLANTED WITHIN US
TEXT (vs. 3-9) “Then [Jesus] told them many things in parables, saying: ‘A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop--a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear.’"
As a little boy, I used to go around our neighborhood and visit with our neighbors who happened to be outside. I was particularly interested in what they were doing out in their yards.
So one day when I was maybe six or seven years old, I spotted the widowed lady who lived several doors down from us working in her flower bed in front of her house. So I walked up to her and said, "Hi; what are you doing to your flowers?"
"I'm thinning out my irises," she replied. And then she explained that if she didn't do that, the irises would get too crowded and they wouldn't bloom properly. Then she took one of the irises that she had dug out, and handed it to me. "Here," she said, "Why don't you take this home and plant it and you can have some flowers that look just like mine."
Boy was I excited! I don't think that anybody had given me something like this before. So I ran home to plant it. I grabbed my shovel out of my sand box and went over to the big tree by the swing set in the back yard. I dug a hole by the tree, put the iris in the ground, and covered it up with dirt.
For the rest of the summer, I would go and look at that iris. It wasn't dead, but it wasn't doing anything either. It just sort of sat there. As the season passed, I kind of forgot about it until the next summer. And sure enough, there were three pointed iris leaves coming out of the ground. My flower was growing!
But nothing else happened. There was no flower, only those three pointed leaves. And that continued to happen every year until we moved away. I never saw a flower bloom from that iris.
It wasn't until many, many years later that I figured out what I had done wrong. Somebody gave me a whole bunch of beautiful hybrid irises that I planted in the front yard of my mother's house. And then I found out the planting instructions. I was told that I had to bury just the bottom of the rhizome, which is that knobby looking root from which the iris sprouts. The top had to be exposed, or otherwise the iris wouldn't bloom.
So that's exactly what I did, and the irises are absolutely beautiful. During this whole process however, my mind flashed back to that iris the lady down the street gave me as a little kid. And even though it was just a common iris and not one of the big hybrid variety, I knew exactly what had happened. I planted it wrong, and as a result, it didn't grow properly. It didn't do what it was supposed to.
I thought about my experience with the iris as I studied our Gospel reading for today, which is the parable of the sower. This is one of Jesus’ more famous parables, you know, one of those “earthly stories with a heavenly meaning” they told us about in Sunday School. Jesus is comparing the Word of God with the sowing of seed, and what happens after that seed is sown.
Jesus presents four different situations. He talks about the seed being sown on the footpath where it got trampled, amongst the rocks where it couldn’t take root, amongst the weeds where it got choked out, and finally in the good soil where it sprouted, took root, and grew.
Even though all this makes perfect sense to us, yet there is one area in particular that doesn’t quite make sense. For example, if you were going to plant some grass seed in your front yard, I think you’d be careful about how you did it. You’d till and work the soil and get it smooth, and then you’d sow the seed, and maybe cover the yard with a layer of straw to protect the young sprouts and help hold the moisture. You wouldn’t go and throw grass seed on the driveway, or on the footpath, or on the white rock around your shrubs. You also wouldn’t sow nice grass seed in an area full of crabgrass and thistles and bindweed. It would be rather idiotic to do so, because you know that you’d be wasting the seed. You couldn’t expect grass to grow in the middle of the driveway; and even if it did, you wouldn’t want it there.
But this is the one area where God seems to act out of the ordinary. He scatters the seed of his Word indiscriminately. He literally throws the seed everywhere, from the rocks to the footpath, amongst the weeds, and in the good soil. The seed of his Word is spread everywhere.
Why would God do this? Why would he waste the precious seed of his Word and the power of the Holy Spirit by sowing it in areas where anybody with any sense at all would know it wouldn’t grow?
To answer this, let’s look at two separate passages of Scripture. First, let’s examine a section from our Old Testament Lesson this morning. In Isaiah chapter 55 verses 10-11 we find God saying: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
Second, in Paul’s Epistle to Timothy, we read exactly what the will of God is. I Timothy chapter 2 verse 4 says that God: “…wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
Through the inspired pen of the Prophet Isaiah, God assures us that his Word is never wasted, regardless of how it is sown. So often, we think of things according to our own logic and try to convince ourselves that a particular person has no hope, so why should we bother? Isn’t that like “casting pearls before swine” like the Bible says?
But Jesus says in John chapter 3 verse 8: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
We don’t know how the Word of God will affect someone. It is not up to us to figure out how the Holy Spirit operates. We can’t pre-qualify someone as being worthy of receiving the Word of God. We don’t have the ability to judge hearts.
But we do know that God’s will is that everyone be saved. It’s with this in mind then, that we can see why the Word of God needs to be sown liberally and indiscriminately. It is done for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, through whom all people can be saved. Jesus died to save the entire world from sin, and not just a select few. Jesus paid for everybody’s sin on the cross, from the fall into sin until the end of the world. The price for all the sins of the world has been paid in full, without exception.
It’s here where we need to understand the power of the Word of God. It is the very power of God the Holy Spirit himself. It has the power to change and convert. It has the power to change the footpath, and the rocky soil, and the weed infested soil into good, fertile ground. The seemingly hopeless ground can indeed be changed.
But we still need to look deeper. When we read the parable of the sower, we immediately come to the conclusion that Jesus is talking about other people. We think he’s talking about Sam up the street who won’t bother to learn about his Saviour. Or we think about Sally next door who was all gung-ho about church, but soon lost interest. We think maybe he’s talking about Charlie who had every good intention about being an active church member, but who became too involved with other things and God got pushed by the wayside. And then we think he’s talking about us when he’s referring to the good soil where the seed is planted and grows a healthy crop.
But the truth of the matter is that he is talking about us, about you and me when he makes all of those references. We have been the ones who find that we can’t be bothered with God and his will. We have been the ones who have lost interest. We have been the ones who have let other things stand in the way and otherwise crowd God right out of our lives. We need to point the finger at ourselves, and not others when it comes to this parable.
But remember he finishes his parable with the seed planted in good soil, and that describes us too. We have received God’s Word. In spite of all the things that would cause that seed to die out, God has taken our rocky, trampled, weed-infested lives and has worked a miracle. He has taken us and turned us into the good soil which gladly receives the Gospel.
We have talked often about the subject of conversion and how somebody comes to faith. The Bible tells us that this is God working within us, working the miracle of faith in our hearts. Paul writes to the Ephesians in chapter 2 that faith is not something that we produce ourselves, but something that is given to us purely as a gift of God, as a gift of his grace. And the parable of the sower illustrates this so well.
We don't plant the seed of faith in our own souls. We don't look through the seed catalogue and choose what kind of faith we want. Through Word and Sacrament, the Holy Spirit is the one that does the planting. This is the seed that is planted in the heart of a young child through Baptism. This is the seed that is planted wherever the Word of God is preached and taught. Where we enter into the picture is when we nurture that faith within us. We are warned about falling away, about losing that faith. And so we want to be sure that our faith is growing in the good and rich soil, and not being trampled by people or choked out by the weeds. Like watering and fertilizing a seed, so it is with our faith. We need to keep our faith strong, and not neglect it or replace it with the meaningless ways of the world. Paul writes in Philippians chapter 1 verse 6: "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ."
Jesus wants us to come to him in faith, with the knowledge that our lives of sin have been changed into lives of holiness and righteousness. We acknowledge our sinfulness and come to Jesus looking for forgiveness. God promises to receive us just as we are, and change us into people whose lives reflect the Gospel of Jesus Christ that lives within us. We know that through faith alone, Jesus our Saviour becomes a welcome guest and Lord of our life.
Just remember that a seed can be planted in the best soil around; but if it’s neglected, it will die out. A seed needs sun and rain and nutrients to grow. And that’s the same with us.
To keep the seed alive, we need to feed on God continually. We keep in his Word, whether it is here in worship, or privately in our homes, or when we are just living our lives out in the world. We keep that Word strong and active in us when we come here to the Lord’s Table and receive his true Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sins and for the strengthening of our faith. When we are active in our Lord’s work and seek him where he may be found, we know that we are feeding our faith and keeping the word of life flowing within us.
I opened my sermon this morning by telling you about the iris that our neighbor lady gave to me. I wanted to see it bloom and grow, and I could never figure out why it wasn't doing what I wanted it to. And like all kids, I was a bit impatient with it too.
In comparison, don’t we find ourselves getting impatient when it seems like the Word of God isn’t working as fast as we’d like? Don’t we find ourselves getting frustrated when we faithfully preach and teach God’s Word and people aren’t breaking down the doors to come and partake of it with us? We have to learn patience when it comes to how God’s Word works in the lives of people.
The success of the Gospel of Jesus Christ isn’t measured by numbers or percentages, but upon individual souls. We don’t burden ourselves with the numbers of how many haven’t responded, but we rejoice with those that have.
We are indeed a blest people. The Gospel we have is the one that we share. God wants us to be faithful sowers of his Word. We are to scatter that seed everywhere, with the knowledge that God can transform whatever kind of soil upon which the seed happens to fall into fertile ground.
Therefore, let us pray with the hymn writer: “On what has now been sown, thy blessing Lord bestow; the power is thine alone to make it spring and grow; do thou the gracious harvest raise, and thou alone shalt have the praise.”