Sunday, February 19, 2006

Sermon: Sexagesima

19 February 2006 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 8:4-15 (Historic)

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Today’s gospel text is often called the Parable of the Sower. Perhaps this isn’t a very accurate title. The sower isn’t really the important character in this story. Rather, the mover and shaker of this tale is the seed. Maybe we should call this the Parable of the Seeds.

Seeds are remarkable things. They’re small, unimpressive, and easy to overlook. But look at what they do! The mightiest redwood tree, the most ancient bristlecone pine, the most fragrant rose, and the most luscious fruits all find their genesis in a tiny pellet. A pellet imbedded with complex DNA codes and intricate chemical systems that start a chain reaction when something as simple as water is added to it.

Jesus said something similar when he spoke of the seemingly unimpressive little mustard seed which grows into a tall shady tree that birds can even nest in.

But there is so much more to this parable than the lesson that great things come in small packages. No, indeed, this is no ordinary tiny bit of matter – but rather seeds are in a way a sacrament – an earthly element that quickens into life by the command of God. For seeds bear in them the creative power of God himself.

The Lord God created a perfect world teeming with life – and seeds were part and parcel of this great creative plan. In fact, only twelve verses into the Bible, we read: “And God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind.’” Seeds have always been integral to God’s creation. And these seeds were there to give food to mankind and all living creatures, who were given permission to eat “every green plant.” Seeds are the ongoing creative work of God to sustain man and beast alike.

But what did man do? He abused the seeds, he took advantage of God’s gift – eating that which was not sown for him. And after the Fall, God announced the consequence to man: “cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread…” No more would seeds sprout effortlessly for man. No indeed, birds will eat what the man has sown – no longer living in harmony with man, but in competition. Rocky ground and lack of moisture would make his job harder – making him till and water the ground. Thorns would entangle the seed and choke it out – requiring constant weeding and hoeing. Good ground was to become hard to find – and the man would have to labor to eat his bread.

Interestingly, God announces only a few verses later, to the Serpent, that a seed was coming to fix what had been broken. He tells the devil that the Seed of the woman will crush his head. The Seed from the body of Eve, the DNA of the very woman who committed the first sin would come to conquer the Serpent and set the world aright once more.

The Seed was promised throughout the Old Testament: to Moses, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to all of the prophets. Through David who reigned over a prosperous kingdom, and through God’s messengers who saw the Temple destroyed and the people captive. Through wars and conquests, occupation and bloodshed, the promise of the Seed remained alive, passing from generation to generation.

And when the ground was ready, the Seed was at last sown. Unlike any other human seed sown by an earthly father in the natural way, this Seed was sown supernaturally by God Himself, through the Holy Spirit. The angel of the Lord appeared to Mary and sowed the Seed into her ear! The Seed is none other than the Word of God – the Word made flesh! And once implanted, that Seed germinated into the fertile ground of the Blessed Virgin, and grew into a grown Man, the fulfillment of God’s promise to the Serpent. He, the very Word of God, crushed the Serpent’s head in an unthinkable way: by dying, and rising from the dead. For Jesus himself told us that unless a “grain of wheat” – that is, a seed – “falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

And look at how this Seed falls to the earth, notice how our Lord suffers on the cross. Jesus, the Word of God, the Seed, is thrown onto the wayside, the road, where he is dragged to his cross. But notice that the birds of the air do not devour Jesus’ body as with other condemned criminals. And this Seed is hurled upon the rocky ground of Golgotha, where he lacked moisture – but in spite of his suffering and thirst, this Seed was not to wither away. He was even crowned with thorns, the very symbol of Adam’s curse – and yet this Seed would not be choked out of existence.

For while the Seed did die, He fell into good soil, and he rose again having crushed the Serpent’s head, descending into hell to announce his victory.

For indeed, the Seed fell on the good soil of the New Israel, the Church, where the Word of God is implanted, where his life is given to us, like Mary, into our ears – by preaching. The Seed is also given to us through bread and wine (both of which come from seeds), and through water that germinates and nourishes the life within the Seed, baptismal water.

Of course, sowers continue to scatter the Seed of the Lord’s Word. The sower has no mandate to try to genetically engineer the seeds or to try to strategically figure out where all the good ground is. His job is to cast it everywhere. And while good ground may be hard to find, the Word of God does what God intends it to do. Just as the rain and snow fall from heaven, so the Word of the Lord will not return void. For even in the midst of thorns and thistles, the prophet Isaiah, himself a sower of the Word of God, prophesies that cypress and myrtle trees will grow and replace the briars.

And even though a sermon from a preacher, or a few words chanted over bread and wine, or a spoken declaration of the forgiveness of sins, or a sprinkle of water on a baby’s head don’t look very powerful, they are indeed the very same Seed that crushed the Serpent’s head: the Word of God is “living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword.”

The Word of God is the most powerful thing in creation. It dwarfs the power of the atomic bomb and makes a mockery of the energy of the sun. For only the Word of God can overcome death, can make us worthy to stand in the presence of God, can give us life beyond the grave itself.

Even on this side of the grave, where nature conspires with the devil himself against us, where the rockiness of our shallow hearts attacks us, where the weeds and thorns of the cares of this world choke us out, we have a Seed who is also our Savior, the One who crushed the Serpent’s head, the One who has replaced the stony ground of our hearts with a heart of flesh, the One who took our crown of thorns to his cross, and exchanged it for a crown of victory for us.

Dear Christians, let us thank God for his Word, for his Seed. “Go out with joy, and be led out in peace; the mountains and the hills shall break forth into singing before you, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” All of creation rejoices because of the fruit that the Seed bears. And that Seed is in your ears and on your lips, and will remain so even as we eat of the tree of life unto eternity. Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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