Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sermon: Sexagesima

27 January 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 8:4-15

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

We are surrounded by words. There was a time when people walking down the street muttering to no-one were considered mentally ill. Nowadays, we presume they’re chatting on their cell phones through Blue Tooth attachments stuck in their ears.

Cell phones are absolutely everywhere. Televisions are almost as common.

In election years, there is a constant buzz from “talking heads” and the stifling clutter of political signs and billboards with brightly colored words and hackneyed slogans.

Even DVDs and videos are filled with unread words citing FBI regulations and quotations from the United States criminal code, not to mention the Interpol warnings flashed up so fast that no human being could possibly read them – followed by the same unreadable and unread blurb in French.

Car ads inevitably have a whispered disclaimer rattled off like an auctioneer explaining all the fine print about APR rates. And who hasn’t grown weary of the litany of possible side effects that are blurted out with every pharmaceutical ad?

Blah, blah, blah. Words have become worthless. We are surrounded by clutter – spoken and written. And we are so used to being lied to and given sales pitches that for the most part, we ignore the constant buzz of words that dance around our heads.

This clutter serves to choke out the one Word we need to hear, the only Word that truly matters: the Word made flesh, the Word by whom the world was made, the Word that brings us good news of redemption. Because of the constant hum of words, we often don’t hear the Word. And even when we hear it, do we listen?

Our Lord’s parable uses words to convey the power not only of words but of the Word.

The sower tosses his seeds to the four winds: by the wayside, upon the rock, among the thorns, and upon good soil. And as our Lord tells us, the seed in the parable represents the Word of God. The Word is sown in the ears and hearts of men by preachers who recklessly heave the seed of the Word of God to those same four winds. He preaches to those from whose hearts the devil wrests the Word. He preaches to the shallow who hear the Word gladly but lack the depth for the Word to take root in their lives, who fall away in time of trouble. He preaches to those distracted by the cacophony of competing words, whose attention is dragged away by worries and riches, by pleasures of this world and priorities that choke out the Word. And yes, he also preaches to those who will hear the Word, who will take it to heart, who will bear the fruits of repentance to the glory of the Lord and His kingdom.

The Parable of the Sower is particularly important for our ears to hear in this day and age, even as there are so many competing words seeking to drown out the still small voice of the Lord’s Word.

Even Christian churches are befuddled by the clutter of words. Preachers think they need to shout and strut, do parlor tricks and put on side shows. They write books filled with empty words that have nothing to do with the Gospel. Church officials tell us that the simple preached Word of God will no longer work, especially among the twenty-first century emerging iPod and text message generations.

We are told that the old method of casting seeds to the four winds must yield to a targeted marketing model that looks and sounds like the very clutter that surrounds us.

And this makes perfect sense. It is logical, it is reasonable, and it can be used in any sales situation. But that’s the fatal flaw. The sower is not a salesman. The seed is not a commodity. The Christian faith is not a brand to be sold like Old Navy or Abercrombie and Fitch. We sow by faith, not by reason. We proclaim, we don’t sell.

We have lost our faith in the Word. We no longer believe there is an unseen power lying dormant within the seed of the Word of God. We seem to think that the power of God needs the help of mass marketing and slick salesmanship to empower the Word take root, sprout, resist the attacks of its enemies, and grow to bear fruit. But our Lord uses the metaphor of the seed and the sower for a reason. The seed bears its power within – independent of the sower’s skill or cleverness. The Word of God is effective because it is God’s Word, not because of the messenger or the method.

The Lord chooses to work through words because He is the Word. The Lord chooses to describe the working of His Word through the seed, for He is the Seed as prophesied to the devil right after the Fall: the Seed of the woman who will crush the Serpent’s head and reclaim creation from evil unto Himself. The job of every sower is to toss the seeds and get out of the way. The task of every preacher is to faithfully proclaim the Word and get out of the way. For even the biggest agribusiness can’t make seeds grow. The seeds grow because that’s just what seeds do. They grow because that is their nature, the latent power waiting patiently inside for water and good soil.

When water works on the seed, the seed grows – even if the sower has long since gone away.

The Word of God has the power of God within itself. Nothing can be added to make it more powerful. Just as the Lord has provided sowers to cast the seeds to the four winds, He has likewise provided baptismal water to make the seed sprout.

Of course, not all words are spoken. In fact, some of the most powerful words are not spoken at all. Actions can indeed speak louder than words. The Gospel is as often communicated by acts and deeds of love as it is conveyed by doctrine and reason. The Word of God sprouts in the fertile soil of a faithful hearer when conveyed through the Holy Sacrament of the Holy Supper, where the Word of God is joined to worldly elements that are eaten and drunk. And these elements come from wheat and grapes – both of which began in God’s creation as tiny seeds.

Just as a grain of wheat dies and falls to the ground, and just as a grape seed sprouts into a vine – the Seed of the woman, our Lord Jesus Christ, comes to us by wheat that has borne the fruit of grain beaten into flour and made into bread, as well as by the vine that has borne the fruit of grapes crushed into wine. And through these seeds, the Seed comes to us. Through words meeting the fruits of these seeds, the Word Himself comes to us. And this Word goes forth from the mouth of God. It accomplishes what He pleases, and it prospers in the thing for which He sent it.

The thing for which the Word is sent is simply this: for us men and for our salvation. The Word of God accomplishes the creation of the Creator and carries out the redemption of the Redeemer. All of this is done through seeds – the seed of wheat, the seed of the grape, and most importantly, by the seed of the Word of God, proclaimed by a preacher, sown by a sower, cast about to the four winds, in faith that the Word of God bears its own power within, that the Word of God will not return void, but will indeed burrow into good soil, to sprout, to burst forth from the good creation of the earth, to beat back the clutter of thorns, to soak up water and nourishment, to triumph over the crafts and assaults of the devil, to bear fruits in keeping with repentance – all for the glory of God and for the spread of His Kingdom.

In spite of all of our lack of faith, over and against all appearances to the contrary, the Word of God can and does blast through the clutter of meaningless words and the drone of empty babble to bring forth the Lord’s glorious Kingdom unto eternity. Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

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