Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sermon: Sexagesima - 2011

27 February 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 8:4-15 (Isa 55:10-13, Heb 4:9-13)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“As for the good soil,” explains our blessed Lord, “they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.”

Patience is the hardest thing in the world. Patience is also the easiest thing in the world. Our Lord teaches us that we are good soil when we receive the seed and it sprouts and grows and bears fruit, when we not only hear the Word and hold onto the Word, but when we are patient with the Word.

Again, that is both hard and easy.

The hard part is the waiting. We live in a culture of instant gratification. We are used to getting things right now. As hard as it is for young people to fathom, there was a time when people used to travel to places called “record stores.” They had to shop for music, hope that the store had what they wanted in stock, wait in line, and then go back home to listen to their purchases played on big bulky equipment. Now, we can browse, purchase, download, install, and listen to music directly into our ears in a matter of seconds. Who has time to wait? And books are becoming this way too.

And just because books are made up of words, we should not think that God’s Word works the same way, even as a seed hitting the ground doesn’t mature and bear fruit in a matter of seconds – though it would be surprising indeed if there isn’t an agribusiness research company working on it. Such planting, growing, maturing, and bearing fruit takes time. Even eating a fruit that is not yet ripe defeats the whole process. There is a waiting period. God determines how much time is to pass. There is a need for patience. There comes a time when time itself has reached its fullness. And it simply isn’t our decision.

God’s Word comes to us according to His will: by hearing, by our being surrounded by His Word read and proclaimed, by His Word of the Gospel sounding forth, and by His Sacraments administered. The Word is implanted and watered at Holy Baptism, is protected from harm by Holy Absolution, and is nourished by Holy Communion. And in the course of a life of faithful care by the Holy Spirit and by being surrounded by the Word, we grow into the creatures we were meant to be – even though we will not reach full maturity until after death itself. For even as Jesus taught us: “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

There will come a time, actually when time is no more, in eternity, when we will be fully ripened and matured to perfection. But until that day, we must contend with worldly assaults on the seed of God’s Word.

First, the devil lunges at us, hoping that we are like the path, where the seed can be easily snatched away from us. Second, our own shallowness threatens the Word of God, for if we have no root in the heavenly things, instead investing ourselves in the fallen world that is passing away, we may experience temporary growth – but all for naught as our own shallowness causes us to fall away at the first sign of trouble. Third, the “cares and riches and pleasures of life” also distract us and draw us away from maturity, threatening to kill us by choking out the Lord’s life-giving, life-bearing, and life-saving Word. Like thorns and weeds choking out a struggling seedling, such things that take our hearts and minds off of the kingdom of God threaten to extinguish our lives that were given to us at baptism.

And yet, we cannot make God’s Word grow. We cannot force ourselves to become good soil. We are unable to compel God’s Word to do anything. We cannot speed up the process. We cannot control where or if the Word takes root. We cannot earn God’s favor or buy His grace.

And this is where the easy part of patience comes in. We need not worry about that which we cannot control. God’s Word is a gift, and it comes to us when and how God Himself chooses. The easy part of patience is acknowledging that we cannot force God to do our bidding. What makes patience bearable is that God is in control and He has promised to bless us.

But, dear friends, surrendering to God’s will is not an invitation to become idle or lazy. For the writer to the Hebrews warns us: “Let us strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” We can pray for the Lord’s Word to be effective among us, even as a “two-edged sword,” rejecting neither the Law which calls us to repent, nor the Gospel which gives us the promise without strings attached. We are indeed “naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” We cannot fool God, and we should not try to fool ourselves. Patience with God’s Word doesn’t mean license to sin nor taking the gift for granted, but rather the patience expounded by Jesus calls for us to wait upon the Lord with expectant eyes, fixing our gaze on Him, regardless of what the world hurls at us, in spite of what we see with our eyes of fallen flesh in this broken world. Our patience is a prayerful patience, a hopeful surrender to the Lord’s mercy, an active faith that indeed produces fruit – even if imperfect and unripe. We trust in the Lord and the riches of His Word. And in that light, we can afford to be patient.

For we have the ancient promise from the prophet Isaiah, the promise fulfilled by Jesus, the Seed of the woman Himself, who not only gives us the Parable of the Sower, but who is the Sower and who is the Word: “So shall My Word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

“For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”

Dear brothers and sisters, that is the glorious promise given to God’s people, the promise fulfilled in Christ, the promise received by the world, and the promise that we Christians shall see brought to maturity in us by the miracle of God’s Word.

This is how it is that we can wait patiently, while not waiting idly. We wait expectantly, because the Word has power: power to give life, power to bring to repentance, power to save, and power to bear fruit that never ends. Amen.

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

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