Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sermon: Sexagesima – 2014

23 February 2014

Text: Luke 8:4-15 (Isa 55:10-13, 2 Cor 11:19-12:9)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Preach you the Word and plant it home
To men who like or like it not,
The Word that shall endure and stand
When flow’rs and men shall be forgot.

In the British comedy series “Bless Me, Father,” based on true life events in a London church in 1950, the great actor Arthur Lowe portrays a wise and loveable Irish pastor named Father Duddleswell.  In one episode, the church prepares for its annual bazaar, and the pastor sets a nearly impossible fundraising goal of 600 pounds.

A terrific storm rages on the day of the bazaar, and it seems to be a total disaster...  until the check from the insurance company comes in.  For we learn that Father Duddleswell always took out a policy in case of inclement weather.  In addition, it is revealed that he has also put up a bet with the local bookie, at 20 to 1 odds, that it would rain, thus making an additional $600 for the parish.  The associate pastor and housekeeper are scandalized.  But of course, the pastor’s wise planning turned a disaster into a grand success.

At the end of the episode, Father Duddleswell, with a twinkle in his eye, confesses to them, “Sometimes I think your parish priest has no faith at all.”

And we are often like the disciples whom our Lord chided as having “little faith.”  We try to take the bull by the horns.  We plan and strategize.  We look for angles.  We apply the world’s ways to the kingdom of God.  Planning and looking for opportunity is not wrong, dear friends, but how often we rely on our own strength, instead of harmonizing with St. Paul, “I will boast of the things that show my weakness” and taking to heart the Lord’s counsel: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Indeed, dear friends, the church just looks foolish and impotent in the eyes of the world.  We have no bombs, no armies, no guns, no way to compel anyone to do anything.  We are despised by the world.  We are hated by dictators.  We are mocked by the media.  We are scorned by the mighty.

And yet, dear friends, the church has conquered the world.  The Bible exists in every language.  Churches flourish in the open on the very sites of Stalin’s death camps and in vast numbers though in secret all across Communist China.  Christians like Asia Bibi confess Christ in Pakistan even under sentence of death.  Pastors like Saaed Abedini proclaim the Gospel in dungeons in Iran.  With nothing more than the Word, confessors of Christ, mostly poor and despised, number in the billions all over our planet.

Christians have been subjected to beheading, the stake, the arena, and the gulag camp.  And yet the faith continues to spread around the world.  The church grows.  Christ is confessed as Christ forgives and is present in His Word and sacraments.  In the words of the ancient Latin hymn: Christ conquers!  Christ reigns!  Christ rules!  All without a single weapon, not so much as a sling shot.  It’s utterly miraculous.

This, dear friends, is all done by means of the Word.  It is all accomplished by the confession that Christ is Lord, by the Gospel proclamation of who Jesus is, what Jesus has done, and what Jesus continues to do in our fallen, sin-sick world.  The Word we proclaim is Christ crucified; the Lamb and His saving blood; His victory over sin, death and the devil; and His glorious resurrection.  The Word we proclaim is Holy Baptism, Holy Absolultion, and Holy Communion.  The Word we proclaim is the Word Made Flesh.  And that mighty Word is implanted into you, dear brothers and sisters, by means of what seems utterly ridiculous in its weakness: by preaching.

Our Lord compares the Word to a seed.  A seed is tiny.  It lies dormant.  It’s of no consequence in a world that respects power, wealth, and might.  But a seed, dear friends, has more power than all the atomic bombs on the planet.  For within the seed is life encoded in the DNA programmed by the Creator Himself.  And in the seed of the preached Word is the self-reproducing DNA of eternal life.

That, dear friends, is what makes tyrants quake in their jackboots.  This is what frightens dictators more than anything.  It is the power of love over and against hate.  It is the might of forgiveness over and against sin.  It is the conquest of the cross over the concentration camp.  Lenin is still rotting away for all the world to see in a glass box, a maudlin relic of the failure of the enemies of the cross.  But our Lord Jesus Christ is risen, and His tomb is a church, a living house of the proclamation of the Word of the cross that frees men from imprisonment to the devil, the world, and our sinful nature.

The sower sows; his reckless love
Scatters abroad the goodly seed,
Intent alone that all may have
The wholesome loaves that all men need.

In his recklessness, the sower casts the seed everywhere.  Some falls on the path and is trampled and eaten by birds, snatched away by Satan.  Some falls on rocky ground, grows quickly and dies quickly, lacking roots to draw in water.  Some falls among thorns, choked out by distractions.  In all three of these examples, the seed dies.  It never matures and bears fruit.  Its explosive creative power encoded in its DNA goes to waste for lack of a receptive heart in which to prosper.

Our Lord is giving us a stern warning, dear friends.  For we are most certainly poor miserable sinners.  We are tempted to allow God’s Word to die unproductive within us.  We do not resist Satan the way we ought, and the danger is that we “may not believe and be saved.”  We are tempted to “fall away” in “time of testing” because we are not grounded in God’s Word, choosing to devote huge amounts of time to other things that seem more powerful, more important, more relevant in this modern age than a tiny seed, than God’s Word, than that which seems so weak.  We are tempted by the “cares and riches and pleasure of life” – worldly matters that take priority over and against the Word of God.  And so we are choked by things which ultimately are meaningless, while we do not mature, but instead allow the Word to be strangled by the thorns of sin’s lasting legacy.

We would be wise to listen to our Lord’s Word, dear friends.  For as the prophet yet again preaches to us: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my Word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

And, dear friends, the Word bears the promise, and it is deceptively mighty and eternally powerful, much as the inconsequential-looking seed of the sower contains the power of the Creator embedded therein.  For when the seed falls on good soil, it yields “a hundredfold.”  As our Lord both observes and promises: “those who, hearing the Word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.”

This is how the Lord’s kingdom works, how the church triumphs over the world, how Christ conquers, reigns, and rules in love, how against all odds and beyond all imagination, slavery yields to liberty, fear yields to joy, war yields to peace, hatred yields to love, sin yields to forgiveness, infirmity yields to health, and mortality yields to immortality.

For in spite of our “little faith,” even when it seems that we have no faith at all, the Lord is in control.  He is imbedding the seed, dear brothers and sisters, with the most explosive power in the universe: the power of the cross, the power of the Gospel, the power of redemtion – even as the sower can only look upon the Lord’s work and say: “Ah, what of that, Lord, what of that.”

Preach you the Word and plant it home
And never faint; the Harvest Lord
Who gave the sower seed to sow
Will watch and tend His planted Word.



on the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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