Sunday, February 25, 2018

Sermon: Reminiscere (Lent 2) - 2018

25 February 2018

Text: Matt 15:21-28 (Gen 32:22-32, 1 Thess 4:1-7)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs,” says our Lord Jesus. 

Jesus is able to say this because children are more important than dogs.  As much as we love our animals, we love our children more.  “Children” in this case doesn’t simply mean a random young human being.  “Children” means “descendants,” and in this case our Lord means descendants of Israel.  As he told the Canaanite woman, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

In this case, “children” means children of the promise, heirs of the covenant.  Under the old covenant, this Canaanite woman is not a child, she is a “dog.”  She is not an heir, she is an outsider.  She is, as St. Paul tells us, a Gentile, one of the people “who do not know God.”  She is not a child of God, but an unclean person whose own child is possessed by an unclean spirit.

If you think about it, to be a child of someone is to enjoy privilege.  Children receive extra attention from their parents, more so than the children of others.  Our children have a claim on our time, our attention, our property, but even more so, they inherit our identity and they are recipients of our love; they are extensions of us and of our own ancestors.  To be a child is to be someone special.  This is part and parcel of what it means to be human.

But think, dear friends, about what it means to be a child today.  Millions of children have their lives snuffed out while still in the womb, as they are seen as inconvenient.  Millions of children who are allowed to be born are abused or neglected or made subject to the whims and wants of their parents.  Millions of children have no sense of home or identity or love. 

But according to the ancient covenant, to be a child, a descendant, of Israel, is to inherit a sense of belonging to the people of God, or as we say today, to be part of the Church.  To be a son or daughter of Jacob was to be one of God’s chosen, one to whom the kingdom is passed down from parents to children according to the promise of God, validated by the prophets, and sealed in blood by the priests who sacrificed according to God’s covenant and command.

But this poor Canaanite woman is no child of Israel, no daughter of Jacob, no inheritor of the covenant.  And nor is her daughter, who is “oppressed by a demon.”  She is a Gentile. In short, she is a “dog.”  She is a living creature made by God, but she has no inheritance in the covenant made with Jacob.

And what was this covenant with Jacob, whose name became Israel?  The covenant was a continuation of the promise made by God to his grandfather Abraham, to be his God, and that his children, his descendants, would be God’s people – and from that people would come a Savior.  And this Savior would not only save Israel but all people.  For this Savior has come to make all things new, even the dogs, even the Gentiles, even the Canaanites whose children wrestled not with God but with demons.

And that mysterious Man whom Jacob wrestled with was none other than God in human form.  Jacob said, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”  And this God in human form actually changed Jacob’s name to Israel, that is, “he strives with God.”  We know who this Man is: it is Jesus before Jesus was born.  And this Man with whom Jacob wrestled was to be born a Child not only of Israel, but of God.  His is the Savior who has come not only for the biological descendants of Israel, but in whose name even the Gentiles are called to be children of Abraham, children of the covenant, children of God.

And this includes the Canaanite woman and her daughter.

For she too wrestled with the same Man whom Jacob wrestled with.  And like Jacob, she refused to yield.  Like Jacob, she demanded to be blessed.  Like Jacob, she worships the true God.  She “knelt before Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’”

Even though according to the usual order of things, she is a dog, a Gentile, an outsider, not one with a claim on the covenant, in Christ, the usual order of things has been overturned.  She is not a dog, but a child.  She is one of the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” because she calls upon the name of the Lord. Like Jacob, she persists, she wrestles, she makes demands of the same Man from whom Jacob demanded a blessing.  Like Jacob, she asserts the right of the child, the heir.  She demands the “children’s bread” – the bread of life come down from heaven, knowing that even a crumb of that bread has power over demons, over sickness, and over death.  She has faith, and nothing will stand in the way of her faith in the power and mercy of God, in Jesus Christ.

And our blessed Lord recognizes this faith, this saving faith displayed by this adopted daughter of Israel, this adopted daughter of God.  She is no longer a dog, but a child; no longer a child of Canaan, but a child of God.

For this Man who blessed Jacob and who blessed the Canaanite woman will go to the cross, to shed His blood for their sins, for the sins of the world, for all of us born since, for Jews and Gentiles, for those whom the world exalts and those whom the world treats like animals, for children beloved of their parents, and for those who are treated with contempt or even killed.  He is the fulfillment of all of the priestly sacrifices, even as He is the fulfillment of the priesthood.  He is the sacrifice that is the covenant.

And Jesus has come to teach us once more what it means to be human: which is, to be an heir, a beloved child of the covenant by virtue of the cross, by virtue of the blood of Christ, by virtue of the “children’s bread” that is the body of Christ, of which even a crumb saves the world, restores that which was lost, heals that which was corrupted, and re-creates that which was destroyed – even raising the dead. 

And note, dear friends, the beloved child of this new child of God, the daughter of this woman of great faith, “was healed instantly.” 

This is why Jesus, the Son of Israel, Himself became a child in our dog-eat-dog world.  He came to heal, to save, to restore, by means of His blood and by means of His Word, by means of His promise, and by means of the Gospel.  He has come to elevate all who call upon Him to be children: children of Israel, children of the promise, children of God.

He comes to you today as the children’s bread, offering you His body and blood.  He comes to you to give you His blessing, offering you absolution and the proclamation of good news.  He comes to you to say: O child of God: “Great is your faith.  Be it done for you as you desire.”  


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

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Sermon: Invocabit (Lent 1) - 2018

18 February 2018

Text: Matt 4:1-11 (Gen 3:1-21, 2 Cor 6:1-10)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The lie is the most dangerous thing in the world.  To go about our daily lives, we have to be able to know what is true.  We make decisions based on information that we receive – often from the word of other people.  One lie can cause us to make a decision that could result in death and destruction.  One untruth can destroy the world.

And in fact, it did.

God gave us a perfect world.  Our ancestors Adam and Eve lived in that perfect world.  They didn’t know what pain, suffering, poverty, or death were.  They didn’t know what sorrow, regret, heartache, or fear felt like.  They had no knowledge of such things, until they were tempted to secure the knowledge of good and evil through partaking of forbidden fruit.  God had forbidden that fruit out of love and mercy for Adam and Eve.  Perhaps he was preparing them for it at some point in the future. 

But one day, the serpent came.  And he did something Adam and Eve had never experienced before: he lied to them.  “You will not surely die,” said the serpent, contradicting God’s warning not to eat of that tree, that one forbidden tree.  Satan lied.  They believed the lie.  They enjoined the lie.  They reveled in the lie.  They lied to themselves and to God.  “You will not surely die,” said the serpent, “for God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.”

But it was a lie.  It was the most destructive lie ever, and that lie ruined life on our planet – for every person and every animal born in history.  It meant not only death, but economic scarcity, struggle to survive, war and conflict, natural disasters, diseases, and every kind of pain and suffering imaginable.  It meant inexplicable evil.  It meant the lust for domination by the strong over the weak.  It meant hatred and covetousness by the weak towards the strong. It meant revolutions and genocides and cruelty beyond imagination over the course of thousands of years.

All because of one lie.

But in the words of a hymn that we will sing in a few weeks, God did not allow the lie to remain, sending our Pascal Lamb to set us free… “Let truth stamp out the lie.”  Our Lord Jesus Christ has come to restore truth and crush the head of the serpent, saying, “I am the way and the truth and the life.”

And a confrontation between the Truth and the Lie came as “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness” where the lie came to Him to tempt Him, to turn Him from the truth, to enlist Him in the cause of the Lie.  And the serpent did to the second Adam what he did to the first: plying him with temptation.

First, he tempted him to turn stones into bread to appease His hunger, as He was fasting.  Our Lord Jesus Christ truthfully quoted the true Word of God: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Second, the Father of Lies took the Incarnate Truth to the temple, the place where the First Lie in the Garden of Eden continued to result in death on a grand scale through the slaughter of innumerable sacrificial animals.  There the Liar tried to deceive our Lord by means of a distorted truth, urging Him to destroy Himself based on the Scripture: “He will command His angels concerning you” and “On their hands they will bear you up” – two passages that referred to our Lord being protected by the angels. 

Jesus replied, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Finally, the serpent brought his targeted victim of the Great Lie to a mountain, and “showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” in the telling of a lie that these kingdoms were his to give away, demanding that Jesus worship him. 

Our Lord replied in truth: “‘Be gone, Satan.  For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.’”

And indeed, the truth stamped out the lie, even as the Truth will trample the Liar’s head at the cross.

“Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to Him.”

Dear friends, we live in an age where truth is not only distorted, but many people claim that there is no truth.  This is a Satanic lie.  For Christ is the truth, his Word is true, and the gifts He gave to you at your Holy Baptism: forgiveness, life, and salvation, are truly yours.

And yes, Satan comes to us all the time, lying, tempting us to put faith in ourselves instead of God; tempting us to treat life – even our own – with contempt; tempting us to dominate rather than serve.  Satan tempts us with the same lie uttered to Adam and Eve: “You shall not surely die,” lying to us that our sins don’t matter, that we can justify our rebellion against God, and that there are no consequences for our transgressions.

But there are consequences, dear friends: deadly consequences.  There is a cross: the sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb, the bloodshed of the only one of our race who stamped out the lie.  He who is true suffered and died for us poor miserable sinners who have chosen to revel in the lie.  He truly died in our place, and how calls us to live in the truth of His love, His mercy, and His triumph over the father of lies.

For when we resist the devil and fight his lies by means of the true Word of God, the devil leaves.  And by the cross and the blood of Christ, the serpent’s head is crushed.  By clinging to the truth, the lie is extinguished.

This is what St. Paul is referring to when he says to us: “Working together with Him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.”  For in truth, the apostle says, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”  He speaks of the things the “servants of God” have to commend themselves to this great work of the Gospel, which includes, “truthful speech, and the power of God.”

For in truth is power, dear friends, the power of God.  The darkness of the lie cannot stand against the light of the truth.  Temptation and the tempter cannot stand against the Word of God.  Satan cannot stand against the righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The lie, “You will not surely die” has become an ironic truth in Christ, by His cross, through your baptism, empowered by the truth of God’s Word, yes, indeed, the serpent’s lie has become the Lord’s truth.

You shall not surely die because He has surely died, He has surely risen, and He will surely come again.  He comes to stamp out the lie and deliver truth, dear friends, the truth of the Gospel.

The lie is the most dangerous thing in the world.  One untruth can destroy the world.  But conversely, the truth is the most powerful thing in the world.  One truth can and does restore the world: the truth of Christ.  Indeed, dear friends, let truth stamp out the lie!  “For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”  This is most certainly true! Amen.

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

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Sermon: Ash Wednesday - 2018

14 February 2018

Text: Matt 6:1-6, 16-21

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

When a person knows that death is imminent, he sometimes says things like, “I need to get my affairs in order.”  Dying has a tendency to focus us on what is important, on seriously setting priorities. 

Our Lord says as much when He tells us: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Jesus is not saying that we shouldn’t save money or be wise with our possessions.  What He is saying is that we need to have our priorities in order.  Should our hearts be set on temporary things?  Should our treasure be on the things of this life that just rot away?  Everything that money can buy will eventually turn to dust and be forgotten.  But think about the non-material things: love, faith, hope, joy.  These things are part of you and will last beyond the grave.  Your soul, your personality, that too is eternal.  Of course, you will rise again bodily, and we Christians will live physically in a new heaven and a new earth, but the old and corrupted and dying and fading away are only temporary. 

Why put your heart and your soul and your treasure into a doomed project?  There are truly better ways to invest.

This is why once a year, six weeks before Easter, and the day after Mardi Gras, we come to church on a Wednesday.  The mood is serious.  The parties are over.  There is a somberness and a renewed sense of purpose about our Christian faith as we remember that we are dust, and to dust we shall return.  We are all reminded that we suffer from a terminal illness: sin.  On this day, instead of going along as if we will live forever, we reflect on the shortness of our time.  One way or another, whether in our sleep at an old age, whether suddenly in an accident, or after suffering by means of a painful illness, we are all going to die.  It is as certain as that smudge of black dust in the shape of a cross upon your forehead.  Look around at your brothers and sisters.  Look at their faces.  They are dying too.

God is not telling us this in order to depress us, but rather to make us face reality, and put our affairs in order.  “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven,” dear friends.  Commit to being where Jesus is, each and every week.  Come prepared to hear the Gospel.  Come humbly to the communion rail “for the forgiveness of sins.”  Come and joyfully take part in the one thing that will carry you beyond the grave and will bring you to life eternal: your faith in Jesus Christ.

This is not a call for you to go to work to save yourself, but rather a call for you to get out of the way and allow Jesus to work on you, to prepare you for your own death, so that you might live forever.

Store up your treasures in heaven, dear friends!  Commit to come here to pray.  Commit to financially support your church and other charities.  Commit to offer your time and service not only to this congregation in the abstract, but to your brothers and sisters here, to those elsewhere, and to the Lord Himself! 

For this is the Christian life: our response to the Lord’s grace given to us at Calvary’s cross, and delivered to us at the baptismal font.  The Christian life is that we store up these heavenly treasures when we give to the needy (secretly, not looking for the reward of men); when we pray (not by putting on a show, but by genuinely praying to your Father in heaven); when you fast (not for the sake of the praise of others, but genuinely, as a discipline to deny yourself for the sake of spiritual strengthening).

Giving to the needy, praying, and fasting: these are all “whens” in the life of the Christian according to our Lord’s preaching.  We have just heard it in His own Words recorded in the Sermon on the Mount, and chosen for us to hear as we begin our Lenten journey, striving now to “lay up… treasures in heaven,” getting our affairs in order, and setting our priorities based on what is eternal rather than what is passing and temporary.

The discipline of Lent is not easy, dear friends.  You are not going to be perfect, which itself is a reminder of our need for God’s grace and mercy.  If you could perfectly live the Christian life, you wouldn’t need a Savior.  But of course, dear brothers and sisters, we do. 

And so this Ash Wednesday, this season of Lent, is a holy time, a time of refreshment, a time of prayer and meditation, a time to think about our priorities, to get our affairs in order in response to what Christ has done for us.

No amount to discipline will make you a disciple.  But Jesus has called you in baptism.  He has bidden you to walk with Him day in and day out.  He has enabled you to be absolved of all your sins.  He has made the Word of God available to you like never before.  He has provided proclamation and teaching for your benefit.  He has given you a holy house in which to gather for His gifts.  He has given you His very self upon the cross, His flesh and blood as the atoning sacrifice, His true body and blood also given to you miraculously here in this parish and in churches like it around the world.  Our Lord offers you the Holy Spirit to strengthen you and make you a blessing to others.

He gives all of this to you as a free gift, dear friends!

That, brothers and sisters, is what it means to be a disciple.  That is why you were baptized.  That is why you have been brought here today.  That is why Jesus calls you yet again to put your priorities right. 

That is also why Jesus, in His mercy, has caused your forehead to be marked by the ashes that remind us of our fall into sin and the death that we deserve.  “Remember, O man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  But remember something else, dear brother, dear sister.  Remember the cross.  This is why these ashes are shaped like a cross.  The death that we deserve has been borne by our Lord Jesus Christ.  That sign of the cross is not only a reminder of death, but also of our Lord’s conquest over death.  His victory is your victory.

And even as our Lord rose from the grave, so shall we.  There will be time to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, when our time of joy returns, but as for now, we are called to a time of fasting and repentance.  It is a fast that looks forward to the feast.  It is a Lenten repentance that looks forward to our eternal Easter reward in heaven. 

So, dear friends, as we have been reminded once more of our mortality, of the shortness of our time on this side of the grave, even in that sobering reality, let us be joyful, knowing that our Lord bore our sins and carried them to the cross, winning for us victory even over death itself.  Let us gratefully put our affairs in order, prioritize our lives, and lay up treasures in heaven. 

Let us be grateful for the blessings the Lord has bestowed upon us, and let us cheerfully share that bounty with others.  Let us reflect on eternity, and live our lives to the fullest, knowing that our time on this side of the grave is fleeting, even as our promised life in eternity is never-ending.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” 

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

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Sermon: Quinquagesima - 2018

11 February 2018

Text: Luke 18:31-43

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“Everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished,” says Jesus.  He tells the twelve, as they make their way to Jerusalem, exactly what is going to happen: Jesus will be arrested and given over to the Roman government, mocked, abused, spat upon, flogged, and executed.  And He will rise from the dead.

For Jesus is the Son of Man prophesied by the Old Testament that the disciples had been reading and praying all their lives long.  They knew about the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Savior predicted by the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms – and now Jesus is clearly telling them that He is that Messiah. 

He is the one that Isaiah predicted will suffer for the sake of the people in order to redeem them from their sins.  And this redemption will be violent.  In fact, it will be a fulfillment of the Passover, in which a spotless lamb’s blood is shed, and its flesh roasted and eaten, in order for the angel of death to pass over the Lord’s chosen people. 

Our Lord’s ministry began when John the Baptist announced that Jesus is the “Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.”  This Lamb comes to bleed, to die, and to become a meal for those whose sins are forgiven. 

Jesus has come into the world to die on a cross, and to rise from death all for the forgiveness of sins, all to make the world right again, all for you, dear friends.

He spells it out to His disciples, “but they understood none of these things.”  For “the saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.”

They would, in time, come to understand.  But as for now, they are blinded to the reality of who Jesus is and what His mission in this world is.

Ironically, right after this shocking blindness of the Lord’s closest students comes an incident with a blind man.  Doing what he can to earn a living, that is, to beg and depend upon the charity of others, the blind man senses that something is happening.  There is a crowd.  He asks what is going on.  “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by,” he is told.

And then the blind man responds in a way that the disciples do not.  For this blind man sees something that is hidden from them.  He addresses Jesus as “Son of David.”  For the blind man knows his scriptures.  He knows that the Messiah is a descendant of David, the rightful King of Israel.  And he understands that the kingship of Jesus isn’t just one more political office.  For unlike even the great King David, this King, David’s Son, can do miracles.  He can even heal blindness – something doctors and medical technology are unable to do even to this day.

The blind man not only knows the scriptures well enough to see who Jesus is, he also believes the scriptures, that is, he has faith: faith that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of David, and faith in His power to bring sight to the blind.

And so the blind man yells with all his might, praying, “Have mercy on me!”  He is so insistent that “those who were in front rebuked him.”  The verbalization of his faith, and his persistence in asking for Jesus to work a miracle is embarrassing and annoying to the rest of the people, those who can see with their eyes but cannot see with the eyes of faith.

“But he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’”

Hearing his prayers, Jesus stops before him.  Jesus asks, “What do you want Me to do for you?”

The blind man asks for what might seem obvious: to see again.  But there is something profound in his request.  For unlike the disciples who seem to be temporarily blinded about the Messiah before their eyes, the blind man sees who Jesus is, and also sees what His ministry is.  For as a result of this encounter with Jesus, he is made “well.”  This is to say, his imperfection was removed; his heath was restored; he was healed.  And in the Greek language of the New Testament, to be “healed” means to be “saved.” 

Jesus has come to heal, that is, to save.  He has come to cure us of death itself, which is to say, to take away our sins, to be that blood-soaked Lamb whose body receives the wrath of God, and whose flesh is eaten by those whom death passes over.

We too see this, dear friends, in our Divine Service.  For immediately after the bread and wine are consecrated, the pastor holds the host and the chalice before your eyes, and we all sing together: “O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us!”

The prayer of the blind beggar is our prayer, dear brothers and sisters.  We too pray for mercy.  We too pray for forgiveness.  We too pray to have our eyes opened to the reality of eternal life in Christ by the grace and mercy and love of God, though we don’t deserve it.  The angel of death has passed us over, and we cry out, “Lord, have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord, have mercy.”  We know who the Son of David is.  And like the blind man, we see well enough in our blindness to cry out all the more, even if the world is annoyed or embarrassed and it rebukes us.

And even as the Lord told the blind man who recovered his sight: “Your faith has made you well,” so too, dear friends, does our faith make us well.  Jesus offers us forgiveness, life, and salvation according to the promise of the Holy Scriptures, and when we believe the promise, the promise becomes a reality, and salvation is ours, by the grace and mercy of the Lord, the Son of David.

And this is what it means to be a Christian, dear friends.  We did not heal ourselves, but we have been healed, by the Son of David, by the Lord.  And in faith, we receive the promise and the gift, and we are made well.  We recover our own sight, we follow Jesus, and we glorify God.

The story of the blind beggar is our story.  It is the church’s story, the Holy Christian Church whose members never cease, day in and day out, century after century, to cry out, “Lord, have mercy!” when we gather together to glorify God, and to pray for His gifts, when we worship Him, hear anew the prophecies and promises of Scripture, and when we eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Lamb.

We see Him in the breaking of the bread.  We see because we have been made well through our faith in Him who heals us, who saves us.

“Lord Jesus, Son of David, have mercy upon us,” now and even unto eternity!  Amen.

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

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Get Off My Lawn!

For my 54th birthday yesterday, we did something decadent: we watched a movie. Gran Torino is one of my favorite movies of all time, and it is a Christian film.

Mind you, it's filled with a plethora of untamed vulgar language (the trailer has been cleaned up considerably) and enough ethnic slurs to turn just about any woke millie college student into a hyperventilating quivering mess desperately seeking the dean of diversity and a pacifier. So refreshing and funny!

It is classic Eastwood: a tough guy - Walt Kowalski - scarred by his dark past who finds heroic redemption when faced with injustice in his neighborhood. The ironic and iconic imagery is unquestionably Christian (at least if you know what to look for - most people probably won't catch it) - but I won't spoil it for you if you haven't seen it. It is one of the few movies since the 1940s in which the priest is a good guy. The movie has held up well in the ten years since its release.

This is a great underrated piece of moviemaking. All of the classic elements of profound narrative are found in this film. It is a story of good and evil, of love and redemption, of sin and forgiveness, of unapologetic masculine courage - so unlike most of the useless and limp soft-porn dullard-slop SJW agitprop that comes out of WeinsteinTown these days.

One of the funniest and most enigmatic quips in the film comes from Eastwood's character: "Everybody blames the Lutherans." I would love to know where that line came from!

This is one you can watch and enjoy again and again.

Now get off my lawn!

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Sermon: Sexagesima - 2018

4 February 2018

Text: Luke 8:4-15

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

You are dirt! 

Well, Jesus says so anyway.  The nicer way to put it is “soil.”  This parable of Jesus is called “The Parable of the Sower,” but some of the church fathers called it: “The Parable of the Soils.”

Like all of our Lord’s parables, this is a story of analogies.  Each person and thing in the story stands for something else: something in the kingdom of God.  And in this parable, our Lord actually helps us to understand it by explaining it to the disciples.  By the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, we are allowed to listen in.

The story is a familiar one, and begins with a scene that dates back to the days of Adam.  “A sower went out to sow his seed.”  A farmer is planting.  Every human being on the planet eats because of this simple, and yet powerful action: a person putting a seed into the dirt, whether manually or with a machine, whether haphazardly – as in this parable – or with great scientific precision.  This is a story that pretty much everyone can relate to: even people who live in the city.  For we all eat food grown in the soil.

In our Lord’s story, there are four classes of soil: the path, the rock, the thorns, and the “good soil.” 

Our sower casts his first seed onto the path.  This is ground that has been hardened through people walking on it.  The seeds can’t break through the tough exterior.  And since the seed just sits there, birds come and take it away.  The second seed is sown in the shallow rocky soil, where it grows quickly, but the dryness and the shallowness of the soil cause the death of the little plant.  The third seed lands among thorns, where it grows, but cannot compete for what it needs to remain alive, and the plant dies.  But the fourth seed lands on “good soil,” where it does what seeds are naturally programmed to do: to grow, mature, bear fruit, and reproduce – even yielding a hundred new seeds.

Of course, the first three soils represent various degrees of failure, but the fourth represents success: the seed doing just what it was designed to do.  And it will do just that if not interfered with by bad soil.

And that’s it.  That’s the end of the story.  It is remarkable for its unremarkableness. Some of Jesus’ listeners were probably puzzled.  Some were probably bored.  Some probably didn’t get it at all, wondering why they are getting a lecture on farming from a carpenter and rabbi.  For without the key, without knowing the analogy, this story is a mystery. 

We know this because St. Luke revealed a post-parable conversation with the disciples, who had asked their professor “what this parable meant.”  Their rabbi, our Lord, replied, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’”

Our Lord then breaks down the symbolism of the parable, beginning with, “The seed is the Word of God.”  The sower of the seed is the preacher of the Word.  The soils that receive the seed are the hearers of the preacher.  And, just as different types of soil receive the seeds with varying degrees of success, it’s the same with us, dear friends.  Sometimes the Word of God sinks into us, and sometimes it doesn’t. 

If we harden our hearts and don’t care about the Word, it will not imbed itself into us.  It will lie there, vulnerable, to be snatched away by Satan.  If we resist the Word and only allow it to come to us in a shallow way, we may see some growth, but we will quickly see decline, as our faith is not rooted.  We can especially lose our faith in times of “testing.”  Additionally, we may not actively resist the Word, but our lives may be so busy with “the cares and riches and pleasures of life,” that our faith is crippled, choked out by other things that take priority, whether work or pleasure.  The result is the same: death.  And in that kind of death, there is no “maturity,” no bearing of fruit, and no passing along the faith to others. 

Jesus is warning us about all the ways we can push away His life-saving Word.  For the Word of God is the power of the Gospel.  It is forgiveness, life, and salvation.  It is the defeat of sin, death, and the devil.  It is the fruit of the cross.  To be the good soil is to enjoy our eternal destiny in the kingdom of God, bearing fruit just as we were created to do, meant to do, and will naturally do – unless we ourselves get in the way.

And that, dear friends, is really the lesson of the Parable of the Sower: don’t get in the way of the Word of God – not by indifference, not by shallowness, not by putting priority on things of lesser importance.  This is how we squander our baptisms; this is how we throw away the riches that God gives us by His free grace and mercy; this is how we freely choose to condemn ourselves instead of getting out of the way and letting God be God, letting the Word do its work, letting Jesus save us and make or lives complete.

For ultimately, dear friends, we are dirt. 

And dirt can do nothing good.  Dirt just sits there.  Dirt doesn’t make the seed grow.  But dirt can crush the natural work of God to nurture His beloved creation the way a farmer tends his field.  So as dirt, our job is to receive the Word, to get out of the way, to let the “seed” make things happen according to its nature.  And make no mistake, dear brothers and sisters, the Word of God does make things happen.  You may find it hard to believe, but it is as natural as a little seed being put into the dirt where it grows.  You don’t have to know how it works, but it does.  You don’t have to have a degree in biology for the complex imbedded DNA to multiply cells and turn the tiny speck into a massive plant – bearing fruits to feed creation, and bearing more seeds to sustain creation.  The seed is the work of God; the soil does nothing but get out of the way.

The lesson of the Parable of the Sower is to be where the seed is cast.  Don’t resist the work of the seed, or foolishly become shallow or too busy for the Word of God to work in your life.  The Word of God is a free gift.  It will change you, save you, and sustain you throughout your life.  It will likewise change, save, and sustain your children and your children’s children, your coworkers, your friends, your relatives, and anyone else God puts in your path.  That is how you received the Word, and it is how others will receive the Word in the future.  After all these centuries, and with all of our tools and technology – it still boils down to this: a sower, a seed, and soil.  That is where life comes from!  That is how we are fed!  That is how life is multiplied on our planet and in the kingdom of heaven.

Yes, indeed, dear friends, we are dirt. 

Jesus has said so.  For we are where the Sower, that is, God Himself, has chosen to sow the seed of His Word: into us.  His Word changes us from sinners to saints, saves us from death and hell, and sustains us even unto eternal life.  Let us get out of the way, receive the Word, and rejoice in wonder at the growth and life that are ours by virtue of the power of the Word and the loving work of the Sower.


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