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.

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