Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder
July 13, 2014, Pentecost V
Genesis 25:19-34, Psalm 119:105-112, Romans 8:1-11, Matthew 13:1-9
From the Book of Genesis:
So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentils, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
From St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans:
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you.
And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
“A sower went out to sow…Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.
Many of you have gardens or had a garden at some time. And all of us – whether we’re gardeners with a green thumb, or just simply couch potatoes whose thumb never gets off the remote control – all of us probably know something about planting seeds. We know that not all the seeds which are planted into the ground end up as full-grown plants. Some of the seeds which are planted don’t make it along the way, for a variety of reasons. But even so, we know that the seeds we plant will, in many cases, produce plants and yield a crop of fruit or vegetables. The seeds sown will achieve the purpose for which we plant them, in spite of the many other challenges or failures that may occur.
That in essence is the message of our Gospel reading today. It is the story of the seed sown into the soil, and the different results that happen. This story is known as “The Parable of the Sower.” In this parable, Jesus is talking about the Word of God that is preached, and how that same Word will, in some cases, be taken away or dies, and in other cases, take root and grow and produce an abundant crop.
This chapter of Matthew records the events of a crisis day in the ministry of Jesus Christ. He knew that the growing opposition of the religious leaders would lead to His crucifixion. This fact He had to explain to His disciples. But their logical question would be, “What will happen to the kingdom about which we have been preaching?” That question is answered in a series of parables. The word parable means “to cast alongside.” It is a story, or comparison, that is put alongside something else to help make the lesson clear. But these are not ordinary parables; Jesus called them “the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 13:11). In the New Testament, a “mystery” is a spiritual truth understood only by divine revelation. It is a “sacred secret” known only to those “on the inside” who learn from the Lord and obey Him.
The Parable of the Sower begins with the preaching of the Word, the planting of the seed in the hearts of people. When we say, “Let me plant this thought in your mind,” we express the idea of this parable. The seed is God’s Word; the various soils represent different kinds of hearts; and the varied results show the different responses to the Word of God.
Why compare God’s Word to seed? It is because the Word is “living and powerful” (Heb. 4:12). Unlike the words of men, the Word of God has life in it; and that life can be imparted to those who will believe. The truth of God must take root in the heart, be cultivated, and permitted to bear fruit. It is shocking to realize that three fourths of the seed did not bear fruit. Jesus did not describe an age of great harvest, but one in which the Word would be rejected. He was not impressed with the ‘great multitudes” that followed Him, for He knew that most of the people would not receive His Word within and bear fruit.
Jesus came into the world to put life into the seed. Without Jesus, there is no seed, no Gospel to plant. The good news is that Jesus comes into the world to be our Savior. He lived a perfect life. He had God’s approval and righteousness, something we lack. The Son of God came in the flesh and lived the holy life of love that God intended for His human creation. That’s the good news, but there’s more.
What could be done about the justice God demanded, that those who sin shall die? We all sin and deserve to die. Death separates us from God and puts us under His judgment. The penalty had to be paid, but the good news is that Jesus paid it for us. He suffered and died on the cross, under God’s judgment. Jesus was the sacrifice for our sin – the substitute for sinners.
The good news doesn’t stop there. God said, “Yes!” Sin has been atoned for – death has been defeated. Because of Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, we have forgiveness of sins. In Him, we have the victory of life. Jesus is our way – preparer, to lead us into the kingdom of heaven. If we follow Him, we enter. Without Him, we are lost.
So, that’s the good news! It is life-giving. It puts you into contact with the author and source of life, Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God. By faith in Him, trusting in Him, we receive what He has to give – the gifts of life and fruitfulness and eternal life.
At first, Jesus proclaimed the good news through His own mouth, as He went about preaching and teaching. And then He did it through His apostles. It was still Jesus preaching; He just used those men to get the Word out. The same is true today. Jesus is still preaching today. Only He does it through the preachers He sends. Their mouth; His Word. “He who hears you, hears me,” Jesus tells His preachers. The other side is true too: “He who rejects you, rejects me.”
So the Sower comes sowing the seed, preaching the Word. The Word is preached; the seed is sown. Where it lands, though, and what happens to it then, that is where the story takes some twists and turns.
Some seed lands along the path, the hardened-down path, where the seed just lays on the surface, making it easy pickings for the birds. The seed doesn’t last long there; the birds gobble it up. And so we need to realize that there is an enemy at work in the field, doing whatever he can to take the word away from us. The old bird is the devil, the enemy of our souls. And he is also an enemy of the church. He will try to stir up trouble in the church, to get us distracted with other things, so the word will not sink in – it will just lay there on the surface, never sinking in, down in our hearts, and the birds will swipe it away from us. See that your heart is not so hardened that the word just lays on the surface. Cleanse yourself of anger and bitterness.
Then there’s the seed that falls on the rocky soil. This is talking about the reception of the word. Here the word is planted, and because the soil is thin and rocky, it springs up faster. You see, the rock just beneath the surface causes the thin soil to heat up quicker and thus the plant grows faster – at first, but it doesn’t last. Because of the rock, the roots can’t get established, and before too long, the plant dies.
How often that is seen in the church! When people come in the church, with no grounding in the word, they may be enthusiastic for a little while – they may be active and eager for a short time, but then they are gone. No staying power. Church for them may have been a passing fad or maybe they were coming for the wrong reasons. Some become involved in a church because their child is in Sunday school; and when the child grows up, they stop coming.
In the next soil, the word is sown and a plant comes up. But that’s not the only thing that comes up. Thorns and weeds grow up around the plant and choke out its life. The thorns are the worries and distractions of this life. Some people lose the word because they put a higher priority on other things. The time they should be setting aside to hear God’s word being preached – they feel they can’t spare that time, they would rather be spending their time on other things – recreation, pleasure, family outings – anything but the hearing God’s word. And so the Word gets pushed aside. But the truth is, man does not live by bread alone, or recreation or pleasure. Rather, man lives – truly lives – only by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. God’s word is the only priority that will make any difference for eternity. There is nothing more important.
Now after three soil failures, we finally come to the success story. But notice it wasn’t the seed, it wasn’t the word that failed. No, the same word is sown in all these places. The same word that one person ignores or refuses to hear – that same word will take root in another person and produce a great harvest. And that is what God will do for you, my friends. His will is that you will hear this Word of God being preached, and that it will sink down in you, take root, spring up and grow, and produce fruit, good fruit. The good news of Christ will do that for you. It’s nothing in you; the life is all in the seed.
Fruit is the test of true salvation (Matt. 7:16). This would include holiness (Rom. 6:22), Christian character (Gal. 5:22-23), good works (Col. 1:10), winning others to Christ (Rom. 1:13), sharing what we have (Rom. 15:25-28), and praising God (Heb. 13:15). If a plant is to bear fruit, it must be rooted in soil and exposed to sunshine.
In this parable, the sun represents persecution that comes because of the Word. Persecution helps believers grow. But the sunshine will kill a plant with no roots. This explains why some “believers” do not last; their faith was weak, their understanding was meager, and their decision was not sincere. It is possible to “believe” and yet not be saved (John 2:23-25). Unless there is fruit in the life, there is not saving faith in the heart.
But take care how you hear that word. See that nothing will take away or kill off or squeeze out that word in your life. Don’t give up, in spite of the obstacles. God will clear those impediments away. Jesus had defeated the devil, that old buzzard who would swipe away the word. God will clear away the rock just below the surface of your heart; he’ll remove that rockiness – and sometimes he has to blast it away – through the preaching of the gospel which leads you to repentance. And don’t get caught up in the worries and distractions of this life. God is your heavenly Father. He will take care of you, just as He cares for the lilies of the field. Trust in Him and not in yourself.
How does your garden grow? God will do everything that is needed for the word to grow in your life, so that you will be a healthy plant, bearing the fruits of faith. He sends his sower to keep on preaching the word to you. Jesus feeds you with all the nutrients you need, with the rich food of His heavenly feast. He waters the plant, to refresh it and give it life, with the ever-flowing waters of Holy Baptism. God takes care of his garden. He will cause you to grow. It is important that we hear God’s Word, because “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17). This is happening right now, today. The Sower is busy sowing His seed, the good news of new life in Christ. Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt. 13:9). “Take heed what you hear!” (Mark 4:24), and “Take heed how you hear!” (Luke 8:18). May your garden bear much fruit and a bountiful harvest!
Let us pray: O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.