Sexagesima: Grace is Passively Received through the Word

The Parable of the Sower
In the left foreground, Jesus tells his disciples the parable of the sower. In the background, the sower casts seed, with some falling among the thorns, some falling on the road, some going to the birds, and some falling on the good ground, from Luke 8:4-15. From a book publishing Martin Luther’s sermons, 1530.

Lessons: Isaiah 55:10-13, 2 Cor. 11:19-12:9, Luke 8:4-15
Hymns: LSB 589, 578, 577, 586, 708, 921

Listen to the entire service here (the sermon alone is above).

      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

      Today is an important day. Many people are gathering. They are excited to taste and see, to hear and watch. They are filled with joy, hope, and anticipation. Some businesses aren’t even open. Some schools have the sense not to schedule anything. For many, hardly anything else can top the importance of what is taking place today.

      You may think I’m talking about tonight, but everything I just said is about what is happening right now—in the Divine Service—as the saving Word of Christ is proclaimed in churches across the globe.

      Sunday is an important day. After all, Jesus rose from the dead this day. More churches gather for worship on this day than any other day of the week. God’s people gather in God’s house to hear the Word preached, read, and sung. We see the wonderful works of God through the Word and Sacraments. Some businesses wisely choose to stay closed to allow God’s children to gather in His house. And some schools wisely choose to avoid events on Sunday mornings.

      You see, nothing in this life tops the importance of what goes on here in the Divine Service. It’s where families get together and come into the presence of God. It is where the Absolution is pronounced, the Word is proclaimed, the Lord’s Supper administered, and children added to God’s family through Holy Baptism. It is a sanctuary—a shelter from the world’s cares and troubles. It is a step back not just to a simpler time without the noise of screens, yelling talk hosts, and overdone media that seeks to steal your time and attention. Instead, the Divine Service is a step back to the simple ways in which the Almighty God—maker of Heaven and Earth—visits us and brings us His peace and mercy. He doesn’t do so through the flashy shows we constantly see in media. But He does so through His Word—a strong Word—sharper than any two-edged sword (Heb. 4:12). Nothing on Earth is more powerful, for God Himself is at work through His Word.

      And just as Elijah did not find God in the earthquake, or the strong wind, or the fire, but found God in the still, small voice (1 Kings 19:9-18), so also we find God here through His simple Word as it is read, preached, and sung. God is present among us! He is, after all, our Immanuel. Jesus came in the flesh to save us. The very Body and true Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ will be present in the Lord’s Supper. Christ Jesus is truly meeting us here. What can possibly top what you’re already receiving this day here? What is better? Nothing else is better for our souls. And nothing else has such eternal blessings or benefits. Nothing else brings greater, godly joy.

      It’s fine to be excited for the game tonight. But the outcome should not consume us, nor should the anticipation for the game. For the past few weeks, the local news has hardly been the news. They never run out of things to say about the Chiefs. Hours and hours of coverage. Welcome to the new American religion. The excitement over tonight’s game, the planning many have put into parties, the money people have spent to watch games or show their support, and the continual talking about what is happening—these are easy to do!

      But shouldn’t this be said of us Christians concerning our faith? Excitement that Christ is risen and saves us, planning to always be in God’s Word, giving back to the Lord in thanksgiving and to ensure the spread of the Gospel, and continual confessing the faith? Look at the blessings we have in the Gospel! Look at how God has so ordered His Church, family, society, and Christian living! Look at how good things would be if we spent as much time and effort and talk concerning godly things as we do when our team is at the Super Bowl!

      There is nothing more important than God’s Word, for God the Holy Spirit directs us to Christ and works saving faith in us. It is an eternal Word, for Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matt. 24:35). Both the Old and New Testaments declare, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8, 1 Peter 1:24-25).

      In our day, when so much is happening and so many things are changing so quickly, we can take comfort in hearing that God’s eternal Word accomplishes what God pleases. Remember the promises we heard in our Old Testament lesson: “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” (Isaiah 55:11). This means that God’s grace is passively received through His Word. We do not earn God’s favor, but God imparts His favor—along with faith, forgiveness, and Christ’s righteousness—all through the Word of God. If we want these things, we must be in the Word.

      In today’s Gospel, a crowd is following Jesus as He proclaims the saving Word. He then chooses to speak by way of a parable. In doing so, He was probably telling them of their future. Some will hear Jesus and then the devil will take the Word away from their hearts. Others will hear Jesus and receive His Word with joy, but in a time of testing will fall away. Still others will hear Jesus but will be choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life. Finally, the rest will hear and will hold it fast in honest and good hearts, and bear fruit with patience.

      It is important for us to consider this parable and examine our own lives, so that we can be confident that we are in the final category and so that we keep on guard that we and our loved ones do not end up in those first three situations.

      In some respects, this parable matches the sad reality we see today among those who join our churches as infants. It has been said that half of those who are baptized as infants do not remain in the Church by the time of Confirmation. And half who are confirmed do not remain in the Church by college graduation. I suppose a large number continue to fall away through the course of their lives. But, of course, many finish their course in faith and receive the goal of their faith—the salvation of their bodies and souls. They are the ones who bear fruit a hundredfold.

      The Sower sows with reckless abandon. It doesn’t bother him where the seed falls. He wants all to have the opportunity to hear the Word. Such is the ministry of the Church. We don’t first figure out if we are sowing in good soil or not. Those things are hidden from us. And so we let the Word of God of fall where it may, even if it falls on the wayside, on the rocks, or among the thorns.

      The first example Jesus uses is when the seed falls on the path and it gets trampled underfoot and devoured by birds. Jesus says these people are robbed of the Word by the devil. This happens when people do not even get the chance to hear the Word. How many parents bring their children to the baptismal font but then don’t bring their children back? How many door-to-door evangelists have witnessed their faith in Christ, thinking they have saved some souls, but never return or follow up with those who have heard the Gospel?

      The second example is when the seed falls among the rocks and lacks moisture. This happens when people hear the Word with joy but fall away when their faith is tested. I’d say this is common among youth who get confirmed but their faith hasn’t yet been tested by sexual temptation, scientific theories, educational systems militantly fighting against the Christian faith, or social pressures. When their faith is tested, many flee. Perhaps they suffer hardship or tragedy and begin to blame God. Maybe their friends mock them for being Christian and, desiring their relationships over God, they turn away from the Lord.

      The third example provided by Jesus is when the seed falls among the thorns. This happens when people let the cares and riches and pleasures of life pull them away from Christ. The cares of life, such as trying to make ends meet or trying to make advancements in one’s life, pull many people away. The riches and pleasures of life also seek to keep people away from the Word. That’s why businesses are open on Sunday mornings, why more and more sporting events take place on Sunday mornings, and even why so many youth sports are on Sundays. Many parents feel helpless and give in. In doing so, they teach their children that sports can control the schedules of the family but not God or His Church. Children learn that Church is dispensable and that virtually anything can come before it. Soon their faith is choked out and their fruit does not mature.

      That you have gathered in God’s house today suggests you are among the final type of soil. Yes, you’ve faced the temptations of the first three. Satan assaults you. Your flesh tempts you. The world entices you. But you plead guilty of your weaknesses and sins. And you cling to Christ Jesus, the author and perfector of your faith. You have gathered here to be in His Word, so that God can continue to strengthen you as you journey through this fallen world. You receive the Word of Christ with meekness and joy, knowing that it saves your souls, for the Word is continually directing you to your Savior Jesus, who loves you and died on the cross for you. He has reconciled you to your Father. He forgives you. Your sin is replaced with Christ’s righteousness. You are credited by Christ with keeping every jot and tittle of the Law. And so, the gates of Heaven are opened to you. Eternal bliss awaits you. Even now, you belong in God’s family, and Jesus is your Brother, for you are adopted into His family through Baptism. “There is nothing worth comparing to this lifelong comfort sure!” (LSB 594:5). God continue to bless you with His Word! Amen.

      The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen