Monday, February 24, 2014

Scripture Alone

Sexagesima Sunday, February 23rd, Year of Our + Lord 2014
Trinity and Saint John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, Montana
Isaiah 55:10-13, Luke 8:4-15
Scripture Alone

     Scripture Alone, that is to say, the Holy Word of God is the only source of doctrine in the Church, and it is only by the proclamation of the Word of God that salvation comes to sinners. 

     We have before us today the parable of the Sower, the Crazy, Wasteful Sower, some of you farmers might call Him.  It does not surprise us that the seed is the Word of God.  For, in the beginning, God says, “Let there be…” and there it is.  God’s Word is creative, making the things it says exist, creating and sustaining reality.  What does surprise is how that seed is to be sown, by casting it around willy-nilly, a sowing method which results in the seeming failure of its purpose far too often.   A strange lesson for these disciples, learning their way to apostleship. To whom should they preach, and how?  And how should they judge their success?  Crucial questions, for them, and for us.  So Jesus tells this parable.

     The sower went out to sow his seed, and in his sowing, this is what happened.  In Greek the sower and the seed all come from the same root.  You could say the seeder went out to seed the seed, and in his seeding, here’s what happened.  Our Lord’s repetition of this seed word is on purpose – this parable is not about the soils, not about the rain or the sun, but about the Seed and its Sower.  Scripture Alone, the Word Alone, and how we proclaim it, that’s the main subject. 

    Of course no farmer plants the way Jesus does, then or now.   It would be like broadcasting sugar beet seeds from helicopter spreaders, into the fields and the river and onto the highway and our front lawns. No, there’s a whole science to figuring out what various soils have and need so that seeds will grow, and a whole science to tailoring seeds to particular soils.  The beet farmer buys just the right seeds for his various soils, and plants those precious seeds neatly in rows, just where the science has told him to put them.  If he just throws the seed wherever, he’ll go broke.  And surely farmers in Jesus’ day, while they didn’t have the research center and Tom Lorenz and Duane Peters, still knew you couldn’t farm the way Jesus suggests.   

     So the way Jesus means to sow the Seed of His Word is surprising.  He scatters the same seed everywhere, not looking at the soil first to see what might grow there, not checking to see if it’s too rocky or too compacted or whether he’s thrown seed there already.  The Word of God is for everyone, and for everyone the same: repent and believe the Gospel; Jesus is crucified for your sins and your sinfulness, and raised to give you life.  This preaching is not “plan B.”  It is “plan A,” and there is no “plan B.”  The preaching of Christ is an essential part of the God’s plan of salvation.  “Thus it is written,” Jesus says, about all the Scriptures, “that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his Name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

     The Word is how God saves, specifically the Word of Jesus, who is the Seed that must die and fall into the ground that He might bear an abundant crop of believers. The saving Word of God is for all, and apostles and pastors and all believers are to sow it everywhere, just like Jesus, the Sower who went out to sow.  As one hymn puts it, “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.”  And if it should seem somewhere not to be bearing fruit at the present time, “Oh, what of that, and what of that?”

     Well, easy for Jesus and the hymnwriter to say, but how do you and I take the apparent failure of the Word?  We protest like beet farmers told to use a helicopter spreader.  There is a cost to spreading God’s Word, and we expect it to work, consistently and predictably.  There is even a cost to receiving God’s Word in ourselves.  For we could be doing something else with our time, rather than sitting here and having it implanted within us.  We could be satisfied for a time to be filled with all the world’s other seeds, which might sprout into who knows what.  But the seeds of the world and of our desires can only grow for a time.  They will perish in the end, and we along with them, if we are trusting in them.  Only the Word of the Lord endures forever. 

     But even if we are receiving the true Word unto salvation, still, there’s the cost of spreading that seed around.  And so we are prone to looking at the soils around us and trying to figure out if it’s worth it.  
     That one looks pretty rocky.  He’s scratched and banged me up before.  What’s God’s word of forgiveness going to do for that one, besides let him know I’m a sucker, ready for another beating?
     This one is pretty well choked in the weeds of this world’s pleasures.  I’d rather enjoy some of that with him, instead of trying to plant the seed there.
     This other one’s a pretty well-worn path.  Everything that could be tried, he’s done.  What use will he have for God’s Word?  Best to save my breath.  It’s probably not going to work, this bit about the  ‘forgiveness of sins for Jesus’ sake.’  If I try and it doesn’t work right away, I’ll be embarrassed.  I’ll hold onto the Seed.  I won’t cast it on him. 

     We are not called to be frugal with the Word of God, but for our fears and feebleness of faith, we often are.  Lord, forgive us for our stinginess with Your Word.

     Being a worker in the Lord’s field is tough business, just like farming.  So we, like the apostles, have to be trained and retrained to apply the seed liberally, even where we don’t think it’ll work, even where it hasn’t worked before, even where we think we might just be wasting our breath.  Because through that breath that seems so wasted to us, God’s Spirit breathes eternal life, where and when it pleases him. 

     Of course, the “where and when” can be frustrating for us.  We hear of God’s speaking the world into existence at the beginning, and think with our speaking of God’s powerful word that the immediate results should be just as spectacular.  If the Word of God is a living and active two-edged sword, we want to see immediate results.  But Jesus prepared his disciples for the reality we know so well: some seed falls on the path, and the birds eat it.  Or rather, the devil comes and snatches the Word away from hard, un-penetrated hearts, so they don’t repent and believe.  Other seed falls on the rocks, where it springs to life in the sunshine and morning dew, but dies when it fails to put roots down to moisture.  These hear the Gospel gladly in a good time, but in a time of testing fall away and dry up.  And then there’s seed that falls among the thorns, the Word choked out in a believer’s heart by all the cares and riches and pleasures of this life, by the planting of other busy seeds that spring up not into eternal life,  but into sin and death.

     We know these stories.  We know these people.  We see a degree of each in ourselves.  This is the reality of the world into which the Apostles are sent to preach, and the reality of our world, a world that naturally ignores or even despises God’s Word.  This world needs redemption.

     And so, we who have been brought by grace to faith in the Word of Christ want to see it save everyone, easily, and right away.  But, Jesus reminds us, it is not this way. The Word will be preached and perhaps only the fourth part of the hearers will sprout in faith and bear a hundredfold, in this life, and for the world to come.  This doesn’t mean the Word doesn’t work as it should.  This doesn’t mean the Seed is suspect or God’s plan weak, or that we should tinker with it till it works better.  It does mean that the Word’s work is sorely opposed by that old unholy trinity, the devil, the world and our flesh.  And still, God’s answer to all this remains in His Holy Word.   Scripture Alone is our authority in understanding and participating in the teaching and plan of Christ. 

     Jesus tells us of the troubles His Word will face, but not to discourage us—besides, we know it from our experience.  No, He tells us so that we will not doubt the great power of the Word He has given us, that it should be implanted and grow in our hearts, and that we should spread it around freely.

     There aren’t certain people for whom God’s grace and forgiveness are meant, and others not.  The Sower sows everywhere, and He is not a fool for doing it.  For at the day of harvest we see a vast multitude, from every tribe and nation, who have believed the word of Jesus and been saved in Him.  Do not forget Saul, also called Paul, the persecutor of the church, whom Jesus brought to faith and forgave and made His special Apostle to the Nations.  Remember Peter, who denied Christ and always wanted things his own way, but whom Jesus made into a faithful shepherd, none the less.  Remember those Corinthian sinners of great sins, of whom Paul says, “and such were some of you…”  Indeed, remember what the Spirit through the Word has done in and for you.  For as Paul says “… you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  This is God’s goal for us sinners, hard and stony ground that we often are, God accomplishing His goal in the hearing of his holy Word: faith in Jesus, the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life.

     Therefore, take care how you hear, and rejoice!  By this very Word your sins are forgiven, all of them, and you have eternal life with God by faith in Jesus, the Seed who has died and sprung forth as the living Vine.  Apart from Him you can do nothing, but in Him you bear much fruit.  May God’s good seed take root and grow in you, and bear abundant fruit, for the planting of yet more of the good seed, one hundredfold or more, in the hearts of your family and friends and neighbors, for salvation, peace and joy, in this life and even more in the life that is to come, through Christ Jesus our Lord.

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