Four-fold field. Jesus. Word. Jesus. Faith. Jesus. Endurance. Jesus. Harvest. Jesus. That’s the outline. Read the whole shebang after the jump.
We have passed through the season of epiphany – the time when God reveals his glory in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and now we prepare for Holy Lent. Twenty days from now we enter Ash Wednesday. While Good Friday certainly is more solemn and quiet, Ash Wednesday takes the cake for sheer sadness.
Today Jesus tells the parable of the sower, but really about the four kinds of ground. The seed, says Jesus is the Word of God, and the ground is the different hearts on which that seed falls. You can tell we’re getting ready for Ash Wednesday, “from dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return” – after all if you are one of those four types of Ground – Jesus is really saying – you are dirt. It was from the dust of the ground that God formed Adam – and he became a living being. The substance doesn’t matter as much as the way he made us – As the Psalmist declares “I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” In this parable, the dirt is that which leads to growth and life. God formed us, gave us life, and now we have the chance to hear his Word, to receive his gifts, and become truly alive in Christ. But it’s not easy. There are birds waiting to steal away that word, even before it is planted. Jesus says that’s Satan’s work. TO make sure the word you hear this day goes no farther than your ears.
Even if the seed gets into your heart and starts growing, there are dangers. Jesus says that those who get caught up in the cares of this world are like a plant planted among weeds – the cares and worries of this world get so great that they literally choke the spiritual life out of you. Such things happen slowly – there is no one point where the weeds suddenly become too much for the plant – it happens over time. Each day it gets a little worse, and if you are not on your guard, you wake up one morning and say, “Gee, when did that plant die?” Satan wants you to be blissfully unaware that, as you turn from him to the God’s of this world – pleasure, family, money, sports, or whatever else draws you away from his word, you are being slowly killed.
Whatever Satan can do to make you his, he will do – he is patient – he has all the time in the world. If he can keep you from hearing the word at all – that is best. Turn off the snooze one more time, travel out of town without finding a church there to attend, stay up too late the night before, the to do list is too long today to get to church, maybe next week. Whatever he has to do, if he can keep you happy and well insulated from God’s word, then he will. If that doesn’t work, he will be happy to let you hear the word, as long as you don’t really think about it. What time is lunch? What are we having, when will the sermon be over? Do the lawn quickly and then catch some of the game before working on the…. Whatever. Just keep it from sinking in. If it sinks in, he can always choke it slowly, so you never notice. And don’t be fooled – the cares of this world don’t have to be unpleasant – if Satan can keep you happy and healthy and comfortable your whole life in exchange for destroying you in Hell, he will. Worldly success is not a sign that God loves you, anymore than problems in the world are a sign you are hated. He’ll even use your family. Guests from out of town, traveling to see family at their place, the children have an event, a game, a whatever that keeps you from going to church. The important message is: Family is more important than church, the vacation is more important, the game is more important.
And if that doesn’t work, Satan will try to throw hardship your way to kill you. Rocky soil, that can’t reach the water will work if all else fails – anything to keep the harvest from producing fruit. Hard times can work, too. Why did God send this? Why doesn’t he take it away? Who does he think he is?
So what can we do to make sure that the word is planted in good soil in our hearts? Jesus tells us this. Pray “Our father, who art in heaven…” We have been given faith Jesus work, now God gives prayer as a defense against Satan. When we actually consider the petitions of the Lord’s prayer that’s what they are. “Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven?”
“God wishes us to believe him and receive his gifts, and this he declares to be true worship.” Our bulletin says that – it’s from the Lutheran Confessions. Hearing the Word is highest task of Christians. Not programs and this and that, not even “mission work”. Mission work and good works are the result of being a Christian – but not the goal. – St. Paul “Work out your salvation w/ fear and trembling.”’ Why? because our hearts are hard and we are unbelievers.
We like to believe that we are the good soil, but if 3/4 of the ground is bad ground, you have only a 25% chance of making it to harvest. This statistic should frighten. Everyone who gets married tells their pastor that they will never get divorced. Half of them will. It takes more than just good feelings to get through a marriage, and it takes more than a feeling deep down in the heart to get you to the harvest.
This would be easier to preach if we didn’t believe in salvation as a work of God. Now would be the buckle down and get to it part of the sermon. They are very popular – you can find those sorts of sermons being preached in pulpits across the country. Scare the people with hell, then relieve them with the so-called good news that they just need to work at it, and God will like you. Old fashioned works righteousness didn’t die at the reformation. Satan didn’t suddenly say – oh well, here is Martin Luther, I guess I’m finished. No one will want to hear what I have to say anymore. If Satan didn’t stop with the death and resurrection of our Lord, he will never stop, not until he is bound by Christ and thrown into the lake of fire at the end of time.
As the crowds on Pentecost asked peter. – Men and Brothers, what must we do to be saved. If it was supposed to be about our work, Peter messed this up. Here was a golden chance to say, make a decision for Jesus, commit your life to him. Say the sinners prayer. Write down the time you decided, because you’ll want to tell others about the time and place you were saved. You will need to know when you first decided to follow Jesus. But Peter doesn’t say that. Did he just forget?
Or he could have said, Look to me and my office, that will be handed down in an unbroken chain of apostolic succession, pray to the saints for forgiveness, do penance for sins, and receive indulgences to get you to heaven faster. He could have gone any number of ways with this question that would have turned the people to themselves. But he didn’t. Here Peter was, so full of the Holy Ghost that the spirit was leaking out of the top of his head, and he forgot to tell them that they were somehow responsible for their salvation. Instead his answer was almost so simple it was comic. “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Look at that – get me some water, and let’s talk about Jesus work for you. Let’s talk about his death and resurrection.
Some might say that Peter messed up in pointing them to Christ’s work instead of their own. After all, you want to what you can do to be saved, don’t you. How do YOU work to make it to the harvest? That’s like a farmer saying “what does my crop have to do to survive the summer?” Of course not, he says, “what do I have to do with my crop, so it survives the summer.” “ It isn’t your work for Jesus that saves you. It’s his work for you. That’s why we come to holy Lent – a time to celebrate the work of Jesus for you.
The world is done with religion for the year. Christmas is over, and now we move on with our year,, safely undisturbed by the whole “god thing”. But the church isn’t done yet. We’re hardly started. Jesus death is why we celebrate his birth. Extra services, losing the alleluia for a while, being reminded every time we come in here and see the purple that we aren’t there yet. It’s not just because Lutherans like to be depressed. It’s because Jesus crucifixion is everything. It is where you find salvation. And Baptism is where the fruit of that sacrifice is given to you. In Baptism you are joined to his death. We preach Christ crucified, not because it’s fun and dramatic to talk about, but because we are joined to it. And you live it out every day of your life. Waiting for the day when you finally go through death and enter the resurrection. Waiting for the harvest. Waiting, in Jesus, for the harvest. That’s why the word is preached to you each week, that’s why each week you need to be here to hear it – to soften your heart of stone, to remove those weeds, to get rid of the rocks, to water the ground, so that you will survive the summer, and make it to the harvest.
May God grant it to you, for Jesus sake. Amen.