Sunday, February 12, 2012

To You It Has Been Given

Dear Baptized disciples of God,

To you it has indeed been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God. To hear the sermon for Sexagesima Sunday based upon the Parable of the Sower in Luke 8, "To You It Has Been Given," click on this mp3 audio link.

Have a blessed week as one planted into the kingdom of God.

A servant of the Word and His people,
Laughing Martin
aka, Pastor Hering

The preaching manuscript follows below if you prefer to read along, or read instead.

In our Gospel text today, Jesus tells the parable of the sower to the masses
of people gathered to see this worker of miracles and then takes his disciples
(followers) aside to explain that which made the people wonder.

TEXT: 4When a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came
to [Jesus], he said in a parable: 5"A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he
sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the
air devoured it. 6And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered
away, because it had no moisture. 7And some fell among thorns, and the thorns
grew up with it and choked it. 8And some fell into good soil and grew and
yielded a hundredfold." As he said these things, he called out, "He who has ears
to hear, let him hear. 9And when his disciples asked him what this parable
meant, 10he said, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom
of God," Luke 8:4-9

Dear Baptized disciples of God,

Once again our Gospel lesson humbles us by reminding us of who we are in
relation to God, and who does what for and to whom. This relationship is what
Jesus was speaking about when He told His disciples, "To you it has been given
to know the secrets of the kingdom of God." And by your baptism into faith--into
the life of Christ Himself--to you it has been given as well.

In ten days we will begin the season of Lent with an Ash Wednesday service, so named for the imposition of the ashes upon the foreheads of those gathered to begin the forty days of penitential preparation for Good Friday's commemoration of the crucifixion of our Lord and our Easter Day celebration of His Resurrection from death, hell, and the grave. As the ashes are imposed upon us, we hear those most humbling of words that echo the confession of Abraham as he pled God to have mercy on the people of Sodom and Gomorrah whose brazenly violent and homosexual behavior had incurred His wrath: "You are but dust, and to dust you shall return."

In the end, God did destroy Sodom and Gomorrah—not for their behavior, so much as for not repenting of their behavior and even attempting to impose themselves and exercise their behavior upon the messengers of God.

The parable of the Sower reminds us we are but dust, soil of the earth that God has formed into His image in order to pour His blessings upon us, and into us, that we might bear fruit in abundance so others may in turn receive from God through us.

Like Abraham, and Adam before him, we are indeed all but dust. Our Lord formed us from the dust of the earth, and to dust we will return. And that is something to remember as we look at today's Gospel Lesson in which Jesus speaks of the Word of God as a seed, and those who hear it as the soil into which the seed is planted.

You are the soil—yes, even the good soil--for you are the ones with ears to hear and you are hearing.

That's what ears do, hear, i.e. receive signals that convey messages. And this is what our parable is all about. For soil is rather similar to ears in this respect, it must receive something from outside of itself in order to do its job. In fact, more than that, receiving is the very reason for its
existence. Certainly, once it receives it does bear fruit, but first and foremost soil is a receiver.

As you all know, this wasn't good enough for the first male and female. Adam and Eve weren't satisfied being soil—even soil bearing the image of God and receiving every good thing from Him they could or would ever possibly need. No, they wanted to be like God. Receiving wasn't good enough. The soil wanted to be independent and become its own source of power and decide what kind of fruit it would bear.

Of course they found out it didn't work out so well that way. They found out that their own power and decisions led only to death—but not before a whole lot of suffering under the curse they had brought upon the earth and her soil.

And this is what Jesus' parable of the Sower and the Seed in our Gospel text today is all about:
+ the cursed soil of our sinful flesh--hard as stone, open to predators and scavengers, full of thorns and thistles.
+ and the blessed soil of faith that has had the seed of life planted in it in Holy Baptism, is being cultivated with the continuous hearing of God's Word sown by the Holy Spirit, and is even bearing the fruit of the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion with Him.

The Holy Spirit, sowing the Word through Christ's apostle Paul and the ministers of the Word who follow in the footsteps of his confession of the faith, scatters this seed throughout the world, in every kind of soil. And the Holy Spirit sees to the harvest as well. For the seed will grow when and where and how He sees fit, regardless of the strength of faith or the quality of work of the men through whom He sows and tends it.

Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. [1 Cor 3:5 7, NKJ]

Whether the seed takes root and grows or not, regardless of the reception His ministers receive, what does the Holy Spirit do? He keeps sending His sowers out with the seed of the Word--which is Christ Himself--for God the Father to nourish from heaven and produce fruit according to His will that desires all to be saved.

Because of the Father's desire that all sinners, every sort of soil be cultivated and saved, God has sent and continues to send His messengers out to scatter His seed throughout the world. Again the Holy Spirit sows through the apostle Paul: Rom 10:18 But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed: 'Their sound has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.'" (NKJ)

So if everyone has heard, why doesn't everyone believe? Why are not all people saved? It is not the sower's fault. It is not God's fault, as Jesus said, "He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." [Matt 5:45, NKJ]

Our parable tells the disciples - both then and now -- why not all soils will bear fruit:

• When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside.

The Word just doesn't make sense according to the ways of the world. One needs to hear the Word explained in light of eternal, hidden things. This is where catechesis comes into play--in fact you see it with Jesus taking aside the disciples to explain the parable to them. And that becomes their vocation--preaching and teaching the Word of God—scattering the seed and
watering it.

"What does this mean?"--the question driving our Lutheran confession and practice of the faith gets to this very reason--that you may hear and believe.

This shows the importance of church and ministry, the way in which you receive gifts from God according to the Third Commandment for this very purpose—not to despise preaching and His Word, but to hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.

The sower keeps sowing - and catechizing, explaining through His church and

• But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word
and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures
only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the
word, immediately he stumbles.

This kind of soil, these hearers of the Word are what Luther calls "Schwaermer," or enthusiasts—those who welcome the Word when it makes them feel good and seems successful in all the works they are doing for God. But when the inevitable happens and something goes wrong—when the cancer comes back even though they have prayed day and night; when unemployment hits even though they have been faithfully tithing; when their spouse leaves them even though they have been faithful and forgiving—they blame it on God rather than the sinfulness of the flesh and the evil desires of men.

Still the sower keeps sowing even and especially in the face of tribulation and persecution. For though many stumble, it is in times tribulation and persecution that the church and the believer grow strong--just as the mighty oak is stimulated to hard growth by the winds that blow against it, and the muscles of the body are built by both healthy food and resistance exercise that breaks
down the muscle only to be built back bigger and stronger than before.

• Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.

Even the faithful can become beaten down and worn out by the cares world—by the daily grind to pay the bills, put food on the table, and protect themselves and their families from the wickedness and unbelief of the world that surrounds them with violence and hounds them with temptation. This is why Jesus says; "Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." [Matt 26:4, NKJ]

And remember, when He teaches to pray He teaches us to pray like this: "Our Father . . . "

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same
sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. [2 Cor 1:3 6, NKJ]

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. [Heb 10:23 25, NKJ]

The sower keeps on sowing through the consolation of the brethren, the gathering of His people around the Word - even when that Word is ignored, rejected, or choked out.

So what are you to do, dear Christian? "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." Because this is the way the Holy Spirit cultivates your stony, thorn infested sinful flesh and turns you into "good soil, . . . who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience."

Thank God, ‹today› a seven-year-old child knows what the Church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd [John 10:11-16]. 3 For the children pray, "I believe in one holy Christian Church." This holiness does not come from [what we do to dress up, look nice, and impress God with the works we have] made up without Holy Scripture, but from God's Word and true faith. [Smalcald Pt. III, Art. XII The Church]

Dear Baptized, disciples of God, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God," by hearing the Word and hearing it often--and not alone, but amongst the gathering of your fellow redeemed, your brothers and sisters in Christ of the Holy Christian Church. For this is where the Holy Spirit continues to sow and sow and sow, planting Christ in you, while the
Father sends rain and nutrients to cause the growth and bearing of fruit as the seed grows in the soil of forgiven sinners -- in the in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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