Law and Gospel/Universal Church
Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23
Reclaiming “The Parable of the Sower”
Vicar Brian Henderson
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ! Amen.
INRODUCTION: As you no doubt have realized through our liturgy this morning, our theme for worship and in fact my message has quite a bit to do with planting or sowing of seeds. I thought it would be appropriate to begin our message this morning with a “Gardner’s Prayer:”
“Lord of the compost heap. you take garbage and turn it into soil; good soil
for seeds to root and grow with wildest increase and flowers to bloom
with brilliant beauty. Take all the garbage of my life oh Lord of the compost heap
and turn it into soil; good soil, and then plant seeds to bring forth fruit and beauty
in abundance.” —Joseph Bayly in Psalms of My Life. Christianity Today, Vol. 32, no. 1.
The parable of the Sower has been misused by well meaning Christians, maybe even you? So let us address this concern immediately. What have you learned about God through His Word? What do you expect to find when you read and hear His Holy Word? What do you expect to receive when you come to His Holy House of Worship and freely confess that you are sinner separated from God’s love, with no hope of salvation outside of His eternal grace? If you can answer that it is through His Word that you find peace and that through His gift of faith you gladly hear the “Good News” of forgiveness for Christ’s sake, then you have answered well, but if we were to read only this parable, we might be left with the impression that God is a clumsy Gardner who carelessly throws His seeds of salvation in places where nothing could ever grow. Or, you might believe that God is an absent minded Gardner who plants the seeds of His Word, only to abandon them to thorns, weeds and birds. That might be what you would believe if you didn’t read the next 7 parables that come next! You see without these other parables you loose the entire context and indeed our Lord’s message of comfort and peace!
Have you ever read one page of someone else’s letter? It is hard to really understand what is written without the context of the entire letter. For example, what if you were to find page 2 of a 4 page love letter that a young lady wrote to her love, and in it you read the following: “I hate you. I do not know if I can continue to live with what you have done. I have given you my entire heart, and this is how you respond! How could you do this to me?” How could you know that Page 1 said something like this: “My darling soldier. How I miss your love and your company. I worry about you constantly since you left to fight this war. If something should happen to you I do not know if I could live without you.” And then pages 3 and 4 relate that although she is angry with the decision her soldier husband made to join the Army reserves, she is nonetheless proud of his service and that she anxiously awaits his return from war so that he can be present for the birth of their first child.”
You see without pages 1, 3 and 4 to give context to page 2 you would never really understand the intent or the meaning of the letter, and so it is with our parable this morning.
I. The parable of the Sower within the context of the other parables, is a look at two churches, the physical church, and the true “Universal or Catholic” Church.
A. The Physical Church: Listen to two other parables our Lord told and you will understand this more clearly: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. "The owner's servants came to him and said, `Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?' " `An enemy did this,' he replied. "The servants asked him, `Do you want us to go and pull them up?' " `No,' he answered, `because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.' " (Vs. 24-30). "Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Vs. 47-50).
What Jesus has shown us is that within the church, our church here and in other places of worship, there are imposters. People who may know all of the right words and attend all of the right meetings, they can consistently offer their time and talents to a specific “Christian” organization, but in their hearts they refuse to believe that Jesus is Lord! They regard all spiritual matters as simply foolishness and fables. In the Gospel lesson this morning, our Lord Himself said, “Seeing, they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.” (Matthew 13:11)
Friends, Scripture makes it clear that people who are spiritually dead in their sins can never through their own strength change or save themselves. Without God, they can never know a healthy, spiritual, heavenly, righteous life. If the Son of God has not made them alive and freed them from the death of sin there is no hope. Without the work of the Holy Spirit, no one can be saved! So what shall we do about these imposters? Shall we expose them and then expel them from our midst? No, our Savior makes it clear that if we did that, we might harm the saints; after all, on the outside they are identical. Only God can know the heart of man, and as such only He can judge another! Besides, our Old Testament Lesson this morning gives hope even to those who refuse to believe: “my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire.” (Isaiah 55:11) And we know that God desires that none should perish!!
B. The Universal Church-So what about this “true” church? Who is in it?? Well what does scripture teach? Jesus said, “apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5) And Paul wrote in Philippians 2:13, “For it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” A true Christian is one who finds great comfort in being with Christ and His church, because through Him, together we are able to find grace and eternal salvation. Through His Word we can find strength in times of great weakness and help so that together we can continue in the true faith until the very end.
But God also meets the true Church in prayer. He responsds to help us with our fears and insecurity. You see, when we pray, we demonstrate to God that we know that without Him we are lost; helpless to save ourselves. These prayers reveal our ignorance and helplessness, so that we can, above all, thank God from the bottom of our hearts that he has set us free through His Son; free from the darkness of our ignorance and from our prison of sin and that through the death of His Son, He has given us new birth and enlightened us through baptism and the Holy Spirit.
Jesus, in another parable, calls this beginning, faith the size of a mustard seed, the smallest of seeds. But once this seed is planted, God begins through His Holy Spirit to ignite our hearts and create a true knowledge of faith; faith that grows through His care. This is why it is so important to pray every day, that God would through this same Spirit and His grace, strengthen our faith and preserve His heavenly gifts within us, through the daily reading and use of His Word and Sacraments, and preserve us until the end.
So what do real Christians look like? Well, look at the person next to you; that is a real Christian. What does a real Lutheran look like? Well I found a few examples: You Might Be a Lutheran if… 1)you have your wedding reception in the fellowship hall and feel guilty about not staying to help clean up. 2)...in response to someone jumping up and shouting "Praise the Lord!", you politely remind him or her that we don't do that around here. 3) ...you're watching "Star Wars" in the theatre and when they say, "May the force be with you," you experience a strong urge to reply, "and also with you." 4) ...you sing "Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus" while sitting down. Well with this humor, I have tried to make a point. Real Christians are you and me. We can not know for certain anyone else’s heart but our own. We simply accept their profession and trust that God will take care of the rest. And this leads nicely into my next point concerning our parable this morning.
II. The parable of the Sower is a gift from God to you and me! No matter where we are in our walk of faith, this parable was written for us. For who ever reads this parable through grace, by faith discovers themselves and their relationship with God as He sees it. Jesus said that the gift of salvation is “like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found the one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” Is God’s Word like this to you?
A. God’s valuable Word can come to you as Law-if you haven’t read His Word or hungered to hear it preached in a long time. If you find yourself making excuses constantly for why you don’t attend a Bible study here or elsewhere, perhaps God’s Law is warning you that your heart has become much like the hard path where the seeds of His Word can not grow? If family trouble or personal issues seem to sap your strength and rob you of the joy of your salvation, to the point where coming to church or reading His Word is a chore, then perhaps you are like the seed amongst the thorns and weeds. If so then this parable is speaking to you and WARNING you to turn to Him before you no longer find comfort in His presence. Sadly, there are some who do not want to hear or read the proclamation of God’s Word. Instead they hate it’s narrow message and the congregation of God’s people who proclaim it. They would rather die and perish in their sins than hear that sweet message of comfort and mercy. If such people persist in rejecting the means of the Holy Spirit and do not want to receive God’s grace, then no injustice has been done to them if their hearts have not been enlightened by the Holy Spirit. Sadly though, for an eternity they will hear God’s Word reminding them: “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” [Matt. 23:37].
B. Or His Word can be Gospel-because what ever condition you find your self in this morning, God would have you know for certain that He is asking you to trust in Him with all your heart and mind; He would have you cast your burdens upon Him, because HE CARES FOR YOU! Through His Holy Spirit, God desires to effect new birth and the ability to receive and renew another heart, mind, and attitude. It is He alone who can open our minds and hearts so that we can understand Scripture and be attentive to His Word, as it is written in Luke 24:45, “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” God desires to be at work in you, enabling you to not just do good things but to desire to do good. (Phil. 2:13]). It is God alone who can give you not just repentance but faith to believe forgiveness! (Acts 5:31; 2 Tim. 2:25; Philippians 1:29). Friends this is indeed Good News, “For [God] has graciously granted you the privilege . . . of believing.” (Ephesians 2:8)
III. The Parable of the Sower is an invitation for you to become a Sower in God’s garden? Why? “Hearts that are without the Holy Spirit are without fear of God, without faith, and do not trust or believe that God will hear them, or that he forgives their sins, or that he will help them in their afflictions; therefore, they are godless.” “An evil tree cannot bear good fruit, and without faith no one can please God. It is not God’s will that any are damned but that all turn to him and be saved. “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn back from their ways and live.” (Ezekiel 33:11)
You see, God in his immeasurable goodness and mercy has provided for us His true Church for the public proclamation of his divine, eternal law and His wondrous “Good News” about our redemption through the holy gospel of his eternal Son, our only Savior Jesus Christ. It is by this means alone that He offers eternal life and gathers an everlasting church; He creates in human hearts true repentance and knowledge of sin and true faith in the Son of God, Jesus Christ. God wants to call all people to eternal salvation, to draw them to Himself, to convert them, to give them new birth, and to sanctify them through His holy Word and sacraments. So you see, God’s Word is indeed proven true when we read that “faith arises from the proclamation, and proclamation comes through God’s word.”
Friends, God wills to work effectively and convert people to Himself and He wants you to help Him in this endeavor by working within the relationships where He has placed you; He wants you to tend the gardens where you live!
It is indeed true that both the planting and watering of the preacher and witnesses such as yourselves, along with the activity and desire of the hearer would accomplish nothing, and no conversion could result from these efforts, if God was a clumsy or absent minded Gardner. But the power and action of His Holy Spirit is with us. God is attentive to the heart of every person, and by His Spirit He desires to enlighten and convert the hearts of your children, family, friends, neighbors and co-workers through the Word that is proclaimed and heard, so that people believe the Word and say yes to it.
So now let us leave this place today, but not His presence with the confidence that on the basis of His promise, that the Word of God, when preached, witnessed to and heard, is a function and work of a Good and Gracious Gardner who is certainly present with us and willing to exercise His wonderful power to ensure a beautiful and bountiful harvest. (2 Corinthians 2 [1 Cor. 2:11ff*. or 2 Cor. 3:5–6*]). Through Jesus Christ our Lord and only Savior, AMEN!