[Picture: Interior photograph of Chapel of Christ Triumphant at Concordia University Wisconsin in Mequon, Wis., on Tuesday, May 27, 2014. LCMS Communications/Erik M. Lunsford, © The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod]
Pastor Hopkins preached this sermon on Sexagesima Sunday, 2/16/2020. The texts for the sermon were the day’s gospel and Old Testament lessons. To read the Bible texts for Sexagesima Sunday, click here.
The path, the rock, and then the thorns – that is the deliberate order of the parable. First, the path, because the first thing we need is recollection and caution. We need to pay attention and listen closely to the Word of God and not forget it, lest it be snatched away from us. If our faith is based on anything other than that Word of God, it is in vain. So we must be careful, reverent, and deliberate hearers.
Next comes the rock. We need fortitude. If the faith planted in us is not tended by the Word and Sacraments, it will wither and die. Faith is no strength of its own. So just as we cannot forget God’s Word, neither can we neglect it. It is not sufficient to have believed once upon a time.
Finally, the thorns. We need contempt for things present. Even St. Paul was prone to this world’s allure. That is why he wrote, as we read last week, that he disciplined his body, lest after preaching to others, he himself would fall away. Our bodies, our physical lives, our desire for honor and prestige are a threat to faith.
This last threat, worry, is the worst and most applicable to us who have been brought here today by the Holy Spirit to hear the Word and receive the Body and Blood of Christ. Though we are not without fault, still we are not careless or forgetful hearers. We have been baptized. We are not perfect; but neither are we completely negligent of what God has given. We are here to receive what God gives, and to hear His Word.
And yet, though we are baptized, though we are careful hearers of God’s Word, still, we feel the strong pull of our flesh: worries, riches, pleasures, and all the rest. We have all given in to this, even in the course of this Service. Our minds have wandered. Our daydreams are not pure. Neither are our our plans.
In the parable, worries, riches, and pleasures are represented by thorns. Worries, riches, and pleasures are things that prick and lacerate the mind, and wound it. They’re like meth or crack.
They give a temporary, unworldly, and costly burst of pleasure, but as they do they enslave the recipient. Now his thoughts and heart are deformed. He no longer finds any joy in joyful things. He only longs for the unworldly bliss of the drug. It never satisfies him, and it takes everything else away to boot. These things fill him with anxiety over when he will taste of it next, and how he might keep and gain more of it for himself. Sin stops joyful things from being received as true and beautiful. Thorns don’t prick and then let go; they entangle and trap.
This isn’t really a parable about why some believe and others don’t. It is a parable of warning for those who know the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. It is also an illustration of God’s grace in Christ.
The good ground bears fruit through patience. Nothing we do is good unless we endure it patiently. Jesus suffered all the things the parable describes.
He was driven by the Holy Spirit to the desolate place, well trod by demons. There He shows Himself the ready Hearer when He says to Satan,
Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Matthew 4:4
In the wilderness, He was parched and went without sustenance. Then at His trial and upon the cross, He bore the thorns for us. He is our King who has taken our place, who has endured our punishment to spare us. He has been tempted in all the ways that we are tempted, and He has borne it with perfect patience, without sin. We are the hundredfold fruit that He produces, a gift to His Father.
This is why the Lord sows His seed so recklessly. The fruit that He seeks is already bought and paid for. He sows where no reasonable sower would sow: on the trodden path; in the rocky and thorny ground. And His Word does what no ordinary sower could expect of his seed. It transforms the ground. It bears fruit in the unlikely hearts of rebellious men. He sows because He is good and His Word is good, and we are in need of it.
He is no respecter of persons and does not discriminate. He sows His seed lavishly, inviting all those with ears to hear.
No one comes to this kingdom worthily. There are no good people, no plowed and ready ground. There are only sinners. Some are stubborn and deny that they are sinners or that Jesus is the Lord’s Christ. But some – by grace, not because they are good or smart, but because He is good – are transformed and acknowledge their need for grace and the lordship of Christ. He who has gets more. The kingdom is not built on justice, but on grace.
The first part of the parable, then, shows us what we need. We need to pay attention and listen closely to the Word of God. We need the Word and Sacraments to nourish the faith He has given. And we need a certain contempt for and detachment from things present. Without these things, we can be snatched, dried, withered, and choked.
The last bit of the parable bestows all these things in the reckless planting of the Sower. We are not simply commanded to stop worrying, but all real cause for worry is removed. God satisfied His own Law on our behalf. He is not stingy with His saving Word of grace. He provides all that we need and more. He forgives our sins. He strengthens our weak faith. He enlightens our hearts and minds by grace. He drives off the demon birds that seek to snatch and peck at us.
The holy Word, the Seed of God, the Christ born of Mary, crucified and risen from the dead, is here for us in the bread and the wine, calling us once again.
He who has ears to hear, let him hear.