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Sermon for Sexagesima (St. Luke 8:4-15)

by Rev. Brian Hamer ~ March 1st, 2011

 The Parable of the Sower is a vital gospel lesson on the Word of God, for here we learn about both its power and its sufficiency. The answers to two questions, along with some contrast to the church growth movement of the 1990’s, will guide our meditation on this parable:

 1. Is the Word of God powerful?

2. Is the Word of God enough?

We need to know the answers to both questions. For our answers to these two simple questions will determine whether or not we can expect something from the Word of God and whether or not the preached Word is enough for us and for our salvation.

First, is the Word of God powerful? In our gospel lesson, the seed is the Word of God and the seed is powerful. To be sure, the seed that falls on the path, on the rock, or among the thorns cannot grow up and bear lasting fruit. But here the problem is not with the seed, but with the ground. In application, the lack of repentance and faith among the unbelievers is not a negative reflection on the Word of God, but on the unbelievers themselves. When the devil comes and takes the Word away from someone’s heart; when those who initially believe later fall away from the faith; when others are choked by the cares and riches of this life – these are all negative reflections on the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature. But the Word of God, the proclamation of the law and the gospel, is still powerful enough to bring us to repentance and faith. The law cuts to the heart, exposes our sin, and crushes us in repentance. And the gospel preaches Christ crucified for us; Christ risen for us; Christ present in the means of grace for us; yes, the full and free forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation for us. Again, it’s a small seed; but it is powerful enough to kill and make alive.

The alternative to this high view of the power of the Word of God is the false teaching that the Word of God is quite sterile and needs a man-made Miracle Gro to be successful. Church planting is a case in point. To offer my once-a-year personal story in a sermon, it was interesting to me as a mission developer in Florida to contrast this parable to the church growth movement of the ‘90’s. According to this parable, pastors should scatter the seed of the Word with reckless abandon, without regard for how it is received. Just scatter the seed at church and home, work and school, in city and field. But I quickly discovered a very different pattern among self-proclaimed church growth experts. We might call it “soil science.” Mission experts would pay for a demographic study of any given area to determine whether or not location X had good soil. I ask you: what sort of neighborhood do you think was always targeted as the most fertile soil for the Word of God? What sort of ground was considered appropriate (and therefore funded!) for the lively promulgation of the Gospel? The white, upscale, suburban neighborhoods with a good school system. There’s much more to be said about the multicultural (i.e., anti-Western) approach to evangelism, the need for the Gospel to drive the boat for missions (instead of vice versa), and whether or not the pastor is a salesman or a Christ-bearer. But do you see how soil science is contrary to today’s Gospel lesson? For all the vertical inches of demographic studies and countless ring binders on church growth, none of them will change how the sower sows the seed. Just preach the Word, and let God take care of it.

So is the Word of God powerful enough for pastors to preach and laymen to receive? Is it powerful enough to kill our sins, to give us life, yes, to raise us from the dead? Yes! As sure the one drop of Jesus’ blood, shed on the cross, was powerful enough to accomplish the world’s redemption, so the preached Word “shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose” (OT). And where Christ crucified is preached, you, the good soil in this church, bear an abundant crop of repentance and faith.

Second, is the Word of God enough? In our parable, the sower is the center of the parable and the main character in the story. Everything depends on the responsibility and skill of the sower. For not only will he plant his seed, but as we know from similar agricultural parables in the NT, he will also daily watch and water his crop, protect it from wild beasts and scorching sunlight, and separate the wheat form the chaff at the final harvest. The seed on the path, among the thorns, and in the shallow soil will die not due to the negligence of the sower, but because the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh will try to choke the life out of the word. But the sower will continue to provide everything his vineyard needs from planting to harvest. In application, Christ our sower gives us the seed of the Word of God. For most of us, our life under His care began in baptism. And He continues to water and nurture us in a lifetime in the Word: Scripture lessons and sermons, daily devotions and Bible study, and the regular use of confession and absolution. We call this the “sufficiency” of the Word of God. Sufficiency says, “It is enough.” For His ongoing care for our soul is sufficient or enough to bring us to the final resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

The alternative to this teaching that the Word of God is enough is the modern notion that the preached Word is merely routine and what the church really needs are some extra additives. To return the ill-fated Church Growth Movement of the late twentieth century, how did the church growth experts regard the sufficiency of the Word of God? After excluding everyone who did not fit suburban values, the church growth crowd would then determine how to genetically modify the seed to accommodate the soil. I generally observed two modifications to the word of God: small group Bible studies and contemporary worship. The Bible studies were characterized by lay leadership (pastors stay out!), pertinent topics (especially parenthood), and radically privatized interpretations of the Word of God (How does the Bible make you feel?). “Ya’ gotta’ make the Word of God relevant” was their cry, and into their small groups they went, many never to be heard of again in the orthodox church. Similarly, contemporary services were founded on the basis of popular music, practical preaching, and a radical sensitivity to people’s 30-second attention span. And so the pipe organs were sold and the trained choirs were dismissed. Electronics ruled the day, with song leaders shouting into microphones, PowerPoint presentations covering the sacred altar, and praise teams leading the church’s song. The historic liturgy was dismissed as too rigid and quite irrelevant. And preaching began to focus on felt needs instead of Christ crucified. Do you see how the underlying assumption was that the Word of God is not enough? Perhaps one false teacher put it best when she politely informed me that the right preaching of the Gospel and the right giving of the sacraments were merely “perfunctory.” That is to say, the gifts of the Gospel weren’t enough; we need something more.

So is the Word of God enough for us and for our salvation? Can we really be content to know that the Gospel is being rightly preached and that baptism is given with full baptismal regeneration? Can we be at peace to know that penitent sinners are being absolved and the true body and blood of Christ are being rightly given? Yes! For the Gospel is not a means to an end, as if we need to add something to the Word of God. Rather, Christ is our all-in-all. He is our beginning, our present, and our end; He is our sower, His Word is our seed, and the soil in which we grow is His church. So you can be at peace to know that the Word of God, sown in your hearts, is enough for you and for your salvation and to pray with the Psalmist, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall nothing lack” (Ps 23).

Finally, see how Martin Luther’s missions hymn, “May God Bestow on Us His Grace,” preaches the good news that (1) the Word of God is powerful and (2) the Word of God is enough. Most mission hymns today simply heap the law upon your head that you haven’t done enough to make your church grow. That’s why we don’t sing the hymn, “Hark! The Voice of Jesus Calling” – it tells you what to do (“Who will go and work today?”) and veritably fills out your time and talent sheet for you, but it offers little consolation in Christ. Luther’s mission hymn (TLH 500), however, teaches us the good news that “Thy people’s pasture is Thy Word / [our] souls to feed and nourish, In righteous paths to keep them.” And abiding in the grace of our Sower and being His good soil, “The land shall plenteous fruit bring forth [for] Thy Word is rich in blessing.”

He who has ears to hear, let him hear! + INJ + Amen.

Rev. Brian Hamer

Redeemer Lutheran Church

Bayside, NY

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