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Sexagesima – Luke 8:4-15

by pastorjuhl ~ February 4th, 2010

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

One of the many problems that plagues the Christian Church is the definition of success. It seems as if success is defined as “new starts” and “new believers”. There is nothing wrong with either of these. What is wrong is when Christians decide that numbers are the most important thing in the Church. The phrase “maintenance ministry” is considered an insult. No pastor merely wants to “maintain” a congregation. Nevertheless, what is wrong is maintaining sound doctrine from God’s Holy Word? What is wrong with faithful congregational practice of the Sacraments according to Christ’s institution? For some strange reason the words “maintenance” and “new” cannot go together when both have a place in the church when rightly understood.

The tension between “maintenance” and “new” boils down to a lack of fear of God’s Word. Hearing Jesus’ parable in Luke chapter eight might bring sadness. Three out of four soils do not produce fruit from the seed that was sown. That fact shouldn’t disturb you. If every ground was as accepting as the last ground who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience, then every church would be full, there would be millions of Christians in Haiti showing Christ’s mercy through good works, and there would be no internal strife among Christians. Everyone would get along. No one would look down their nose at anyone else in any congregation.

You do not live in paradise. You live in a broken world full of trampled, rocky, and thorny soil. You live in a world where the devil, the world, and our sinful nature want all the attention. You live in a world where blame is shifted from the soil receiving the seed to the seed itself. What a backwards world! When a sower sows seed, it could be that the seed is bad. More often than not, it is not the seed that is bad but the ground. If every patch of ground were perfectly arable, then there is no need to blame the seed. Even if you know nothing about planting seed, you know that where you plant a seed is very important. Why then are Christians like you so quick to blame the seed of the Word of God for every failure in the Church?

Well-meaning Christians try new measures, great awakenings, revivals, and everything short of kneeling down to the earth and screaming at it to multiply new starts and new believers. Do these well-meaning Christians ever step back and consider that the seed is not the problem? The problem is the soil receiving the seed. It must be worked patiently, cautiously, and carefully. Saint Paul sowed the seed on ground that no man would dare sow seed. The Corinthians trusted in wisdom more than the power of God’s Word to convert hearts and lives. The Corinthians also fell prey to “super-apostles” who preached a different gospel among them. These false teachers sowed a seed of dissension among them, preaching Paul was a powerful writer but was a wimp when it came to face-to-face preaching and teaching. Paul’s apostleship was questioned.

Instead of bragging about all his success stories in three missionary journeys, Paul instead “boasted” in his sufferings. Paul writes, if I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity. Everything that happened to Paul, whether it was stripes or shipwrecks, perils or concerns, served to strip away any worldly notion that Paul was the most important thing. Saint Paul was encouraged to proclaim freedom from sin and death through Jesus Christ when seemingly everything around him crashed and burned. When helpers failed and comforts disappeared, all Paul had left was the Word of God.

Perhaps that is why pastors and congregations go through bad spells together. When I first came among you nearly three years ago, there was a lot of doubt. It seemed everything was crashing down before our eyes. There was anger, dissension, failure, hurt feelings, and other concerns. What some pastors might consider a disaster, others might consider an opportunity to let the seed of the Word of God do its work.

Both you and I have learned together these past three years that the patch of ground called the heart needs to be worked over in repentance and forgiveness. Satan tramples daily over that patch of ground. Our sinful nature tries to dry baptismal water. The world attempts to choke the seed with idols of this filthy here and now. The seed is sown. The ground either receives it and bears fruit, or does not receive it and goes its own way. What matters most is the seed is sown as it has been sown in this patch of ground called Momence for nearly 119 years.

Though congregations come and go, the Seed of the woman is sown. The Seed of the woman crushes the serpent’s head when the tree of life was planted on that patch of ground called Golgotha. On two pieces of dead wood lay the Life of the World, the Life that overcomes death. The Life of the World rises from the dead so that when your lifeless body is planted in the ground, it will be raised an imperishable seed. As we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.

The seemingly secret formula for “success” while we wait for the day of resurrection is Saint Paul’s words in today’s Epistle. Concerning this [thorn in the flesh] I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” The Seed of the Word delivers God’s undeserved love toward us. The Seed of the Word implanted in our patch of ground called the heart grows strong and tall nourished in baptismal water, fed with the True Body and Blood of Christ, renewed and restored in Holy Absolution and Holy Preaching, delivering a yield that is thirty, sixty, even one hundred fold. God’s grace and God’s Word are all you need to sustain you on the forthcoming Lenten journey to Jerusalem. The Word never returns empty. The Word accomplishes what our Father in heaven pleases. The Word prospers in the thing for which He sent it. That thing is repentance and forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ, the Seed Who is the Word of God.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

One of the many problems that plagues the Christian Church is the definition of success. It seems as if success is defined as “new starts” and “new believers”. There is nothing wrong with either of these. What is wrong is when Christians decide that numbers are the most important thing in the Church. The phrase “maintenance ministry” is considered an insult. No pastor merely wants to “maintain” a congregation. Nevertheless, what is wrong is maintaining sound doctrine from God’s Holy Word? What is wrong with faithful congregational practice of the Sacraments according to Christ’s institution? For some strange reason the words “maintenance” and “new” cannot go together when both have a place in the church when rightly understood.

The tension between “maintenance” and “new” boils down to a lack of fear of God’s Word. Hearing Jesus’ parable in Luke chapter eight might bring sadness. Three out of four soils do not produce fruit from the seed that was sown. That fact shouldn’t disturb you. If every ground was as accepting as the last ground who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience, then every church would be full, there would be millions of Christians in Haiti showing Christ’s mercy through good works, and there would be no internal strife among Christians. Everyone would get along. No one would look down their nose at anyone else in any congregation.

You do not live in paradise. You live in a broken world full of trampled, rocky, and thorny soil. You live in a world where the devil, the world, and our sinful nature want all the attention. You live in a world where blame is shifted from the soil receiving the seed to the seed itself. What a backwards world! When a sower sows seed, it could be that the seed is bad. More often than not, it is not the seed that is bad but the ground. If every patch of ground were perfectly arable, then there is no need to blame the seed. Even if you know nothing about planting seed, you know that where you plant a seed is very important. Why then are Christians like you so quick to blame the seed of the Word of God for every failure in the Church?

Well-meaning Christians try new measures, great awakenings, revivals, and everything short of kneeling down to the earth and screaming at it to multiply new starts and new believers. Do these well-meaning Christians ever step back and consider that the seed is not the problem? The problem is the soil receiving the seed. It must be worked patiently, cautiously, and carefully. Saint Paul sowed the seed on ground that no man would dare sow seed. The Corinthians trusted in wisdom more than the power of God’s Word to convert hearts and lives. The Corinthians also fell prey to “super-apostles” who preached a different gospel among them. These false teachers sowed a seed of dissension among them, preaching Paul was a powerful writer but was a wimp when it came to face-to-face preaching and teaching. Paul’s apostleship was questioned.

Instead of bragging about all his success stories in three missionary journeys, Paul instead “boasted” in his sufferings. Paul writes, if I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity. Everything that happened to Paul, whether it was stripes or shipwrecks, perils or concerns, served to strip away any worldly notion that Paul was the most important thing. Saint Paul was encouraged to proclaim freedom from sin and death through Jesus Christ when seemingly everything around him crashed and burned. When helpers failed and comforts disappeared, all Paul had left was the Word of God.

Perhaps that is why pastors and congregations go through bad spells together. When I first came among you nearly three years ago, there was a lot of doubt. It seemed everything was crashing down before our eyes. There was anger, dissension, failure, hurt feelings, and other concerns. What some pastors might consider a disaster, others might consider an opportunity to let the seed of the Word of God do its work.

Both you and I have learned together these past three years that the patch of ground called the heart needs to be worked over in repentance and forgiveness. Satan tramples daily over that patch of ground. Our sinful nature tries to dry baptismal water. The world attempts to choke the seed with idols of this filthy here and now. The seed is sown. The ground either receives it and bears fruit, or does not receive it and goes its own way. What matters most is the seed is sown as it has been sown in this patch of ground called Momence for nearly 119 years.

Though congregations come and go, the Seed of the woman is sown. The Seed of the woman crushes the serpent’s head when the tree of life was planted on that patch of ground called Golgotha. On two pieces of dead wood lay the Life of the World, the Life that overcomes death. The Life of the World rises from the dead so that when your lifeless body is planted in the ground, it will be raised an imperishable seed. As we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.

The seemingly secret formula for “success” while we wait for the day of resurrection is Saint Paul’s words in today’s Epistle. Concerning this [thorn in the flesh] I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” The Seed of the Word delivers God’s undeserved love toward us. The Seed of the Word implanted in our patch of ground called the heart grows strong and tall nourished in baptismal water, fed with the True Body and Blood of Christ, renewed and restored in Holy Absolution and Holy Preaching, delivering a yield that is thirty, sixty, even one hundred fold. God’s grace and God’s Word are all you need to sustain you on the forthcoming Lenten journey to Jerusalem. The Word never returns empty. The Word accomplishes what our Father in heaven pleases. The Word prospers in the thing for which He sent it. That thing is repentance and forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ, the Seed Who is the Word of God.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

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