Keep on Sowing
We're at the beginning of the long Church season of Pentecost, the season of growth in the faith. The paraments are bright green, the color of new growth. This text and sermon are straightforward. We're not to become discouraged in our sowing. Our sowing of what? The Word. Jesus speaks of sowing seeds. Later in explaining, Jesus says, "The one who sows, sows the Word." The Word of God, Law and Gospel, sin exposed and grace revealed, is what we're to keep sowing, not principles of psychology, social justice, parenting, relationships, marriage, or healthy lifestyles.
These are the things many churches are sowing. Why? You know why. They work. People come to anything they think makes them grow, feel better, or get results especially if they think it's spiritual, religious, Christian. So churches have classes on Biblical parenting, Christian marriage, and Spiritual politics. The Word isn't enough, Law and Gospel aren't enough. People want more, better, different, and so churches give it.
Jesus tells us keep on sowing My Word. Why? Because the Word will always do its work. Don't get discouraged at scattering the Word. Be like a man scattering seed. Ever done that? Did you have a plan? Did you measure how much seed you were putting out where? Did you section off the yard? No, you went out into the yard, grabbed a handful of seeds, scattered those seeds, took a step, grabbed another handful and scattered them. There wasn't much planning or organizing; just a lot of scattering. There was no talk of effective sowing, efficient sowing, or enthusiastic sowing just sowing.
As it is in the realm of your yard, so it is in the kingdom of the God. Ever sow seed and lay awake at night worrying if it will grow? You might have because you know what science says about seed germination. However, when Jesus first spoke these words none of the miraculous was taken out of gardening. Now anyone with high school biology thinks they can explain how and why this seed sprouts and that seed doesn't. Not so Jesus first hearers. It was all miracle. All by itself the soil with the seed in it produces the stalk, the head, and the full kernel. They didn't know how, and they didn't think they could influence the process.
We see very little when we sow the Word. We expose sin with the Law and nothing happens. We forgive sins with the Gospel and nothing happens. We show people what their sins deserve: suffering now with cancer, with disease, with stress, and death, and nothing happens. We show people that Jesus lived a life without sin, yet suffered what their sins deserve. And nothing happens.
So we're tempted to sow not God's Law which makes people helpless, damned sinners, but a doable Law. People respond to a doable Law; you can see them trying harder, doing their best. And we're tempted to sow not a Gospel which forgives all sins freely for Jesus' sake, but a better lifestyle. People respond to that. They would rather have a fuller, richer life, marriage, family, and relationships that they can see than forgiveness and redemption they can't see.
Yes you can see fuller and richer; you can't see forgiven and redeemed, but just because you can't see activity doesn't mean nothing is happening. That's the faith Jesus wants us to hold on to: that something is happening when we sow Law and Gospel. Otherwise we'll reach for another seed bag. Sow something besides God's condemning Law and God's redeeming Gospel or at least add something to them.
As in the realm of gardening so in the realm of God's kingdom: you reap what you sow. If you sow repentance and forgiveness of sins, that's what you'll reap at the end of the age. If you sow psychologically well adjusted people, that's what you'll reap. If you sow good marriages, healthy families, and happy relationships, that's what you'll reap at the end of the age. But these save no one. You can be a fully integrated person, as they call it, and still go to hell. You can have a great marriage, a wonderful family, and TV like relationships, and at the end of the age still find yourself cut down and thrown into the fires of hell.
Only God's Law and His Gospel raise a harvest to heaven. Though the Word looks weak here and now, though it doesn't produce results that impress the world, Jesus tells us it really is doing way beyond what any of us thinks. Jesus compares the Word to a mustard seed, not a coconut or even a pecan, but a round seed the size of a pinhead. Like a mustard seed, the Word grows from a seed that any bird could easily eat to a plant with such big branches that birds can perch in its shade.
You've all been here. You've all had a heart to heart conversation with someone in a real crises. They're brokenhearted, dying, or at their wits end. They face real, actual, problems that you can see, touch, taste, smell. And all you have is the tiny mustard seed of God's Law and God's Gospel. All you have is the truth that sinners cannot cry foul when hardship, disease, or death enter their lives. Sinners deserve to suffer and die, and the only wonder is that these didn't come much sooner. You can sow that truth or you can sow the truth of Dr. Phil. God's giving you lemons so you can make lemonade; what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger; this isn't really about sin and death, but just a cycle of life.
And you can sow the comfort of God's Gospel or the comfort of the world. You can point them to their good doctors and the power of medicine; you can assure them that death is just the winter of life, and there will be a spring. You can sow self-esteem, pride in overcoming problems, and confidence in what they can handle. Or you can talk about a God who became Man and bore their sins. You can talk about Jesus defeating sin, death and the devil, even though they still have sins, will die, and the devil roars.
Plant the seed of God's Word. It looks puny, powerless. It doesn't appear to convict as effectively as the ranting Dr. Laura or comfort as efficiently as the soothing Dr. Phil, but the seed of the Word sown in sinful human hearts sprouts the kingdom of God there. And that kingdom is eternal. It will outlast their pain, sickness, problem, and even their death.
Keep on sowing the Word because it is doing its work and it is doing way beyond what any of us thinks. But how do I sow it? The Word is sown by parables. The text says Jesus didn't say anything to those outside of the Church without a parable, but to His disciples He explained everything. But we don't follow Jesus' lead. We explain the parables, thinking that will grow the kingdom. No, the kingdom grows by sowing the Word, and the Word is sown by parables, by things that strike those outside of the Church as mysterious or foolish or simple.
Sow the Word by keeping its paradoxes. Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it; whoever loses it saves it. Jesus is our Good Shepherd who counts us as sheep for slaughter. We die daily; yet live abundantly. We're 100% sinful, and 100% saved at the same time. Speak the paradoxes; don't explain them. Sow the Law as if there is no hope of being saved and the Gospel of forgiveness as if there is no way anyone could be damned.
Sow the Word in parables. Our Divine Service is a parable, a mystery, an enigma. We speak in language that people don't use outside of the Church. We have a pastor who says, "I forgive you," not, "I assure you of forgiveness." We're forgiven and then we sing, "Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy," as if we're not. The elder announces the Gospel and we sing "Glory be to Thee O Christ" because though it's the elder's lips that move it's Christ Jesus who is speaking to us.
Contemporary, praise, or blended services want to take the parable away. They seek to make the Divine Service user friendly. They act as if Jesus ran after those who walked away from His parables shaking their heads not understanding. No, the kingdom sprouts from the Word being sown in parables because that's a miracle. It's not a matter of person getting their head around forgiveness or accepting Jesus with their heart. It's a matter of the Word of forgiveness creating faith despite their fallen head and dirty heart. It's the miracle of the seed producing a green plant from black soil.
The Word is planted, scattered, sown here every Sunday. We throw it out indiscriminately. Through Word, song, and sermon everyone is told of the forgiveness of sins. We tell everyone the Law that exposes their sins and sinfulness. We tell everyone the Gospel of forgiveness of sins in Jesus' name. We don't take away the paradoxes or explain away the mystery, we celebrate both.
This is especially true of the great mysteries called Sacraments. You do realize it is utter foolishness to point someone to water and say it rebirths a person into everlasting life? You do realize it is blasphemy to many for me to say, "I forgive you all your sins?" You do realize it is beyond anyone's reason to assert, "This Bread is the real Body of Christ; this Wine is His actual Blood?" Only in a parable is a sheep a person, a king God, the seed the Word and a plant a Christian. Only in the "parable" of the Sacraments is the Water life-giving, the Word forgiving, and Bread Body and Wine Blood. Only because our Lord Jesus has told us these things do we know them. To those outside, Baptism, Absolution, and Communion look at best mysterious and at worst silly. That's okay. Every time we baptize, every time we absolve, every time we celebrate Communion, we're sowing the Seed of God's Word.
Churches, governments, organizations, individuals sow many things today. They promise wonderful, fantastic things will come from the seeds they sow - everything from world peace to happier, healthier, more spiritual lives. Christ says sowing His Word of repentance and forgiveness sprouts and grows the kingdom of God on earth. May we keep on sowing it looking in faith to that coming harvest that will be beyond all our expectations. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost IV (20060702); Mark 4: 26-34