Keep on Sowing
There is a series of Army jokes, I think from World War II, that go like this: "But Sarge I don't want to go to Germany!" "Shut-up and keep on swimming!" We have been sowing God's Word here for about 9 years, and we ain't exactly bringing in the sheaves. This task is hard, tiring, and not appreciated by the world. We can complain. If you don't, be assured I do enough for all of us. Today our Lord says by means of this parable, "Shut-up and keep on sowing."
Jesus speaks this parable on the seashore with such large crowds around Him that He must teach from a boat. His teaching comes at the end of a stressful day. He has had to defend Himself against the accusation that He was the prince of demons. Then his mother and brothers, thinking he was out of His mind, came to Him to take charge of Him. And now He's teaching the masses, but He's teaching them by child-like parables. This upset the disciples. They came to Him and said, "Why do you speak to them in parables?" They didn't treasure the parables as we do. They thought they were too obscure, not profound enough. But parables are all the world gets. Verses 10-17, which are not in the insert, tell us that God wills to speak to those outside of Christ only in parables, but to us it has been given to know the mysteries of God's kingdom, the truth behind the parables.
The sower, which is the Church preaching and teaching, baptizing and absolving, communing and worshiping, looks stupid, wasteful, and a failure. Every Sunday we scatter God's Word on all who have ears. Some people come in here with rock, hard hearts caring nothing about what we say, but still we sow the Word into their ears. We baptize the babies of families who will never darken our doors again. We cast the forgiveness of sins to people with no religious depth and even to those living among thorns.
How stupid! How wasteful! What failures we are! Don't you know that 75% of the Word we sow is wasted? Look around you; where are the confirmands we have confirmed over the years? Not here. Most are confirmed seldom to come back. Look at the babies we've baptized. We make highfalutin statements about instructing them in the Word, but how many are? Look at those we give the Body and Blood of God to. If it is so powerful, so wonderful, how come so many are no better, no different?
The Word and the Sacraments we sow look embarrassingly weak. Satan can snatch it from a person's heart as easy as bird picks up a seed. People can joyfully bring their babies for baptism or joyfully be confirmed in the faith only to wither when it is difficult to get to church or when family members make them feel uncomfortable about going. Junior confirmands at 14 are such fine young plants sprouted from Word and Sacrament. But most are choked by the worries of high school and the lure of the world.
Can't you see why churches give up sowing the Word and Sacraments? It doesn't work very well. The Word is not very entertaining, so most people don't care that much about understanding it, and so Satan snatches it from their hearts. But if we taught marriage enrichment, how to raise your kids, or Christian financial planning, there would be something that people would keep and ponder in their hearts!
Oh at first having your sins forgiven, being given heaven, Christ, and all things eternal is a joy. But joy in eternal, heavenly things fades quickly when earth and world are opposed to them. Now if we had something that pumped up our emotions, got us excited in the world, now that joy would last longer. Face it; there is more tangible joy at concerts, bars, and sporting events. If we just used the kind of music found there, people would find a whole lot more joy here. And so many churches do.
You see the problem is this. Baptism, Absolution, and Communion don't address the worries of this life. What I need is a class on auto repair not Romans. Then I wouldn't be so worried about my cars. I need to be taught about investing in the stock market not about confessing my sins because then I would have a hedge against this failing economy. I need to learn about my body and blood, not about the Body and Blood of Christ because then I would have a more healthy life.
Human reason concludes the Church(s sowing is stupid, wasteful, and a failure. The Church sows with the weak things of Word and Sacrament and gets terrible results. Don't I know it! I've preached about 1,630 sermons. Over 3 million words have poured out of my mouth not including the tens of millions in Bible classes. And for what? So Satan can snatch the words away from misunderstanding hearts, so people can receive it with flash-in-the pan joy, so worries and wealth can choke off the fruit?
There has got to be something more going on in this parable than meets the eye. There has got to be something here that leads us to more sowing of this same old Word and Sacraments because that is what remains constant in this parable. The sower keeps on sowing no matter how many seeds bounce off the hard ground, sprout on rocks, or choke among thorns. He keeps on sowing the seed, the seed, the seed. He doesn't drop His seed bag and pick up something more popular, more useful, more productive.
What we see behind the scene is that our Lord is incredibly gracious just like a real sower. When you sow grass, you reach into the bag and throw it out by the handfuls. You throw it this way knowing full well you're going to put some of it on the sidewalk. You throw it that way knowing full well you're throwing some of it in the monkey grass where it will be choked. But you don't care, do you? Grass is cheap. And for the sake of the ground that will grow it, you throw it everywhere in heaping handfuls.
That's how our Lord is with us. He knows that most of His Word will be snatched, withered, and choked, but for the sake of that which grows, He keeps on sowing. He sends me here every Sunday in every Bible class and sermon to throw out His Word by the handful. He makes me baptize every baby I can, commune every mouth I should, and forgive every sin confessed to me. He doesn't tell me to look at the ground, check the results, see what works. No, He tells me, "Keep on sowing."
But the Lord's Seed is not cheap, so this is where we see His real grace. This Word of forgiveness that I speak to you right now, sending all of your sins away from you, cost the suffering and dying of His Son. The Waters of Baptism that I sprinkle on your kids came from His side after a soldier stuck a spear into it. The Body and Blood that I distribute for eating and drinking every Sunday comes to you because it was offered and poured out drop by painful drop for sinners on an ugly cross.
And you know what? The Lord loves you so much that He is willing to have most of His Body and Blood trampled on; most of His Baptismal waters wasted, and most of His Word unfruitful, just so He can keep on communing, baptizing, and forgiving some. Your Lord loves you more than He does His own honor, His own Name, and even more than the Body and Blood of His own dear Son.
More is going on then meets the eye. Water, Words, Bread and Wine look weak, and they look to be monumental failures in this fallen world. But Jesus shows us something else. They are really very powerful. Satan is afraid of what we sow here. So afraid that he tries to snatch up every single seed because as we sing in "A Mighty Fortress," all it takes is "one little Word( to bring Satan down.
Satan doesn't care if we tell people how to manage their money; what he doesn't want us to tell them is that their sins are forgiven. Satan doesn't care if we teach our children that drugs are dangerous; what he doesn't want us teaching them is that their baptisms are powerful. Satan doesn't care if we learn how to keep our body healthy and our blood flowing. What he cares about is keeping us away from the Body and Blood of Jesus.
What we sow here has powerful effects in the realm of the Spirit. It breaks the gates of hell. It ties up Satan who is the strongman guarding those gates. It sends demons running for cover and causes even the grave to spit out our dead. A tiny seed fallen into a crack in the concrete germinates, sprouts, and grows splitting that concrete like an overripe melon.
What we sow here: the Baptism that we wash with, the Word we absolve with, the Body and Blood of Christ that we commune with does amazing, wonderful, eternal things. And for this reason, the Lord keeps sending me here to sow it. He doesn't focus on the fact that 75% of my sowing goes to waste. He doesn't focus on the fact that 1223 of my 1,630 sermons have been for naught. He doesn't focus on the fact that 2.25 million of my 3 million words haven't borne fruit. What He sees, what He wants us to see, is what 25% does accomplish. That's where His focus is and ours is to be.
One grain of corn falls into the ground and produces about 6,000 more grains of corn. One peach pit produces how many thousand peaches? One acorn how many oaks? One tiny banana seed how many bananas? Truly, the fruitfulness of the Lord's creation is astounding. All it takes is just one seed to spout, grow, and bear, and hundreds are fed over time. So it is with the Water, Words, Bread and Wine we sow here.
One Seed of Baptism can snatch a child from hell and place it in the arms of the heavenly Father for life everlasting. One seed of Absolution can bring relief to a conscience troubled for decades. One bite of Bread, one swallow of wine, brings the Body and the Blood of God the Son, and it can bring not only forgiveness to a troubled soul, but strength to a sick body and ever-lasting life to a dying body and a weary soul. So the Lord says, "Shhh, keep on sowing." Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (20080706); Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23