Sunday, February 26, 2023

Sermon for First Sunday in Lent - Invocabit - Gen 3:1-21

 

Lent 1

                                                                                      Gen 3:1-21

                                                                                      2/26/23

 

          Well, the devil was lying, but he wasn’t kidding.  In our text he says to Eve “your eyes will be opened” as he encourages her to disobey God and eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Eve saw that the tree was a delight to the eyes. She and Adam both ate of it, and sure enough their eyes were opened.  The devil had lied about the outcome.  But he wasn’t kidding about how drastic a change would result from eating of the tree.

          In our Old Testament lesson this morning we learn about the Fall of humanity, as Adam and Eve are deceived by the devil.  Of course, to understand the nature of the disobedience, we also have to understand what God had given to our first parents.

          In Genesis chapter one we receive the “big picture” of how God made creation in six days. We learn that God creates a material world that is filled with land, water, plants and animals.  In the midst of this creation, God makes one special creature who had authority over the rest of creation for a very important reason.  God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

          God created man in his own him image – he created man to be like God in that he knew God as God wants to be known, and lived perfectly according to God’s will. God created man as male and female.  We learn more about this in chapter two as we receive a “close up” description of how God created the crown of his creation.

          First, God created Adam from dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and Adam became a living creature. God gave Adam only one command.  He said, You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

          Then, in midst of the goodness that God had made, God noted that there was something that was not good.  He said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”  Adam needed the helper who corresponded to him.  So God took a rib from Adam and created Eve.  In creating Eve, God instituted marriage for Genesis tells us, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”  Adam and Eve lived in this one flesh union as God intended.  As husband and wife they were both naked and were not ashamed.

          God had given Adam and Eve the Garden of Eden in which to live. He had given them each other as the perfect union of man and woman, and commanded them to be fruitful and multiply.  He had given them dominion over the rest of the creation.  He had also given Adam the vocation of caring for the garden. This gave purpose and meaning to life, but it was not work in the way that we think of work as something that is difficult and unwanted.

          God had given every tree of the garden that bore fruit as food for Adam and Eve.  Yet he had commanded Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam then shared this instruction with Eve who was created later. In doing so he showed the headship that God intended within marriage. 

          God gave Adam and Eve one located means by which they worshipped him.  They showed that they feared, loved, and trusted in God above all things by not eating of this tree.  By this action they demonstrated the confession that God was God and they were not.

          The devil came to Eve in the form of a serpent.  In the very first words the devil speaks, we learn two things about him. First, he always tries to get us to question God’s Word. And second, he operates on the basis of lies.  As Jesus said, he is a liar and the father of lies.

          He said to Eve, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”  The devil invited Eve to question God’s care for them as he lied about what God had actually said. Eve the corrected the devil by stating that no, in fact they could eat of fruit of all the trees.  However, they could not eat of the tree in the middle of the garden or else they would die.

Then the devil brought out his great temptation, and he used the big lie. He said, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  He told Eve that  God was holding out on them.  They could be more.  Instead of just being in the image of God – they could be God. They could know in the same way God knows.

And with that he had her. Eve saw that the tree was good for food, that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise. So she took of its fruit and ate.  Then she gave some to Adam and he ate.  Adam disobeyed God’s Word.  He also failed in his vocation of husband by abandoning his role of spiritual leadership.   

 Then, just as the devil had promised, their eyes were opened.  But what they saw was not knowledge that equaled God. Instead, they recognized their sinfulness.  For the first time they knew shame.  They knew they were naked and sewed fig leaves together to clothe themselves.

The devil has not changed.  He is the liar who wants us to question God’s Word.  That is how he works. He says, “Did God really say that he loves you? Then why are you suffering health problems?  Did God really say that is Word is life giving? Then why did he only give you this guy preaching, along with bread and wine today?  Did God really say that he would provide for you? Then why does your acquaintance get to go on all of those vacations and you don’t?  Did God really say that sexual intercourse is only to be shared in marriage? Then why are all of those other people getting to enjoy pleasure whenever they want?”

And we are no different from Adam and Eve in the way we respond.  We allow the devil’s lies to get to us to doubt God’s Word.  We don’t only sin by doubting the Word, we then also act upon that doubt.  We sin in our mind, and then we sin by the things we do and the things we say.

After Adam and Eve sinned, God came and confronted them.  Like us, the first couple tried to find a way out – they wanted to blame someone else.  Adam tried to blame God for giving him Eve in the first place.  Eve tried to blame the devil.  But neither could escape responsibility for their actions.  And God laid before them the consequences of what they had done.

God told Eve that childbearing would be one of pain, and that now the relationship of man and woman would be marked by strife.  He told Adam that now the ground was cursed. It was no longer the very good creation but because it was marred by sin his life would now be one of hard work.

Yet the final consequence was the one that God had told Adam about in beginning – death.  He said, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  What was true for Adam has been true for every person since that day.  Paul told the Romans, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”  Many of you heard the reminder of this on Wednesday night as ashes were placed on your forehead with the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Our Old Testament lesson is a dark and dismal picture.  Yet in the midst of this there is one shining light of Gospel. Before God spoke to Eve and Adam he said to the devil, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” God promised that a descendant of Eve woudl defeat the devil.  He would be harmed, but he would win the victory.

We see that One in our Gospel lesson today.  At Christmas we learned that he is descended from Eve because he is true man, born of Mary.  But he is far more than that.  He is the Son of God sent into this world as he was conceived through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus Christ is the second Adam.  Just as the devil tempted Adam, so he tempted Jesus.  But while Adam failed; while you and I fail, Jesus Christ did not fail.  At his baptism Jesus had been designated as the Servant of the Lord. He was in this world to be the suffering Servant who fulfilled these words: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned--every one--to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

In the temptations, the devil attempts to derail Jesus’ ministry by getting our Lord to use his power to serve himself, and to take the easy way of glory.  But the Son of God had entered into this world to serve others.  He had come to die on the cross for it was in this way that God justly punished our sins and gave us forgiveness.

Adam and Eve succumbed to temptation in the Garden of Eden. Yet as he was about the receive the wrath of God for our sin, Jesus remained faithful in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”  Our Lord drank the cup of God’s wrath to its last bitter dregs as he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Where the devil had offered him power and glory, Christ carried out the Father’s will as he died in the weakness and humiliation of the cross.

          Our sin brought death to Jesus.  Yet Jesus submitted himself to death in order to defeat the death that entered the world through Adam. Dead and buried in a tomb, on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead.  Jesus, the second Adam, has begun the resurrection life that will be ours as well.  Paul told the Corinthians, “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”

          Adam was tempted by the devil into sin.  But Jesus Christ was faithful to the point of death … even death on a cross.  Now, the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead has given you new life.  Because you have been baptized into Christ you know that your sins have been washed away.  You have forgiveness, eternal life, and will receive resurrection on the Last Day.

          The Spirit is also the One who now gives us strength to resist temptation. When the devil says, “Did God really say…?” our first response is to answer with what God has said in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Through faith in the crucified and risen Lord – through our life in Christ – the Spirit enables us to trust the Word of God and live according to it. 

         

 

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Sermon for Ash Wednesday - Mt 6:16-21

Ash Wednesday

                                                                                      Mt 6:16-21

                                                                                      2/22/23

 

          “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”  These words begin the portion of the Sermon on the Mount in which we find our text for Ash Wednesday.  In this section of the sermon, Jesus proceeds to talk about three activities that were key parts of first century Jewish piety: almsgiving, prayer, and fasting.  In each, he applies this truth that we are not to do righteous things in the effort to be seen by others.

          Our text focuses on fasting, but before this Jesus has said, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”  Jesus criticizes those who make a show of their prayer in order to be seen by others.  He says that when prayer is done in this way, the only benefit a person is going to receive is the attention itself.  God does not reward it.

Instead, our Lord gives the instruction, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”  Jesus says that prayer should not be done to put on a show. Instead, it should be the private approach to our heavenly Father.

So what does this say about prayer outside an abortion facility?  I mention this because I have encountered those who say that such action violates Jesus’ words in Matthew chapter 6. Certainly, standing on a sidewalk outside an abortion facility and holding a sign while in prayer does call attention to oneself and the location where prayer is taking place.  That is, after all, the reason for this action.  It is intended to bear witness to God’s gift of life and the sin that is taking place at that location. The prayer offered in silence then asks for God’s rescue of children and for the end of this sin in our area and state.

Our Lord’s words don’t in fact forbid such an action.  Throughout this text, the public practice of righteousness is condemned because of its motivation.  A person gives alms in a way that is meant to call attention to the individual. A person prays in a way that is meant to call attention to himself or herself. What is wrong is not the public nature of the action, but the goal.  When public prayer is offered to bear witness against evil and in order to ask for God’s help, there is nothing wrong with the action in itself.

In our text the Lord continues to treat this topic by saying “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”  Jesus says that those who fast and make a show of it have received all the reward they are going to get in the attention itself. They should not expect any benefit from God.

Instead, he provides the instruction, “But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”  Jesus describes a practice that seeks to hide the fasting that is being done.

The topic in this portion of our text is probably not an issue for most of us … because we don’t fast. It should, however, catch our attention that Jesus’ statement assumes we will.  This is a practice that came out of the Old Testament and continued to be done by the New Testament church.  It has been an important part of life for Christians during most of the history of the Church.  It combines the disciplining of the body with time for prayer and study of God’s Word.

On the surface of things, Jesus words about the practice of righteousness sound easy.  When you give something, don’t tell anyone.  When you pray, do it in private.  When you fast conceal this fact so that others don’t know.  Yet at the end of our text we find words that alert us to a deeper truth.

Jesus says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”  Our Lord tells us not to store up earthly treasures – wealth and all that goes with it.

After all these are perishable.  Our financial investments make our future seem secure … until the market tanks in a historic fashion.  Our house with its beautiful kitchen and d├ęcor is a source of satisfaction – until we return from that vacation and find that a pipe burst and poured out water while we were gone.

Our Lord says that instead we are to lay up treasures in heaven.  We are to give the study of God’s Word a central place in our life. We are to give of our resources in order to support the work of the Gospel, and to help those in need. We are to give prayer a key role in our daily routine.  We are to do good works that serve others. These things done in faith are what God values. They demonstrate that God stands at the center of our life – that he is number one.  As Jesus says at the end of our text: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Our Lord deals with the state of our heart.  And here we learn that simply doing things in secret does not mean that we are keeping Jesus’ word.  Our heart can take pride in the money we give.  It can feel self-satisfied with the piety of our spiritual life because we are going that extra mile where others are not.  Yes, even praying outside an abortion facility can become an exercise in self-righteousness when our heart is not in the right place. After all, we are doing something in an important cause when many other people who are doing nothing at all.

When we look at things from this perspective we find that we all sin.  It is not just that we sin in overt ways like speaking angry words and gossiping about our neighbor. We have the ability to sin even when externally we are doing the right thing. We can do these things in order to be seen by others.  We can do these things in spiritual pride as we look down on others.

Our problem is a heart problem.  Jesus said, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”  As fallen people, these are the things that are naturally inside of us.

On Ash Wednesday the church year causes us to pause and get a spiritual echocardiogram.  We are forced to look inside our heart and see the sin that is present. We sin in thought, word, and deed. We sin when we do the right thing for the wrong reason. We sin because we are fallen people. There is no one who can claim otherwise. On this we are all the same.  Paul told the Romans, “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

God knows who we really are, even when we try to fool ourselves.  God knows us, but in his mercy he also still loved us. Rather than leave us in sin and damnation, he did the unthinkable. St. Paul put it this way: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die-- but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

          Jesus declared about his mission, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Christ – the One who had no sin – took our sin as his own.  In fact Paul can say “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  Jesus received God’s judgment in our place.

          God’s judgment brought death.  But death that simply ended there could not be victory over what sin produces.  So on the third day, God raised Jesus from the dead.  He raised our Lord with a body transformed so that it can never die again. He raised Jesus as the beginning of our resurrection that we will receive when he returns in glory on the Last Day.

          When Jesus began his earthly ministry he said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  When we must face the sin in our heart, his call to us is the same: “Repent!” We do not make excuses for sin.  Instead, we confess it.  We confess our sin before God, and believe in the Lord who died and rose from the dead for us.  We believe his word in which he declares that through baptism we have shared in his saving death. In this way we have received the kingdom of heaven – the saving reign of God. 

We are God’s forgiven children who are freed to live in ways that demonstrate what God has done for us. We do not practice our righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them.  Instead, we live to fulfill the words found at the beginning of the sermon when Christ said:  "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

 

         

  

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Sermon for Quinquagesima - 1 Cor 13:1-13

 

Quinquagesima

                                                                           1 Cor 13:1-13

                                                                           2/19/23

 

          To be honest, I am not a fan of Valetine’s Day. My low estimation of this “holiday” operates on several different levels.  Theologically, I don’t like the fact that a man who was martyred for faith in Jesus Christ has become the occasion for a holiday that has nothing to do with the Christian faith.

          It seems very clear that a clergy member named Valetine was martyred in Rome in 269 A.D.  He died because he confessed Jesus Christ before the Roman government who at different times and place killed people simply because they were Christians.  He gave the ultimate witness to faith in Christ by dying for it.

          However, everything else that has given rise to the practice of Valetine’s Day as we know it – an occasion of romantic love in which people give cards or “Valetines” – really has no historical basis. Its all based on contradictory evidence which itself is of dubious historical value.  Certainly, the Feast of St. Valentine only became associated with romantic love during the late medieval period.  In the final analysis the modern associations of Valentine’s Day with St. Valentine are bogus.

          Next, I don’t like having a day when I am told I have to be romantic.  And for the record, Amy is right there with me on this.  I think spontaneous expressions of love and affection are great and meaningful. A day when I am told that I must do something or else I have failed some kind of responsibility has little appeal to me.

          And as I have gotten older, have been married longer, and have served as a pastor longer, I find the whole focus of Valentine’s Day to be misguided and harmful.  The day is, of course, about romantic love. This is the kind of love that gives a warm fuzzy feelings inside.  While this ephemeral feeling of love may be at the start of a relationship, it can never last.  There may always be a vestige of it, but it can never be the basis for a lasting and healthy marriage.  Love must mature into something more.  Much of the problem with divorce in our time finds its source in the fact that people allow this romantic view of love to determine their expectations about marriage.

          I find it appropriate that our text from 1 Corinthians 13 often occurs very close to Valentine’s Day. Here Paul gives us a needed correction about the true nature of love.  He describes the love that finds its source in Jesus Christ and what it looks like in our lives.

          1 Corinthians 13 is an interlude in the midst of Paul’s discussion that runs from chapter 12 to chapter 14.  He begins chapter 12 by saying, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed.”  The apostle takes up this topic because in their pride, the Corinthians had focused upon one spiritual gift: speaking in tongues. 

We don’t really understand all that this entailed.  It is clear that it was language that was given by God but was not intelligible.  It was also language for which God provided interpretation by others.  The Corinthians liked to think of themselves as “spiritual people” – as individuals who already arrived and had victory in Christ. The showy demonstration of speaking in tongues was the kind of thing that appealed to them – it made them feel special.

Paul is in the process of putting speaking on tongues in its proper place.  He is making the point that God gives a variety of gifts, and that they are all valuable.  He has just written, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” 

          Next, in his famous description of the Church as the Body of Christ he says, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” The apostle points out that that human body has different members.  They carry out different roles. They are all needed and are all important. 

          Immediately before our text, Paul makes the point that God has in fact given different gifts to the Church. They are not all the same, but they are all needed. He writes, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?

          Then Paul adds, “But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.” That more excellent way is the way of love. Rather than pridefully desiring gifts that call attention to themselves, the apostle holds up love as the more excellent way that should guide Christian life.

          Paul begins our text by saying, If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” The apostle says the speaking in tongues or prophesying or working miracles without love is meaningless.

          The love that he speaks of finds its source in Jesus Christ. In 2 Corinthians Paul writes, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

          We may not be focused on speaking in tongues like the Corinthians, but pride is no less present in our lives.  We think of ourselves first, and our neighbor second.  We ignore the needs of others around us.  Because we sin in these and so many other ways, Christ loved us by dying for us on the cross.  He redeemed us from sin – he freed us – by offering himself as the sacrifice in our place.

          He died for our sake.  But he was also raised for our sake. God vindicated Jesus on the third day. He demonstrated that the humiliation of the cross had been the means by which Christ won forgiveness for us.  And the resurrection itself was also the beginning of the new life that will be ours on the Last Day.

          We live for Christ who loved us. And that means we love our neighbor just as Christ loved us.  Paul told the Philippians, Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

          Paul describes this love in our text as he says, Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  This has nothing to do with the romantic love that Valentine’s Day celebrates. This is love that serves others.  It is patient.  It is kind. It bears all things. It endures all things.

          This love is not irritable or resentful, because it forgives and overlooks the wrongs and weaknesses of others.  Because it is a love that comes from Christ, it does not rejoice in wrongdoing.  Instead, it rejoices in the truth as defined by God’s Word.

          Because of Jesus Christ’s love for us, this is the love that now characterizes our lives.  In baptism we have been born again of water and the Spirit.  We have been made a new creation in Christ. The Holy Spirit who has given us this new life leads us to live in Christ’s love.  Jesus’ love for us now shapes and forms the way we live with others.

          Through the work of the Spirit we live by faith in Jesus Christ.  We have confident trust that our Lord is the One who was crucified for our sins and rose from the dead on the third day.  We believe in him as our Lord, and therefore we have hope.  Peter praised God as he wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” This living hope gives us comfort as we face the death of loved ones, and as we encounter the challenges of this world.

          And Paul tells us in our text that when we live in Christ’s love and share it with others, we are participating in the one thing that will last forever.  Right now our understanding of God and his ways is saving. But it is also partial. We do not understand everything. We cannot understand everything. But it will not always be that way.  Paul writes, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

          This means that the partial will come to an end.  The apostle tells us, “As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.

          Even faith and hope will pass away.  Paul says at the end of our text, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”  Love is the greatest because when our Lord returns in glory, we will no longer live by faith.  Instead, we will live by sight.  We will no longer live in hope, because what we hope for will have been fulfilled.  It will be present.

          But the love of God shared with us in Christ will continue.  In fact, our experience of it will be even greater because we will no longer be hindered by the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature.  God is love, and we will share in that love perfectly.

          While that is our future, already now we participate in this love because of what Jesus Christ has done for us.  When we were unlovable, God loved us by sending his Son to die on the cross for us and rise from the dead.  Baptized into Christ we have received this love, and now we share it with others as we seek to serve and support those around us.  This love made possible by the Spirit defines our lives as Christians now, and the perfect experience of God’s love is the future that awaits us.

 

 

 

 

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Sermon for Sexagesima - Lk 8:4-15

 

Sexagesima

                                                                                       Lk 8:4-15

                                                                                       2/12/23

 

          It started with a simple request: “I want you to build a raised bed for me.”  Amy wanted to raise some flowers, and so Matthew and I built a raised bed, and Amy prepared it with the good soil and compost. But of course, that was not the end of it. There then followed a request for a second raised bed … and third one … and a fourth one … and a fifth one.  I vaguely remember saying something after the fourth one about not building any more. But surely, I am mistaken.

          Before you knew it, Amy’s Backyard Blooms was born and she was raising flowers to sell and was making bouquets. Amy has taken to this hobby with great enthusiasm. The amount she has learned in a rather short period of time is remarkable.

          You can see this in the precision with which she plants her flowers.  First, she diagrams out where and how many flowers she is going to plant in each area to maximize the use of space.  Then the flowers are planted in rows with military precision.  It turns out that different flowers are supposed to be planted with a different amounts of space around them.  So, using a yard stick and tape measure, the flowers are planted in straight lines and provided with the exact spacing that particular kind of flower requires. The result is a beautiful picture of precision.

          The planting method used in Jesus’ day was very different.  Unlike the well prepared soil and the precision with which seeds and starter plants are placed by Amy, the planting in first century Palestine was random and ruled by chance.  Seed was cast by hand out into the field, and then plowed into ground.  Foot paths cuts through fields, and not all the soil was of the same quality.  As Jesus describes in the parable, not all the seed fell into good soil.  Our Lord uses this feature of first century Palestinian life to teach us.  We receive an explanation for why some fall away from the faith, and in turn are urged to cling to the words of the Gospel.

          Our text tells us that a great crowd gathered from a number of towns to hear Jesus.  Jesus told them a parable.  This is a word that has a rather broad range of meaning. It can include a number of different forms of speech that communicate some truth.  However, this one is the rather classic form that we expect – a narrative in which various details bear a meaning that goes beyond the story itself.

          Jesus described a scene that the people knew well.  A farmer went out and sowed seed as he cast it out. Some fell along the foot paths that bordered and ran through the field. It was trampled and birds ate it. Some fell on rocky soil. It grew up but didn’t last and withered because it had no moisture. Some fell among thorns, and as they grew up together the thorns choked out the grain.  However, some fell on good soil and yielded an abundant harvest – a hundred fold.  When he was done telling the parable our Lord said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

          This statement signaled that there was more here than just a story about agriculture. The disciples then asked Jesus what the parable meant.  He answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’”  Our Lord said that the parables revealed and concealed at the same time. To those who believed in Jesus they revealed the truths of the kingdom of God. To those who were there simply to see and experience the miracles that Jesus performed they were simply entertaining stories.

          The disciples had been called to faith in Jesus.  And so our Lord explained the different elements of the parable.  He said that the seed was the word of God. In the very next chapter Jesus will tell the disciples,  “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” The word of God is the good news that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins, and rose from the dead to give us forgiveness.  He is the Savior for all who confess their sin and believe in him and as the crucified and risen Lord.

          Christ explained that the seed on the path are those who hear the word, but then the then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.  Here faith never takes place.

          On the other hand that on the rock are those who hear the word and receive it with joy – they believe. But this is a superficial faith, and while people believe for a while, in a time of testing they fall away. Likewise, the seed among the thorns are those who believe.  But as they live they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.

          Finally, Jesus says, “As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.”  Here there is not just faith, but a faith that holds firmly to the word.

          Our Lord’s words this morning give us important insight into the circumstances we see around us.  They also provide us with instruction about how we are to live in the faith so that we not only begin but also end as believers in Jesus Christ.

          The first thing we observe in our text is that the word of the Gospel does not go out into a neutral setting.  The devil does not want people to believe. Those who are do not believe in Jesus Christ are under his power – he is their Lord even if they don’t recognize it. They belong to him.

          And so he will use everything in his power to keep people from believing.  Jesus says that the “devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.” He uses intellectual pride as people believe they are too smart to believe in “fairy tales” like that.  After all, they know science and they don’t believe in anything that reason can’t demonstrate.  In doing so, they refuse to consider the data of the apostles’ witness to Jesus Christ – a witness of words and deeds.  And they fail to recognize that the reason operates in it own limited sphere. It cannot answer questions about what happens in death. It cannot answer questions about eternal truths. For all that it can do, reason can’t provide answers about the ultimate questions – the questions that really matter.

          Second, Jesus says that there will be people who believe for a time and then fall away from the faith.  Often there are those who want to blame the Church for the fact that believers fall away.  We are told that the Church must be doing something wrong – as if it was the Church’s fault.  But on the contrary, our Lord says that it is going to happen.  We should not be surprised when believers fall away.  And his explanation squarely places the blame on the individual in question.

          Christ says that those on the rock believe, but that their faith has no depth. They believe for a while, but in time of testing they fall away. If faith is to survive it must have depth. It is only God’s Word that can provide this.  Testing will come.  It is hard to live as a Christian in this world – a world that heaps disdain on those who believe in Christ. The world praises those who don’t believe. It supports the view that there is no truth – just what is true for you and what is true form me.  It castigates any who would speak of sin and God’s eternal judgment. After all, that is “not loving.” And “love,” which means the permission to do or believe anything you want, is the ultimate truth of our world.

          Our Lord says that those among the thorns are those who hear the word. They believe.  But “as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.”  The cares and riches and pleasures of life are all the things in this world that compete for attention with faith in Christ.  The cares and troubles of this world can lead people to doubt our Lord’s love and power. And so they decide that Jesus is no real help.

          The riches and pleasures of life are the attractions of this world that compete with Jesus.  These seem more rewarding, and certainly easier.  Let us be clear. The belief that there are more important things to do on Sunday sets one on a trajectory that threatens the choking out of faith. Anything that regularly replaces attendance at the Sunday Divine Service has this power.

          Finally, Jesus says, “As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.”  Note the emphasis on “holding it fast.”  This means that we cling to the word of the Gospel. It also means that we study God’s Word. We have already heard about the faith that has no depth – the seed that falls on the rocky soil. To have depth of faith, we must be in God’s Word.  We must read it. We must study it.  Perhaps I sound like a broken record after last Sunday’s sermon.  But I am simply repeating what Jesus says here. We must hold fast to the word in an honest and good heart – a heart that seeks to learn and grow.  Where this is not present, we place our faith at risk.

          Our Lord also says that this faith bears fruit with patience – or endurance as the word can also be translated.  Faith that holds firmly to God’s word will bring forth the fruit of faith.  It will forgive those who wrong us.  It will seek the good of others, and place their needs ahead of our own.  It will support and help those around us who are in need – those who need encouragement. Faith that bears fruit is a vibrant and living faith. It is a faith that can be patient and endure the challenges of living as God’s people in this fallen world.

          In the parable of the sower, Jesus explains why some do not believe when they hear the word.  He also tells us that there will be those who believe, and then fall away.  We should not be surprised when this happens.  We also know that our Lord is the good shepherd who leaves the ninety nine and looks for the one lost sheep. Our Lord tells us, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Those who fall away can be brought back. We pray for this.  We share the Gospel with these individuals. We point them to the apostles’ witness for there they are confronted by Christ. We do this in faith with patience and endurance for the sake of the one who has fallen away.

          And in our own lives, we strive to live as those who hold the words of the Gospel fast in an honest and good heart.  We cling to this word by attending the Divine Service and receiving Gods gifts of the Means of Grace. We read and study God’s Word. And we bear the fruit of faith with patience and endurance. We do so knowing that Jesus Christ is the risen Lord, who will rescue us from this fallen world, and will give us the final victory of sharing in his resurrection on the Last Day.