“A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold (Luke 8:4-15).
This morning our Lord teaches us that the seed is the Word of God and that there are four different hearers of the Word of God.
A sower went out to sow and some fell along the path and was trampled under foot, and the birds of the air devoured it. Jesus says these are those who hear the word, and it does not penetrate their hearts. They walk away Sunday morning totally unmoved by God’s call to repentance, faith, and love. The birds are Satan’s demons who snatch the Word away from their hearts and they refuse to believe and are not saved.
The second group receives the Word of God like rocky soil receives the seed. A thin layer of soil is warmed by the rock and there is initially lots of growth and excitement. They hear the Word of God and receive it with joy but there is no root. They believe for a while, and in a time of testing or tribulations they fall away from our Lord altogether. The obvious example is often confirmation students, and more especially their parents, who take up the task with some joy, but after Confirmation Day, the party, and the 100 check from grandma, both parents and confirmands are gone. There is no foundation. God’s Word has no more importance – no lasting value in their lives.
The third group are those who receive the Word of God as seed among many thorns. These are those who hear the Word of God and may even take it briefly to heart, but the thorns are the cares, activities, and pleasures of this life. Perhaps this is the most relevant among us. It’s no secret that church is not what it used to be on our priority list. The third commandment is shoved aside in favor of batting around a ball, sitting in a tree stand, or simply sleeping in.
Quite simply, if we teach our children that anything is more important than the Gospel and the body and blood of Christ on Sunday morning they will always find something more entertaining to do! If we teach our young ones that church is fine but only when it conveniently fits into our schedules they will notice – and they will follow. God has a word for anything that replaces proper worship of him – idolatry.
Jesus in our parable is warning us that our amusement, our pleasures, the things we like can become thorns that can choke-out faith in the Gospel – which can wither and die. Our Lord is also teaching us that our worries, our anxieties, the cares of this life can snuff out true faith as well, where we become so obsessed with ourselves and our personal troubles that saving faith is extinguished, love of God snuffed out.
The fourth soil is different. The Word of God is preached and this is a true disciple, who hears the Word and holds on to it. It doesn’t matter that the world is changing. It’s doesn’t matter that the culture is different. They know that the Lord God is the very source of their life - that His Word of forgiveness received in the Divine Service in absolution and body and blood is the one thing needful. These disciples consider themselves dying sinners in a dying world who are saved by the Gospel of Christ – and the love of God. There is no question what is most important in their hearts and homes.
Let us be warned, Jesus says “many are called but few are chosen” and “He who has ears to hear them him hear.” If you are trying to figure out which type of soil you are that is not the really the point. When it comes to the sower and the seed, when it comes to the Word of God, it’s better to just confess that you are like the dusty path and the rocky soil. Confess that you have not let God’s love have its way with you. Confess that the cares and pleasures of this life have nearly overtaken you. Confess that you faith is shakey and that you fear nearly everything except God. Confess that your sins are grievous and thorny and that your priorities are messed up too.
Confess because today there is comfort, and perhaps strangely it’s because Jesus shows us in this parable that he is not a very good farmer. When we plant a garden we carefully pick the right spot, till the soil, and carefully plant where the birds, rocks, and thorns are not a problem. We don’t like to waste seed. But it’s different in the Kingdom of God because God scatters His Seed everywhere. In a way, he’s wasteful to all of us. He scatters His Word – the seed of forgiveness and love everywhere, and the seed is Christ, born of the woman to crush the serpents head. The seed of the woman who grows up to bear fruit for you through the forgiveness of sins. Saying “this is my body,” planted in the garden of gethsemane to sweat blood for your salvation, to moisten sin-parched lips from a chalice running over with love.
The thorns which threaten to choke your faith have been pressed into his innocent head – carrying the sins of misplaced priorities and the sins of neglect of God’s Word, even sleeping in, everything must be paid for. He was planted on the rocky soil of Calvary to bear fruit, and a tree of life sprang up as he stretched out his arms in suffering love for those who made it their number one priority to put him to death. The rock was stuck with a soldiers staff and out poured water and blood, baptism and heavenly drink which saves you.
He was placed in the soil of the earth but sprang forth again in His glorious resurrection. The stone of death was rolled aside, death cracked under his power, the earth shook, and satan was cast down. The angels descended, the women ran with joy, the guards were stuck dumb, and the disciples all beheld Jesus with their own eyes.
Even this morning you see God face to face in the sacrament. The seed that bleeds is He who has risen victoriously from the grave. This sower sows his love recklessly, indiscriminately and says your sins are forgiven, rise and sin no more. So let us hold unto this life-giving Word, which is Christ, until the shadows lengthen, our work is done, and this busy world is hushed in death. And then after some rest, and a long winter we’ll sprout forth like saplings in spring – a new creation, with a body, shooting up in the resurrection of all flesh in glorious light, planted again in the soil of paradise, saints of God in full bloom, radiant and flowering before Him who has called you out of death and into eternal life. In the name of Jesus. Amen.