You just know that summer is here. It’s hot and humid. The crickets are chirping late into the night. The smell of early fireworks in the air. It’s the “fourth of July” weekend and grills are ablazing. And we have parables.
Parables are a fun, subversive way to teach. Jesus used parables when people stopped listening to Him. Parables are earthy, everyday stories about seed and soil and grain and mustard plants that are little analogies for the very big topics of God’s kingdom, grace, and judgment. Parables require “ears to hear,” which is another way of saying “faith.” They invite you to trust in Jesus and to act on that trust in Jesus. And so this morning, we get a couple of kingdom parables for our consideration.
“This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scattered seed on the ground.” Now the scattering was dealt with in the first parable, the parable of the four kinds of soil. There the sower sows the seed by walking along, reaching into a bag, pulling out a handful of seed, and scattering it all over the place. Some falls on the pavement, some among the rocks, some among the weeds, and some on the good, plowed soil.
The thing you notice right away is that the sower is pretty casual when it comes to sowing his seed. He doesn’t do any soil science. He doesn’t send off soil samples to some lab to see how receptive the soil will be and what the yield will be. He doesn’t count the seed, either. No measurements. He takes handfuls of unnumbered seed and scatters it all over the place, and doesn’t seem to care where it lands.
Now when you realize that the seed is the Word, who is Jesus Christ the Word in the Flesh, and the soil is the hearts of men and women, you start to get a picture of how God operates His kingdom in the world. He scatters the Word of Christ all over the place, without regard for whether it lands on good, productive soil, rocks, weeds, or hard pavement. And then the Word does His thing. Automatically.
Can you imagine a church that took this parable seriously? Can you imagine a church that sows the Word of Christ recklessly, without concern for where it lands? Can you imagine Christians going out into the world to proclaim Jesus Christ in their various callings, and not being terribly concerned about who hears it, or if they are “ready” to hear it, or if they will perhaps respond favorably? Can you imagine what would happen if baptized believers simply started sowing the seed of Christ’s Word?
Why don’t we? There are many reasons, I suspect. Fear is one. But the chief reason is that we really don’t trust the Word to do its thing. We have to help the Word along. Cultivate the soil. Do some digging and analyzing and weeding. Measure our scattering efficiency. But that’s not how things work in the parable. The sower sows his seed with a kind of joyful reckless abandon, and then when his seed bag is empty, he retires to the house, cracks open a beer, puts up his feet, watches a little tv. He sleeps, he gets up, he tends to his chores. And the seed sown in the ground sprouts and grows, and the sower has no idea how it all works. And he doesn’t have to know.
Our Lutheran Confessions say something similar when they speak of the ministry of the Gospel and the Sacraments. “Through these, as through means, the Holy Spirit works faith when and where it pleases Him in those who hear the Gospel.” How it works, we have no idea. That it works is all we need to know. And the Word does work. It never returns empty; it always accomplishes the purpose for which God sowed it. The Spirit works faith in the heart of those who hear the Gospel. The church’s task, our task together, is that people hear the Gospel. To scatter the seed. You don’t need to understand how it works. In fact, you can’t understand how it works. The seed just needs to be sown, that’s all.
The rest happens automatically. All by itself, without any input from the sower, the seedy soil produces grain – the stalk, the head, the full kernel, and then the harvest. But you’re not going to see any harvest if you don’t take the seed out of the bag and scatter it on the soil.
Seed left in the bag doesn’t accomplish anything. I had some grass seed that I tried to store. I was patching holes in my lawn and had some seed left over, so I put it into a dry, sealed container and left it in the storage shed behind the garage. Then I forgot about it. A couple of years later, I stumbled upon that container and opened it. Some of the seed tried to sprout, most of it rotted. There was a layer of mold on top. A bad smell came up. That’s happens when you don’t scatter seed into soil
The seed of the Word grows and produces fruit in being scattered – preached, proclaimed, spoken. It’s scattered when pastors preach and missionaries go out in mission. And it’s also scattered when you are scattered from here out beyond those church doors, with seed bags full of ripe, fruitful seed and God’s benediction. It’s scattered when you tell someone else about the hope that is in you, when you teach another about Christ, when you lead someone to righteousness, when you point someone to Baptism, to the Supper of Jesus’ Body and Blood, to the forgiveness of their sins. When you say to another, “Jesus Christ died for your sins, for your life, for your freedom. He has won for you the ultimate liberty – freedom from condemnation, from hell, from yourself.”
I’ve been thinking about these things this week. I’ve been thinking about why I decided to go into the ministry in the first place. I look back at almost 14 years in the holy ministry, and I’m wondering what was the energy that pushed me out of a very comfortable life in the laboratory out into the mission field of the world. And I remembered what it was. It wasn’t the chance to wear cool vestments or chant old liturgies or study venerable doctrines. That’s fun, but it wasn’t what propelled me. It was seeing the Word at work in the lives of people, literally killing them and making them alive. It was seeing that the Gospel really is the power of God for salvation, that it packs divine power to turn people from sin to Christ. It was being a part, an instrument, in someone’s rebirth to faith in Jesus. Seeing someone brought out of the darkness of unbelief into the light of faith. Conversions. That’s what propelled me into the ministry. As a pastor much of my work is trying to keep Christians Christian. It’s like the difference between planting a garden and watering and weeding it.
Conversions are what inspire a complacent and comfortable church, too. Nothing like a bunch of new converts to liven things up. That’s what happened to the church at Antioch, the church that sent Paul on his three missionary journeys recorded in Acts. There’s no harvest without some sowing of the Word, some scattering on hearts through ears. This past Easter we had no baptisms at our Easter Vigil. I don’t think we should be satisfied with that. We ought to expect a richer harvest. The Word works, you know. We need to be sowing that seed now if there’s going to be a harvest next year at Easter time.
The Word of Christ doesn’t seem like very much, does it? Not impressive as the world measures impressive things. But don’t be fooled. Seeds may be small, but they pack quite a punch. Consider the mustard seed, Jesus says. When sown, it’s among the smallest of seeds. Yet when it’s planted, it sprouts and grows into a bush that even has room for the birds.
The amazing thing about seed is that it’s all there in a tiny little nugget. Everything for a mustard plant is already there in the seed. When you plant a little mustard seed, you are planting the entire plant. There’s nothing more to add. Everything for your salvation – forgiveness, life, freedom, resurrection from the dead – is already fully there is that tiny little word of forgiveness spoken into your ears, that speck of Gospel read from a book, that splash of baptismal water, that tiny piece of bread and the small sip of wine. The seed of the Word is planted, and without out help, without our knowledge, automatically, all by itself, it grows. And what starts out as a small, insignificant planting – a seed dropped into soil – grows into something far greater than we could ever have imagined.
But first the seed must die. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. “ He was referring to His own death on the cross. He is the promised Seed of Abraham, the Seed through whom all nations of the earth would be blessed. He had to die and be buried like seed in the ground. If Jesus hadn’t died, there be no fruit, no forgiveness, no life, no salvation. You’d be left to earn points with God and hope for the best. There would be no way out from under the Law. No fellowship with God. No freedom. No worship. Nothing but sin, death, and hell, had Jesus not died.
The seed needs to die, to be buried, in order to fulfill its purpose. Yu need to die too. Every day in your Baptism as that implanted Word has its way with you. You must die to sin, to self, to all the ways you try to be God. And each day you must rise up to new life in Jesus. Dying and rising is the way of the seed, it’s the way of Christ and His kingdom. Scattered seeds that die to live.
We might think we are insignificant here at Holy Trinity. A hundred or so believers gathered on a Sunday morning. Less than 0.2% of the population of Hacienda Heights. Mustard seed sized. I would remind you that the seed of the church, the first group of believers was only slightly larger – about 120. But the Word preached through that little church at Pentecost sprouted to a harvest of 3000 in a single day, and filled the Mediterranean world with the Gospel by the close of its century. Don’t think for a heartbeat that we are too small or insignificant.
Your bags are full of good by the Divine Sower Himself. Now scatter it. Fearlessly, recklessly, in the confidence that it will grow and produce fruit, all by itself, just as it has in you.
In the name of Jesus,