In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
It was the Lutheran theologian Martin Franzmann who determined to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Concordia Theological Seminary in Springfield, Illinois in 1971 by writing the words of a new hymn that focused on the Spirit-inspired intent of the Parable of the Sower. Franzmann, the author of another great hymn we in this congregation are all very familiar with — "Thy Strong Word" — calls the entire Christian Church — pastors and teachers, elders, deacons and deaconesses, Sunday School instructors and preschool teachers — each one of us in our various vocations — to be faithful to the one directive given to us by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit.
And in an age where more and more congregations forget or neglect or reject their Christ-given calling, trading in ministry done to garner a heavenly harvest for a ministry that will garner the applause of the world, Franzmann's words continue to ring out as a clarion call. A call that we would repent of the sin of attempting to limit and re-define and re-invent the mysterious, unexpected, two-fold reign of God as revealed by the prophets and apostles.
In a time and place where the religiously fashionable take information obtained from credit card companies in order to determine which ethnic group or which economic strata or which newly-sprouted suburb is appropriate soil for their future Christian ministry, the Parable of the Sower needs to be heard anew.
In a time and place where those who are judged to be religiously successful prey on those pastors and congregations struggling with finances and membership by selling books at weekend workshops that promise to disclose their magic formula of testing the soil to guarantee increased numbers in the pews and offering plates, the Parable of the Sower needs to be heard anew.
In a time and place where even Lutheran church leaders are constantly tempted to trade in the family inheritance for the porridge bowl of a beautifully packaged, guaranteed-to-succeed growth program, the Parable of the Sower — and Franzmann's insightful reflection of it — is increasingly needed.
We live at at time when even life-long Christians are trading in the clear Word of Scripture and faithful confessions of it for more enticing interpretations of the Bible that actually put our old nature back into the driver's seat, assuring us that we have, through our own human calculations, harnessed heaven's salvation and manipulated it to sprout and grow and multiply when and where and how we think best.
But what does our Lord reveal in this parable? What divine reality does Franzmann so accurately reflect in the first stanza of his hymn?
1. Preach you the Word and plant it home / To men who like or like it not,
The Word that shall endure and stand / When flow'rs and men shall be forgot.
When our Lord gave to his Church the Parable of the Sower, he gave it as a revelation of how his two-fold heavenly reign is breaking into our fallen, self-centered, self-consumed world.
Despite all that you will hear from the self-proclaimed "experts" of Scripture and the hidden meanings they believe only they can discern in the sacred text, the Parable of the Sower is not all about how we make ourselves the good soil or how we can determine if others have made themselves good enough soil to merit our effort to plant the Word of God in them.
We are called to preach, to announce, to offer, to broadcast the Word of God — Law and Gospel — to all, as God gives us opportunity. It is a sin and a stumbling block to put ourselves in the position of deciding with whom we will share the Word of God — and to whom we will not. For, as Franzmann reminds us, the Word will remain after all the programs and policies and powers of church agencies will have been discarded and forever forgotten.
The Christian Church has not been called to invent some new slick and market-tested forty day program that makes thorn-infested, hard-hearted people into nutrient-rich soil for the Gospel. Like it or not, we — the Church — have been called to simply broadcast God's Word whenever, wherever possible — always leaving the results in the hands of the One who alone can bring forth life from a dead seed thrown upon dead soil.
For Christ, as announced to us in the Parable of the Sower, the critical event is not our making ourselves — or anyone else — good soil deserving of the fruits of divine blessing. We don't create the conditions for salvation and then ask God to come and put a little frosting and sugar sprinkles on our great redeeming work.
The parable this morning calls each of us and this congregation and the entire Christian Church on earth to do one thing: faithfully, clearly broadcast the eternal Word — God's Word — without any consideration of who deserves it or what we may or may not get out of it.
The prime directive: faithfully broadcast the Word of God to all God places in our lives — without consideration or calculation. Not an easy thing to do for any one of us, as Franzmann writes in the second verse:
2. We know how hard, O Lord, the task / Your servant bade us undertake:
To preach Your Word and never ask / What prideful profit it may make.
This parable does not center around our self-wraught metamorphosis into good soil. This Parable does not center on the often-preached question: "So, what soil have you made yourself into?"
This parable of our Lord centers, instead, around the sower, the way in which he sows and the God-wraught results. And how can we be sure of that? The 18th verse gives us the name of this morning's parable, and it is the name given by our Lord himself. The theme of Jesus' presentation of the Kingdom of Heaven — his presentation of the reign of heaven — throughout this entire 13th chapter of Matthew, is simply a presentation of how Christ's reign comes and how it will all turn out.
The sowing of the saving reign of our Lord is not only the proper subject of this parable, but the proper subject of the Christian Church and this congregation. Everything revolves around his sowing and his reaping, as he comes in the most ordinary-looking ways to accomplish the most un-ordinary things in us and among us.
This morning Franzmann calls us to, before all else, ask forgiveness for those times we have discrimanently sowed the seed of God's Word for our own ends and our own rewards.
The calling to abundantly, generously, graciously, indiscrimanantly sow is not only difficult, but simply impossible without Christ's forgiveness and grace to just stick to the faithful preaching of the Word to any and to all — and then let things fall where they may.
God grant the courage and faith to do what he has called us to do, no more and no less.
3. The sower sows; his reckless love / Scatters abroad the goodly seed,
Intent alone that all may have / The wholesome loaves that all men need.
How does the sower sow? With calculated precision so that only the deserving will receive his freely sent gift? Is the saving Kingdom of God to be directed only to those we determine to be God's elect? To those we determine posess a "better-than-average" chance of producing abundant fruit?
The entire Gospel of Matthew stands as a testament to the abundant, generous, reckless, gracious, almost thoughtless way Christ through his disciples — his Church — sends out the Word of God. It is in Matthew's inspired account we see Jesus scattering the goodly seed to the most seemingly undeserving of people - to the residents of Galilee of the Gentiles — and beyond. All this that his Father's will would be accomplished: that all would receive in faith the Word which, like the spring rains, falls to earth to renew and re-create a fallen world.
Only a gracious God would be so reckless to send his Word to all peoples and nations and languages and tribes, regardless of the inconsistent, seemingly unpredictable results. Only such a gracious God would be so reckless to send his Word — his Son — regardless of the inconsistent, seemingly unpredictable results. This is is his love for the world. This is his love for you — and each person God has called you to be a neighbor to.
This is the saving gift of God broadcast to all who would come and receive it in faith — at Sunday services, during Sunday School and Vacation Bible School, in adult classes, in the preschool, at community Christmas concerts and Summer outreach concerts. God sows his seed, and he sows it with divine grace and abandon.
The fourth stanza:
4. Though some be snatched and some be scorched / And some be choked and matted flat,
The sower sows; his heart cries out, / "Oh, what of that, and what of that?"
What is the one, true treasure of the one, holy, Christian and apostolic Church? Anyone? (If you say the Shroud of Turin, I'll resign as pastor of this congregation and become a Thrivent insurance salesman.)
Christ, his redemption as sacrifice upon the Cross for me and for the world, and the means by which he connects me with the benefits of his death and resurrection: the Scriptures, Holy Baptism and the Lord's Supper.
And when these divine gifts are broadcast by God's grace over a fallen and rebel world, some of that grace will not be received with God-created and God-sustained faith. You know that in your heart if you have ever given someone a gift — only to have it given back or abused or put up for auction the next week on eBay.
And our old nature responds: "I'll never give a gift of love again. I'll never do such a risky, potentially painful thing again. Enough with grace and gifts and being vulnerable to pain and hurt and rejection."
You see, the fallen world and our fallen nature take offense at the way Christ's reign comes. It comes in the most gracious of ways, in the most hidden of ways — in a way seen and taken to heart only by faith.
Salvation is discuoraging and dis-heartening, yet our Lord is a reckless Savior, risking everything that all might be offered the gift of salvation.
5. Of all his scattered plenteousness / One-fourth waves ripe on hill and flat,
And bears a harvest hundredfold: / "Ah, what of that, Lord, what of that!"
In the midst of the crushed and choked out and snatched and scorched seed there remains God-pleasing results. The amazement that so much of the seed seems wasted and rejected by the soil is, at the end of the day and at the end of our life and at the end of this age, overtaken by the amazement that so much fruit has been produced — but — as the Catechism says, when and where God wills.
The shock and heart-ache felt for those who repeatedly refuse to receive the Word of God — in, with, and under the prophets and apostles; the Word in, with and under water; the Word in, with and under bread and wine, is ultimately overtaken by the shock of seeing the hundred-fold harvest in heaven.
Our Lord calls us to simply trust that he continues to preserve a remnant of his believing people, a remnant through which his Word will accomplish all that he has sent it out to do.
And the final verse:
6. Preach you the Word and plant it home / And never faint; the Harvest Lord
Who gave the sower seed to sow / Will watch and tend his planted Word.
As Christ's disciple, you are called to trust in the most unlikely of things: the reign of God breaking into this world by the gracious, reckless preaching of God's eternal Word. As Christ's Church, we are called not to loose heart but keep and treasure the Gospel by sending it out "to those who like or like it not."
Christ has been called by his heavenly Father to be the gracious, forgiving, loving, reckless Sower. And what does the Sower do? He mercifully, tirelessly, caringly, abundantly sows his seed. And his disciples are called to faithfully, trustingly follow.
God grant it for Jesus' sake. Amen