Among the Birds, and the Rocks, and the Thorns

Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 17:30 mark.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Frankly, I’m a little surprised that any of these plants grow and survive. Among the birds, and the rocks, and the thorns, I’m surprised that any of these seeds take root, grow, survive, and bear fruit. I’m surprised that anyone has faith; I’m surprised that I have faith, surrounded by all this. Jesus isn’t giving explanations about why or how; He’s giving a description of the way that it is in this world. And not just the way it is for us, now. He’s answering a question from His Apostles about why He’s saying everything in parables to the people. He tells them that this is how it is for the Word of God in the world. And not just the spoken or preached or believed Word, but the Word of God in flesh.

On the day that He goes out from that house, and preaches from a boat to the people on the shore, all of these things surround Him. He goes out of a house where His mother and brothers are trying to stop Him from teaching, who—at this point, it seems—do not believe Him. The Pharisees and scribes ask Him for a sign, and He says that only an evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign. They say that He is casting out demons by the prince of demons; that He does not have the Holy Spirit, but an unclean spirit. They are conspiring to destroy Him.

But none of that will stop Jesus from going out and sowing the Word everywhere, among everyone, at all times. He sows abundantly, recklessly, scattering seed everywhere. As we heard last week, He says that no one knows the Father except those to whom the Son reveals Him. And then He says, “Come to Me, all… come to Me, all who are weary, all who labor, all who are heavy-laden, who are burdened. Come to Me, and I will give you rest. All. So He scatters seed everywhere.

Why then do so few seem to hear and believe the Word? Why do some deny it, or refuse to hear it? Why do some fall away from it? Why do some suddenly leave and not return? He doesn’t tell us why, but He tells us that this is the way of the Word in this world. The devil prevents it, devouring the Word before it can get into ears and hearts and minds. Some do receive it gladly, but then persecution or trouble come, and because their roots do not go deep, they are scorched, dried up, die. Others hear the Word and then they are overshadowed by the cares and worries of this world. They take refuge not in Christ, but in something else. If only I could get some more money, or if I could have that, or if I could do that, then it would relieve my worry. But it never does. Or if it does, it doesn’t end worry and care. There will always be more, or other, or different cares and worries. That’s the way it is among the birds and the rocks and the thorns.

And still, the Sower sows and the Word goes out. And somehow, in the middle of it all, the Word takes root, and grows, and survives, and bears fruit—some 100, some 60, some 30 times. Miraculously, the Spirit takes that Word and plants it in unhearing ears, before unseeing eyes, in minds that do not understand—and they hear. They see. They understand. And even where the devil held sway, or persecution and trouble seemed overwhelming, or the cares of the world seem like they should choke out faith altogether—these aren’t permanent states of existence. It’s not as if the Word is only scattered and sown once. The Sower keeps scattering the Word, keeps turning over the soil and making it good, keeps planting and nourishing and putting His grace ahead of efficiency.

When we can’t see the success that we think should be there, or when we think that this person or that is the problem, or when we think if we can just identify the cause of the lack of success, then we think that we can fix it, or fix them, or make it all work. But have you ever had a garden or a plant where you do everything “right,” and it refuses to grow? Or have you just left it alone, and it seems to go all by itself without your help? This is God’s work. The Son of Man is the Sower, and it’s His Word. It’s His work.

So we do what’s been given to us. We preach if we’ve been given to preach; we bear witness because we’ve been given to bear witness as the baptized children of God. And the seed is sown, and in God’s own time, it grows and survives, and flourishes, and the fruit is produced. It is produced because it comes from the living Word of God, active in accomplishing what He sent it to do. The Word of God never does nothing. Unbelievers may not believe it, may not understand it, may deny it; but then, seemingly out of nowhere, a new shoot of green pops up and there is faith where there was none before. And you’re here. Among the devilish birds, and burning rocks, and vicious thorns, here you are. And it has been this way since nearly the beginning: The thorns will grow up and in trouble and sweat and labor will you eat the grass of the field. Here in the midst of this world, the Living Word speaks to you and you eat the living and true bread of heaven.

The word by which faith first took root is the same word that nourishes little plants to grow strong, so their roots go to the tap-root of Christ’s own life. He is the living water beside which you have been planted. As Jeremiah says, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:7-8). Here, buried in Christ are the roots that will never wither, and the fruit is produced because the fruitful Lord is faithful. Hear the Word! The word for “hearing” is repeated 14 times in 23 verses. And when His disciples don’t understand, He is the one who reveals it to them as well: Hear the parable of the Sower….

We might think the Word is not doing anything, or not being successful, or we can’t see the fruit. But it must be, because the Word of the Living Lord is active and He does what He says. The fruit comes not because we can see it or predict it or force it, but because we are hearing the Word and understanding it and believing it and rejoicing in it. He hasn’t left us; He hasn’t forsaken us. He feeds us here with Himself, and He is more than enough, here among the birds, and the rocks, and the thorns.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 7/10/20

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