In college one year I worked on the Summer Youth Ministry Team for Concordia University. Mostly that meant helping out with the VBS for a congregation and working with their youth group. Our team each chose one of our professors who promised to pray for us throughout the summer. I will never forget the day when a letter came from my partner, Dr. Brighton. He specifically quoted this text from Isaiah to encourage me. But that made me a bit confused. I remember questioning God, “Why this verse now, Lord? I mean, I feel like my ministry work is going great. I am seeing the kids learn as I teach. Your Word is having success. I mean, maybe if I was discouraged I could understand why You had Dr. Brighton quote this passage. But I am actually getting great joy from my work.”
In less than half an hour, I had an answer. During our Team meeting, one of my friends poured out her heart saying she felt like a failure. She was trying to reach the kids with God’s Word, but they just did not seem to be getting it. Then I realized how foolish and self-centered I was to think that God had sent His Isaiah 55 promise just for my sake. No, it was for my friend. At that moment He had given it to me to give away. He sent Isaiah 55 out so He could promise His daughter that His Word she was speaking would get done what He wanted it to do. Even if she could not see it happen.
When it comes to sharing the Word of God with others – or even when it comes to life in general - we can get short-sighted, looking for immediate results. Or we can get near sighted, seeing only the bad results. Or both. And so, for example, many evenings it might take a LOT of successes for us to consider a day to be really good – but only 1, 2, or 3 failures and we consider the day terrible. That is what is going on inside many of us when we come to today’s Gospel text and hear the parable of the Sower. The sin in us gets us distracted. The seed that does not produce sticks out. Too bad for all that wasted seed in the rocky soil, amongst the weeds, and eaten by the birds. At least it was not a total loss… However, we fail to appreciate the seed that does produce 100 fold, 60, and 30. Those are no small numbers! This is a bumper crop, abundantly fruitful beyond expectation.
So what does this Parable of the Sower look like in real life? Jesus tells this Parable because things in real life have been getting in the way of faith. Christ’s disciples have always gotten confused by this. He has given us His Word, great and wonderful promises of forgiveness and salvation and God’s unending love. How come the unbelievers reject it? Christ’s followers are confused because the crowds have been leaving Jesus. He is not as popular as He once was, and worse yet, people are actively opposing Him. Even family members of Jesus are refusing to go along with Him. Jesus teaches that sin-closed ears and hearts, the cares of the world, persecution, and the love of wealth and luxury all get in the way of the true Christian faith.
What does this Parable of the Sower look like in real life? It looks like a congregation or a Christian who focuses only on what is going wrong that they fail to see the great stuff God is doing, for instance noticing the people who are not here with the result that they fail to rejoice in the people God has brought here. This parable looks like a congregation or a Christian who expects no setbacks, nothing but overnight success stories. Yet you farmers and gardeners know it would be ridiculous to look for crops the day after planting your seed. God takes His time providing for our daily bread. And God takes His time converting hearts and making people a part of His Church, a citizen of His Kingdom. On a few rare occasions, God QUICKLY works repentance and Christ’s forgiveness into a person – almost overnight. Most of the time we do not get to see what God’s Word has been doing all along inside an unbeliever until months or years later.
Ultimately our impatience with God gets down to a violation of the First Commandment. When we hear the Parable of the Sower and think the Sower is foolish for wasting so much seed on all sorts of unproductive ground, we are really judging God to be a fool. As generous as the Sower is in spreading the seed, that is precisely how generous God is in spreading His Word. Speaking it to those who would believe it, or believe it not. Yet when we imagine that God should be efficient, like we would be efficient if we were God – then we are trying to make God in our own image, instead of God re-making us in His own image of love, generosity, kindness, patience, and so on. We end up telling God He is wrong, we are right. And that is sin.
What does this Parable look like in real life? It looks like God spreading His Word of salvation from the Flood in the days of Noah – and His Word of life takes root in 8 souls, while the rest of the seed falls on rocky hearts that will be destroyed on the Day of Judgment. In the days of Moses, God sows His Word on Israel. In the hearts of the Joshuas and Calebs and Rahabs, the seeds find a home and grow. In other hearts, the seeds find soil as soft as concrete, as hospitable as Hell, who grumble and complain about the true God while bowing down to a golden calf. In the days of Jonah, God sows His Word on pagan Ninevah and the seed takes root in the soil of over 120,000 repentant hearts, while the people of Israel are not so thrilled with God’s mercy. In the early days of Jesus, God sows His Word in Herod’s Palace, where wise men rejoice but the King plots murder.
Though some of His seed is snatched and some is scorched and some is trampled, the Lord does not stop. He continues to spread His Word. Here, there, and everywhere. Preaching in season and out of season, in the field and out of the field, embraced and rejected, scorned and loved, insulted and praised.
When God went out to sow the seed of His Word, He dropped some into your heart. Did His seed take root, this seed of Christ, this seed of grace and mercy? How could it take root in a heart like yours and mine – hearts that are as clean as a manure pile and as fertile as a Walmart parking lot? The truth is, where there are not rocks, there are weeds, and where there are not weeds, there was that vulture-like Devil ready to snatch God’s Word away from us.
But lo and behold, God did not look for good soil to plant His Word. He created good soil for Himself in you, no matter how rocky or weed infested your heart may be. And His Word has its way with you. His gracious absolution transforms you the sinner into good ground. Christ now cleanses you of the poisons of your past. The weeds of your impatience are patiently pulled out by Jesus. God the Farmer scatters His seed on the Walmart parking lots of our hearts, and somehow, by His work, in His time, our souls become rich soil. All that was lifeless is now covered by colorful blooms. Dead land transformed into a field of salvation. That is what the Lord Jesus does for you. He converts your parking lot heart into a place for parking His Word, His Spirit, His Body and Blood, His life divine. God’s Word will do this, for that is the reason He sent it into your life.
For the seed of God’s Word is packed with the life, death and resurrection of His Son – His Son who was once packed with your sin and death; packed with your impatience and mine; packed with all the times you and I have judged God was foolishly doing things wrong, yet we were the fools; packed with all the rest of our guilt. It looked at the Cross like Jesus was choked by the weeds of this world, as His enemies got Him out of the way so they could go on loving the things of this world. It looked at the cross like Jesus had successfully sprung up for a time in this rocky world, only to be scorched by God’s wrath. It looked like the vulture-like Devil had snatched Jesus away from us. Yet when the body of Jesus was planted in the Earth, it turned out that He became the first-fruit of those Risen from the Dead, the promise that your body will rise above the ground of your grave too.
God the sower went out to sow His seed. He planted it in you, and when the harvest comes, He will find in you a hundredfold crop. And what He has done in you, Christ has plans to do in many more hearts around the world, until all is ripe for the Day of Resurrection. Thanks be to God. Amen.