Preached February 27, 2011
2 Corinthians 11:19–31
St. Luke 8:4–15
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Today is Sexagesima, the middle Sunday of Pre–Lent, coming very roughly sixty days before Easter. We continue our preparations for the journey to Jerusalem with our Lord Jesus Christ. Just as Jesus will not be returning, neither will we because this is the journey to the final salvation of our souls. Last Sunday, we heard the call of the Lord to come to eternal life when He said to the laborers hired successively throughout the day, Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. We were also warned by St. Paul about the need for self discipline, for effort to run the race and to endure to the end in order to win the crown of life eternal. We use those same thoughts as the point of departure for this morning.
The opening sentence of our Epistle lesson is, I think, very difficult for us to understand for one reason: St. Paul is using biting sarcasm, something we just don’t expect in Scripture! 2 Corinthians 11:19 For ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise. What he is saying is “You profess to be wonderfully wise. And yet you, who are so wise a people, freely tolerate those who are foolish in their boasting; who proclaim their own merits and attainments. You may allow me, therefore, to come in for my share of boasting also, and thus gain your favor.” What St. Paul is getting at here is the difficulty often faced by a humble soul in seeking the proper attention and respect of the crowd in order to witness for Jesus Christ. Paul is not seeking to inflate his standing in the eyes of the Corinthians for his own satisfaction, but rather as a necessary step to fulfill his role as apostle and teacher for them. He really does not care what they think about Paul the man, but he must command their attention and respect as the emissary of Jesus Christ to them.
St. Paul talks about the many physical perils of the Christian journey as he has experienced it – whippings, beatings, stoning, imprisonment, shipwreck, robbery, and betrayal. He truly suffered many, grievous perils in his missionary travels to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and he is warning us that physical perils await each of us on the Christian pilgrimage as well. We may find this a bit farfetched, but it is not. Our physical perils may take some different forms but not entirely, in particular facing angry mobs, possibly being put out of work for our faith, possible imprisonment, suppression of our rights to speak about Christ, and who knows what else may lie ahead. We must realize that we, like St. Paul, are called upon to endure faithfully to the end.
In addition to all of his external cares, St. Paul brings up another matter, 2 Corinthians 11:28 Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. The care of all the churches was obviously a concern for St. Paul, but it should be no less for us, the Christians of today. St. Paul had personally founded and visited many of these churches, so he felt a personal concern for them. Few of us have that sort of connection with very many churches, but we should still feel a personal concern for the Church Universal, the Christian Church through which we have a part in the fellowship of the Saints.
Paul then makes another of those somewhat difficult to understand statements, 2 Corinthians 11:29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? What he is saying here is, what Church is there that has suffered from weakness of faith that I have not tried to bear their burden? Who has been turned away from the faith of Christ (offended) that I have not worked hard to bring them back? Applying this to our own case, he is telling us that we must be constantly seeking to strengthen the faith of the faint hearted and bring back the erring. We are to do Jesus’ work as shepherds to the sheep, following the Great Shepherd, to bind up the injured and bring back the lost.
2 Corinthians 11:30 If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities. It is in these weaknesses that we do the work of Christ, so St. Paul says that is where he finds his claims to glory, even as we must also. It is only when we do the work that Christ has left for us to do that we have any claim at all to glory, although even then it is entirely contingent on God’s grace and mercy. If we are not doing his work, then we know that there is no basis for us to claim His glory.
In today’s Gospel lesson, we get further instructions for the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. It is the familiar parable of the sower, in which God Himself sows seed in the field which is mankind of the whole world. It falls into four different sorts of soil, that is, four different kinds of men, each producing a different result. The seed itself is God’s holy Word, the Gospel, that is sent out equally to all men. It is freely available to all.
Regarding the first group of recipients, the Gospel says Luke 8:5b … some fell by the way side; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it. These are those who hear the Gospel with hardened hearts and immediately turn away. These are people who have prejudged the Gospel message and determined that they will not hear it. In our day, their numbers are very large, both in our own society and in the world at large. So much of the world has decided that religion simply has nothing to say to them, and having made that decision they refuse to listen to the Good News of Jesus Christ. To their number we must add all those actively opposed, most notably the Muslims, who believe in a false version of Jesus, not Jesus Christ the true Son of God. There are vast numbers in the world today who simply refuse to hear the Word, without any knowledge at all of what It is. But, that does not stop the Word of God from going forth from generation to generation to all men.
Luke 8:6 And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture. These are frequently the religious experience seekers, those who are looking for something new and exciting. They are initially excited about the Word of God, they are enthused, but when the “new” wears off, their interest is gone as well. Too often these are young adults, not looking for a serious life commitment, but rather simply looking for a new thrill. Whoever they are, when the excitement wears off, when the hard work of living as a disciple of Jesus Christ begins, they are ready to go try something else. They have no depth.
Luke 8:7 And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it. In many cases, these are really sad situations. So often it looks like these people could be saved if only some of the thorns could be rooted up, but in life the thorns are a part of life. These are people who made a good start in faith, who often were faithful for years, but gradually, little bit by little bit, the cares of life began to intrude and take them away. I would have to say that specifically in the late 20th century American context, I think that the major theological and liturgical upheavals that swept every denomination in the wake of Vatican Council II have been a major factor in causing many of these people to simply leave the Church. That is a very sad comment to have to make, that the actions of the Church itself have driven away many people who were perhaps not adequately strong in their faith, but I think it is true. This is, of course, directly contrary to what St. Paul tells us we must do. I am convinced that many good people just walked away from their churches and did not go anywhere else, other than perhaps to the golf course.
Finally, there is the fourth group, Luke 8:8 And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold. And when he had said these things, he cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. These are the men with good hearts in the sense that they were open to the Word of God and received it with Joy. On hearing it, they took it to heart and acted upon it, living by it and spreading it abroad. Anyone who can understand what this parable means should act upon it and prepare his heart to receive the Word of God that he may be one of the fruitful hearers.
As we prepare for our journey, we are called upon to be humble in ourselves concerning ourselves, but to be bold for Jesus Christ. We must see the distinction between these two, and not be reluctant to step up and stand for Christ. As we prepare for our trip, we must pay more attention to Scripture reading, to prayer, and to charity to make our hearts good soil for the Word of God. Let us pray that we may contribute to a bountiful harvest.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.