Preached February 12, 2012
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.
This morning we are at Sexagesima Sunday, approximately sixty days before Easter. This the middle Sunday of the Pre–Lenten season, the period of preparation for Lent proper. You will recall, I hope, last Sunday’s sermon titled Working Our Way to Heaven, based on St. Matthew 20:1–16, the parable of the Householder who employed workers to go to work in His vineyard, beginning at various hours of the day. At the end of the day, they were all paid the same amount, the amount agreed to with those who had begun early in the morning. This caused dissension among the workers, particularly those who had worked for the longer times, who thought that they deserved to be paid more. When we see this in the context that the field is humanity through the ages, understanding the workers as God’s messengers sent to bring His message of salvation to mankind, then we understand that all the workers are generously and equally rewarded by receiving eternity with our Lord Jesus Christ for their work. There is no such thing as one being due more than another; such talk makes no sense when Heaven is their reward.
The conclusion from last Sunday was that we must work, not to win our salvation which has already been done for us by Jesus Christ, but because we want to serve our Lord and King, and to assure our place in His eternal Kingdom. Remember, John 5:17 But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. We are to be like Jesus, and Jesus has told us that both He and the Father work. We can scarcely afford to stand idle!
In order to think about the Gospel lesson for today, we need to shift from the setting of a vineyard to a grain field, but otherwise the two contexts are somewhat similar. As Jesus tells the parable, Luke 8:5-8 5 A sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed, some fell by the way side; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it. 6 And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture. 7 And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it. 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.
In characteristic fashion, the disciples said, “what does this mean? Explain it to us.” The first part of Jesus’ explanation is Luke 8:11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. We may pause right there and consider what he has told us. The primary work of this world for Christians is sowing the Word of God in the world. Jesus Christ was the first sower; He went out into the world alone to begin to spread His message. Along the way, He acquired a following of disciples, those who listened to what He said, thought carefully about what He said, and told others what He was telling them. Eventually, Jesus commissioned the Apostles specifically to spread His message after His departure, to carry it into all the world. Now this is a daunting task, and yet, as we look back over the past 2000 years, we can see that they have done just that. There is no corner of the earth where the message of Jesus Christ has not been preached to some extent. The task has not been thoroughly completed in all corners, and areas that were completely converted are now falling away because the devil never gives up working on new generations. The task of conversion of hearts must be done again with every new generation; we cannot think that we are ever safe, just because our part of society is nominally Christian. Indeed, that may be one of the times of greatest danger, when we are only “nominally” Christian, but in actual fact not too much of anything. This is the case in America today which is often correctly described as a post–Christian society, meaning that we used to be a Christian society but we are no more. Our greatest job assignment is to spread the word of God. We must all get to work. This applies to Priests and Pastors, but it also applies equally to every layman.
Jesus explanation of the parable continues. Luke 8:12 Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. An appalling number of people today deny the existence of the devil. These are the very people that this verse speaks to. They are easy prey because they refuse to guard against something that they insist does not exist. They hear the Word of God, but they have already been inoculated against it by the words of the devil, and when the Word comes to them, the devil snatches it away before it has any opportunity to take root in their lives. There are many of these people today, many in our own families. They are generally enlightened, progressive, forward–thinking people who simply dismiss anything that they cannot themselves fully comprehend. They make themselves the measure of God. Since God is not something they can rationalize, they dismiss God. They tend to be very scientific type people, although by no means are all scientific people of this sort.
There is another group that the Word also fails to reach. Luke 8:13 They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away. These are the people who move from one new enthusiasm to the next. Our modern society has produced many such folk, always looking for the newest excitement. They become truly engaged and enthused for a period of typically a few months, but when the “new” wears off, the new things to learn, the new experiences, the new friends, etc., then suddenly they lose interest. They don’t leave immediately, but they are easily tempted to be pulled away by anything new that comes along offering some other “new” opportunity.
This is a particularly common problem in the Church itself. How often do we have the experience of trying to start some new effort within the Church, say a Children’s Choir, a Youth Group, a Bible Study, or countless other things you could name, only to find that after the initial enthusiasm passes, suddenly there are not very many willing to be involved any longer? Many of us have been there and seen this happen. People like the idea of a project, but when it comes time to commit over the long haul, suddenly they are pretty scarce.
Our Lord points out yet another type of failure, Luke 8:14 And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection. This, I think, is the failure type that should be of greatest concern to those of us here in this parish. Notice what our Saviour says, choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life. We have the luxury to be able to say that we are a relatively wealthy parish compared to many, and we could very easily fall into this damning description if we let ourselves. These are the people who hear the Word, receive it well, and enter in upon the work with a good heart. They take up ambitious projects, but then, because they are busy with many things, they let their good works languish while they enjoy their leisure. They simply become bored with the work of God in some cases. Their focus easily shifts from eternity to the here and now, to the enjoyment of what they have now rather than to the consideration of eternity. They become truly choked with the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. It is a truly mortal condition.
Rather, we pray that we may become the worker described here: Luke 8:15 But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience. There is not so much difference between the way this worker and the previous worker start off, but there is all the difference in the world in the way they end up. Notice the emphasis on keeping the Word, that is, enduring faithful to it to the end, and also on bringing forth good fruit at the end with patience. We have to be faithful, attentive to our work, willing to endure hardship and suffering, and it is absolutely essential that we produce the fruit of our works in the end, not falling away before that time. This is the faithful worker who will inherit eternal life with our Saviour, Jesus Christ, in Heaven. That is our ultimate goal.
To this end, I would turn your attention back to the Collect for the Day:
O Lord God, who seest that we put not our trust in anything that we do; Mercifully grant that by thy power we may be defended against all adversities; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
No matter how hard we are working, thinking that our efforts are directed to the glory of God and His Kingdom, we must never put our confidence of salvation in our own works. They will completely fail us every time. Our effort is never enough to win our salvation, and if we fail to trust in Jesus Christ alone, we are most certainly lost.
The one thing in which we may always trust is the mercy and power of God and of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. This is our unfailing protection in this life, the one certainty we have in this life that will see us through to the end. This is our only, but also all sufficient, protection in this life.
May we ever be willing workers in the Lord’s field, bringing home the harvest at the end of the age. Only those who work will be paid at the end of the day.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.