Sexagesima Sermon, 2017
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
What is it that unbelievers can’t be told that believers must be told?
We usually don’t think of it that way. Usually, we think that believers have all the information that unbelievers need. Therefore, we tell them.
When Jesus teaches by means of a parable, there’s always a lot to talk about.
To His disciples—and we can understand that to include Christians—“It has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables…” (Luke 8:10).
Generally, Jesus uses parables to divide sheep from goat—those who hear the Word of God and believe and obey from those who scorn God’s Word and serve their own flesh.
So, we could look at this parable that way.
Or, we could ask how we’re supposed to understand the parable.
The Parable of the Sower is a tough one to mess up given that Jesus explains it to us:
“The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who’ve heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they’re those who hear, but as they go on their way they’re choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature” (Luke 8:11-14).
We could spend our time examining soil-types, talking about how God cultivates bad soil into good by the work of the Holy Spirit in the proclamation of the Word of God—and that would be helpful.
But it seems to me to be necessary to zero in on one specific point that Jesus and St. Luke have in mind.
What unbelievers can’t be told—what believers must be told—is this: you must hold fast to the Word of God in an honest and good heart and bear fruit with patience.
Jesus and St. Luke want you to know that you’re saved by grace—through faith—not by your works—but by the work of the Holy Spirit—through the proclamation of the Word of God.
But Jesus and St. Luke also want you to know that faith doesn’t stop at hearing the Word and believing.
“As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15).
The Parable of the Sower shows us that there are two responses to hearing the Word of God:
Believing it unto eternal life and obeying it while yet in this earthly life and…
Rejecting it. Disobeying it. And ending up in hell.
That rejection takes many forms, as the different types of soil show us.
But believing the Word of God always produces fruit. The amount of fruit doesn’t matter—bearing fruit with patience does matter.
Notice, two paragraphs—and remember that, in the second paragraph after today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus says, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21).
That’s the proper response to hearing God’s Word. To hear what He says and to do it.
St. Luke makes this point throughout his account of the Gospel:
Mary, when she finds out she’ll bear the Christ-child, says, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
When Mary visits Elizabeth, Elizabeth exclaims, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Luke 1:45).
In chapter six, Jesus says, “Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he’s like: he’s like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built” (Luke 6:47-48).
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus teaches the lawyer—just as the Samaritan showed mercy to the man who fell among robbers—just so—you should “go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).
And in chapter eleven, “a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to [Jesus], ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!’ But [Jesus] said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it’” (Luke 11:27-28).
In all of these, Jesus teaches or Luke shows what discipleship looks like: we hear the word and believe it. At that point, a person is saved.
But then, we’re to hold it fast in an honest and good heart and bear fruit in obedience to God and in service to neighbor.
Jesus and St. Luke want you to know what discipleship is: you can’t be a Christian by only hearing the Word of God. While hearing the Word of God is how we’re saved—Jesus doesn’t say “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God.” He says, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:28).
A Christian does both and understands that faith alone saves but that faith is never alone. We hear “the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15).
I want you to be aware of this, because there’s a growing number of pastors who are preaching as though their congregations contain no believers, no Christians.
And what they say is often true—but they don’t say enough.
It’s like this: imagine everything involved in making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. What’s the last step?
The last step should be cleaning up after yourself and leaving the kitchen better than how you found it.
But how many of us are comfortable saying that the last step is putting the peanut butter side on the jelly side? Or how many of you would have had “Eating it” as your last step?
See, there’s truth to the teaching that we’re saved apart from works. That’s exactly true.
But if that’s all you say. If you never add, “And here’s where Scripture teaches us to do good works…” If all you ever hear is how you’re saved—if you never hear what the Christian life looks like or how to increase in good works—then something’s lacking.
Jesus and St. Luke have a very specific work in mind in the context of the Parable of the Sower. But you would never know it unless you’re comfortable hearing that Christians “bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15), that is, obey God’s Word.
I’ve told you what Jesus said two paragraphs after today’s gospel lesson: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21).
But here’s what He says one paragraph after today’s gospel lesson: “No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light” (Luke 8:16).
This is what discipleship looks like.
In the proclamation of the Word of God, by the work of the Holy Spirit, we hear and believe unto life everlasting. That’s God’s Work.
And, “hearing the word, [we] hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15). That’s your responsibility as a Christian.
Because, if you believe the Word…
If it’s true…
It’s of infinite importance that we get that Word to others who are in need.
According to C.S. Lewis, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”
You don’t take the most important Word, Jesus, the Light of the World, our salvation, and put it under a jar or a bed where it’s of no use to people walking in darkness.
You put the Light of the World on a stand, so that those who enter may see the Light and see the world according to the Light.
This is the specific fruit Jesus has in mind for His Christians to bear: so that others may see what has been given to you, share the Gospel.
You know more non-Lutheran, non-church-goers than I do.
I’m not telling you to knock on doors and browbeat people into coming to church.
I mean, according to your vocation, who already knows you, who already loves you, to whom are you responsible, who do you regularly bump into?
Having heard the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart and bear fruit with patience.
Share the Gospel. Invite someone to church. Bring your husband, your wife, your son, your daughter, your best friend, bring them to Church or to a Bible class.
Is what you believe of infinite important or not important? It can’t be moderately important.
The number of fruit you bear doesn’t matter. And bearing fruit, bearing witness, doesn’t always equate to more butts in the pews. That’s why we’re to bear fruit with patience.
But you are a light for those entering the household of God.
Your perseverance in the faith does illumine the way for those who have not heard, those who do not believe.
So hear the Word of God and believe unto life everlasting.
And bear fruit with patience.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!