Sexagesima Sermon, 2018
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
The path, the rock, and then the thorns—that’s the deliberate order of the parable.
First, the path because the first thing we need is recollection and caution.
We need to pay attention and listen closely to the Word of God and not forget it, lest it be snatched away from us. If our faith is based upon anything other than the Word of God, it is in vain. So we must be careful, reverent, and deliberate hearers.
Next comes the rock. We need fortitude. If the faith planted in us isn’t tended by the Word and Sacraments, it will wither and die. Faith has no strength in itself. Even as we cannot forget God’s word, neither can we neglect it. It’s not enough to have once believed.
Finally come the thorns.
We need contempt for things present. Even St. Paul was prone to this world’s charms. That’s why he wrote, as we heard in last week’s Epistle lesson, that he disciplines his body lest after preaching to others, he himself would fall away. And in this week’s Epistle lesson, St. Paul is given a thorn in his flesh—that God would not remove—to train his body and mind trust the Word and grace of God and not to worry.
Our bodies, our physical lives, as well as our desire for honor, prestige, and love among men are a threat to our faith.
This last threat, worry, is the worst and most applicable to us who’ve been brought together today by the Holy Spirit to hear His Word and receive the risen body and blood of Christ.
Though we’re not without fault, still we’re not careless or forgetful hearers. We’ve been baptized. So also, though we’re not perfect, we’re not completely negligent of what God has given. We’re here—no matter how long we’ve been absent—for what God gives and to hear His Word.
Yet even so, even though we’re baptized, careful hearers of God’s Word, we feel the strong pull of the flesh: worries, riches, and pleasures. We’ve all fallen short, even in the course of this service. Our minds have wandered. Our bodies have pulled. Our daydreams are not pure. Neither are our plans. Repent.
Worries, riches, and pleasures are signified in the parable by thorns.
Worries, riches, and pleasures prick and lacerate the mind. Sin is like methamphetamine or crack. It gives a temporary, unworldly, and costly burst of bliss, but in doing so it enslaves the perpetrator.
Now his thoughts and heart are deformed. He no longer finds any joy in the things joyful. He longs only for the unworldly bliss of the drug. It never satisfies him, and it takes everything else away.
Sin fills the sinner with anxiety over when he’ll next taste of it and how he might keep and gain more of it for himself.
Sin stops joyful things from being joyful. Thorns don’t prick and then let go; they entangle and trap.
And sin is a barbed thorn.
He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
This parable isn’t about why some believe and others don’t. It’s a parable of warning for those who know the mysteries of the kingdom of God.
It’s also an illustration of God’s grace in Christ. The good ground bears fruit through patience. Nothing we do is good unless we endure it patiently.
Our Lord and Christ suffered all the things the parable describes.
He was driven by the Holy Spirit to the desolate place, to places well trod by demons.
There, at His temptation, Jesus shows Himself a ready hearer when He says to satan, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
There, at His temptation, and again upon the cross, He was parched and thirsty. He went without. His sustenance was in the Word and promise of God.
At His trial, and on the cross, Jesus bore the thorns for us all.
He is our king, who has taken our place, enduring our punishment, to spare us His own wrath.
He’s been tempted in all the ways that we’re tempted, He’s borne it all with perfect patience, without sin. We are the hundredfold fruit that He produces, a gift to His Father.
This is why the Lord sows His seed so recklessly. The fruit that He seeks is already bought and paid for.
He sows where no reasonable sower would sow: on the path, in rocky and thorny soil.
And His Word does what no ordinary sower could expect of his seed: it transforms and cultivates the ground.
It bears fruit in the unlikely hearts of rebellious men. He sows because He is good and His seed is good and we need it.
He has no favorites. He doesn’t discriminate.
He sows His seed lavishly, inviting all those with ears to hear it and believe.
No one comes to this kingdom worthily.
There are no good people, no plowed and ready ground.
There are only sinners.
Some are stubborn and deny that they’re sinners. Some deny that Jesus is the Lord’s Christ.
For them there is only weeping and the gnashing of teeth.
But some—by grace, not because they’re good or smart, but because He is good—some are transformed, cultivated, and acknowledge their need for grace and the lordship of Jesus.
He who has gets more. The kingdom is not built on justice, but on grace.
The first part of the parable shows us what we need.
We need to pay attention and listen closely to the Word of God.
We need the Word and Sacraments to nourish the faith that He’s given.
And we need a certain contempt for and detachment form present things.
Without these, we’ll be snatched by demons, dried and withered, and choked out.
The last bit of the parable bestows what we need in the liberality and recklessness of the sower.
We’re not simply commanded to stop worrying; rather, all real cause for worry is removed.
God satisfied His own Law on our behalf.
He’s not stingy with His saving Word of grace.
He provides all that we need and more.
He forgives our sins.
He strengthens our faith.
He enlightens our hearts and minds by grace.
He drives off the demon birds that seek to snatch and peck at us.
The holy Word, the Seed of God, the Christ born of Mary, crucified and risen from the dead, is here for us in bread and wine, calling us together once again.
He who has ears to hear let him hear.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!