In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
That is what this parable is about: hearing and receiving faith. Hearing is mentioned seven times in the parable and two more times in next few verses. Seven in Scripture is connected to the perfect work of God (in Creation) through His Spirit. The sevenfold use of the verb “to hear” connects this parable and this hearing to the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit always works through and is connected to the Word of God. Where one is the other is. They are never separated. This parable is about the hearing which gives faith.
However, we often do not hear parables in faith because we don’t turn to the Lord and ask Him what He means. We don’t search His Word for the meanings of His parables. We do not hear in faith. We do not understand. Instead, we focus on details like the types of soil in the parable. In our wisdom we think of it as some kind of scientific thing. We think, "If only we could take spiritual soil samples. Maybe we could study how God’s Word works in different conditions. Maybe we could figure out a way to change soil conditions in the hearts of men. Maybe we could optimize the conditions and thus maximize our gospelization efforts!" But such crass market driven “research” is not what the sower in the parable did. He didn’t study the best techniques, or best practices for sowing seed, instead He sowed; with wild abandon; not only in the good soil so as to maximize His efforts, but in all soils letting the seed do what it would.
So why do we get caught up in such foolish flights of fancy? Because ultimately we are convinced that getting people into the kingdom of God is our job. We believe it is done by us and by our power, ability, intelligence, and wisdom. We are wrong.
Why do we think this way? Because we are convinced that getting ourselves into the kingdom of God is our job. It is up to us, our power, ability, wisdom, and works. We are wrong. But no matter how much we believe and know that only God can get us into heaven, that our works always fall short, that only the cross of Christ avails for me, the old sinful nature always tempts us to say, “No, there is something for me to contribute. Surely, my works are worth something before God! He loves me, not because He is love, but because there is something in me. I strive to do what He wants. Surely that means something? Aren’t my works are better than others?” No.
Repent. You are no better than others before your God. You, like all others, are someone our Lord had to suffer and die for because of your sins. You have only received His grace because in His mercy He sent a sower to sow seed in you! He sent a speaker of His Word to speak His power into you. Whether it was a parent, a spouse, a pastor, or a friend. God sent someone into your life who spoke Him into you. The Holy Spirit through that speaking has chipped away at your stony unbelieving heart and created faith in you.
This is how God works. He uses sowers. He puts His Word in their hands to spread it like seed. To spread it wherever God sends us: to children, spouses, friends, neighbours—regardless of whether they are stony, thorny, trodden upon, or openly receptive soil. We just fling it out there. He does what He will with it.
These soil samples are descriptions of what happens when His Word is spoken. They are differing responses of faith and unbelief. But if you are honest, has not every one of us reacted like all of these types of soil at one time or another? There are times when we hear God’s Word, but pay it no heed. Times where life, our minds, our phones, our philosophies, and Satan interrupt and put other things immediately in front of us. So we don’t think about God’s Word that we have heard. It has no impact. It bounces off of us and we don’t even notice that it was there, and then Satan finds something else to gobble it up or blow it away so that it does not sprout in us.
And there are times where it does sprout in us and we take fresh joy in the gift of salvation through Christ’s cross. But quickly the age old, familiar temptations and pet sins, cause our newfound joy, hope, and faith to dry up and die.
Other times we hear the Word about our Saviour and it sprouts but we are so caught up in the pursuit of pleasure, of entertainment, of wealth, of recognition, or success that is totally choked out. Faith can’t grow. Thus, faith does not mature and dies.
But the faith that God gives holds fast to the Word planted in your heart at Baptism. It gets preached ever deeper into your heart in the Divine Service and in the proclamation of Christ’s Absolution. It is fertilized with the solid food of the Lord’s Supper. It thrives in the good and honest heart. The One with the good and honest heart is Christ, the Word of made flesh. By faith in Christ our stony, thorny, hard-packed hearts are declared honest and good by the Father through the Word about Him that you have heard.
Today you’ve heard His Word. It has been implanted into you like a sword thrust deep into your flesh. You wouldn’t ignore or be apathetic about such a sword sticking out of you. Don’t ignore His double-edged Word. Don’t let it bounce off you as if it was never there for you can’t fool God. His Word in you judges what kind of soil you are. It declares you good and takes hold in you sending its roots throughout you. Or it declares you thorny—allowing itself to be choked out by the “gods” you would rather worship; or rocky—not staying long in you; or hardpacked—having nothing to do with you at all, merely bouncing off you. But this same Word can take a thorny, rocky, hardpacked unbeliever and plough those thorns under, break through the rocks, and the crusty exterior like a plough thrusting deep into the earth changing your soil type, giving you His good heart and the ears of faith.
And once you have His good heart and ears that hear, no one takes the oil lamp of God’s Word and hides it under a bed or basket. That is just stupid and dangerous. A lamp is not hidden but set on a stand in order to give light to every corner of the room. Thus, even in the darkest night God’s Word reveals where we are setting our feet and it lights our path. And HEARing it in faith it sheds more light for you, brightening your world, and making all things increasingly clear.
So to go forward in the Church we never look to our own feelings or opinions but at all times and in all things we look to the Word of God. For God our Father will take care of His own. And His true family are thos who have ears of faith to hear His Word.
In +Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thunder Bay, ON