Monday, July 11, 2011

Fourth Sunday After Pentecost A (2011)

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: Matthew 13:18-23
Theme: Sown In The Heart

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The parable of the sower is one of the most instructive passages in the Bible. In the parable the seed is the word of God that is sown in peoples’ lives. The birds represent the activity of Satan who always seeks to snatch the word away before it can germinate. The rocky stones and thorns represent ways in which the sprouted plant is prevented from producing a harvest. Finally, the good soil is an analogy for the believer whose faith is evidenced by his or her works. Clearly the parable is meant to cover the full range of possibilities and circumstances regarding how the message of Christianity is rejected or received.

Now, it’s important to note that the parable explains observable outcomes. It does not answer the fundamental “why” questions. Why did the birds come? Why did some seed fall on rocky soil? Why did some get choked out? Why did some produce a harvest? In fact, these questions are beyond our comprehension. We can say no more than what must be said. Faith is entirely a gift of the Holy Spirit and in no way comes about by human effort. No one is born as “good soil”. Conversely, the blame for unbelief and rejection of Christ lies entirely with the individual. God cannot be blamed. These truths involve a mystery we must live with. But we must nevertheless confess these mysteries with absolute clarity. The comfort and security of souls is at stake.

Though the full range of circumstances Christ mentions is relevant to every age, certain possibilities are more applicable at different times. In the first century, when Christianity was just spreading in a largely pagan world, we might surmise the example of the person who initially received the message positively but soon fell away in times of trial because of a shallow faith was a common occurrence. In our age of declining Christianity in the West, the example of those whose faith is choked out by “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth”1 seems particularly relevant.

Dear friends, how common is the person who has fallen away from the church because of the pursuit of material riches or the distractions of this world’s activities? These are not temptations any of us are immune to. Wealth is still the most popular idol many centuries running. A magazine cartoonist depicted two well-dressed businessmen having lunch in a posh restaurant. One of the men has a look of horror on his face as he says to the other, "I had the most terrifying dream last night. I dreamed that the value of the dollar had slipped so low that it was no longer worth worshiping."

The number of different things that can stifle faith is nearly infinite. But they all have these things in common; they originate in and are orientated towards the concerns of the world, and they all supplant the place of God as pre-eminent in the person’s life. Every sin, every transgression is in a real way the sin of idolatry. When people believe they need not the blessing, grace, or salvation of God, then they either think there is nothing to be saved from or that they have worked it out themselves. Remember, faith is rarely extinguished instantly. Typically, it succumbs over time. The boiled frog does not recognize the danger at that moment before the end comes. Repentance always involves coming clean about trying to justify ourselves. We pretend, or try to convince ourselves or others that Christ is our sole source of help, comfort, and salvation. Meanwhile, we go on collecting many eggs in many different baskets.

Nevertheless, the mercy of God is persistent and unaltered. The Scripture says, “When the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy.”2 The sole motivation for our rescue from sin, death, and Satan is the mercy of God in Christ. Now, we may wonder what kind of rationale that is. What activates the mercy of God? Is it something He sees in us; even something He knows we will do in the future? No! Grace means that God is moved with compassion towards us as the very expression of His nature. The embodiment of that nature is Christ. Saint Paul says, “In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.”3 Because Christ came in flesh and blood the mercy of God cannot be perceived to be an unrealistic ideal. It is not a construct about distant but impotent deities. In other words, apart from Christ we could have no definitive assurance of divine love.

Another miracle of this truth is that it applies to people of every age and every circumstance. The newly baptized infant also becomes a recipient of that love based solely on the Holy Spirit’s operation. Baptism is not made valid by any predisposition within an individual or by the piety of the parents who bring a child to be baptized. The fact that the promises and faith given in baptism can later be rejected in no way changes the fact that the granting of spiritual life is Christ’s power alone. Until death the Christian possesses the baptismal inheritance by grace. Otherwise the person has fallen back under the rule of the law and will have to make his or her claim on personal accomplishment.

What does it matter to you? It is the central concern in the believer’s life. We are never far from falling back under the jurisdiction of spiritual legalism. Remember what the apostle says today, “What the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.”4 You see, the law tells us what to do and not to do, and warns of God’s judgment, but it is powerless in inspiring in us true godly motivation. The law can only accuse and condemn us. And it is important that it does so that the Spirit can properly motivate us through the gospel.
We can only have comfort, hope, and consolation as we live in and through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Only in Him do we participate in incorruptible life.

The specificity of Christ is also immensely important for our witness in and to the world. When the church sows the word of God it must sow a specific kind of seed. To speak in general terms about God is not nearly as confronting or offensive to some as to speak specifically about Christ. When people speak of God generically they often mean nothing more than an impersonal force or power that exceeds human ability. The philosopher may speak of a God-concept as a backdrop to human morality. Even a Darwinian scientist may refer to a “God-factor”; meaning an unexplainable and game-changing intervention.
All of these are much different than confessing the specificity of God in the personhood of Jesus Christ. In Jesus God becomes relational. Only this Jesus, the Child of Bethlehem, the Prophet of Nazareth, the One who died a criminal’s death on the cross and rose victoriously from the grave; only He opens the gates of heaven.

Dear friends, in coming parables Christ will speak of the final harvest. But now we keep on sowing, cultivating, watering, fertilizing, and tending. The outcomes are God’s to determine. He has already produced in you a crop of many-fold and in the end will gather you safely as wheat into His barn. Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
10rd July, 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Matthew 13:22
2 Titus 3:4-5
3 Colossians 2:9
4 Romans 8:3