Sunday, July 13, 2014

Fifth Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2014

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen +

Text: Matthew 13:18-23
Theme: An Implausible Spiritual Harvest

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The wisdom of God always turns human judgment on its head. It’s, therefore, always prudent and beneficial to restate the fundamental teachings of the faith. The gospel is not second nature to us. We can receive spiritual truths only through Spirit who gives discernment. In the context of the parable today we must be reminded that God causes things to grow. He alone gives life. Basic, yes, but not to be taken for granted. The sower goes out to sow the seed. The seed is the word of God. But it is a perilous journey from sowing to harvest. Maturity is not a foregone conclusion but a miraculous accomplishment. And so it is also with the Christian journey.

In the midst of a season with a flourishing crop Christ’s analogy of sowing and growing should be easily pictured in our minds. When the seed is sown there are a number of possible outcomes. Jesus mentions four and from these draws direct comparison to spiritual realities. First to be noted is that most of the seed that is sown comes to ruin. It produces no harvest. Some is snatched immediately before even sprouting. Other seeds germinate and show promise but fail to reach maturity. These facts would seem to contradict the assumption that at the coming of Christ the kingdom of God would spread vigorously with little resistance. The assumption is false. Christ is the rejected Messiah and remains so today

But the seeds that do reach maturity produce an abundant crop. By ancient standards it would be considered a miraculous crop. Often when we least expect it, and usually when we’re unable to conceive of it, God’s blessings are sprung upon us. As with all the analogies of Jesus we can’t push them too far. For example, we can’t say that the good soil is good because of some inherent worth in the person. That would contradict the clear and broad teaching of Scripture. No one is naturally good soil nor can they make themselves into it. The key is in the hearing and understanding. Jesus doesn’t teach us merely so that we can conceptualize spiritual things. His words are intended to penetrate, to transform and invigorate us.

So, just as the seed’s contact with the soil is critical, so is our contact with the word of God. Spiritual life and growth cannot be taken for granted. You and I are called to humility and integrity. Are you so learned that you do not need to regularly hear the word of God taught and preached? Are you so holy that you only occasionally need the forgiveness of sins? Does following the commandments come easy for you? Are you immune to lust, jealously, greed, dishonesty, bitterness, selfishness, and fear? Does loving God above all things and loving your neighbour as yourself come naturally to you? The words of Scripture are a reality check for us, “The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.”1 These truths call us to repentance. They bid us to cease pretending and believing we are something we’re not.

Dear friends, spiritual life and growth do not happen automatically or programmatically. Today Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife Rebekah. Why? Because she was barren. So here we go again! Isaac himself was the son of the promise but his mother Sarah was past child-bearing age. Nevertheless, God brought life out of death. We might assume things would go easier with the next generation. It was still many centuries until Christ was to be born. Instead, the wisdom and might of God remained hidden in human weakness as it still is today. The conception of Isaac and the conception of Jacob both pointed to the miraculous conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit. Woven throughout the narrative is the feebleness, frailty, and skepticism of humanity which is counter-balanced and mitigated by the grace, gentleness, and vitality of God. From start to finish God uses frail and foolish humans to accomplish His work in the world. That truth gives us hope.

And we have more than hope; we have the accomplished work of the Lamb of God for the salvation of the world. The apostle says, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”2“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.”3 Christ died and rose again to set you free from death’s power. Sin does not have jurisdiction over the baptized.

Does that mean you will not sin? No! But sin does not control you. It does not have free reign. You do not serve the sinful nature. You are set free. The struggle rages. You are not relieved of the struggle, but you are relieved of the burden of gaining God’s favour. You are relieved of the fear of punishment. You are released from doubt about who holds the future. And in the context of living the baptismal life, the sanctified life, you are free from a dependence on the quality of your own faith. When meeting the challenges of life we don’t tap into our faith for strength, we tap into Christ. To rely on our own resources- especially spiritual ones-is just another recourse to the law.

When it comes to motivating humans to achieve holiness the law is impotent. We are too corrupt. The nature of that corruption means that the operation of the law is written into our psyche. It’s in our DNA. The law will always fill the void. When the clear articulation of the gospel is absent some application of the law will always fill the gap. Bereft of the gospel we have no other mode of operation than the law. We have no other way to understand how things work. Like instinct during a panic we revert to what we know. The disciples went back to fishing before Pentecost. Spiritual vitality is always the result of the gospel’s power. The seed germinates and is brought to maturity by God alone.

That doesn’t mean faith is unimportant. It’s just a matter of understanding how things relate and how they are sustained. Faith is not a distillation of your emotions, an accomplishment of your will, or a feat of your determination. Faith is descriptive of a relationship. You are no longer at pains to right yourself with God. Christ has done it. You are forgiven. Faith is trust in the unconditional mercy of God in Christ. He was crucified for you. He rose to give you life. He sent the Spirit to accompany you at all times.

He has provided the means to bring you to maturity. The resurrection is always in view. In anticipation of fulfillment you come to receive the body and blood of Christ. And why do we come? We come because Christ bids us to come; He invites us saying, “Do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”4 But even more importantly, we come because here we have a precious treasure. Here we have a profound, mysterious and unalterable promise. We have distributed to us the forgiveness of sins sealed in this tangible and intimate way. We need not look for a window into heaven for God is with us right here on earth. Christ the sacrifice. Christ the priest. Christ the shepherd. Immanuel, God with us.

And today, Christ, the Word of God is sown in our hearts. The Scripture says, “Other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop- a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”5 May God make it so for Christ’s sake, amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +
1 Romans 8:7-8
2 Romans 8:1
3 Romans 8:3
4 1 Corinthians 11:25
5 Matthew 13:8

Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
13 July 2014
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt