2/20/22 – Sexagesima – “Scripture Alone” – Luke 8:4-15

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1. We are creatures of habit. When we do the same thing enough times within the same set of circumstances, our reaction and choices become almost automatic. We don’t even have to think about it. It seems that we don’t have to choose to do anything, we just do it. This, as you know, can be a good thing or a very bad thing. When it is good, we don’t even notice it because those habits are reinforcing good and noble things in our lives. When it is bad, we do notice it because they get in the way of what we desire to attain or who we desire to be. And in those cases, we think that we have no control over these habits. We think that we’re not choosing to do something but just victims of the circumstances. Think, for example, of checking your phone. Sometimes you find yourself holding your phone and scrolling through some app and you don’t even know how it happened. Think also about walking past the refrigerator. The door is open and you’re staring in and you don’t even remember how you got there. The reality is that we are always making choices, or at the very least we are choosing not to stop what we have chosen to do so many times in the past. We have done these things enough times that our brains tell us, or, more accurately, we tell ourselves, to do the thing without deciding consciously to do it. We still have decided to do it or not to stop doing it. The buck still stops with us. We are creatures of habit, but even our habits are formed by decisions that we have made. We are responsible for our habits.

2. The other part of this equation is that we are finite people. That is to say, we live in a world of competition and opportunity costs. On the one hand, there are so many things competing for our time and attention—spouse, kids, family, school, work, housework, hobbies, those little glowing rectangles which we carry around with us. I could go on, but I think you get the point. On the one hand, there are so many things competing for our time and attention that on the other hand, whatever you choose to attend to automatically means that your focus is not on the other things. And those things that we choose to attend to become habitual over time. They happen seemingly without any thought. They’re just a series of actions that we don’t have to think about. And this is what the Parable of the Sower invites us to do. With this parable, Jesus invites us to think about what we do, where and how we spend our time, what we focus our attention on, and what we listen to. He invites us to consider how we are treating the Word of God now in light of what will happen in the final outcome. This parable describes the final fate of the word in the hearts of men. When life is done, some show a harvest, whereas all the rest show no harvest at all. Some never let it in, some never let it take root, some never let it grow up and flower. While no man has the wherewithal to change himself in this regard, our God has the means to change us all whether trodden paths, rocky places, briar patches. God has the means to change us all into good soil for his word to take root, germinate, and grow into a plentiful harvest. And so our Lord uses this same word to call attention to how we are treating his word so that we will take it to heart and be saved.

3. So let’s unpack this parable. First, notice how there is no unwillingness on God’s part to bestow the gift of his word. Saint Paul tells us that God “desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). And so the sower casts out the seed of God’s Word indiscriminately. He doesn’t care precisely where the seed falls, only that it is sowed into the hearts of men. However, he goes about this deliberately. He is patient. He sows the seed with endurance and steadfastness. He sows the word so that all will believe. He is not slow in giving his promises as some count slowness, but he is patient toward us, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9). Notice that the only unwillingness comes from those upon whom this word is sown. It is an unwillingness to believe it and to take it to heart. Thus our Lord points out three obstacles to the word of God in the hearts of men: the devil, the world, and the sinful flesh. At first sight, it seems that these obstacles are things that we have no control over, that we are simply victims of our various circumstances. But this is not quite accurate.

4. The point of the parable simply indicates that there is competition for the place of this word in the hearts of men. And with competition there are opportunity costs. The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh do not trample and devour, starve and choke the word from the hearts of men by magic. They do so by means of distraction and neglect. They put forth a competing word to draw attention away from the wholesome and salvific word of God. And so the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh preach lies to dissuade us from God’s clear truth. These are rarely outright lies but usually half-truths. They have the outward appearance of truth, even sometimes using the Word of God as support, but in reality lead us away from the truth and God’s Word. This is how it went in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. In other words, our enemies present us with arguments. And arguments are meant to persuade. The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh seek to persuade us with arguments that we will take to heart instead of God’s word. They will present us with options and alternatives to the Word of God. They will make it seem like we are doing what is right when in fact we are being led astray. If we love someone other than our spouse, and God is love, then it must be okay because God is love, right? Using the love of God and his nature as love is a favorite ploy. But this trick is using two different definitions of love as though they are the same. Sometimes the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh simply turn the word of God on it’s head. Our Lord says, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but forfeits his soul” (Mark 8:36)? And the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh’s rebuttal is “What does is profit a man to save his soul if he forfeits the whole world? Why does it have to be either/or? Why does it have to be a binary decision? Can’t we have both? Shouldn’t we at least try?” This is how the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh tries to trick us into replacing the word of God in our hearts with literally anything else.

5. This parable shows us what all of this looks like from the end of all things, that is to say, the parable shows us the final state of the Word of God in the hearts of men. While the parable gives us a view from the end of all things, the reality of how all of this actually takes place in time is much more subtle. The parable reveals what is really going on deep down inside, but that is not often how we actually experience it. It’s just like those bad habits that we now fight against to correct—we don’t really know how they started. So too does it happen with the trampling and devouring, the starving and the choking of the seed of God’s word in our hearts. We don’t notice the trampling and devouring, the starving and the choking as they are happening in the moment. We don’t see or experience it as drastic or violent. It just happens, often in a subtle way. And if we’re not tuned in and paying attention, we’ll completely miss it.

6. Notice how the good soil was not immune to these attacks. They encountered the attacks and endured. They bore fruit with patience. This word means that they were steadfast. They persevered in the face of many distractions. Though they were tempted by the devil, the world, and their sinful flesh to neglect the seed of God’s word in their hearts, they took God’s word to heart, they fortified and guarded that word. Through the encouragement of the Scriptures, they found their hope. They did not give up. They did not give in. They kept on keeping on. They knew what was at stake. They knew their souls were on the line. They remembered Lot’s wife. They saw how Esau sought repentance with tears, after selling his birthright for a pot of stew, but there was no chance. So, this parable teaches us to cling to Scripture alone because God’s word is what will sustain us through this life. It is only through the word of God that we will receive the strength to resist the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh’s repeated attacks upon us.

My friends, God has made you a promise. By the death and resurrection of His only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, he ransomed you from sin, death, and hell. He has bought you with a price and made you his own. He sealed that promise to you personally in the waters of Holy Baptism. He continues to come to us with his word to remind us of all that he has done for us. He reminds you of that promise in the words of Absolution. He sustains and nourishes that promise through his Word and supper—the very body and blood sacrificed for your salvation. Take it to heart. Be on guard, watchful and stay alert. Our adversary prowls around like a roaring lion seeking to devour us. Resist him, and all the distractions that he brings to bear. Remain firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of tactics have been used always to trample and devour, starve and choke the seed of God’s word and promises from our hearts, so that we will not be saved. Stay the course. Cling to Scripture alone. God’s word is our comfort amid difficulty, our joy amid sadness, our strength amid weakness, and our hope for the future.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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