February 04, 2024; Rev. Kurt A. Lantz, Pastor
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He Who Has Ears to Hear
Dear people with ears to hear,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
How would mom and dad evaluate your listening skills? Do you hear and remember the things they tell you? Sometimes if you are too worried about getting the last cookie, your worry pushes aside what mom and dad are trying to say and you don’t hear them at all. Sometimes when you are walking down the sidewalk mom or dad says something to you, but a big dog jumps out and gives a scary bark and you forget what they just told you. Sometimes they tell you something in the morning before they go to work, but you don’t see them all day and you forget by the time they come home again. And sometimes the things that mom and dad say to you just seem to get plucked right of your brain and you don’t even know why.
The things that mom and dad tell their children are usually pretty important. A lot of the time the things they say are meant to protect us from dangers that we might not know about. We want to try to listen well and not let other things distract us from what they say. Our heavenly Father has some important things to say to us, too. And there are times when things make it very difficult to hear or to remember the wonderful things that he tells us in order to save us from our sins, and give us life and blessing and peace and joy.
He had travelled from town to town to raise awareness for his cause. In each place a few more people joined the convoy and the little entourage grew into a great crowd. On one busy corner, the preacher began his message and he talked while some listened with rapt attention and others moved along without a pause. But those were the members of his audience at the far ends of a spectrum. There were many more whose attention span fell somewhere in between.
His commanding voice stopped an old armed forces veteran in his tracks whose ears caught a comforting promise of peace. But before he could absorb what the message was all about the nagging thoughts in his head pulled the nugget of solace away and replaced it with the repeating refrain that had been annoying him for years: “They’re looking at me, they’re looking at me, they’re looking at me...” So he quickly ambled away to find a quieter spot away from the crowd.
The preacher’s command of rhetoric really caught the attention of a young single woman who worked at the nearby law firm. She liked how persuasively He put things. She couldn’t stop thinking about some of the points He made. She dwelt on His ideas and turned them over and over in their mind for days, but not hearing His message repeated anywhere else, it only took an invitation from her work colleagues to go out for a few drinks for His themes to wither out of her thoughts.
A group of guys in the city for a bachelor party were running by on the way to the next stop on their pub crawl. One of them, being desperate to find the elusive secret to a life of happiness wanted to stop for a bit and listen. Who knows where you might find the contentment and joy that you’re searching for at that age when you think about starting a family. But the rest of the group were not interested, and dismissing his suggestion that he catch up with them later, dragged him off. He didn’t resist too much, not wanting to fall out of the ‘in’ crowd or be the brunt of their jokes later.
Usually it is people like this that make up the large majority of hearers by far. Think of yourself, you have probably been closer to acting like one of those in-betweeners when you come across a solid bit of preaching, out in the world or even here in the chapel. I grant that the preaching you regularly hear may not be as riveting as that of Jesus in the flesh, or even a skilled public orator today. But people are not brought to faith by the charismatic draw that the preacher may display. Faith comes from hearing the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17) and the Lutheran Church has always stressed that the preaching is more about staying close to the Word of Christ than telling it in a riveting way, although we don’t want to make it unnecessarily difficult for anyone either.
If you are like me, you probably don’t have to think too hard to recall times when the Word was barely out of the preacher’s mouth and into your ears, than you forgot it, just like it was snatched away by some nefarious sneak-thief. Jesus tells us, that is indeed the case. The devil seeks to snatch away the Word of Christ like a bird quick to gobble away seeds that fall upon the path.
You can probably also recall times when you went away after a sermon quite happy about what you heard. Your heart was gladdened by the news of God’s love extended to a sinner like you. For a time you held onto that Gospel, but by Tuesday or Wednesday some temptation turned your head away from that gracious love of God and you fell again into that same sin that you were so glad God had forgiven.
And I wouldn’t be far mistaken to think that there have been times when the good news of forgiveness and eternal life in Christ Jesus that you have heard repeatedly over the years seems to repeatedly get choked out by other cares and worries and the pursuit of good things for yourself and your family.
You see, I don’t think it was Jesus’ point that you might be one particular type of soil, either a hardened path or a rocky bit, or a thorny patch, or good soil. I think that every time the Word of Christ is preached you may fall into any one of those categories and even more than one. You have probably met the classifications for all of them at different times in your life as one who has ears to hear.
What type of soil are you today, or perhaps what type of mixture? Is something (the devil) immediately snatching the message away from you today? Will you go home after the service today so happy and glad for the message of Christ crucified for you, only to have that joy wither up when a family member or friend challenges your convictions? Are you wanting to hear more of God’s Word and intending to schedule your life during the coming season of Lent that you do so, only to have other concerns and pursuits force you to change those plans?
Let’s not also forget those like seed falling into the good earth, who receive the Word with good and honest hearts and not only grow spiritually from it toward their own salvation but also produce good works of faith toward God and love for one another so that they live their lives in patient endurance. Yes, there are times when you are this type of soil too. Perhaps not consistently, but definitely through the power of the Holy Spirit working in you through the Word of Christ.
Jesus did not only reveal to us bad soils, He also spoke about good soil where the Word is planted safely away from the predator, where it is well watered by the remembrance of Baptism, where it grows up segregated from thorns but in communion with other believers, and brings forth the fruits of faith: fruits that renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways; fruits that return in repentance when they have fallen into temptations to sin; fruits that stand firm against a thorny crowd that tries to choke it with worries and false pursuits of happiness.
The Word of Christ brings this security and refreshment and steadfastness, because it speaks of seed that has fallen into the soil of death for you. Another sermon of Jesus iterated: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the soil and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).
“The seed is the Word of God” (Luke 8:11). It alone can produce fruit, not you, but it within you. Jesus is the Word become flesh (John 1:14). He was planted in the earth after dying upon the hard wood of the cross, withering away with thirst, His head encircled by a thorny crown. Jesus took upon Himself all of the sins of those who are like the soils in His parable, those hardened who are easy prey of the devil, the dry and rocky who have forgotten their Baptism, those choked out by thorny cares of success, and even the good who sometimes fall into attributing their salvation to their own receptiveness.
Jesus died for us all, at every stage of our lives, in every sin of ours against the gracious outpouring of His saving Word of life. He gave Himself to be buried in the earth to save us from the devil, the world, and from our own sins. And by giving Himself into the death of the grave, He did not remain a lone dried up desiccated husk disintegrated to dust in the earth.
On the third day He burst forth with life, not just for Himself but for us all. He trampled the devil into the dust and paid in full for all of our sins so that He would not be the only one to burst out of the dead earth into the glory of resurrected life. He is the firstfruits of a great harvest to come. Through His suffering, death, and rising again He produces more than a hundredfold, a thousandfold, or a millionfold. He gives eternal life with Him to all who receive His Word of forgiveness and salvation.
No matter what type of soil or mixture you may be right here and now, the sower continues to scatter his seed, the LORD sends the rains from heaven, the wheat will be separated from the weeds, and His storehouse will be full.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.