Sermon on Isaiah 55:10-11
8th Sunday After Pentecost | July 30, 2017
This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it! Amen.
The lessons for our consideration are recorded in the Old Testament prophecy of Isaiah 55:10-11, and the gospel of Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23.
Dear brothers and sisters, planted and grown into God’s children by his Word. Some words really do have the power to change our lives. Kind, quiet words can calm us when we are upset or angry; harsh words can destroy relationships, end marriages, break treaties. Powerful words at the right time can galvanize us into action: “I have a dream,” “A date which will live in infamy,” “Houston, we have a problem.” But no words can move us, change us, inspire us like God’s Word in the Holy Bible. God’s Word can condemn evil, praise good, encourage hope, build strength, curb lawlessness, rebuke sin. But most striking of all is its power to change hearts – to create faith. Your heart was changed, dear Christian, and you yourself changed from God’s enemy into his ally, friend and child when the Holy Spirit moved into your heart by means of that Word – for that is its purpose. Let’s talk about that purpose in light of our lessons from Isaiah and Matthew. The Christian is Planted by the Word.
Last week I used a poem to illustrate and outline the sermon. Today I want to use a hymn, the hymn we sang as our opening hymn, Preach You the Word by the great 20th-century Lutheran teacher and theologian, Martin Franzmann:
Preach you the Word and plant it home
To those who like or like it not,
The Word that shall endure and stand
When flow’rs and mortals are forgot.
Consider our gospel for today: the sower goes out and throws his seed everywhere. Now, some might ask, “why did the sower plant so indiscriminately? Couldn’t he have been more careful to ensure that the seed only fell on good soil?” Practically speaking, in Jesus’ day, this was impossible. The rocky soil of Palestine and its heavily contoured terrain meant paths meandered, large rocks often got in the way of straight rows. The fickle rains and dry winds produced patches of good, fertile soil, and patches of desiccated, sterile soil. All the sower could do was sow, and hope the seed would take root and flourish.
Likewise, the hardships and false beliefs of this world, and the fickle nature of the human heart mean the Word must be scattered in a field with a climate as harsh and varied as a Jewish field. It is that fact that leads us to withhold the Word when we ought to preach it. Just as we wonder why a sower would waste so much seed, we don’t wish to “waste” the Word of God by preaching it to those who don’t want to hear it.
What’s our answer to that? Well, for one thing, “those who don’t want to hear it” are by definition every human being. Even we, before we were brought to faith when the planted Word took root in our hearts, were enemies of God and “didn’t want to hear it.” As Jesus once said, “how can they obey, if they have not believed; and how can they believe, if they have not heard?”
Like the sower, we have a job to do…we sow, and pray the Word takes root. We are not to be concerned with the often hateful reaction we get from those who reject it, because we have the command of our God, to make disciples of all nations.
But we have better materials than the sower. We have the Word that shall endure and stand when flowers and mortals are forgotten. How quickly flowers fade and wither; how quickly the world forgets those who have passed away. Yet God’s Word stands forever, and it will stand and be preached by us until Jesus comes again.
Though some be snatched and some be scorched
And some be choked and matted flat,
The sower sows; his heart cries out,
“Oh what of that, and what of that?”
Yes, my friends, you should be and probably are aware of the fact that your words about Jesus will not always take root. Some who hear will have minds so taken by the false teachings and religions of this world, or by their own preconceptions about how the world ought to work, that the truth preached in their ears will seem so much nonsense to them, and Satan with his hold on their hearts will easily snatch the Word away from them. Others will hear the good news and think it grand, but for one reason or another they will expect the Christian life to be a cakewalk, full of triumphs and love and never-ending pleasantness, and their shallow roots will dry up and wither as soon as they feel the weight of the cross they must bear. Still others may find our teachings interesting, but not important enough for their attention, as they are too taken with the cares of this world, and cannot be bothered to worry about the next.
Even as we sow, we know that this will happen. It makes us cry out: “what can we do about it?” When I look at the growing perverseness and faithlessness of society, and even at what appears to be a growing despite for worship and God’s Word in our churches, even in this congregation, I am tempted, and perhaps you are, too, to wonder what I can do to make things better.
The answer is in the last stanza:
Preach you the Word and plant it home
And never faint; the Harvest-Lord
Who gave the sower seed to sow
Will watch and tend his planted Word.
Here we come to the purpose God spoke of through Isaiah. Faith and salvation are his purpose for us, and his Word will accomplish that purpose. It does it every time it works in a sinner’s heart to create penitence for sin and trust in Jesus for forgiveness. It really does work, dear friends! If you have been a believer all of your life, and you have never seen the change in a person who the Lord moves from unbelief to faith, ask someone who has been converted as an adult. Ask me, and I will tell you how the Lord opened my eyes to see past the illusions created by Satan, the world and my own self-delusion, so that I could see the truth, and turned my heart from empty self-assurance to a sure hope in Christ.
This is the Lord’s purpose: to bring many to faith and keep them there by the power of his Word. And it is his work. You need not worry about what you can do. You are doing what you can do if you merely follow his command: “preach the word.” Sow, sower, and let God do what he has planned with the word you have planted. Preach you the Word, and he will cause it to grow and flourish, in your heart and the hearts of others. The Christian is Planted by the Word – you have been planted, and now you have grown, so take up your seed bag and sow the Word, and may God bless us with a bountiful harvest, to his glory.
The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.