09 February 2015

Homily for Sexagesima

"Divine Seed"
Text: Luke 8:4-15
(with thanks to Johann Gerhard's treatment of this text in his Postilla)

Jesus compares God’s kingdom to a farmer who goes out to sow his seed. Then He tells us about the different kinds of soils which receive that seed. Then He tells us, “The seed is the Word of God.” It’s the Divine Seed, to be sure. But it’s not the only seed.

In the early 1600s, Pastor Johann Gerhard said this, “In His Creation, God the Lord not only made the earth fruitful with various and multitudinous seeds, but He also sowed a noble Seed into the heart of the first two people—it was, of course, the image of God” (Postilla, 199). God’s image—that was the first seed that our gracious Lord sowed in Adam and Eve. Pastor Gerhard continued: “From this Seed within their hearts there was supposed to sprout up and grow forth the noble fruits of divine knowledge, as well as a perfect love for, and heartfelt praise to, God. Indeed, the fruit of eternal life was to grow forth from this Seed in their heart.” (Postilla, 199). Not only were Adam and Eve perfect in that they had no sin or death, but they would also sprout, blossom, and grow to be more perfect in loving and worshiping the God who loved them and created them.

But something insidious happened. The serpent slithered into God’s noble creation and sowed his own seed. Let’s call it the serpent-seed. The serpent seduced Adam and Eve, and they rebelled against their loving God. The serpent-seed of pride and unbelief sprouted and blossomed into the poisonous fruits of rebellion, stubbornness, fear, self-absorption, self-indulgence, hatred, and even death. And each of us is born with this seed. We inherit this serpent-seed from our parents, and they from their parents, all the way back to our first parents. In fact, when each of us is born—when any little baby is born—this harmful serpent-seed lies hidden, just waiting to sprout forth with its prickly, bitter fruits of stubbornness, disobedience, lies, rage, pride, disregard of parents, lewd and crude words and deeds, self-indulgence, and so on. Yes, we inherit this serpent-seed and its fruits from our first parents, and we pass them on to our children, to our seed.

Even we city slickers know that a small seed packs a powerful punch as it grows into, say, a large tree. A little acorn turns into a mighty oak tree complete with limbs, branches, leaves, and, yes, the fruit of more acorns—more of its own kind of fruit. That’s also the way the serpent-seed works. It started out as a small acorn of believing the lie that “you shall be like God” (Gen. 3:5). Now it has become the huge tree of a fallen humanity intent on ignoring God, always trying to refashion God into our image, and every individual thinking, in one way or another, that he or she is equivalent to God.

However, our gracious and merciful God did not want His human creatures to perish. He never has and never will. So He planted a second Seed, the Divine Seed—His beloved Son—in order to overcome the poisonous serpent-seed. Right after the fall into sin, He sowed the seed of His Gospel promise. The Seed of the woman would conquer the seed of the serpent. That Divine Seed born of the woman would stomp on and crush the serpent’s head. And like a seed planted in cold winter soil, the seed of God’s Gospel promise lay dormant for many centuries, waiting for the warmth and moisture of spring to begin sprouting, growing, and coming to fruition. Through all those centuries, God made sure that His Divine Seed would come to fruition. God’s saving Seed would come from the offspring, the seed, of Abraham, and God would bless all peoples through Him. God would raise up for King David an offspring, a Seed, Who would establish an eternal kingdom with an eternal place of worship.

Then, finally, the warm, fruitful spring of God’s saving plan came. He sowed His Divine Seed—His beloved Son—in the world as He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. Our Lord Jesus recklessly scattered the seeds of His teaching, His grace, and His mercy as He walked and talked among us, as He healed many, and as He endured the scrutiny of all who were poisoned by the serpent-seed. But most of all, our Lord Jesus, the Divine Seed, was planted into the ground of this world in His suffering and death on a cross. As Jesus said just days before He went to the cross: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn. 12:24). And just look at the fruit! Look at the great, mighty tree of life that sprouted and blossomed and now bears fruit in His Resurrection! It’s better and stronger than an oak tree!

And God’s Divine Seed of a Savior brings forth fruit of His own kind in us. Yes, the Seed of the Word made flesh is planted in us and makes us “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). That is, the Son of God is planted in us and makes us children of God. “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn. 3:2). Yes, God has re-sowed and re-planted the Seed of His image in us. From this Seed come the fruits of hungering and thirsting for God, of perfect fear, love, and trust in Him, and of heartfelt praise to Him. From this Seed come the fruits of confessing our sins and receiving His full, free, cross-won forgiveness.

Now the question is: How do you receive this Divine Seed that your Savior plants in you? It’s a good question to ponder just ten short days before Lent begins. On our Reformation banner that also gives us the themes of Pre-Lent, we see the theme "sola Scriptura"--Scripture alone. It might be more accurate to call today's theme "Word alone" since Jesus--the Word made flesh--is also God's Seed.

Will you receive the Divine Seed of your Savior as the first soil—the hard footpath soil—just letting it bounce off of your ears, just letting Satan gobble it up before it can work in you to change you and bear fruit in you? Watch out that you don’t merely hear the Message of Christ outwardly, but inwardly that Seed bounces off due to a hardened heart. That’s what the serpent-seed wants!

Or will you hear the Divine Seed as the second kind of soil—the shallow, rocky soil—letting the Seed penetrate and take root, but then letting it wither and die when the heat of trials comes your way? Remember this, though. Just as seeds in the ground need the sun’s warmth to grow, so also God makes His Divine Seed grow and bear fruit with the heat of temptations and trials. St. Peter said: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Pet. 4:12-13).

Or will you hear and receive the Divine Seed as the third soil—the one with thorn-bushes in it—receiving it with joy, but then letting worldly cares and pleasures and the anxieties of our hectic lives choke out the life that God gives in His Seed? Watch out for those prickly thorns of worldly success and wealth, and all of the ways that the world makes you anxious by compelling you to consume your time. Watch out that those many cares—those giant cares of the economy, the brutality of ISIS, unemployment, illness, or personal tragedy, or those puny cares of the coolest cell phones or the latest winners on The Voice—watch out that those many cares don’t choke out the life that our Divine Seed sows in you. Yes, our hearts need to be rescued from such prickly thorns.

Our gracious God and Father is the Divine Sower who plants the Divine Seed of His Son. And that means He plants the seed of His image and life. He plows up the hardened soil of our hearts. He breaks up the rocky soil so that His love and life can penetrate more deeply. He rescues us from the prickly, choking thorns, so that His life can grow in us. That’s why Lent draws our attention away from ourselves and places it squarely on things like Baptism and Confession, hearing the Divine Seed and praying to our God. That's why the Church gives us the Divine Service every week. And that's why we schedule times for hearing and learning the Divine Seed in Sunday School, Bible class, and Catechism class.

You see, your Lord Jesus wants to make you the good soil, so that you can receive His life and forgiveness with joy. He also wants you to sprout and grow, endure and persevere, and blossom and bear fruit, now and into eternity. So, come to the Table. Here your Lord Jesus plants Himself into you yet again. Come, receive the Divine Seed that He gives in His Body and Blood. And let it bear abundant fruit in you in faith toward Him and fervent love toward one another. Come, receive Him who overcame the serpent-seed. Come, receive the seed of His forgiveness and life, and let Him bring forth His fruit of love, mercy, and life in you. Amen.

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