When the Gospel Takes Root, the Christian Bears Fruit
Pastor Peter Metzger First Lutheran Church Lake Geneva, WI July 30, 2017 Matthew 13:1-8, 18-23 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” When the Gospel Takes Root, the Christian Bears Fruit When my wife and I got home from vacation earlier this week, we did what so many do – we dumped all our luggage in the middle of the living room floor and then we checked on the rest of the house to make sure everything was alright. We grabbed the mail, turned the AC back on, and then we went outside to check out the yard. See, earlier this year we planted several kinds of flowers, a few shrubs, a couple saplings and our very first vegetable garden. You can probably imagine the state of our plants after having been gone for two weeks. A couple of the flowers that I had tried to transplant just before leaving for vacation were shriveled up and dead; they hadn’t taken root. The new lilac that I had planted along the fence line was swarmed with ivy to the point that I couldn’t even see it anymore and when I tried to pull the ivy off, I found that it had wrapped itself so tightly around my lilac that I couldn’t just pull because I’d kill the lilac in the process. But then there was the vegetable garden – a raised bed with fresh, clean fill, sitting in full sun and – from what our neighbors tell us – gently watered by afternoon rains most of the days we were gone. The sunflowers that didn’t reach my knees when we left are now almost out of my reach! The zucchini that had just started flowering has produced fruit the size of my forearm! The garden flourished in our absence, which is exactly what you would hope, right? You don’t plant something expecting it to fail. You don’t plant flowers because you like the way they look withered on the ground, and you don’t plant a garden without hope that it will yield a harvest. In the same way, when God plants his Word in our hearts, he expects it to grow. In fact, he promises as much through the prophet Isaiah: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”1 What God says through Isaiah here is the same thing that Jesus communicating when he told the parable of the sower and the seed. In both cases God wants you to know that his Word works; it does what it’s supposed to do – it creates faith, causes us to grow in that faith, and impels us to produce fruit in keeping with that faith. Now maybe that’s elementary to you – maybe you’ve heard before that the Word works faith in our hearts – but do you always believe it? When you’re faced with unthinkable tragedy and are searching for answers, is God’s Word the first place you go to find strength? If you were fully convinced that God’s Word works, it would be a no-brainer; where else would you go to find comfort in tragedy? So, why is it, then, that we might turn to the bottle, or to our friends and family to find a comfort that only God can give? What do you do when you feel like your life is aimless and you’re drifting without purpose? If you had full confidence in the Word’s ability to work, then that’s where you would be – in personal devotion with the Word in your mouth and on your heart, instead of searching for a new career or hobby or friendship to provide the fulfillment that you’re looking for. See, as much as Jesus is telling us in this parable that the Word works, he is also warning us about the obstacles that we put in the way of the Word, like when we “receive it with joy” at first, but don’t develop our roots by reading the Word or studying and meditating on it day and night, so that when trouble or persecution comes we get frustrated with God or afraid and we stop putting our trust in him. Or like when we allow the “worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth [to] choke the word,” choosing to focus on our earthly lives or our material possessions to the exclusion of God. The peonies that I transplanted before I left for vacation died because I didn’t give them a chance to take root. If my lilac gets choked out by the ivy that I let creep in, then that’s my fault; it’s my neglect and my failure that killed it. It was growing all on its own. All I had to do was tend it and foster the life that was already there. That’s what Jesus tells us about our faith. The Word works all on its own. When God plants it in your heart it grows, but you must be careful not to neglect it or those worries and concerns, those worldly distractions will come and choke it out. Listen again to the way that Jesus explained the seed that grew and flourished and bore abundant fruit. He says, “The seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it.”2 Not 1 Isaiah 55:10-11 2 Matthew 13:23 “understanding” in the sense of a theoretical knowledge, but a deeply personal acceptance of something as being true, as Luke says when he records this same parable: “The seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.”3 Tend the gift that God has given you. Cherish the Word that he has planted in your heart. Remove the obstacles of worry and worldly concerns. Retain the Word, i.e. hold it close, cling to it; seek to understand it on a deeper and more personal level and see the kind of fruit that God will cause to grow in your life. After all, that’s what you hope for when you plant a seed, right? You want it to grow and bear fruit. I want my garden to produce zucchinis and cucumbers and tomatoes; that’s why I planted it! In the same way God created you to bear abundant fruit, to produce “a crop – a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”4 Now Jesus doesn’t get into exactly what those fruits look like and I, for one, am glad he doesn’t. I love the image of plants bearing seed according to their individual kinds because it helps me to understand that I shouldn’t look for the same kind of fruit from every person, and – even more personally – it means that I don’t have to try to produce the same fruit as anyone else. You don’t look for sunflowers from a zucchini plant or cucumbers from a cantaloupe. In the same way God doesn’t look for the same things from each of us. As Paul says in Romans: “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, the teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”5 God has given us each different gifts, and by the faith planted in our hearts through his Word he expects to see those gifts used. On the one hand, that’s an incredible encouragement to know that God expects from us only what he has already given to us. On the other hand, it makes me swallow hard when I think of the ways that I have squandered the gifts he’s given me, wondering whether I’ve produced a crop even twice what was sown, let alone the 30, 60 or 100 times that Jesus referenced in his parable. It is at times like that that I truly appreciate seeing examples of this parable in real life, like when Paul went to Corinth for the first time. Acts 18 tells us that Paul was a tentmaker and that’s what he did while he was there, but, in a truer sense, he was a sower of the seed; he went and shared a special message with anyone who would listen. In this case, it wasn’t the ones you would expect or hope who listened; the Jews who had the Bible and lived outward lives as believers rejected the news that Paul brought with him. But the Gentile Greeks, who had lived immoral lives and in no way lived up to the expectations of God in his Word, they believed what Paul was saying; they believed that Jesus was their Messiah, i.e. God’s long-promised Savior. They 3 Luke 8:15 4 Matthew 13:8 5 Romans 12:6-8 believed that in Baptism all their sins were washed away. They believed that they no longer had to fear God’s anger but that they could live at peace with him because of Jesus. Friends, that’s the same Word, that’s the same seed that God has planted in your hearts and is continuing to nourish as you hear the same promise today. Because you could not be perfect, Jesus came to be perfect for you. Because you could not afford the cost of your rebellion, distraction, worry and sin, Jesus paid it for you. Because you were dead in your transgressions and sins, Jesus has come to plant in your hearts the seed of his Word and make you alive in him, able to follow in his footsteps, albeit imperfectly but nevertheless given the gift to produce a crop, fruits of faith in response to his love. What that will look like for each of you exactly, I can’t say. What I can tell you is what Jesus does in this parable: hear the Word and understand it; retain it and persevere in it. Tend the faith that God has given you and stand back in awe and wonder at the fruit he will produce in you. Amen.