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Farmer in a Box

February 16, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

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Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation this Sexagesima weekend comes from our Gospel text, where Luke records Jesus’s words, “A sower went out to sow his seed.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

Is this parable disquieting to you? I know it’s very well known, a popular parable in Christian circles, but does is make you a bit uncomfortable? You might have heard this idea before, hearing it preached as if we should be uncomfortable with the fact that the farmer is so reckless in his spreading of seed. That is fair; if the amount of seed is spread evenly between the four types of soil, the farmer is looking at about 75% waste, and I’m no farmer, but that sure sounds like poor practice, reckless farming. Usually such sermons conclude that while we may be uncomfortable, it’s actually a good thing that the farmer is so reckless in his practice. It’s not that this is wrong – in fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve preached this text this way before. However, the more I’ve thought about it, the more I think that the reason why we might squirm at this parable is because it demonstrates how little control we have in life.

Think about it. The farmer goes out and scatters the seed, carelessly, with little regard for where the seed drops. Some falls right on the path – think hard, impacted earth that the seed has virtually no chance of penetrating. Some falls on rocks, and while it may sprout, it has no root system to support it, and those plants wither quickly. Some falls on soil that is infested with weeds, and those weeds compete with the intended crop for water, nutrients, and sunlight, and are eventually choked out. But some falls on good, nutrient-rich soil – fertile, tilled earthed in which the seed can grow and thrive into a healthy, fruitful plant.

And we need not wonder about what the different elements of the parable represent. Thanks to Jesus’s explanation in our text, we know. He tells us, “The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.”

Did you hear anything about watering? How about making the sun to shine? Anything in there about keeping away pests and disease and blight? Did you hear a single syllable about the farmer making that seed grow? Nope. That’s all conspicuously absent. We Christians are the farmers, and our call is to spread the Word of God, both Law and Gospel, as widely and recklessly as possible, but we can no more cause that seed to grow than the sun to shine or the rain to fall. And that’s exceedingly frustrating.

It’s frustrating because, like me, you’ve got loved ones – family, close friends – who do not share our faith. There are those whom we dearly love and care for, that we desperately want to be believers, so that they can receive the same gifts of God that we do week in and week out, but more importantly, so that we will be with them in the life of the world to come, in the presence of our God and Lord for all eternity. We’ve witnessed to them, brought them to church, ensured they’ve heard the Word of hope that is Jesus Christ, the world’s only Redeemer … and still, they aren’t there yet.

Don’t you just wish you could … force that person to believe? Don’t you just wish that you could make God make them believe? I know I do. Well intentioned as that is, when you think about it, it’s really rather prideful, and I say that because what we are trying to do, even if we don’t realize it, is to put God in a box, to set parameters on Him, and make Him do what we want Him to do.

But then, that shouldn’t come as any surprise, because that’s what Man has always done. Ever since Adam’s failure and fall into sin, our will, our desires have not been in line with God’s. Where He wanted good, we wanted evil, and where He wanted life, we wanted death. Our default state as humanity is to be at odds with God – indeed, to want to be gods ourselves, to have the control. This is part of the Old Adam’s nature within us … and on this side of eternity, we cannot be fully free of him. Paraphrasing what Luther once said, “In remembering our baptisms anew each morning, we once again drown the Old Adam … problem is, he’s a good swimmer.”

This is why even Christians have issues with control and pride. Our desire for our neighbors and loved ones to come to Christ is inherently good, well-intentioned, but to think that we can make that seed blossom and bloom and grow is the Old Adam screaming inside us. We cannot make that seed grow. We cannot force them to believe, and we cannot believe on another person’s behalf, no matter how much we want to. God is God, and we are not. He cannot be put in a box; He moves where and when He pleases, and whatever He does, He is right to do it. The Old Adam hates this … he wants to have control, and the fact that he doesn’t terrifies him, BUT … to those who have the Spirit of the living God dwelling inside of them … to us, who have been baptized into Jesus’s death and resurrection … who have heard the Word of God and keep it in repentance and faith, we know that we also have God’s Word of promise.

We have the promise that we heard in our Old Testament text, where YHWH promises, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Regardless of the outcome we want, we have the promise that His Word, the seed which He scatters through our work, will accomplish what He wants it to accomplish.

It’s a promise that we can trust, because He has been faithful in keeping it so far. You are, after all, sitting here once again, hearing His Word being proclaimed, and you are not turning away. More than this, however, is how He sent His Word … and how that Word took on human flesh, becoming one of us. It was His purpose that the incarnate Word be the Lamb of God, taking the full weight of all human sin, and be killed with it. As Jesus cried out, “It is finished” from the cross of Calvary, we see how He accomplished the purpose for which the Father had sent Him: to atone for all sinful mankind, putting to death the Old Adam so that God and man can be reconciled. He succeeded! It is done! Your sins and mine are forgiven because of what Jesus did!

That message, incidentally, is the seed which we are called to spread far and wide. We can’t make that seed grow, but we also don’t see all ends. We don’t know if that seed has fallen on the path, or if it is just taking a while to sprout. We don’t know, but God does, and His promise remains, even if it means waiting for a while.

Let’s face it – we hate not being in control. Whether it’s when our bodies don’t do what we want them to, when our parents or children don’t listen, or when dear loved ones seemingly ignore the seed of God’s Word that we try to sow in them, we hate it. But the reality is that we’ve never had control – that notion is but an illusion. We cannot put God in a box because He is God and we are not. We, the farmers who spread His Word, are in the box, and God is in full control. That’s a good thing, because we are not the savior of our neighbors’ souls. Jesus is.

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

Tags: Luke 8:4-15