A Homily for Sexagesima
February 4, 2018
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Luke 8:4-15
Let the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen
This morning’s Gospel lesson has two important players or characters – the seed which is the Word of God, and the soil, or our hearts. It is important to understand how these two elements interact. First – the seed which is the Word of God.
There’s an old joke, that, if I am honest, is a little sad. There was a social Anglican, who would go to church as he pleased but knew the Prayer Book quite well. One day a friend gave him a copy of the Bible. Of course, he had a Bible sitting on his shelf collecting dust, but wanting to honor his friend he read some of the Bible given to him. A few weeks later the friend asked if he’d taken a look at it, to which the man responds “yes! You know what’s so great about it? How much the Bible quotes the Book of Common Prayer is in it!”
I hope you enjoy the joke, but understand why our dear Anglican friend’s position is troubling. I tell this story because to be a practicing Anglican is to be a person of the Word, our worship and devotional life is saturated with hearing, reading, marking, learning, and inwardly digesting the word of God that we may know Him better and dwell with Him more fully. Just to drive home this fact in your mind 40-50% of the read words in our services of worship are straight out of scripture, whether it be Psalms, canticles, scripture reading, or words of comfort, the prayer book is rich with scripture.
I know that I’ve preached a lot on the importance of reading scripture, of letting it be your minds being transformed by the word of God – but our parable today brings us back to this theme and is worth stopping and thinking about especially as we head into Lent.
Lent is not merely a season of giving up something so we can prove that we have great self-will. If this is how you approach the season, you are better off not doing it. No, Lent is a time of growing in the grace and goodness of the Lord. Of letting that grace replace those things that you have raised up as gods. Those things which you have come to hold to closely in your heart that distract you from serving our Lord the Sovereign God.
A part of that learning, a part of the delving deeper into our trust in God is becoming steeped in the word, is learning to become the plant that bears fruit 100-fold. To do that we become constantly in the word of God, we let it fill our hearts and minds, that it would form who we are.
Now, let us digest briefly what the Word of God is. It is not simply the text of the Bible, although that is the Word of God, if we remember the Christmas Gospel, the beautiful passage from John 1 that poetically describes the word becoming flesh, we realize that Christ is the summation of that Word. He embodies the goodness, truth, mercy, justice, and wisdom of the Lord. He is not there to destroy the law but to complete it.
So, first and for most if we are going to have hearts that let the seed implant, grow, and put forth fruit we must be walking with Christ, we must have a relationship with Him.
The Christian faith is dichotomist. It holds these two truths in tension with each other. Christ came to redeem for himself a people – a church. The church is His people, set aside to serve and glorify Him. But we are not only redeemed as a body, irresponsible of our own walk with Him, but we must also be walking with Him as individuals.
It may be said that one of the problems with American Evangelical Christianity is that they have over emphasized this personal relationship with Christ. There is only the individual and Christ, but this attitude of being resolutely independent is not helpful. However, on the other side those who take a Catholic approach end up having the opposite but equally problematic view. Instead of walking with Christ in their private lives and in the body of Christ they trust only in the body.
We need to be active members within the body of Christ, performing as the feet, or mouths or ears or noses or hands, but we must also be walking with Christ in our private lives. It is not a question of either or. Christ is redeeming for himself a people, a body, but that body is made up of individuals.
So, as we enter Lent our hearts and minds are being turned away from those things that we hold up and get in the way of our walk with Christ. Yet, the Word of God refers not only to our prayer life, or thinking nice thoughts about Jesus, but delving into the Holy Word of God, delving into scriptures.
There is a strange misconception that is going around these days. There is this idea that if you just pray or sit real quietly, you’ll come to know Christ, he’ll speak to you in the quiet. I like my quietude, long walks alone to pray about, think on, and process those challenges I face, to continually offer my daily challenges up to the Lord. These times and beautiful and helpful, but be careful of the quiet voice in your head that tells you what to do. This may be your conscience speaking with the Holy Spirit or it may be something more insidious.
No, we come to know Christ through the process of reading the word of God. He will not contradict the words you read, but rather challenge you to grow in His grace.
There was an ancient heresy called Marcionism. Although they accepted Christ as savior and God, they rejected the Old Testament. They believed that Christ was a fundamentally different God than that which was revealed in the Old Testament. However, this belief flies in the face of what Christ himself taught, and the Christian faith.
The nature of God does not change. As Christians we believe that everything since the dawn of man has been pointing towards Christ’s coming into the world. Where Adam failed to be a good and valid representation or image bearer of God, Christ perfectly fulfilled this roll. It was in the curse of Adam that Christ was promised and it is in dying for the sins of Adam and the whole world, he repaired that damaged relation between God and man.
So, because of this belief, we read not only the Gospels and the Epistle, but the whole canon of scripture. We read the histories, prophecies, and poetry of the Old Testament and we delve into a deeper understanding of the nature of God. We read the Gospels, the Acts, Revelation, and The Epistles that we would know what Christ has done for us. This shapes our understanding of who the Lord is, this tells us how Chris came to fulfill the Law, and the nature of the whole Trinity, because God does not change. He was the same at the forming of the earth, and will be the same when Christ comes again to judge the living and the dead. This is a very good promise.
Now, we have delved deeply into the two-fold nature of the Word of God. How the seed in this lesson refers to Christ as the Word of God, and how he is revealed in Scripture. We understand that the Word of God also refers directly to that same scripture how reading those words shape and form our hearts and minds and draw us into a deeper relationship with Christ.
What of the ground on to which is fell? We know this parable well, we know that the seed falls on the path, on rocks, or among thorns, all of which can hamper the growing of the seed in our hearts and how this hamper our growth in the grace of God. We also know, and desire that when the seed of the Word of God comes upon us that it would be planted in the good soil of a willing heart.
Upon the pathway, the devil can distract us from the Good work that God has ordained for us. How often do we sit down to read the word and have a myriad of distractions pop up? How often do we go to pray to the Lord and our mind wanders every which way?
Upon the rocks, reminds us of the hardness of our hearts, how, even when we are desperate to grow in the Lord we can grow cold and hard to his goodness and mercy. How we can believe the lies of the devil that we are not good enough and as such God will never love us. We are not good enough, but despite this, God loves us tremendously! Let that truth soften your heart.
The thorns that choke us out are those cares of the world that we make into false gods, that we run after instead of running after the Lord and trusting in His mercy.
So, if you’re struggling today is all hope lost?
Far be it from the truth! No, every day we have new mercies, every day we are given the chance to repent from the coldness of our hearts and run back to the Lord. Pray that the Holy Spirit would be working in our hearts, would be tilling the hard soil until that tender plant grows big and strong.
Today, you may only be beginning in this process or you may have been on this road many years, but do not grow weary and discouraged.
The monks of old had a habit of reminding themselves that every time they laid down at the end of the day that they were to die to themselves, to die to all the sins from that day, so that in the morning when they rose, they would rise with Christ. This is a reminder to us, that we too might continually be dying to those worldly desires, and rising to the glory of the Lord.
So, as Lent is coming to us, may each of us be in prayer that the Lord would show us the ways in which we have failed to love and trust Him. May he be gently correcting our hearts and minds so that we would desire to Glorify God, instead of seeking our own glory.
A final practical thought: make time daily to read the scriptures. Read them outloud, that you may hear them daily. Learn to mark them, if all you have is an old family Bible, buy a good readable translation that you can mark up. If you need recommendations, ask me. Learn the scriptures and treasure them in the inward parts of your heart. There are gems of goodness throughout the scripture, there is that which you will need to wrestle with. There is that will encourage you and prod you to repentance. Let it all work steadily in your heart.
So as Lent commences, let us with glad hearts learn to better hearing, reading, marking, learning, and inwardly digesting the word of God that we may know the Word of God who became incarnate for us. That we might have a deeper walk with Him. Fleeing from our sin and resting the totality of our hope on Him alone.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.