The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Isaiah 55:10 “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, 11 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. 12 You will go but in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. 13 Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, that will endure forever.” (NASB)
Pragmatism is a philosophy primarily held by American philosophers. Pragmatism teaches that the truth or meaning of a statement is to be measured by its practical consequences. Something is deemed to be true if it works, if it achieves the desired goals. It is often and mistakenly said these days that conservative solutions (or conservativism) are true because they work. To the ear it sounds like a subtle difference, but it is not. While there is a lot of common ground between conservatism and pragmatism, the two represent two very different operating systems.
The assigned Old Testament and Gospel lessons for this morning are about the Word of God and results. In the Gospel lesson, Jesus likens His Word to a Seed sown on different kinds of soils. In some places the Word seems to be stolen away or forsaken, even inconsequential. In another places, the Word of God takes root and even thrives.
In the Old Testament lesson, Isaiah 55 the Word of God is likened unto rain and snow. Moisture falls down upon the earth and makes it bud and flourish. Some might read these two lessons and see a contradiction between the two. One yielding results the other largely a waste. One claims that the Word of God always accomplishes the purposes for which it is sent. The other, some say the Word of God can be thwarted by the old sinful world and human nature. In reality both speak of the mystery of God’s work in the church, in the world, and in the individual human being. The mystery is between God’s work and humanity’s will.
The Old Testament lesson teaches that just as water comes down from heavens and waters the earth, so too does the Word of God. “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, 11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth.”
In the Gospel lesson, the Seed, the Word of God is sowed on different kinds of soil by the Sower, who is God Himself. The Word lands on the ground (the ground being the ear, heart, and mind of a person) and regardless of what kind of soil it falls on, the Seed sets off a series of events/interactions. The Seed causes things to happen. It can cause the evil one to attack and steal away what was sown or it can take root and bring forth an abundance of fruit.
Both the Old Testament and the Gospel lesson use metaphors to describe the results of the preached Word of God. Each lesson teaches that the Word of the Lord works, not in the pragmatist sense, but rather in the sense that the Word sets in motion a series of events that God has purposed. Isaiah 55:11 couldn’t be any clearer. “It [God’s Word] will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
The Word is not true because it achieved a desired goal. The Word of God is true (“Thy Word is Truth” Jesus said) in and of itself. The truth and power is in the Word itself. It is not in the result. The Word of God does its work.
This is the mistake the America Evangelicals make. As Americans we have a strong pragmatic streak in us. We are results oriented. We think that lots of people going to church is what God really wants, so Americans created an entire industry and method to achieve that goal. If “it” (whatever new innovation) draws a crowd to an auditorium on Sunday morning, then it must be God who draws them there because a big crowd is God wants. The belief that God wants big crowds is proven true, the argument goes, by the end results.
But the Bible teaches and our two lessons show that the Word of the Lord works not some of the time, but all of the time. It always accomplishes what the Lord purposes to do. The Word of God always succeeds in doing the thing for which the Lord sends it.
That is the point of the metaphor of rain and snow. It’s axiomatic. When water comes down from heaven, it always waters the earth. Water soaks in to the ground and produces fruit. If it doesn’t soak into the ground because it’s too saturated or too hard and rocky, the water moves to where it is needed (from the synagogue to the market place for example as was the case with the Gospel). Water seeks its own level, its own place on the earth. It will move on till it finds its spot.
Now at the time Isaiah was inspired to preach and write the book that bears his name, things weren’t going all that well. It didn’t look like God’s Word was accomplishing anything. Isaiah had been preaching the Law and Gospel and a message of repentance. If anyone had the right to claim that the empirical evidence indicated that the Word of God wasn’t efficacious, it would have been Isaiah and his faithful colleagues. They risked their careers, life, and limb calling kings and commoners alike to return to right worship to avoid the judgment of the Lord God.
“6 Seek the Lord while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way And the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the Lord, And He will have compassion on him, And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.”
The call to repent and the preaching of the Gospel seemed to be to no avail. They weren’t repenting. As you know, God sent the Babylonians who defeated the Hebrews and subjugated.
The people of Israel to whom the prophet Isaiah was speaking were helpless to help themselves (Is 55:1). They had become a vineyard that only produced worthless grapes (Is. 5:1–7). They had forgotten that they were not a people unto themselves. They were the church, the people of the Lord God, called and set apart from the rest of the world.
In the parable of the Seed and soils, the same Seed falls on the earth and lands on different kinds of soil. Lesson one of the parable. The Word of God is to be spoken, published at every opportunity, regardless of the odds of it taking root. God sends His Word and it accomplishes the purpose for which He sends it. That is an article of faith. Sometimes we are told by Scripture what God’s purpose was. We are taught that the wholesale rejection of the Jews, became the catalyst for preaching to the Gentiles and their reception of the Gospel.
But purposes or motives for doing something are often hidden from us and that is no place more true than the hidden will of God. Isaiah 55 says that is so. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.” (8-9)
The second thing to note about the parable is that ground is ground. It doesn’t produce anything without seeds. That is certainly true in regard to God’s Word. A hard path, rocky ground, weed ridden ground, and well prepared ground do not produce anything without a seed. True Christian faith, a right understanding, contrite hearts, repentance, and good works are the fruits of the Seed. Without the Law and Gospel, the Seed there is no saving faith.
In this parable Jesus is teaching us why more are baptized than are confirmed in the Church. He is teaching us why there are more people who have been confirmed in the faith, than there are in church attendance on any given Sunday.
Sometimes the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in the heart. Sometimes it’s because the person did not allow the root to sink deep into the heart and mind, so when things got bad, he falls away. Sometimes it is because the worries and wealth of this world become more important than the Word of God and faith us squeezed out.
The parable of the Seed and Soil is not so much an evangelism parable as it is a Christian education, means of grace, and worship parable. It teaches us how important church, worship, and learning the Word of God is to the health and well being of Christian faith. Luther had a simple way of putting it. “When the Word of God fails to be in our hearts and on our lips, the devil rushes in and does His damage.”
The good soil of the faithful Christian is good soil because the Word of God makes His way deep into the heart of the believer and the believer takes refuge in the Word of God. Jesus said, “This is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. Christian faith needs to be fed and when fed it grows in understanding and bears more fruit.
In the Old Testament the prophet Isaiah calls the people to return to the Lord God, to right belief and right worship. Eventually they did repent, but it required 80 years in slavery.
In the Gospel lesson Jesus isn’t teaching us to seek out the good soil for His Word. He is teaching us why it is that having heard the Word of God, some fall away from the faith and is telling us what it means to be good soil, namely those who remain faithful and grow in understanding. Only God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit causes you to bear good fruit. St. Paul wrote (Gal. 2:20), “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.”
The Church belongs to God the Father Son, and Holy Spirit. We belong to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that’s why we were baptized in His Trinitarian name. He paid for us with His blood and He is free to deal with us in any way He sees right and good. What He purposes for us is always good and right, though we may not think so at the time.
The promise we rejoice in, is the promise of forgiveness, salvation, and life – peace and rejoicing just as Isaiah said in the final verses of our text. 13 “Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, that will endure forever.”
We are God’s people. (Romans 8″16-17) “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.”
Come what may of our country, of our congregations, and of our families in this chaotic mess, and in whatever challenges you face, The Word of God is accomplishing the purpose for which it was sent into your life for your sins are forgiven you.
May the Peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.