24 January 2008

A Study for Sexagesima (A bit late and from yesteryear)

Oremus. (The old way)
O God, who seest that we put not our trust in anything that we do, mercifully grant that by Thy power we may be defended against all adversity; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord. (TLH)

Oremus. (The new way)
O God, the strength of all who put their trust in You, mercifully grant that by Your power we may be defended against all adversity; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. (LSB)

Liturgical Context

This period of the Church Year is our “narthex,” our entrance, into the season of Lent, a time for us to pause before we begin our pilgrimage to Calvary and the empty tomb. The names of the three Sundays in this mini-season are markers telling us about how many days there are before our celebration of Easter: Septuagesima (70), Sexagesima (60), and Quinquagesima (50). Each of the three Sundays focuses on one of the three Sola’s of Lutheranism. The first week we will hear how we are saved by Grace Alone (Sola Gratia), the next week of Scripture Alone (Sola Scriptura), and finally we consider the importance of Baptism and how we are saved by Faith Alone (Sola Fide). With our eyes focused on how God works to save us, we are prepared to enter the penitential season of Lent. -- Bishop Laache, Book of Family Prayer, p. 162.


Isaiah 55:10-13 / Hebrews 4:9-13 / Luke 8:4-15

The theme of the day is clearly the power of the Word of God! The old introit sounds the theme in the verse: “We have heard with our ears, O God: our fathers have told us what deeds You performed in their days!” Isaiah reminds us the Word that is sent forth from God’s mouth does not return empty, but accomplishes the purposes for which He sent it. Should the Word be taken here as in the sense of John 1? For surely the Eternal Word did not return empty! He accomplished the work His Father gave Him to do – John 17! On the other hand, the words of the disciples (also John 17) is precisely what God will use to bring to faith – thus the Word also in the sense of the proclaimed message gets the job done. Hebrews 4 speaks of the Word of God as living and powerful and sharp – ouch! – it cuts right through to expose the thoughts and intents of the heart. No hiding from the Lord who wields this powerful Word, but all are “naked and open” to Him (“O God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known and from Whom no secrets are hid…” – Collect for Purity). These readings all set us up for the Gospel for the Day, which challenges us as we prepare for Lent and Easter to ask: how are we doing at hearing the Word of the Lord?

The Gospel Reading (slightly rearranged)

Context: Luke has just had the confrontation in the house of Simon over the “sinful woman” who had been “forgiven much” and so “loved much.” He also had mentioned that Jesus was accompanied in proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom not merely by the disciples, but by women he had “healed” of evil spirits, including Mary Magdalena, who provided for him. This picks up a theme in Luke about the eagerness of the women to hear the words of Jesus – as in Mary and Martha in Luke 10. Immediately following the parable of the sower is the parable of the lamp under a jar, and then the account of Jesus’ mother and brothers – where again, the Word of God is paramount: “My mother and brothers are those who hear the Word of God and do it!” (8:21)


Luke 8:4 ¶ And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable:
Luke 8:5 “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it.

Luke 8:11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.
Luke 8:12 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.

Seed and Word are joined together already in Isaiah 55. Luke alone has “of the air” attached to the birds. Literally “of the heavens.” That the Lord then identifies the birds with Satan fits with him being “the prince of the power of the air.” Eph 2. Our wrestling is against “spiritual wickedness in high places.” Eph 6. Thus the battle is joined against the devil, who has but one objective: to steal the Word from those who hear it lest it bear fruit, and they believe it and be saved! Note that the fruit of the Word here is faith and salvation – thus we are dealing with the Gospel in the narrow sense. Important point for later.

Luke 8:6 And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture.

Luke 8:13 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.

Psalm 1 in reverse: there moisture in abundance and so deep rooted drinking of it. Here the opposite, the Word received and even rejoiced in, but it isn’t permitted to sink its roots deep within the heart. When the kairos of testing comes, these hearers fall away – that is, they let go the Word that alone could see them through the time of testing! Would it be going too far to see in the time of testing, especially the temptations of the flesh?

Luke 8:7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it.

Luke 8:14 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.

We’ve had the devil and our sinful flesh, what else should we expect here but the world and its allurement? The hearers in this case allow the Word to be choked (literally, drowned – same fate as the swine that rush down the hill), and so to be unfruitful, not to yield salvation.

By now we are confronted by a bit of a problem, are we not? The Word, we were told, always prospers in that for which it was sent. But here the Word has failed three times and in three different instances. This shows us that we are dealing with the Gospel Word of God, which to remain Gospel must be rejectable. It has force and power indeed! But God will not allow its force or power to be other than gift. And gifts can be returned to sender, or opened and despised, or opened and rejoiced in, but then forgotten. Such is the way God chooses to bring us salvation in Jesus: a Word that shares the weakness of the cross: a rejectable, even a despisable Word! For this Word IS the Word of the Cross – of the Man who loved us unto death and through death unto resurrection!

Luke 8:8 And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Luke 8:15 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.

Catechesis at last – sorry Dale, but there it is! Those who are called “good soil” (“beautiful”) are those who hearing the Word “hold it fast:” kate÷cousin! Louw and Nida offer these comments:

kate÷cwb: to continue to believe, with the implication of acting in accordance with such belief — ‘to continue to believe and practice, to continue to follow.’ kaqw»ß pare÷dwka uJmi√n ta»ß parado/seiß kate÷cete ‘you continue to believe and practice the traditions as I passed them on to you’ 1Cor 11:2; di∆ ou∞ kai« sw¿ˆzesqe … ei˙ kate÷cete ‘by which you are saved … if you continue to believe and practice it’ 1Cor 15:2.

Thus is seems possible to translate “hold fast” as “continue to believe.” The source of their believing it is not in their having a “beautiful and good heart.” Rather, the beautiful, good heart RESULTS from their having believed (held fast to) the Word: Acts 15:9 “cleansing their hearts by faith.” So faith does the beautifying job, but that faith comes precisely from “hearing the Word” Romans 10:17.

What Jesus is after he tells us at the tail end of the parable: You got ears? Use ‘em! One is reminded of the 3rd Commandment in the Large Catechism: “It is also violated by that other crowd who listen to God’s Word as they would to any other entertainment, who only from force of habit go to hear the sermon and leave again with as little knowledge at the end of the year as at the beginning!” (I:96) What a contrast with this: “On the other hand, when we seriously ponder the Word, hear it, and put it to use, such is its power that it never departs without fruit. It always awakens new understandings, pleasure, and devotion, and it constantly creates clean hearts and minds. For the Word is not idle or dead, but effective and living.” (1:101).

Luke 8:9 ¶ And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant,
Luke 8:10 he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’

AC V: “For through the Word and the sacraments as through instruments the Holy Spirit is given, who effects faith where and when it pleases God in those who hear the gospel.” The question is whether or not the phrase should be taken as a whole, or whether the second part is a clarification of the first part. In other words, is “where and when it pleases God” to be understood precisely as “in those who hear the gospel”? I think a case could be made! AC V goes on: “that is to say, in those who hear that God, not on account of our own merits but on account of Christ, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace on account of Christ.” THIS is alone is the key that unlocks the parables, and without this key, it’s a matter of seeing and not seeing, hearing and not hearing. This is the Mystery of the Kingdom that the disciples were given that those outside did not have. The Word that is planted is the Gospel Word and its fruit is FAITH in God! The temptation is to make this parable of Jesus into a parable of the Law: the Word then being God’s instructions and the fruit being our actions of obedience to the same. Rest assured that is the native hearing it will receive. But it’s not about the Law Word; it’s about the Gospel Word. A Word of forgiveness that Satan desperately wants us not to really hear and take to heart; a Word of forgiveness that our sinful flesh can’t bring itself to trust; a Word of forgiveness that the world strives with might and main to shout down so that it will not be heard and believed, but a Word that when it is heard and held onto by faith, bears this abundant fruits: it cleanses the heart and makes it beautiful and good in the eyes of God.

Homiletical Considerations:

Who is the Jesus that is given us only in this parable? He is the Jesus who has seed to sow, a Word to plant, a message of forgiveness to be heard. He is the Jesus who suffers Himself in His Word to be rejected, for what He is giving here comes as gift alone. He is the Jesus whose Gospel, forgiving Word is assailed directly by Satan lest it be believed! He is the Jesus whose Gospel, forgiving Word is burned up by the sun when our stony hearts simply think it is too good to be true and so not to be trusted! He is the Jesus whose Gospel, forgiving Word is choked and drowned, shouted down by the distractions of worry or of pleasure in the world. He is the Jesus who is enemy of Satan, flesh, and world, and whose only weapon is the weakness of His Word of forgiveness that when it is heard, and so believed, brings forth the fruit of God’s own indestructible life inside us! What is this Word? It is the “I love you and you will be mine forever” that He shouts over you in the font! It is the “I gave myself for you” that He whispers to you with the gift of His own Body and Blood! It is the “I forgive you” that He never tires of speaking to you in the Holy Absolution. THIS is the Word that he exhorts us to use our ears to hear, for only this Word can cleanse our hearts by faith and make them “beautiful and good.” Fruit a hundred-fold indeed! You got ears? Use ‘em!


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the gift!
I really miss Wednesdays with you guys.


Christopher Esget said...

This is terrific stuff - thanks!

Which word are you referring to for "drowned"? I am reading sympnigontai, which I don't see in the pigs-off-the-cliff passage; BDAG has "choke; crowd around, press upon." But maybe I'm not catching your reference.

I really appreciate your highlighting that the fruit of faith in this text is believing. This has always caused me difficulty - now I am finally starting to get it!

William Weedon said...

Thanks, Christopher. I was referring to the cognate, pnigo, which is used in Mark 5:13.


Past Elder said...

From my own history, it has been really enlightening to come upon the understanding of the three Sundays of pre-Lent by reference to the three solas. Of course, in my younger days in the pre-conciliar RC church you won't hear that -- nor would you in my twenty some years not in any church, nor did I in WELS.

Looking back on the devotional take on Gesimatide from my youth, it's much like all the rest -- the Lutheran take isn't some radical departure but simply making clear what was there but not so clearly.

Septuagesima is spoken of more in terms of not being taken in by the works the world values but those of God, which is true enough, but misses how all of them fall under the grace of God to be offered a job in his vinyard at all!

Sexagesima is spoken of in terms of listening to the Word, but of course in the idea that the one Word is sown in two ways, Scripture and the Teaching Church.

Quinquagesima is spoken of in terms of sight, to see rightly the truth of God rather than the delusions of the world, which again is true enough, but not so clear that this true sight is by faith, without which it is useless to try to attain true sight.

Makes me wonder how Eastern Lutherans preach in the five Sunday pre-Lent of the Eastern Church.