Homily for Sexagesima at Christ Chapel, 7 February, 2021
Rev. Dr. T. Y. Hiter
St. Luke 8:4-15
Our Gospel lesson, this morning, comes from Luke. The Gospel according to Luke, that is, for he wrote another whole book that is included in the New Testament Canon: he also wrote Acts of the Apostles. Note that Luke was not an Apostle, himself. He was a Disciple in the very early days of the Church, and may even have a follower of Jesus, himself, though we have no reason to believe it. Remember how he opens his Gospel: “1 Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, 2 Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; 3 It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, 4 That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed. Luke seems to say that he has studied widely the words of those who were eyewitnesses, but that he, himself had not been there. We know he was a close associate of the apostle Paul, and we can probably assume that he learned much from that source, but we have his own word for it that he was familiar with much that was written by the original disciples and Apostles.
Luke’s Gospel was highly respected by many in the early Church, even being selected by the arch-heretic Marcion as the Gospel; the only one that the Marcionites treated as Canonical. In fact, Marcion took only Luke and Paul as being reliable, at all. He called them “the Gospel and the Apostle”, and published them together in book form, early in the 2nd century. Some believe that this Marcionite assembling of a book may have been the inspiration for Catholic Christians to assemble the first actual Canon and publish it in a book…, in other words, the New Testament.
In any event, Luke did get written. Most modern Bible Scholars believe he had access at the very least to Mark and to the lost document “Q”, and his own testimony indicates there were others. He certainly had access to all of Paul’s writing, for he had access to Paul, being his personal physician.
In this morning’s lesson, Jesus starts off speaking to a large crowd, and he starts off with a parable: “4 ¶ And when much people were gathered together, and were come to him out of every city, he spake by a parable: 5 A sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed, some fell by the way side; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it.6 And some fell upon a rock;” I won’t go on; we just read it, and without a doubt, you recognized it. The Parable of the Sower. It appears in all three of the Synoptic Gospels, and it’s widely recognized.
And, as is also not uncommon, the twelve, those disciples closest to Jesus, were far from certain what it meant, when they first heard it. “9 And his disciples asked him, saying, What might this parable be?” is how Luke relates it. Now, we mustn’t decide that based on this, the twelve were either stupid or not listening. Remember that they, like us, were there to learn. It was their job to ask for clarification. They were disciples, after all. So, they did, and he answered, and explained exactly what he had meant. “11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.”
That’s really all we need to know. He went on to explain each of the situations, but we don’t really need that, do we? The seed that falls by the wayside never has a chance. The seed that falls on rocky ground may take root, but it can never hope to flourish. The seed that falls among thorns is choked out. Only the seed that falls on good ground will flourish, and grow and bear fruit. And, as Jesus told them, the seed is the word of God.
But that, alone, causes some small amount of confusion, doesn’t it? As Christians, we grow up being told that the Bible is the Word of God, and we know from the Gospel of John, Chapter 1, verse 1 that Jesus Christ is the Word of God. So, what’s going on, here? What, exactly, is the meaning of “the word of God”? Let’s look first at the meaning of the word “word”, as it’s used in this verse. The word used is “logos”. Both in John and in Luke, the Greek is logos. “Logos” means “the expression of thought”. Not simply the naming of an object or item, but the verbal expression of a thought or an idea. As used throughout the New Testament, in dozens of instances, this is its meaning: the very conception of the message of God to man. The Bible is a human assembly of God’s revelations to man, so it is “the Word”. Jesus Christ is the embodiment of God’s message to mankind, so he, too, is “the Word” The Word; the logos, is the sum total of God’s message to us, as human beings. That, Jesus tells us in this lesson, is what gets sown.
Well, some who heard him then, and some who hear him now have never really believed that, even if they thought they understood it, which of course many did (and do) not. The seed will not take root, if the word falls on deaf ears. Some heard Jesus willingly; witnessed his miracles, but when the first heat was applied to them by friends and neighbors, not to mention the Jewish authorities and Roman rulers, they gave it up. Some hear him willingly, today, but then return to the world in a few days or weeks, dead in Spirit. Some then heard the word but never actually changed their surroundings, to nourish the words of the message. Some still don’t. It is very difficult to be a Christian and yet live among pagans. Or egregious sinners. Or people who will not try. You know who I mean. Do you have to be a member of a Church to be saved? Of course not. But what are the chances you’ll live a Christian life, if your friends are all New Age or Moslem, or atheists? Not very good. And, if you don’t live the life, you are not likely to maintain the belief that saved you. Not a law, but I think it’s a very good observation. That’s all pretty clear.
So, where do we go, from here? What’s the point of all this? “15 But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.” That’s what Luke said it meant, and it’s hard to beat. We’re the ground of Christianity. God’s word is the seed, but we are the soil. If we want to be good ground, then we must not be waste land, the property of the Devil; we must not be rocky soil, with hard hearts and mean dispositions. We must not allow our time and energies to be eaten up with worldly pursuits and things that are not of God. “An honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.” That’s who we want to be. That’s what Jesus said. Whether we encounter the Word in a Bible lesson or in a Hymn, or in a sermon doesn’t matter. It’s all the same word. The Apostles received the word directly from the word. Can we do that? We believe we can. Through prayer, we Christians say we can have a direct conversation with Jesus Christ. He told us that whenever two or three of us gathered in his name, he’d be among us. We sing “What a friend we have in Jesus”. Of course we can get “the word” directly from him. Every sermon ever preached, if prepared correctly, contains the Word. That’s where we ought to look for seed. All these. That’s why we’re Christians. That’s what we’re all about. We’re the good ground in this lesson, or we try to be.