The Third Sunday After Easter May 2, 2004
769, 799(1-4), 370, 337, 800
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Editor’s Note: The first Sunday in May is the annual Confirmation Sunday at Immanuel congregation in Mankato, MN where I currently serve. It is Immanuel’s tradition that both pastors preach a part of the sermon to the confirmands. This week’s Ministry by Mail sermon was preached at Immanuel in 2001. It is written in part by Pastor Paul D. Nolting, the senior pastor at Immanuel. Even though your own Confirmation may be many years in the past, it is my prayer that this sermon will be a blessing to you in recalling your Confirmation vows and with the Spirit’s blessing to continue in faithfulness to the vows with renewed zeal.
And when a great multitude had gathered, and they had come to Him from every city, He spoke by a parable: “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it. Some fell on rock; and as soon as it spring up, it withered away because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up with it and choked it. But others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold.” When He had said these things He cried, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
“Now the parable is this: The seed is the Word of God. Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the Devil comes and takes away the Word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.”
In Christ Jesus, the Savior whom we love and confess, dear fellow-redeemed, and especially dear confirmands:
They stood strong and stately—tall, impressive, and young. They flourished and there were many of them. They were the tall standing elm trees around the perimeter of our family farm. The trees were planted in the early years of the farm as a windbreak and they grew into an impressive stand of trees. They were so full of life, so full of green growth, so strong, so firmly rooted that surely nothing could take them down!! Oh, perhaps a very strong wind could fell them. Perhaps something as dramatic as a tornado could damage them, or someone with a saw could cut them down, but otherwise never did it seem that those trees could fall.
But those trees did fall. One by one they became sick and they died. It wasn’t a strong wind or a tornado. It wasn’t a man with a chainsaw that led to the trees’ destruction. It was a small beetle carrying a fungus that destroyed the once mighty stand of trees with Dutch Elm Disease. So big…so strong…so sure…and it only took a little bug!
Confirmands, in the many years that Confirmation has been a practice in the church, there have been thousands of young confirmands like yourselves who have stood, tall, strong, sure in their confession, and flourishing. Nothing could shatter their faith or even call it into question…except sin. The little disease of sin (which is really a huge disease, even though it often seems small) has the power to erode faith and then bring unbelief itself. Unlike those diseased trees for which there was no cure, you have a cure and protection. The cure and protection together with the nourishment for eternal life is in God’s Word.
Today we go from elm trees to the field of the Lord’s Kingdom. We turn our thoughts to the work of God’s Word in your hearts and in the hearts of everyone gathered here. On this Confirmation Day, hear the words of your Savior and GROW IN THE FIELD OF THE LORD! Part of growing in the field of the Lord is to be watchful so that we remain Rooted and weeded.
Jesus’ parable is a familiar one. In this parable Jesus describes four different places where the seed fell and four different results. In each of these four situations we are able to find great lessons for ourselves.
In the first of Jesus’ examples, the seed fell on the wayside. Jesus said that when the seed fell by the wayside it is comparable to people hearing the Word, but then the Devil comes and takes the Word from their hearts lest they believe. [vv.5,12]
This example doesn’t directly apply to you because that hasn’t happened. The Devil hasn’t managed to take the Word of God away before we believed, because here we are believing and worshipping the true God. Here we are putting our trust in His Word as a result of His grace!
There is, however, a lesson which we too should take from Jesus’ first example. Jesus’ first example teaches us that as we grow in the field of the Lord, the Devil is also there. He is waiting and watching for opportunity to do his evil work. The Devil who snatches the Word away before some can believe is the same Devil who has his sights set on you. If the Devil had been able to take the Word away from you before you were brought to faith, you can be sure that he would have done so. By the grace of God that didn’t happen. By that same overflowing grace the Lord has brought you to faith in His Word, but the Devil is still looking for every opportunity to make you his own.
The second group of seeds fell on stony ground and as soon as the seeds sprang up the tender plants withered away because they lacked moisture. Jesus tell us that these are the ones who hear and receive the Word with joy, but because they have no root, they believe for a while and when temptation comes they fall away. [vv.6,13]
You have roots! You have been given those roots through your instruction in God’s Word—instruction that began with your parents teaching you about Jesus. Your roots have grown through the formal instruction you have received during the past several years preparing you for this day. All of us have roots through our ongoing study and meditation in God’s Word. Our faith has roots by the working of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, but we dare not fool ourselves into thinking that our roots are as deep as they need to be.
We need to be well rooted—well rooted in the truth of God’s Word. Everything that you have learned is vital to your soul’s salvation. Everything you have learned is absolutely crucial to your eternal well-being because through that message of the Gospel you have forgiveness of sins and life everlasting. The Holy Spirit has sunk your faith’s roots deep into the ground, wrapping them around and causing them to cling to the truth that Jesus died for your sins.
As your faith is rooted in Christ Jesus, all of the blessings which Jesus won for you come flowing to your soul through the roots. “You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus….” (Galatians 3:26). Through faith you have the assurance that you are at peace with God. Through faith you know that the guilt of all your sins is removed. Through faith you have the confidence of your resurrection from the dead and eternity in heaven! The blessings of salvation are yours by being rooted in the Gospel of salvation! Being thus rooted is the only way to survive the onslaught of Satan. Being thus rooted is the only way not to topple in the winds of time and change and temptation. Your roots are started, you need to remain well-rooted to remain growing in the field of the Lord.
The third group of seeds fell among thorns. The seed grows with a promising start, but then the thorns and weeds spring up and choke out the plants. Jesus said these are they who hear but then are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life and they bring no fruit to maturity. [vv.7,14]
Of all the warnings that this parable provides to us, this one is the most important for you confirmands. You may not believe this, but you have led very sheltered lives thus far. Your parents have guided whom you will see and with whom you will associate. Your parents have shouldered many responsibilities so that you wouldn’t have those cares. Your parents have provided for you and have largely laid out the course of your lives. Now, as you move into the high school years and beyond, all of that will change.
In the future, you are going to meet temptations and the people who bring them. These will come to you in ways which at this time you would never imagine, but they will be there. As you grow into adulthood you will face temptations of many sorts that are different from the ones you daily face now.
There will be new responsibilities. It will be good for you to accept these responsibilities and fulfill them, but with the responsibilities will also come the temptation to become overburdened with care. If in the responsibilities of your maturing lives you begin to become so overwhelmed by them that you forget the One Thing Needful (cf: Luke 10:38-42), then those responsibilities—as good as they may be on their own—will become a weed that needs to be pulled out of your lives. If the weeds are not pulled out of your heart, they will gradually choke and kill your faith.
You need to be rooted, but also weeded. Watch and pray so that the cares of this world will not overtake the care of your souls! Fulfill your responsibilities according to the ability that God gives you, but don’t let them overtake you! Don’t let the cares of this world become so great that your faith suffocates and dies!
Jesus also mentions the riches and pleasures of this world. There are things in this world to enjoy. God gives us much. Where God gives blessings, the Devil will seek to plant the weeds of temptation trying to entice you to pursue instant gratification and to pursue self-satisfaction. Satan will sow the temptation and try to convince you that you should always be happy according to your will, that you should always seek pleasure for your self, and to demand the right to go your own way and return to what is right and God’s way only if and when it is convenient. These temptations and human tendencies are all thorns and weeds that need to pulled up out of your lives just as soon as they begin to take root. If instead, these weeds are allowed to grow, they will waste no time in choking out your faith.
Right now, your Confirmation day is before you. You can’t miss it or forget about it. In the face of temptation there may very well come a time when this day will seem so very far away. There could come times when this day will be as if it had faded completely from memory. It is at those times that you need to go out weeding and work with the Word of God to send your roots even deeper!
Be rooted and weeded. Pull out those things that want to choke your faith. Go to the Word and sink your roots ever deeper. Then stand strong and nothing—not big things, not small things—nothing can shake you from that faith which you are confessing today by God's grace. May it ever be so by His grace and good will! Amen.
In Christ Jesus, who nurtures us with His Word of grace and whose Spirit causes us to bring forth fruits of faith, dear fellow redeemed and especially Confirmands:
We are into the cycle once again. Winter has passed, spring is here. Farmers are going into their fields for planting. Soon fields will need cultivating for weed control. After a long summer of careful labor, the harvest will finally come.
A farmer nurtures his fields and the crops planted within them for he anticipates the harvest of a good crop. His livelihood depends upon it. If a farmer were to fail to prepare his fields, if he were to fail to sow new seeds, and would rely upon volunteer plants from last year’s seeding, if he were to neglect his cultivation, he could not expect, nor would he receive a good crop. Such a farmer would be written off in the agricultural community and find himself in bankruptcy.
Today, you confirmands have made the promise to remain faithful to God for a lifetime. This same promise has been made by most of us at some time in the past. Faithfulness implies fruitfulness. We have already heard about the need for developing solid roots in the Word of our God for the truth of God’s Word alone provides the foundation necessary for building our lives. We have also heard of the necessity of removing weeds from the soil of our lives for to allow sin to take root will only destroy our spiritual lives. Let us now turn to the importance of Being nurtured and fruitful.
Jesus grew up in an agricultural community. In our text He refers to the farmer and the yields of his crops to explore the principles leading to spiritual growth and productivity. Jesus speaks of the seed of His Word falling on good ground. As we learn from God’s Word, we are by nature anything but “good ground.” By nature we have a problem with sin and it manifests itself in many ways. Jesus says, “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:19). We become good ground, however, when the Spirit of God reclaims us by placing faith in our hearts through the preaching of God’s Word. It is then such a faith-filled heart which Jesus identifies as both noble and good. It is in these hearts of Spirit-created faith that the seeds of God’s truth can take root and grow.
Just as a farmer must continuously plant new seed each spring so we who by God’s grace have been brought into His kingdom must continue to plant the seeds of the Word on a regular basis. Do not allow yourselves to neglect the Means of Grace, thinking that now since you have been confirmed you have everything you need spiritually and can cut yourself loose from the Word. No, you will be challenged on a regular basis by Satan and this sinful world and you will need to the comfort, the strength, and the instruction of the Word so that you are enabled by God to keep the promises you have just made. St. Paul urges us, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).
It is by God’s grace that we are able to produce fruits of faith. Remember Jesus’ words, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). It is our prayer that you confirmands, yes, indeed, that we all might “yield a crop a hundredfold.” This will occur when we rejoice in and remain committed to our Savior and His call for us to keep His commandments (cf. John 14:15).
It is interesting to note that Jesus describes this in our text as bearing fruit “with patience.&8221; Bearing fruit for our Savior in our lives is generally not a “hurry up and get done” type of matter, nor is it a one-time effort that occurs every so often. No, just as farmer works faithfully and patiently day in and day out in expectation of a good harvest, so we are to work faithfully and patiently to bring forth a good harvest of love in our lives. If we continue Jesus’ analogy, that means that we regularly work up the soil of our hearts by daily repentance and renewed faith. It means the regular use of God’s Word as seed to produce healthy plants and the fruit of good works in our lives. It means the work of cultivation—using the Word to guide our relationships, placing others and their needs above our own, listening to one another, forgiving one another, correcting and helping one another! It means removing the weeds—avoiding the sins of this world. All this must be done with patience—why? Because we are frail human beings plagued by our own weaknesses and irritated with the weaknesses of others. But our Lord promises to work beside us and within us, just as He so graciously provided redemption for us by dying on the cross for our sins.
May our blessed Savior enable each of us to fulfill our confirmation vows to His glory and for our mutual blessing! Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.