Sermon: Sexagesima.2012

Sexagesima (Pre-Lent)
Luke 8.4-15

In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Seed / is the Word of God.

Brethren, Lent is fast approaching. The Church has given us these three “Gesima” Sundays to ready our hearts, or at least our minds. And what a gift it is! / This is our tendency as humans / to overlook things. Lent should not be overlooked. The Church is waking us up, so that when the time comes (Ash Wednesday is just a week and a half away), when that day comes, / we will be ready for it. The Church offers that blessing, and you, this morning are hearing the wake-up call.

But the Church is only the Church; we are only human. Our Fathers in Lutheranism and our Fathers in the Early Church, they too / were merely human. Warning and preparation / is all that we are capable of; we cannot go beyond that. But in the end, we must go beyond that. We must make it to Lent (and then, of course, all the way beyond Lent to Easter—but I'm getting a bit ahead of us.) The point is: without the Word of God, / and the spiritual, divine power that the Word of God has, the Church would useless. We would be no better than a noisy gong or clanging cymbal. Our own power, our own words, no matter how convincing or eloquent they may be, our words are just words, just language.

Lent, is a 40 day spiritual journey. Just like the Israelites journeyed 40 years through the wilderness, / and more importantly, just like Jesus journeyed to the cross, so we are going on a journey soon (and, in fact, we are already on that journey). Be ready, and remind others also to be ready for the Lenten journey.

The first step in planning a successful journey / is to do the obvious thing and / review the map, to actually know where you are going and how to get there. That happened for us, last week. On Septuagesima Sunday (which means “about 70 days” till Easter). In the Gospel reading, our Leader, our Lord Jesus showed us that the way to Easter, that is, the way, the road, the path, to the Resurrection (both Jesus' resurrection and our resurrection), that path is not by our merits or rewards, but only by grace. We got an idea that there would be suffering involved with this journey, though not necessarily our suffering: Someone else was going to bear the heat of the day, and we were going to reap the rewards of Another's labor. Turns out, as we know, Jesus Himself will be working on our behalf and the suffering that is coming will be His to bear; / but we'll get back to that on Good Friday.

Another step in proper preparation for a journey / is to take an inventory of your resources; / to know how you will be sustained along the way. And that / is what we are doing here this morning, on Sexagesima (or “about 60 days” from Easter). But I'll get back to that in moment.

The final step in readying yourself for a journey is simply to look back over all your preparation and all your gathering and planning, / and just pray, and trust that God's will is done when you are out there, out of your comfort zone and away from anything familiar. That final step is for next week, called Quinquagesima (or about 50 days till Easter). We will be given a prayer, actually, sometimes called the Jesus Prayer, which we can pray not only at the outset of our journey, but every single step along the way, and it never gets old.

But for today, we gather our resources. What is it, Lord, that will sustain us through our fasting and praying in the wilderness of Lent? Certainly we will all return here, to the oasis at St John's, every Sunday in Lent, / but things will be different. Most of the chanting and a lot of the organ music, which adorn our regular services will be absent. No Gloria in Excelsis, no Alleluias, no flower arrangements beautifying the altar and chancel. Purple and plain. Simple.

But all this is not without a purpose. Again, the Church is training us. On Ash Wednesday, Jesus will remind us of something we ought never to forget, / that man does not live on bread alone, but on every Word that proceeds from the Mouth of God.

Our resources, the things which sustain us here in this world, until we reach our heavenly home, those resources are simple, yet very powerful. It's not the singing. It's not the ceremonies. It's not anything that we bring or do here, in fact. It's the Word of God, and the Bread of Life.

What are our resources? Word and Sacrament. The Church is teaching us this important lesson this morning by offering us the Words of Jesus in Luke, chapter 8. Hear them again:
And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to [Jesus], he said in a parable, “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. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. 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.” And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, 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.’ Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 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. 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. 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. 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.

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear...the good soil, / they are those who, hearing the Word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.”

What will sustain you through Lent (and throughout your whole journey here in this life) / is only the Word of God. The Church exists to encourage and support you (and that's great), but the Church is not the end, Jesus is the end, His Word is more than encouragement. His Word is Life and Peace. Listen to Him. Repent of your prejudices and your preferences, and just listen to Jesus. If you understand this, this most important part of the Christian life (hearing the Word of God), / then you are well prepared, and this day in the Church Year has been a great benefit to you, even if it is just a reminder.

The Seed, which takes root in you in Baptism, which grows with the nutrients of the Blood of the Lamb who was slain on the cross, that Seed is the Word of God, and the Word of the Lord endures forever. If you have this Seed, you likewise will endure forever. Hold fast, therefore, to that Seed. The devil and the world will come tempting you, trying to choke the Seed out of you. Resist them. Even your own sinful nature will try to convince you, that if you don't understand something or you don't particularly like something, it will try to convince you that the Seed must be discarded for something else more suitable.

On behalf of the Church throughout the centuries, I say to you: be warned, be ready. This is the journey: who will remain faithful, who will be holding fast the Seed in the end?

God grant it to us, also.

In Jesus' name. Amen.

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