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Facing Adversity (St. Luke 8.4-15)

Sexagesima, Sixty Days to Easter

 “Facing Adversity”
Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor  

St. Luke 8.4-15

07 February 2021

 

+ In the Name of Jesus +

If you were to join us for adult Bible Class on Sunday mornings in the Parish Center, you would be studying St. Luke’s Gospel, the fourth chapter. What happens to Jesus in Luke 4 fulfills the warning contained in the parable of the Sower of the Seed heard in today’s Holy Gospel. A lot of seed is sown, but good fruit does not appear, instead Jesus and His Word are fought against. The sown seed faces adversity – hardship, harsh conditions, danger, and difficulty.

St. Luke reports that Jesus, after returning in the power of the Spirit from His temptation by Satan in the wilderness, went through all the countryside of Galilee, and as He began teaching in the synagogues, He was “being glorified by all.” Sounds good! Jesus’ agenda was to proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom, and to heal every disease and every affliction among the people. (Mt. 4.23) Sounds like everything should add up to Jesus being glorified by the people.

Jesus comes then to Nazareth, where He had been raised by Joseph and Mary. As was His custom, Jesus goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath, reads from the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor… to proclaim liberty to the captives… recovering of sight to the blind… to set at liberty those who are oppressed… to proclaim the [Jubilee] year of the Lord’s favor.” (Lk. 4.18-19) He sits down to teach, and with all eyes on Him, Jesus says – “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Lk. 4.21) In your ears, it has been fulfilled by the one speaking it.

Now the implications for the faithful gathered at Nazareth were not lost on them. They heard the reports from the rest of Galilee – about Jesus healing every disease, every affliction. And the good news about the Kingdom of God coming – which for people of first century Israel usually meant an end to the Roman occupation and a restoration of Israel as its own kingdom. All of these things are results one can see. They want to see these good things happen. Instead they hear that they are poor, captive, blind, the oppressed in need of divine help. Sinners do not like to be told they are sinners.

So the people grumble against the preacher. They bring up old rumors. This is Joseph’s son – the illegitimate one from when Mary showed up pregnant so many years ago. And they think to themselves – Physician, heal yourself. Heal us, here in your hometown, like you’ve been healing others around Galilee. We want to see some good out of you, Jesus, before we believe your Word.

It doesn’t go well for Jesus from there. No prophet is acceptable in his fatherland, his hometown. Even the prophets of old were rejected by Israel and ended up healing Gentiles, says Jesus. This angers the Nazareth crowd, and they try to murder Jesus in wrath by pushing Him over the local cliff edge to His death. But He makes His way out of the crowd alive and begins walking onward to Capernaum, shaking the dust of Nazareth off His feet, no doubt. There He encounters the demon possessed and many more people to be healed of many diseases and maladies. The devil is relentless.

Some seed falls on the path and is eaten by the devil’s birds. Some seed falls on rocky soil and burns up under trial and temptation. Some seed falls among the thorns and are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. Adversity faces the sewing of the seed, and the sower of the seed – the planting of God’s Word.

And, the sower of the Word just sews recklessly, wherever the seed may fall, He does not care. God’s Word is for the entire world. But the world and the devil work against that Word, against Jesus and the coming of His Kingdom. Even in the preacher’s hometown it meets resistance and rejection and adversity.

So, the Old Testament prophets who proclaimed the future Christ to come for the blessing of the entire world were rejected. Persecuted. Jailed. Murdered.

The Christ Himself who came to be the Savior of all was rejected by His own people, “He came to His own, but His own received Him not.” He would suffer, be crucified, die, and would be buried. Like a seed into the ground.

His apostles and preachers are promised no better. There will be adversity. No servant can expect any better treatment than his master receives.

This is St. Paul’s story. He sews the seed of the Word of God across the Roman Empire. He preaches Christ crucified for sinners. To Jews and to Gentiles. In synagogues and in pagan temples, in great cities and in small towns. What can he boast of? Riches, fame? Huge numerical success everywhere? No. Great labors, imprisonments, countless beatings, often near death. Five times given forty lashes by the whip. Beaten with rods. Stoned once. Shipwrecked. Danger on the journey from rivers, robbers, Jews, Gentiles, hunger, cold, exposure. And beyond that, he is anxious for the Christians the Gospel has sprouted because they will face this adversity. His Lord tells him, yes you suffer attack from Satan for being a preacher of the Word of the Gospel – but “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Jesus’ power – His Word – is made perfect in weakness. It is sewn in dishonor. It faces adversity, attack, even hatred. It is a cross shaped power that God wields – that appears weak and powerless in the world.

The Word in truth is pure and good, and by its very nature can do nothing but bear fruit. The fact, however, that it does not bear fruit everywhere is not the fault of God and His Word but the fault of the soil – people’s corrupted hearts. Your sin-sick heart and mine. We are unclean and impure, and by our sinful nature we will fall away from the saving Word of God under duress, or allow ourselves to be choked by cares, riches, and pleasures of this life – not to mention Satan attacks as he sews doubt and a bad conscience in your hearts and minds.

Nazareth. Galilee. Israel. The Roman Empire. Terre Haute. Modern America. The Word has been sown – Jesus has come and been sown in the earth for our sake. And the Word about Jesus has gone out even to the ends of the earth. Some will be converted, but there are probably three times more who will take offense and reject the saving Word of God. That is the warning of Jesus’ parable today. It’s the adversity today’s collect prayed we would be spared of. The birds seek to pick off the exposed seed, the heat of the day is burning, and the thorns are choking the harvest from being fruitful. The world is an evil place. It’s why this sanctuary is not packed to the rafters every Sunday, and why we are not needing to plant a hundred more Lutheran congregations like this one across this city, county, and region.

But the mystery of the Kingdom Jesus also reveals to you this day is this: The Lord continues to send out His Law and His Gospel proclaimed to the world, to all men, who like or like it not. Though some be snatched and some be scorched and some be choked and matted flat: the Sower sows – His heart cries out, “Oh, what of that, and what of that?” He keeps on sowing. The adversities described by the parable which face God’s kingdom have ultimately been defeated. Jesus, sewn in His earthly tomb in dishonor after suffering the shame of the cross, has, after all, been raised in glory.

So of all His scattered plenteousness, only one-fourth waves ripe on hill and flat, and bears a harvest hundredfold. Never faint. The risen Lord contends for and cultivates His harvest – and that means you – you are Jesus’ miracle harvest. The Harvest Lord watches and tends His planted Word – the work of His Church, to forgive sins – should we say, working to give comforting shade from the heat of trial, to detangle the thorns of temptation, to drive away the devil’s crows. He died and rose, after all, to pay for that harvest. It is more precious to Him than anything we can know or imagine. You were bought with the greatest ever price.

His forgiveness given in His Word preached and His Sacraments given conquers the adversities and fears of this sin-corrupted life. Therefore do not fear the attacks of the devil, the trials, temptations, and do not give in to the allurements of the world. You need not fear even death itself, the deepest of all adversities we face. The pure Gospel of His cross is preached to you, the Holy Spirit is given to you. His Word will strengthen and keep you firm in His Word and faith until you die to this life and are delivered from every evil of body and soul, and are given a blessed end – that is, when the harvest is gathered from this valley of adversity and sorrow unto God Himself in heaven. What is sown in apparent weakness and dishonor, like a lowly seed into the ground that appears dead, will be raised alive in glory and power and to bear the image of the man of heaven, even the Risen Lord Jesus Christ.

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +

 

          

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