Song Sung Blue
"Song Sung Blue" is a Neil Diamond song about everyone having a sad song in their life at times. Apropos of our text, he sings that "every garden grows one." Our text is about the Sower and explains why 75% of His seed fails. Jesus tells this parable here because His ministry is being opposed in general, even by His own family. This was a time for a song sung blue, but as Diamond points out a song sung blue sings the blues out again. We'll see.
The first "Song Sung Blue" is recognized as one by it's title "Travailing in Birth for Souls." John Newton wrote this hymn in 1779; the last verse should be familiar. It's the first verse of a hymn in our hymnal also written by Newton. Newton was an outspoken infidel and slave trader, but he said the seed sown by his mother before she died when he was only seven led to him becoming a pastor at the age of 39. His self-composed epitaph reads, "'John Newton, clerk [cleric], once an Infidel and Libertine, a servant of slavers in Africa, was, by the rich Mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the Faith he had long labored to destroy'" (Handbook to TLH, 554-5).
Did you hear how he described sowing the word? It is "a sorrow full of joy." Preachers of the word are "constrained to speak in vain." "They pray and strive, their rest departs." "Too oft they find their hopes deceived." Yet, "Their toils are overpaid." How can that be? When their garden only brings to fruition 25% of what they've sown who can say, "Their toils are over paid?" Who does not rather question with the other hymn, "Oh, what of that, and what of that?" When the sower sees his seed snatched, scorched, and choked, how does his heart not ask, "Oh, what of that, and what of that?!"
Jesus, the Sower in our text, doesn't ask that. He tells the parable to explain to slow-hearted and headed disciples like us how come so much of what He's sows goes for naught. And though we usually explain the sower's sowing in the parable as natural, it wasn't. It's true when I scatter rye grass I could care where this cheap seed that only lasts for a season anyway falls. So what if it the crackles get it? So what if I throw it on the sidewalk or among the weeds across the fence?
But this is not how a man sowed who carefully saved seed from last year because there were no nurseries or seed catalogs. The man who depended on seed sprouting, growing, maturing and fruiting to feed his family paid a great deal of attention where he was sowing his precious seeds. "What of that" seed I sowed on hard beaten soil? "What of that" seed I planted in too shallow dirt? "What of that" seed I cast to fall among thorns? "Oh, what of that, and what of that?"
The Sower in our text doesn't say this. He's a liberal when it comes to sowing His saving Word. He doesn't say, "It won't do any good here or there." Or, "What good can it do in that hard place?" St. Paul got the message because he tells Pastor Timothy, "Preach the Word in season and out of season." Sow that rye grass not only in fall's chill but in summer's heat. Sow that corn not only in April but October. Sow the lettuce in July and start your tomatoes in January.
Most parables have something over the top that highlight God's grace. The Father running to the meet the prodigal. The king forgiving the billion dollar debt. The one with 10 pounds getting another. The unexpected, extravagant element in this parable, the one pointing to grace is the Sower casting seed without regard for where it lands. He did no study to find where a church might be planted and thrive. He didn't ask Himself who would be most likely to receive the Word. He just sowed and sowed and sowed.
"Oh, but what of that?" What of what? What of the fact that the Evil One can snatch away what the Sower sows in hearts so they don't believe? What of the fact that the world's distress is more potent than the joy produced by the growing Word? What of the fact that the world's delights can choke off the Word from bearing fruit? "What of that? What of that?" What of the hundreds I've seen with ears that hear but with hearts that bounce it right back? What of the dozens I've seen receive the Word with joy only to see their joy depart when the world's hostility against the Word arrived? What of the many who begin as every Sunday hearers of sermons and Bible classes, but life, either its worries or wealth, chokes their spiritual life?
"Oh, what of that, and what of that?" questions this sower of the Word but not the Sower. No, He bids me look somewhere other than the poverty of my heart, somewhere beyond what my poor eyes can see, somewhere other than this limited time and place. Jesus bids me look to Him till I can sing not a question but an exclamation. "Ah, what of that, Lord, what of that!"
Yes, what of the Word made flesh! What of the eternal Word of God taking on flesh and blood in a Virgin's womb! What of the Word sown in flesh and blood to redeem flesh and blood! What of the Word growing in stature and wisdom, as Luke 2 says, under the harshest conditions! What of God the Word growing on the beaten path, growing in thin soil under the scorching sun, what of the Son of God growing in the midst of thorns that would choke Him to death!
But grow Jesus did. He was the perfect Baby, Toddler, Teen, and Man. He produced the fruit of faith toward God and love toward man. He believed all God's promises and loved all God's creatures. He did this for us and for our salvation. He was the perfect seedling, sapling, tree, but this perfect Tree was nailed to the tree of a cross to pay for the fact that we feed the Devil with the Word sown in our hearts; we're in shallow ground because we don't use the rich earth of Word and Sacraments; the thorns we're among our the worries and riches that we ourselves plant.
This parable isn't about you sowing or me sowing. It's about the Sower and how He won the right to sow the Seed of forgiveness, faith, love, and hope into every human heart no matter how hard, how rocky, how deep in the weeds he or she may me. No matter how hardhearted you have been toward your sins or God's mercy Jesus who took your sins upon Himself has the right to say, "This seed of mercy is for you." No matter if you think spiritual things are shallow and the things of this life are deep, Jesus has the right and power to plant the imperishable Seed of the Gospel into your soul. No matter if you can't see how the Seed of God's grace can grow in your life of weeds, Jesus can and so He sows it.
"Ah, what of that, Lord, what of that!" What of the Word that is so strong that it can cleave any darkness be it physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual? What of that Word that bespeaks the dead alive? And you think such a powerful Word is powerless or not powerful enough to bespeak the sinner forgiven? What of that Word that bespeaks the damned saved? Surely Abraham the idolater, David the adulterer, Peter the denier, and Paul the murderer where on their way to hell, but Jesus bespoke them saved. Ah, what of that! Do you think these people are in the Scripture for nothing?
Jesus' Word can do what no one else's can. It can pronounce the guilty, not guilty. A governor or president can pardon, and anyone can forgive another, but the Word that cleaves the darkness and saves the damned actually declares the guilty innocent. You think of Jesus forgiving sins like you and I do. He's not going to hold that sin against us for now. He chooses not to collect this debt of sin but it's still on the books. He sends that sin away from us, but with a just a thought He can bring it right back and dump it on our backs.
That's not how God in Christ forgives sins; that's not how the pastor by the command and in the place of Jesus does it either. But you think it is because even as the forgiving Gospel is being sown in your ears, you're hearing the accusing of the Law still. In Jesus, there is not one Law of God left undone. There's not just one more thing, or another thing, or still that thing to do. In Jesus all God's commands have been forever done.
It's the same with the punishments, the judgments, the retaliation that you fear for your sins. Because you can still remember the pain, the shame, the guilt of them, you think God still does. Not so. Not in Jesus. The pain, the shame, the guilt of your sins where all piled on Jesus long ago. John the Baptist saw them there and said Jesus carried them away from you. The pain, the shame, the guilt of your sin that you stumble across now and again or the Devil rubs your face in from time to time or others insist you look at are like a bill you find in your desk stamped "Paid in Full." You don't give that bill a second thought, do you? Any bill for sins you, the Devil, or others find laying around has been stamped "Paid in Full" in the very Blood of Jesus.
Ah what of the power of the Word that tells you this! It may fail 75% of the time in this fallen world but when it grows and fruits, how delicious and satisfying it is. Our last hymn which is surely a "Song Sung Blue" sings of that Word. It speaks of the Word as a Person which you know in the written Word and in the Visible Word of the Sacraments.
Though we're up against the Devil who ever wants to snatch the Word out of our heart so we don't believe, one little Word can fell Him. That Word shall remain even though rocky or thorn infested hearts have no thanks for it. He's by our side upon the field of battle in the Baptismal Water on our skin and in His Body that we eat as Bread and in His Blood we drink as Wine. He's here with His good gifts and Spirit. What more could we want? What more could we need? The kingdom ours remaineth! That's another way of saying, "Ah, what of that, Lord, what of that!" Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (20140803); Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23