In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus says that he sows the seed of his Word in the hearts of men and that it only takes lasting root in the rich soil of a noble and good heart. There is something of fear in these words. For whose heart has not been a hardened path? Who has not been battered and beaten by heartache, pressed hard down by the stomping of cruel words and betrayal? Whose heart has never been rocky soil without moisture? Who has had a faith so firmly rooted that the hot winds of testing and temptation have never dried them out? And whose heart has never been thorn-infested with the choking weeds of the riches and cares and pleasures of this life?
Yes, sons and daughters of Adam – like Adam your father you are taken from the dirt of the ground. Dust you are and to dust you shall return. So repent. The world, your own flesh, and the devil want to take that dirt and pack it into a hard path, to sow it with thorns, and to dry out its moisture. So repent and cry out to the Lord for a new heart.
For, O Lord, we dare not put trust in anything that we can do! How shall we receive a noble and good heart of healthy, moist, black dirt for the seed to grow in? Who shall break the soil of the path with the plow, irrigate it richly, and then weed out the thorns? O Lord, arise! Do not cast us off forever! As you saved our fathers of old, so save us! Do not let your word return void! Your grace, O Lord, will be sufficient for us! Make your strength perfect in our weakness.
His strength is always being made perfect in weakness. For that is his way. He has heard your cry for mercy and he has brought you salvation: but what a surprising answer he gives. Who would have expected the Lord Almighty to arrive on the scene as a baby in Bethlehem? Who would have thought that God's weakness on a cross would be the way for his strength to enliven humanity? Who would have thought of killing God to give new life to a dead world? But his thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are his ways our ways.
This Jesus, the Word made flesh, will give you a new heart. He will exchange your stony heart for a heart of flesh. He will take your place on the cross and be open to the attacks of the devil, the world, and sinful humanity. He will even suffer God's wrath and be the sacrifice, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He will do it all that he might die, and rise, and give you a new life as well: he does it all that he might plant the Word, that is, himself – the Word mad flesh, firmly in your heart.
And for this, he must prepare your heart soil. So he plows you up with the Word of his Law. It is painful: but it is necessary. He never wants your heart to become a hardened path. So though you are beaten down and pressed hard, still he comes to you with the plow of the Law, crushing and cutting you to the heart that you might remember that you need him, that you are nothing without him, that you have sinned and need his grace.
And then he moistens this dead ground with the waters of life in Holy Baptism. Nothing can grow without water: especially not Christians. So he has washed you clean, slaked your thirst, and enlivened the ground of your heart. This broken up, irrigated soil is now fit to be seeded with the Word. But thorns will come. They will try to choke out the seed. Cares and riches and, most tempting of all, the pleasures of this life will come. They will tempt you to think that Jesus doesn't care, that your heavenly Father has abandoned you, that the Holy Spirit has left the building. They will tempt you to think that true joy can be found outside of Christ, outside of his gifts. Every care will drive you to think he has forgotten you, your riches will tempt you to think you can go it alone, and every so-called pleasure of sin will drive you think that there is a better way than his.
These thorns that seek to choke out your faith are most deadly of all: for they come to heart soil that is already broken up and watered and fertile: and what is fertile ground for wheat is also fertile ground for thorns. If the heart soil is left to itself, it will be infested with these thorns and the seed of the Word will not grow and take root. If we dare put our trust in ourselves and go it alone, we shall be lost.
Instead, we need that Sower of the seed to come back around. We need a fresh irrigation because these thorns wish to steal our moisture and kill us. And the so the sower comes back to renew our baptismal grace in the Word of Absolution. He sends out his stewards, his called and ordained servants, to spread this renewal of the baptismal flood. He says to them: whose sins you forgive, it is forgiven. Thus this word of grace spoken from the Sower's stewards spreads life and keeps the heart soil moist.
But still something else is needed. Still the thorns wish to choke us out. We need something that will nourish us while at the same time killing those thorns. And so the Sower returns again for another pass of cultivation. This time giving us the best of feasts for our food: indeed, himself. For the fruits of his cross, his own Body and Blood, are true food and drink indeed. They nourish our heart soil and make it fertile, and yet at the same time they kill the choking thorns of the cares and riches and pleasures of this world. For what cares can we really have if Christ gives us himself? What anxiety will overwhelm us when Jesus himself comes to us and says, “Take eat, this is my Body given for you for forgiveness. Fear not any of these worries that can harm your body. Fear only him – Me – who can destroy both body and soul: for I do not want to destroy you but to heal you and bring you life. Here's the proof: Take drink, this is my Blood shed for you.” What riches could tempt us to serve them if we have the greatest riches in the universe: indeed Him who became poor for our sakes that we might become rich not in gold but in Him. And what pleasures could now tempt us away from the Lord who promises us that eternal pleasures in his kingdom await those who follow his path of the cross here below? For that is what the Lord's Supper teaches you: forgiveness, life, riches, and all good things come from a Body broken and Blood shed for you.
The Sower does not rest. He never rests. He is relentless. He loves you and will gather you to Himself for eternity. He has plowed your heart, watered it, seeded it, and he is coming again today to nourish it and weed it out that there may be room there for none but himself.