Word Falls on Good Ground
Enclosed please find three sermons translated from the German. Enjoy the feast! You are the light, the door, the sower, the subject hoping in God's reign. Every valley shall be exalted!
THE WORD FALLS ON GOOD GROUND
Sermon on Luke 8,4-8. 11-15
[This sermon presented on 2/15/2009 is translated from the German on the Internet, link to www.jesingen-evangelisch.de.]
What I hold up here and what you probably cannot see is a grain of corn. When we hold a grain of corn in our hands, we hold a piece of the future between our fingers for an enormous power and unexpected possibilities are hidden in a seed. The future is planted there. When seed falls on good soil, something comes forth, flowers that gladden our heart and give someone on Valentine Day. Perhaps a tree will grow that gives shade or from which a bed, table or cupboard is made. Perhaps corn will grow. A grove could arise from a grain of wheat. A handful of grains of wheat could help secure our future because we could live from that.
A grain of corn and what comes out of that are central in our sermon text.
Luke 8,4-8, 11-15
And when a great crown came together, and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable: A sower went out to sow his seed, and as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trodden under foot, 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 with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew, and yielded a hundredfold." As he said this, he called out: he, who has ears to hear, let him hear.
"Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, 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 temptation fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, these 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. And as for the good soil, they are those who hearing the word hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience."
Our text is very clear. An enormous power and unheard-of possibilities are hidden in God's word. The future is planted there.
OUR HEART - NOT GOOD LAND
The problem is only that God's word often does not fall on good soil.
We come to the church service and want to hear God's word in the scripture reading or in the reading of the sermon text.
But sometimes that word does not reach our ear. Concentrating is hard for us. We suddenly see the Easter candle that is somehow not in the right corner. We look at the people around us... At a baptism, the baby begins to cry or babble and the whole baptism family seem happy.
Often only fragments of God's word reach our ear and everything does not penetrate to ou9r heart.
A second more far-reaching problem occurs that causes problems even when we read the Bible or pray at home.
Our soul, "psyche" in Greek, is not like marvelously loosened earth waiting receptively for the seed.
Our soul is like a field that is trampled, crushed and churned up inside. Weeds grow and birds of worry pick up the grains of hope.
When I began the vicariate, we moved into a beautiful new house where the garden had not been cultivated. The gardener did everything for us and even sowed the law2n. Then everything went wrong at first.
A few blades of grass grew. But some incredibly stubborn weeds also grew. These weeds grew so vigorously that the lawn had no chance. The gardener had to plow the soil and cut off the roots already in the earth so the seeds of grass could rise.
In the pastor's garden in Jesingen, the "weeds" grew everywhere. Unless one adjusts, they will overgrow everything.
Sometimes my soul reminds me of such a soil.
So many visible and invisible roots are present, things that torment and occupy me, which are not worked out, so God's word does not fall on good ground.
Is there a possibility of loosening and breaking up the soul? Can one "cultivate" one's soul?
OUR SOUL - NOT CALM WATER
"A stone falls in the water, mysteriously still and gentle." We like to sing this hymn.
Our soul must be like a beautiful deep sea whose surface is completely still and squeaky-clean.
Then God's word would be like the stone that falls in the water, bringing something into motion and drawing circles.
But our soul is everything but still. It is much more like a pot with noodle soup that cooks and simmers wildly. A little thrown stone cannot draw any circles because everything is moving.
The souls of y8outh are churned up with music from MP3 players pounding in their ears. The souls of us adults are also churned up.
HOW CAN OUR SOUL COME TO REST AND BE A GOOD LAND?
How can our soul come to rest and become the good land that can receive God's word and flourish?
In the approaching fast season, people resolve to consciously escape the noise and grant themselves times of stillness and solitariness. Each of us becomes silent every day to pray and read the Bible. But whoever enters solitariness encounters noise, not stillness, the noise that is in oneself. That is pastor Jorg Zink's description.
Some Christians introduce prayer in a group with the words: "Let us be still." I suspect prayer is the way that my soul can come to rest and be still so the waves become smooth, the hardened breaks open and the soil is loosened. But a new kind of prayer may be necessary...
Prayer is not always speaking or babbling. In our prayer, we do not have to remind God of his tasks... Prayer is not fulfillment of a duty or work. Prayer means becoming still. The mystics called this "Vacare deo, becoming free for God!"
"You are full of a thousand things that occupy you, that are necessary or unnecessary, that fill you like a crowded furniture storeroom. Put your thoughts to the side. Put everything aside. Let a space arise in you on which as little happens as possible. Be an empty "Vacare Deo," become free for God.
Be as empty as a person can be who daily and hourly is full of himself." (Jorg Zink)
Soren Kierkegaard describes a similar idea that his praying changed in the course of the years:
"My prayer became increasingly devout and inward since I had less and less to say. At the end I was entirely still... I was a hearer. First I thought praying is speaking. But I learned praying is listening, not mere silence. Praying does not mean hearing oneself speak. Praying means becoming still, being still and waiting until the praying one hears God... "
Can such praying bring our churned soul to rest? Yes, I believe. In prayer, our soul becomes free for God! I believe our hearts will then be open for his word, this tremendous power with the incredible possibilities for God's future.
Even if our heart or our soul is often not like the good land on which the seed brings a hundredfold fruit, we may be calm because God will let something grow, even if many things also happen in our life. Amen
THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD
By Detlev Schuchardt, Bad Lippspringe
[This sermon on John 8,12-16 presented on December 26, 2004 is translated from the German on the Internet, http://www.evkirchebadlippspringe.de/predigten/2.weihnachtstag2004.html.]
Jesus spoke to them, saying "I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life." The Pharisees then said to him, "You are bearing witness to yourself; your testimony is not true." Jesus answered, "Even if I do bear witness to myself, my testimony is true, for I know whence I have come, and whither I am going, but you do not know whence I come or whither I am going. You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone that judge, but I and he who sent me."
Peace be with you and God's grace in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
"In the beginning was the word," "that was the true light that enlightens every human being." This should be preached today, dear sisters and brothers, when Christmas is almost over. Let us hear this text in a contemporary translation:
THE CHRISTMAS HYMN by Jorg Zink
In the primal beginning before all time
was the word
and the word was with God and
God was with the word.
All things were created through the word.
Without the word, there was nothing.
In him was life.
In him was light.
And the light shone against the darkness
and the darkness had to give way.
He, the word, the true light, came into the world.
He came into his own land.
but the people did not recognize
or accept him.
Some saw him
and they were God's children full of life.
He, the word, the true light,
was a man of flesh and blood.
And he dwelt among us people
and we beheld his power and authority
that came from the Father.
And he befriended us from his riches.
He showered us with grace.
No one has seen God, not even the only Son
who is very near the Father.
He shows us God.
Each verse of this hymn could be a sermon or, even better, prompt a discussion. All of you could say something or raise questions: What is "the word," o logos in Greek, that was with God in the beginning? What is the relation of word, Jesus the Son and God the Father? God is life and light, the light that shines against the darkness to which the darkness must yield.
Experience today remains us of worse times. People did not recognize or accept this light and persecuted those who believed in the light. The day after Christmas is the day of the martyr Stephen, reminding us that faith and temptation, light and darkness are connected.
You, dear sisters and brothers could relate other experiences how that word of God strikes fruitful ground and how people become bright through God's word. Perhaps the longing to trace this light of God, to see at least a reflection of God's glory, beauty and power, to experience being completely penetrated by this power of hope, the consciousness of being entirely God's beloved child and the discovery of who God is, where he dwells, how he appears and what he wants from people.
"HE, THE WORD AND TRUE LIGHT, CAME INTO THE WORLD"
The adult Jesus is later proclaimed in this central passage of the Gospel of John when he takes up the picture of the incarnate light and energetically opposes the Pharisees, experts of the law, when he says, "I am the light of the world." Hear the sermon text, John 8,12-16.
May God bless his word to all of us. Amen.
A rabbi asked a believing Jew:
"When does the night give way to the day? Where do you see this? He answered: "Perhaps when one sees the first glimmer of light in the sky or when one can distinguish a bush from a person." "No," the rabbi said, "the night yields to the day when one sees the brother and the sister in the face of the other. As long as this is not the case, the night is still in us."
Christ is the light of the world because he enables us to see the sister and the brother in the other. How comforting this is for everyone who feels surrounded by only negative unfriendly persons and who therefore are so despondent! The good news is important for them: "Open your eyes! In Jesus' light, you will see someone is there for you with strong rescuing hands who will hold and lead you."
Jesus is the light shining in other persons. The faces of people of good will who see each other and do not look away reflect his light. Jesus says: "I am the light of the world." He did not say: I am the little light for edification in the silent little closet in the pious recesses of individual hearts. He addressed his disciples, a community often in conflict with each other and not always dear and nice to one another. No area of the world is closed to Jesus. People in darkness are not seen. This was not true for Jesus. Quite the contrary! God's light falls when people are crowded in the dark at the edge of society, those outside the gate when others celebrate. Because Jesus said this so clearly "I am the light of the world - for those who live in darkness -, he was persecuted by those who did not want changes and who at the end nailed him to the cross. Not much has changed today. Whoever cannot sing along the melody "One sees those in the light but not those in darkness, whoever champions that those "in darkness" have the same rights as those in the light feels the teeth of the shark as then. Those who have moved themselves into the true light will always insist that this light shines for the few elect.
Still Jesus' light shines on all people in the world. This word is joined with a great promise: "Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life." This means, trusting the light is rewarding. Seeing one's sister and brother in the other person and not the possible enemy, adversary or rival is worthwhile. This is a fundamental attitude for the whole year, not only for Christmas time. Faces radiate when we allow this light in our heart. Then our life becomes warmer and clearer. We experience safety and our lives are single-minded.
Christmas is not a light that one can switch on once a year and then turn off after a brief moment. That cannot make a heart bright or a face radiant. From Christians, a light can start that must be rediscovered every day. The light of Jesus Christ can enlighten us every day. We must only hear his message anew every day. There are many possibilities for this: the daily Bible reading, on the Internet and in the traditional calendar. We can often come into contact with Jesus' lucid message. We can hear it every Sunday in the community, wherever Christians gather together. Thus the light of Jesus Christ can make our way bright, bring people together, give hope and make faces shine.
I wish this for everyone from my heart - and the peace of God, which is higher than all reason, keep your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Almighty God, Creator of the world.
You are unsearchable in your greatness
and encounter us in the form of a baby.
You are exalted above everything
and make yourself vulnerable and sensitive.
You, our helper,
seek our assistance.
Remembering this together is hard.
Often we imagine you only in infinite distance,
contented and untouched by our life.
We misuse your nearness,
harnessing you for our goals
and doing what we want with you,
without reverence and without respect.
Bring us back, O God, from our wrong ways.
Let us know your true nature
and love and honor you as you are:
as a human God,
revealed and mysterious,
mighty and tender
in Jesus Christ, your Son who lives and
reigns with you in the Holy Spirit
from eternity to eternity.
If it is true, O God, that your word became a person in the stable of Bethlehem, then everything cannot remain as it is.
If heaven came near the earth on Christmas Eve, the world cannot act as though it can continue its course.
Because you, O God, came to us,
Because you, O God, became a child,
let us accept our children as they are.
Because you, O God, became our brother,
let us become brothers and sisters.
Because you, O God, reconciled heaven and earth,
reconcile us with each other.
If it is true that the star of Bethlehem will make our life bright and is not only a beautiful legend, then you, O God, make the baby in the manger what we could be: children of God whose life is illumined and free.
If it is true that the star of Bethlehem is not only a beautiful legend, the powerful must not command and the little people suffer.
Then it cannot be that children and women are beaten and oppressed - and a light does not shine on them.
It cannot be that wars are openly waged that only have the consequence of the suffering of the innocent - without a light shining on them.
Your light, eternal word, shines in the darkness. Make us accepting. Flood us with grace.
God, our Father,
the Good News of Christmas is
that you did not remain the distant silent God.
In Jesus Christ, you come near us
as a person who understands us,
as a compassionate, sympathetic helping brother.
and because you were not afraid to become a person,
to come in our world and our language,
therefore we are not afraid to speak
humanly with you,
to bring everything in our hearts before you.
Before you, we bring the many people
who have no access to your Christmas joy.
Shine in the abysses of their doubt.
We remind you of all those
who do not want to believe
who see their life only in earning and enjoying,
and regard themselves modern and progressive.
We pray to you for all who are cold and calculating,
who use their fellow persons like things or means to an end
and in whose life you do not occur.
And we pray to you, O God, for ourselves.
Show us our hidden sides.
In the name of your Son Jesus Christ,
we pray together.
UNITY AND UNIFORMITY
By Karsten Matthis
[This sermon on 1 Corinthians 12,12-14.26.27 presented October 20, 2002 is translated from the German on the Internet, http://wwwuser.gwdg.de/~unembac/archiv-4/021020-1.html.]
When the Apostle Paul looked from Ephesus to the West over the Aegis and in the spirit found himself in the midst of the port city Corinth, he was full of worry about the Christian community there. The colorful and diverse community in the great port city of Corinth was seething. Around 50 A.D. Paul had founded the Corinth community and experienced how torn were the Corinthians.
The community was simmering. Different groups opposed one another and appealed to the authorities of young Christendom, Paul, Peter or Apollos. The members of the Christian community lived together more acrimoniously than justly. Different mentalities and nationalities marked the picture of the community. Different callings like freeborn citizens, that is merchants and traders, and social outsiders like slaves met in the Corinth community.
In the community assemblies, there was passionate discussion and argument according to good Hellenistic custom. From the Corinthian letters, we learn the true Lord's Supper and the resurrection of Jesus Christ were vigorously debated. Sometimes the Corinthians were dogmatic and narrow-minded and individual groups faced each other irreconcilably.
Some community members wanted to derive a new better wisdom from the gospel that was hardly different from what was taught in Greece at that time. Others despised everything that was bodily or physical and escaped to a pseudo-world. Others thought one could do anything if one only believed in the gospel.
When the Apostle Paul tarried in his mind with his community at Corinth, he described the scattered flock very graphically. He saw how a foot went through the port city, a hand, an eye, a nose, which all believed they alone were the body of Christ. A connection between them and the other members did not occur to the Corinthians. With the picture of a body and its members, Paul tried to show that community that they were on the verge of falling apart. I will attempt to present Paul's ideas in my words.
"Dear Corinthians, the church is not a collection of individualists, loners and eccentrics. Rather Christians should seek and cu9ltivate the community that calls itself the body of Christ. Appeal only to the one who was crucified for us and in whose name we were baptized: Jesus Christ alone. You people in Corinth, you are the body of the living Christ. Each in his or her place and way, you are each a member of the community. All your forms of life need not be uniform. All statements of faith, all forms of work and all opinions and interpretations about service in the church need not be streamlined. But be careful that you do not tear the body of Christ. With your quarreling, subtleties and splitting hairs, you forget what is common and binding. Rather remember: "No other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 3,11).
Paul did not understand the unity in the body of Christ as uniformity but rather as established in the spirit penetrating all things. As God created the world in its great multifariousness and infinity, humans, animals and plants, his church is also varied. As Christ called the community into being, he wanted a community of infinitely many different persons. People who confess their faith can rejoice with each other, suffer together, care for one another and work with each other. Just because the church is so different, it becomes the living church of the wandering people of God.
Let me paraphrase the Apostle with my words: "Dear Corinthians, every Christian has a share in God's spirit. Every one has a gift that he or she can bring. These many inconspicuous gifts of God's spirit form the church of Jesus Christ. As nature is varied, so people with their gifts are varied in the church. The members are different but belong together and form the body of Christ."
Dear community, the Apostle draws a radiant picture of the community in the spirit of Jesus Christ. A Christian community should live together like a body with its organs and body parts. In a natural way - as the brain and hand work together - Christians should live with one another and show regard for each other. The Christian community is joined together regardless of nationality and vocational state, like a harmonious whole comparable to the human body. Joy and suffering are shared. When one member suffers, all members suffer. No one can exist for himself alone. The body of Christ can only be experienced in community.
Dear community, this ideal picture of harmony is often in crass contrast to our own experiences and encounters. I single out only one current example. In a recent "Zeitzeichen" journal (vol.3/10-02), an essay of the Hanover regional bishop Margot Kassmann shows how miserable is the present cohesion in the World Council of Churches. In her article "World Council of Churches at a Crossroads," bishop Kassmann reports about the deep theological divisions that have opened up in recent times. The ecumenical spirit only burns on a low flame. The bond between the churches of the Reformation and the orthodox churches can only be maintained with difficulty.
Conflict and inconsistency are part of good form. At least, this is the normal case in church history. The great family of Christian churches is never harmonious. Even on the basis of the smallest unity of the church, the local communities, the right way is disputed again and again while vanities are pacified, formation of small groups is emphasized and silly elitist behavior is brought to light. We know only too well how this happens with churches. Regarding "humanity." We often prefer to spread the mantle of silence.
Many with a distanced relation to the church are convinced the Evangelical church is not better than the other part of society. "The left hand does not know what the right hand does." The marginalized think a real confusion prevails there. Diversity is obviously judged skeptically and not seen as a chance and sign of the vitality of the church.
There are many kinds of mistrust in the church. One Christian fears arbitrariness and another fears narrowness or claustrophobia. Some fear being cut off in their freedom of faith. Others fear the plurality that shakes the ground of faith. Thus an atmosphere of anxiety and dogmatism can arise that no one feels is inviting or positive. On first view, a picture of inner conflict is offered instead of unity.
The situation in Corinth was obviously very different than our present situation. Nevertheless the Apostle speaks of the body of Christ. He sees the diversity of faith as a gift of God to the communities. However for Paul, this diversity does not mean arbitrariness since the body of Christ may not be divided. The foundation "Christ alone" may not be lost in the variety of gifts and talents.
Dear community, what is the meaning of this unity in faith, the unity of a Christian community? Is this an organizational unity based on personal commitments or on legal foundations? The unity that the Apostle Paul depicted does not mean uniformity. Whoever demands total homogeneity stifles the vitality of the church. This curtails the different gifts in the community. Still no one can renounce on the gifts of other Christians in a Christian community.
For Paul, the unity of the community is given in Christ. Paul thankfully accepted the gifts of individual members and sought to lead them together in the community to the body of Christ. The body of Christ unites Christians - in the celebration of the church service, in Bible reading, in prayer and above all in the Lord's Supper and baptism. These sacraments enable sharing in the death, suffering and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
People are called to this spiritual community. Christian community "as the fellowship of the saints" arises through Jesus Christ alone, not from itself. The deeper meaning of the pictorial expression of the body of Christ lies here. What began in Galilee should happen again in this world through his body. Christian churches and communities should testify to his love and preach the dawning reign of God.
This is the permanent common commission! With their members, the churches and communities go to meet God's reign, tolerate differences and bear responsibility for neighbors and the world. Amen
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