7th Sunday after Pentecost (Prop 10 – A)
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
July 16, 2023

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Gospel from Saint Matthew.
Success is almost always measured by numbers.  A movie’s success is determined by box office receipts.  A successful sports team has more wins than losses.  Businesses are a success if they’re profitable.

Success though isn’t necessarily measured by numbers.  In 1987, the Minnesota Twins were the 9th best team in baseball according to their win-loss record.  When they won the World Series, they became the most successful team.  So also, the size of a paycheck doesn’t determine a parent’s success, that’s measured by more important standards.

Many, if not most, Christians think that a successful church is determined by the number of baptisms performed, the size of the Sunday school, and how many families join.  According to these criteria, is the Church succeeding or struggling?  Comparing the Church of today to the Church of yesteryear the answer is abundantly clear, we’re failing, and why is that?  Is it because we’re out of touch with current trends?  Are we too close-minded?  Do we need to do a better job with our marketing?  The answer is found in Matthew 13, and it’s none of those.  It all comes down to how those who hear God’s Word receive it.

Jesus says, A sower went out to sow.  And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them.”  Then Jesus explains: When anyone hears the Word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart.  This is what was sown along the path.”  In this case, not understanding is the equivalent of rejecting.  Martin Luther says that those who are the path let God’s Word go in one ear and out the other.  Those who don’t like or believe what they hear about Jesus reject Him.  We’re not telling them what they want to hear.  We’re not offering what they want to receive.  They’ve hardened their hearts, and this enables Satan to snatch the Word away from them without any opposition.  No matter what they see or hear, there are some people who are just not going to believe.  That’s a sad truth.

Jesus goes on to say: Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched.  And since they had no root, they withered away.”  He goes on to say, As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the Word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the Word, immediately he falls away.”  The rocky soil points to those who believe at first and are maybe enthusiastic.  But they don’t put down deep enough roots.  Perhaps they cling to their sinful hearts and desires.  They become disillusioned when things don’t go their way.  Or they see the Word of God as something not worthy suffering for or struggling over.  If it’s too hard, they don’t want to do it.  And what happens next?  They get scorched by outside pressures, they shrivel up from a lack of nourishment, and they die.  A shallow believing of the Word leads to death, just as sure as shallow roots will kill a crop.  Jesus says about believers: For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away (Matthew 13:12).  We don’t believe that once you’re saved, you’re always saved.  A Christian can lose their faith.  The Christian life is one of struggle against your own sinful nature.  It’s one that requires you to fight the ever-present temptations to give up the faith.  It pains us to consider the reality that nominal Christians run the risk of shriveling up and dying, but it happens.

Jesus continues the parable: Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them… As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the Word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the Word, and it proves unfruitful.”  There are others who believe what God says at first, and they love Him.  Along the way though something happens.  They begin a pursuit of wealth and earthly things.  Their possessions and desires trump God’s Word.  The Word of God offers unrivaled spiritual pleasures, and yet people want temporary earthly pleasures more than anything else.  They neglect worship and prayer because there’s always something more important. They may consider themselves Christians; their hearts reveal something else.  It reveals trouble for them.

It’s no wonder the Church is unsuccessful, look at what we have to work with: a message at odds with current attitudes, one that’s considered unnecessary or undesirable, while competing with activities that are more “fun” than church and supposedly more necessary or important than worship.  God’s Word, the seed that is sown, means virtually nothing to the majority – including many who bear the name of Jesus.

Now that you’ve heard all this, let me tell you something.  Contrary to what you see or think, the Church is not and never will be unsuccessful.  Others may not see it, but God has shown us the truth.  When the disciples are alone with Jesus, they ask Him, Why do you speak to them in parables?”  To which Jesus replies, To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given(Matthew 13:10-11).  The secrets of the kingdom of Heaven are mysteries to most hearers because they lack faith.  Jesus though would reveal the truth to His disciples, just as He reveals the truth to you.

The truth is that God is gracious.  He sends out His Son, the Sower, who scatters the good news of the forgiveness of sins absolutely recklessly.  Farmers don’t plant on the roads; it would be a waste.  Jesus doesn’t ever see His Word as a waste.  He throws it out there, and if people reject it, so be it.  He knows the dangers that face the seed when it spouts, but still He scatters.  His Word, the promise of the forgiveness of sins, is for all, and by the gracious working of the Holy Spirit, the Word also falls on good soil.  Those who hear the Word of God and not harden their hearts to it, will have that seed produce faith and works of love and thanksgiving.

The Word gives life, just as a seed gives life.  A seed is nourished by soil, sun, and rain.  The Word that is planted in you is nourished by the body and blood of Jesus, the forgiveness of your sins, and the assurance that the Word of God does what God sends it to do.  As God says through the prophet Isaiah: For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my Word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it (Isaiah 55:10-11).  Christ has made you good soil and, by His power and grace, you strive to remain good soil by allowing the roots of the Word to dig deep into your hearts, minds, and souls.  Good soil is active in worship, prayer, and receiving the Sacraments so thorns don’t choke out the faith.  Stay connected to God so you don’t become shallow believers who easily fall away, or God forbid, people who have hardened their hearts to God and lose salvation.  You are to use discernment and the Scriptures everyday as you read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest His Word, that by its patience and comfort, you may embrace and hold fast the hope of everlasting life.

Being created by Jesus as good soil means you repent of the sin and neglect that leads you into rocky and thorny situations.  It means you return to Christ to be nourished with the forgiveness of sins.  As good soil, Christ will cause a crop to grow within you for the good of those around you and for the praise of God.

You must never forget this crucial fact: the Church of Christ is always succeeding, even when it looks like it’s not.  On the surface Jesus looked like an unsuccessful magician and motivational speaker; that couldn’t be more wrong!  He is the Lord and Savior who died for the sins of all people (even those who are the path) and then rose again!  It’s hard to understand how Jesus can still be rejected when He showed Himself alive on Easter, and the forty days after.  He’s rejected because He’s always been rejected.  Still, He continues to sow the seed so that those who hear and believe will be brought to salvation and eternal life.  And in this regard, He is most assuredly successful.

We have no promise from the Lord that Emmanuel will last long into the future; it could be another ten years or one hundred, we just don’t know.  What I know is that if Emmanuel must ever close its doors, it won’t be because we’ve been unsuccessful.  The local congregation isn’t unsuccessful if it’s faithfully doing the work of Jesus.  Is it preaching the Word of God correctly?  Is it administering the Sacraments properly?  Is it sharing the love of Jesus with those within and without the Church walls? Then it is successful!  Yes, attendance numbers are down, but numbers aren’t an indicator of success or the lack thereof!  As Jesus says, For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them (Matthew 18:20).

Now, does this mean that you should be content and just sit back?  Of course not!  As Jesus has scattered the seed of the Word on us, we scatter the Word as well.  Scatter it recklessly and don’t worry about where it lands, only believe that God will cause it to grow according to His good and gracious will.  If Emmanuel is faithful and successful, and we grow, praise God.   If we’re faithful and successful, and we don’t grow, it doesn’t mean we’re failures.  It just means God has a different plan in mind for how He will use us, His people.

Discussions of numerical success are appropriate for the secular world, not for the Christian world.  We pray that God will give growth to His Church and this congregation, and He did today as Meredith was brought into His kingdom.  What growth happens is known only to God and since we don’t know the future, let’s stop talking about the decline and demise of the Church or Emmanuel.  Let’s faithfully receive the Word He has sown on us and let us do the work God has called us to do by spreading the Gospel and praying for growth.  And when we do all this, when we are faithful to Him in all that we say and do, we will see how Christ’s Church is always and very successful.



Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen