“We Really Need to Listen”
Pentecost 5 (Proper 10), July 13, 2014
“We Really Need to Listen”
Text: Matthew 13:1–9, 18–23
Everybody hates commercials. You do. I do. I suppose there are some people, sometimes, who like commercials. People will say they watch the Super Bowl for the commercials. “I guess “Sometimes You Fell Like a Nut, Sometimes You Don’t.” But usually, we hate commercials. When there is a commercial break for a movie on a channel like USA or TBS? It “keeps going and going and going.” That is why people get DVRs. That is why people get Sirius XM Satellite Radios. I hate to tell you, but I can tell you back in my broadcasting days I wrote a lot of commercials. There’s a common saying in advertising: “KISS,” as in, KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Now I recognize that doesn’t sound very nice. But advertisers believe that if you want folks to understand what you’re selling, keep it really simple. “Just do it.”
It seems strange, then, that Jesus would use parables to teach the crowd. How would they learn from them? Wouldn’t this make things more complicated? The disciples even asked about this: “Why do you speak to them in parables?” (v 10).
Actually, hearing God’s Word with understanding isn’t just a matter of “getting” the parables. It’s bigger than saying, “Wow, I could’ve have had a V-8.” Understanding God’s Word is tough anytime, and Jesus points out three common reasons we fail to hear. But Jesus reminds us today that when it comes to His Word, We Really Need to Listen.
Jesus knows His audience well. There are things that are keeping us from hearing and understanding. And Jesus wants you to “Be All That You Can Be.” He teaches His disciples that even though the Word of God is powerful, people (hearers), because we are all sinful, have the ability to resist and misunderstand. We cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to him, right? Faith is a gift. So what does keep us from hearing?
First, Jesus says, it’s the devil. He is like the birds who snatch the seed off the path. Certainly, we all know that the devil exists, because we know the bad thoughts that show up here. You may even be having bad thoughts during this sermon. What are you thinking about right now? Are you thinking about what you did last night? Thinking about what you want for lunch/brunch? Are you wondering, “Where’s the Beef?” Thinking about who will win the World Cup Final? Now I am not making suggestions here, but whatever you are thinking, the devil does not want you to listen to me or this sermon. The devil really, REALLY wants to shorten your attention span and introduce thoughts into your mind that do not have anything to do with this worship service or that have no business inside God’s holy house.
The second thing that Jesus says gets in the way of our understanding God’s Word is our flesh, our sinful selves. As long as everything is going well, we’re all for the Word. But when things get tough, when you want to “Have it Your Way” and you can’t, when you think “You Deserve a Break Today” and you aren’t getting one, at those times we’re quick to abandon God’s Word and God’s plan. This is like the seed that falls on the rocky soil. It is way too easy to give up on God and His promises when things aren’t going our way.
The third item that Jesus refers to that blocks our understanding of the Word is what goes on out there in the world. We have many cares that steal away the joy of listening to the Word. We all have work, whether it is at home, or from our employer, or from a teacher at school. We may be concerned about our income and the rising expenses of health care and other essentials. We may get concerned about politics, the culture wars, what we may see as moral decay out there. “Is that what’s troubling you, Bunkie?” All of these things may distract us from what God says and what God promises.
The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh, Luther’s words, make up the unholy trinity that keeps us from hearing. The meaning of the Third Commandment calls on hearers not to despise preaching and God’s Word, but to gladly hear and learn it, to “Don’t Leave Home Without It,” even. Yet when listening problems and lack of understanding happen, this is precisely what occurs. Preaching and God’s Word are both despised. This should not happen. We thirst, so much, for God’s Word. “It’s Good to the Last Drop.”
But God’s Word is heard, and when it is—and understood—what a blessing, what a good thing that is! Jesus said to the Twelve, “But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (vv 16–17).
How does that happen? Jesus answered the disciples’ question this way: “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (vv 11–13). Did you hear that? Hearing and understanding God’s Word is given; it’s a gift. And God is one who “Care(s) Enough to Send the Very Best.”
You have just been gifted. Just now. Again. To hear and understand God’s Word is a gift. You have been given the Spirit of God in Christ. For many of you, that first happened at your Baptism. Your eyes have been opened to see that Jesus truly is the Son of God who came to take away the sins of the world by dying for you on the cross. God told you this! This is no “…Ancient Chinese Secret, huh?” And you continue to hear God’s Word that kills the sinner inside and raises the new us to life—just like the seed that dies in the ground and then sprouts and grows and eventually bears fruit. It is the listening to God’s Word and His preaching that does this. If you hear Jesus here, that is God giving that to you. God loves you, cares for you. “You’re In Good Hands…”
With His death on the cross, Jesus has conquered the devil, the world, and our flesh. This gives us the authority to pray, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” This evil is not just some impotent, inanimate, impersonal substance. It is the evil one, it’s the devil, who wants to steal the Word from our hearts. It is the devil who tempts us with stuff he tries to make look really good, but then actually gives us suffering. Satan tries to scheme and coax the world to follow him.
But our Lord has overcome him. Jesus whupped him. Jesus knocked him out. Jesus took him behind the woodshed. Jesus took the devil and put one in the “O” ring. Jesus brought down the hammer. Jesus took him out. Jesus beat him like a rented mule. Jesus beat him worse than Germany did to Brazil. Jesus wiped the floor with him. Jesus kicked his…gluteus maximus. In faith in His victory we may pray confidently and resist the snares and traps the devil sets. Our Lord has chosen you to receive this gift of faith so that you may hear and understand. “It’s the real thing!” This is grace and grace alone. Nothing on your part has caused this, but just our Lord and His love for you. This is good stuff. “It’s finger lickin’ good.”
Okay. You know how it is these days, how difficult it is to find true peace and quiet. So many voices and sounds, the spouse, the boss, the kids, the radio, the tv, the computer, the not so smart phone, the dog…oh wait, Rufus is actually pretty quiet. On those occasions when Erica and the boys are out and I have the house to myself, the silence can be like the first smell of sea air when you arrive at the beach. It’s like “Calgon, take me away!” Jesus is reminding us not to let the chaos out there and in here, keep us from hearing Him.
So when you have trouble listening to a sermon, don’t be too quick to blame the messenger or the Word itself, but examine yourself. What’s keeping you from hearing? Is it the devil, the world, you? Recognize them and put these thoughts out of your heart. In turn, Jesus will heal you.
Every chance to hear God’s Word is an opportunity not to be missed. “There is no substitute.” After all, it is “the power of God for salvation” (Rom 1:16). It does not return void. Its account of God redeeming us through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection works wonders on us. “For to the one who has, more will be given” (v 12). Your hearts are filled with the Spirit of Christ. Fearlessly grow and produce fruit from your renewed and cleansed hearts. “Can you hear me now?”