Immanuel Lutheran Church

Sermon

Pentecost 4

"Faith on the Rocks"

Matthew 13:3, 5-6, 20-21

July 16, 2017

What comes to mind when you hear, "on the rocks." Maybe, you think of an adult beverage over ice. Perhaps a soured relationship heading for a break-up comes to mind. The origin of the phrase is one of a shipwreck. When a ship goes aground because of a storm or other mishap, it's said to be "on the rocks." This indicates a dire situation from which is likely no recovery.

It's not a good thing to be on the rocks. As we look at today's Gospel reading, the question for us is "what about faith on the rocks?" The second example in the parable of the sower speaks of the seed that is sown "on the rocks." What does it mean when the seeds of faith land on the rocks?

Matthew 13:3. And, he told them many things in parables, saying: "A sower went out to sow. 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. 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 parable indicates that those whose faith is on the rocks are for a time active in the life of the church. In the end, sadly, there is only just enough soil for the seed to germinate but not enough for it to really take root. How does this happen. Who are those whose faith germinates but doesn't take root? These are people whose focus is not so much on the Word of God as on the trappings.

For example, some choose a church for things that interest them. For many people, it is the music. Oh, congregation X has great music. It's upbeat and peppy. They have a great praise band and amazing vocalists. Music is important but if the only thing that attracts you to a church is its music, your faith may, indeed, fall on the rocks. Unless the Word of God penetrates your heart, the music will not be enough to keep your worship life alive.

For others, it may be the style of worship. Today, many people are gravitating to the eastern church because they are caught up in the beauty and transcendence of the ancient liturgy. They are enthralled by the incense, the chanting and mystic quality of worship experience. Yet, no matter how beautiful or timeless the liturgy may be, if the Word of God doesn't penetrate the heart, people likely find their faith is on the rocks.

Others like the free-style worship of Pentecostals with singing, clapping and testimonies. They love to hear the conversion stories of others. Many are drawn to see the healing miracles of the tent revivals. The problem is that they continue to look for an experience that is bigger, flashier, and more exciting than the last time. They are drawn to places that appeal to their emotions. While the style of worship may enhance our faith life, it is the Word that must penetrate our hearts. When the word doesn't penetrate and take root in our rocky hearts, the style of worship with its emotional appeal will not hold our interest.

Many people choose a church for the dynamic preaching of the minister. All too often, congregations grow into mega-churches based on personality rather than on faithfulness to the Word. Look at once grandiose places like the Crystal Cathedral that flourished because of the popularity of the preacher. Sadly, the congregation no longer exists. When the preacher leaves or his popularity fades, people move on to the next rising religious star. If they are no longer drawn to the preacher or if they become disillusioned with him, the result is often faith on the rocks.

For many church members faith flounders on the rocks when they begin to take the gifts and blessings of God for granted. All too often, when we think of "faith on the rocks," the preoccupations of life come to mind. People are focused on leisure, work, and the worries of life. It may be that they still feel a connection to the church but these other preoccupations take priority. Although God is still in their thoughts, the seed of faith has no taken root in their hearts. The other preoccupations keep them from devoting time to prayer, worship and service.

Why is this? The problem is one of substance. Faith is on the rocks because the seed cannot put down roots beneath the superficial layer of soil. The lack of substance inhibits the seed of faith from taking root in the heart. When the trials of life come, faith doesn't have a deep enough root system to weather the heat. Faith must have a root system or it won't survive the trials of life. Listen to the words of Peter as he talks about the importance of a deeply rooted faith.

Faith is shipwrecked on the rocks when is cannot ride out the storms of life. The Lord tells us that we will have trials that will challenge our faith throughout the course of our life. Jesus said, "in this world you will have tribulation but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world." All of us must weather the storms of life. The question is how will we handle them? Peter tells us that if we see the storms as a testing of faith, we will look at them as refining fire. Although we don't like the process, the result is a stronger, purer faith.

Here's the irony. Now, although faith will not take root when it's on the rocks it will flourish when it is built on the Rock of Jesus Christ. Paul writes that God's people all have trials. The people of Israel had to persevere 40 years in the wilderness. They were fed with manna from heaven each morning. When they complained there was no water, they were miraculously provided water when Moses struck the rock and Paul adds, that Rock was Christ. [1 Cor. 10:4]

Christ came to die on the cross for our sins. He came to bring us life and that life abundantly. No, our Lord doesn't promise us lots of stuff. He comes to bring us the abundant life of faith grounded in His Word and in the sacraments. It is a faith that yields the fruit of the Holy Spirit in lives of loving service to others.

Christ is our Rock. When our faith is built on Him, it won't become a faith on the rocks. He comes to blast away the hardness of our stony hearts. In the pulverized residue, He creates good soil to receive the seed of faith. That seed of faith is watered in baptism and fed in the holy supper. By God's grace, we continue to grow into a mature faith that will yield fruit many times over. Amen.


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