Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Proper 11A Sermon -- Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 (LSB Proper 11A)

July 17, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

[Jesus] put another parable before them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. . . .”

Jesus tells another parable involving a sower. Last Sunday, you heard how Jesus described the preaching of the Gospel in the world is like a sower who goes out and throws seed out over all types of soils. This Sunday, you again hear Jesus speaking about seed, but this time the seed is not the Gospel, but rather those who have heard the Gospel and have benefited from Jesus’ work for their salvation. Jesus’ Parable of the Weeds and Wheat is not about how people receive Jesus’ teaching but about those people who have received His Word and are living in this world.

Jesus describes the condition of the Church, the total assembly of saints who have received the Gospel through preaching and the sacraments, as it exists here and now. This is the kingdom of heaven here on earth. And what condition is that kingdom in? Jesus says: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also.” The Church finds herself here on earth surrounded by all sorts of other people. The members of the Church bear fruit, following the new way of life that Jesus has given to them. But all around the followers of Jesus are people who do not abide by the Lord’s will, who threaten to choke out the wheat and turn the world into one massive field of weeds.

Jesus’ explanation of the parable to His disciples reveals the characters in the parable: “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the children of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil.” Two planters are found in this parable. Jesus, the Son of Man, the Christ, has sown good seed. He has established a people in this world. They are those born of water and the Spirit. They did not rise up by themselves, but have been planted. But the second planter, the evil one, the devil, has also been busy. He has been attempting to thwart the plans of the Son of Man from the very beginning. Even when everything was “very good,” Satan brought ruin into the world through the temptation of Adam: “for the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it. . . .” Those who are not planted by Jesus are those noxious weeds in the world. These two groups of people exist side by side.

So what should be done about this situation? Using the terms of the parable, there are some solutions that simply cannot be done. Think of your garden or your fields. Can the wheat or the plants you desired remove the weeds? Can the plants go down to Lowe’s or Agway and purchase some trowels to dig out the weeds or some herbicide to spray on them? No. That isn’t possible. Using the imagery of the parable, the wheat cannot tear out the weeds, “the children of the kingdom” cannot remove “the sons of the evil one.”

But what about the workers employed by the owner of the field? Surely they can help. You heard that suggestion in the parable: “And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’” The workers want to remove the weeds from their Master’s field. But the Master dismisses their proposed solution: “But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.’” Jesus explains that the workers employed by the Master are the angels. They have the ability to remove the weeds, “the sons of the evil one.” But their actions in doing so may jeopardize the wheat. Angelic action can wreak much havoc, as the Scripture narratives record. But any mistake made by them would bring about harm to the crop, the wheat, the “children of the kingdom.”

So what can be done about this situation? What action will “the kingdom of heaven” receive from its Monarch? Will the Master allow his crop to be ruined? Will Jesus do nothing for His people, the Church, “the children of the kingdom”? Jesus does not leave His people unattended. Neither does He ignore their plight. He knows the situation you live in. Jesus knows that you are surrounded by people who are not part of the kingdom and that the evil one is trying to overturn and thwart His will. You have a Master who has not only acted for you from up in heaven, but has come down here to earth and witnessed the actions of Satan in the world. Jesus was planted in the ground, into the tomb, and has come out again. He has experienced, endured, and overcome the worst that the evil one can do, so that you could be part of “the kingdom of heaven.” He will take action for you, to fully eradicate the evil one and those aligned with Him.

But the action that Jesus will finally take to accomplish that goal is not yet done. It has been promised. The promise is rooted in what He has already done: it is based on the fact of His death and resurrection. He is superior to all things in this world. The description that the Lord gives through the prophet Isaiah is about Himself: “I am the first and I am the last; besides Me there is no god. . . . Is there a God besides Me? There is no rock; I know not any.” An action has been promised for you: “Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it?” That action has been made known in the Scriptures, spoken by Jesus’ own mouth. The solution to the Church’s plight in this world is for Jesus to usher in a new age.

The Master says to the workers: “Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” Jesus explains this statement: “The harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of Man will send His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Jesus’ solution is to bring to completion what His death and resurrection have accomplished. A time of judgment will come, the close of this age. But then the promised new heaven and new earth will arise. Creation will be fully restored. And all that is evil, all the effects of sin, all those allied with Satan will be removed. That is the solution that Jesus declares.

So Jesus’ parable is a message of hope and joy and comfort to you. Your Master has promised to work on your behalf. He has not abandoned you. He has not ignored your plight. Jesus has not turned His back on His people. He knows what you are experiencing in this earthly life. In fact, He has already suffered it Himself. His solution requires patience and endurance. But it also promises that no eternal harm will come to you. There will be no accidental tearing out of a wheat plant in an attempt to remove a weed. None of “children of the kingdom” will be mistaken for “sons of the evil one” by the angelic reapers. The solution to the Church’s problem is promised and will be accomplished, just as the Lord in the past promised and fulfilled His covenant to bring salvation to the world.

But Jesus doesn’t just say something will happen in the future, so just wait. He also gives the Church assistance in this age. The Apostle Paul’s description of creation and believers is very true: “The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. . . . And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.” The creation and the Church are both waiting, longing for what Jesus has promised to give. But as they wait, as you wait, Jesus has given you the Holy Spirit to assist and help you. You have the firstfruits of the Spirit already: forgiveness of sins, life, salvation, new mind and will, the ability to do good works in your life. And not only has the Spirit granted you these, He is also working for you, even as you live in the futility and frailty of this life, exposed to the afflictions of the evil one: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

A great promise and description of help is made in those words. The Spirit helps you in your weakness. Even now, when you are surrounded by all the weeds in the field, you have the Spirit present to give you aid. When you see all “the sons of the evil one” and watch them being successful and when you witness yourself and all the other “children of the kingdom” harassed and assaulted, the Spirit is continues to inform you of what Jesus has already done for you. When you are frustrated and don’t know what to ask for, the Spirit is interceding on your behalf, asking the Father to give what you need at that time, so that your faith is maintained. This is what the Spirit does as “He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”

So Jesus gives you hope in this age, even in the world full of both weeds and wheat. The hope is in what He will do to bring this situation to a close: “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Your hope is for the fullness of your redemption, for the time when “[the angels] will gather out of His kingdom all causes of sin and law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace.” That time isn’t here yet. What you experience now is not what will be. The futility, the bondage to decay, and the threats to the kingdom of heaven will come to an end through Jesus’ actions. Hope in that has been established in you by the Spirit through Jesus’ Word.

Hearing Jesus’ words of promise, believing them, and sustained by them, you wait in patience, longing for what the creation anticipates: “the revealing of the sons of God.” The full revealing of “the children of the kingdom” is what Jesus, the Crucified and Risen Lord, has ordained for you. The close of the age will come. The command will be given for the great sorting. And what will be eternally beneficial to you who have been forgiven, redeemed, and saved by Jesus’ work will be fully granted: “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.”

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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