Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 11)
July 23, 2017
Text: Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43
It is not the main business of the Church to root out hypocrites and manifest sinners from her midst. Nor is it the main business of the Church to make the world in which we live pure or perfect. There is a time for Church discipline, and to be sure, the Church must oppose false doctrine. So also we should love and serve our neighbor and make his life better as we are able. But this is not the main business of the Church. The main business of the Church is to spread the Seed of God’s Word through the preaching and nurture that Seed as it grows up into faithful and fruit bearing Christians. So the primary work of the Church is what we are doing here: Receiving. Word and Sacrament. It is Scripture, preaching, Baptism, Absolution, and Supper. And it is prayer; prayer for ourselves, prayer for the whole Church of God in Christ Jesus, prayer for all people according to their needs. It is not to build heaven on earth. It is not to purify or perfect this world. The Church is in the business of the forgiveness of sins. The Church is in the business of caring for forgiven sinners.
Our Lord’s parable this morning is very much related to what we heard from Him last week in the Parable of the Sower. You’ll remember that Jesus Himself is the Sower. The Seed is God’s Word, and it is good Seed, always accomplishing what our Lord desires, even when, in His mercy, He casts it about recklessly. In that parable, you are the soil, and it is the good Seed that makes the bad soil (the path, the rocky and thorny ground) good. In our parable this morning, the field is the world. Jesus sows His Seed in all the world. The preaching goes out to all the world, liberally and recklessly, yes, even to the world that will not receive the Seed but will reject it outright. The Lord sows His Seed, but His enemy, the evil one, the devil, comes along and sows bad seed among the good. The bad seed is every word that casts doubt upon God’s Word. It is false doctrine. It is political correctness and the stuff in which the media and academia and Hollywood specialize. It is the word of man, human reason, human emotion, anxiety, depression. It is the whispered hiss of the serpent that God is holding out on you, that God’s giving His all in the Person of His Son on the cross cannot possibly be for you, could not possibly have won the victory over your sin and death, and that anyway, you’d be better off being your own god, knowing good and evil for yourself. That seed the devil casts just as liberally and recklessly, and that seed is a weed. It takes root and thrives in nearly every kind of soil. And it chokes out the good Seed, chokes out the wheat that has been sown by the Lord.
Now, Christians think (and pastors especially are the very worst about this) that the good Seed of God’s Word can’t make it in the field unless we help it along. “Lord, do You want us to go and gather the weeds, root out those knuckleheads and hypocrites that are ruining Your Church, vote out those shysters who are ruining the American experiment, take some action that will help Your Seed along? Because there is no way the Seed is going to work by itself. Not in this environment. Lord, You really need us. We don’t want to be rude, but Your plan really isn’t going to work. We have people that specialize in making the Word of the Lord grow. Let us handle it, Lord.”
And do you know what the Lord of the harvest says to His overzealous pastors and Christians? “No!” He says, “No!” “No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 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” (Matt. 13:29-30; ESV). Why must the weeds and the wheat grow together in the field of the world and even in the Church until the harvest, which is to say, Judgment Day? Because you and I don’t know who is a weed and who is wheat. We think we do, but we don’t. We say to ourselves, or maybe even to others, “Look at that woman over there. If these other Christians knew who she was and what she’d done, that she is a sinner, they wouldn’t allow her here.” “Look at that man over there. See how he struts around like he owns the place. Everyone thinks he’s such a good Christian, but he can’t be, the arrogant so and so.” And what you’ve done when you go weeding your way around the field is you’ve set yourself up as judge of who is weed and who is wheat. But you can’t know. Only God can see into another’s heart. You think you can, but you can’t. Repent.
The Church of God, the wheat of the field, is invisible. It is invisible because faith is invisible. There are visible marks of the Church, namely, the things we said are the Church’s business: Scripture, preaching, Baptism, Absolution, the Supper, and prayer. So also there is the Communion of saints, the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren, and the holy cross. We can know by the marks where the Church is, but we cannot know by her attendance, or even by her membership rolls, who is in it. For the Church is all believers in Christ. Thank God, a 7 year old child knows this (SA III XII), the Church is not a building or a body of voting members or a denomination. It is the congregation of those who believe in Jesus Christ. It is a congregation of sinners, like that woman, that man, you, who are forgiven, set free from sin and guilt and shame, who will be gathered into the Lord’s barn by His grace on the Last Day, when He raises you from the dead. You’re already in it now, by Baptism, by faith. You’ll see that this is the reality on that Day.
If you go weeding the field now, several disastrous outcomes may happen: You might pick a weed that is really wheat, that you did not recognize as wheat, and so cast aside one of these precious little ones who believe in Christ. You might pick a weed that by God’s grace will become wheat in the end, through the preaching of the Gospel. And some other overzealous Christian or pastor may just come along and pick you and toss you aside for the burn pile of hell. God forbid it. The reality is, much of the time the wheat looks like weeds. Christians act according to their sinful nature. And much of the time, weeds look like wheat. Non-Christians do an awful lot of good stuff in the world. I’m no farmer, but I do know there is a particularly deceptive weed called darnel that looks just like wheat until the time of harvest. These are probably the tares Jesus is talking about. How can you tell the two apart? A farmer might be able to, but the rest of us can’t. Even if we grew up on the Palouse. Jesus knows the difference between His wheat and the weeds, but we don’t. Even if we grew up in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. Your job is not to root out all the bad players in the Church or in the world or even in politics. Your job is to let Jesus be the Lord. Receive the good things He gives here in His Church, the fruits of His cross, the triumph of His resurrection, and love and serve your neighbor. Tell others about Jesus and let the good Seed do its work. Support the Church and the ministry with your prayers and offerings. And sure, vote according to the best of your God-given wisdom and give some money to feed the hungry. But more than anything else, just receive. Receive what God gives. Receive Jesus as He comes to you here in His Word.
Beloved, the harvest is not yet. “The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Ps. 145:8). He is patient, so that weeds may become wheat by the working of His Word. Judgment Day is coming, but at a time known only to God. In the meantime, there will be hypocrites and sinners, politicians and terrorists. The Lord knows what He is doing. He does not need your help. God is accomplishing His purposes in ways you could not begin to comprehend. Repent and wait upon the Lord. Trust Him. He’s got it all figured out for your good. And the proof is Jesus on the cross and in the Supper. Christ crucified is the ultimate evil, the ultimate miscarriage of justice, accomplishing your ultimate good, your eternal salvation. The Supper is the distribution of the body and blood of Jesus, crucified for you, for the forgiveness of your sins, now risen from the dead and giving you life. The Seed of the Word has been planted and grown into faith. You are wheat. The Supper nourishes you and keeps you alive in a world full of weeds. Pray for the harvest. Pray, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly.” But so also pray for workers for the harvest field, that more Seed of God’s Word may be sown, more preaching, more bad soil made good, more weeds made into wheat. And know what will finally happen when the harvest comes. The weeds will be gathered together and thrown into the fire, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. There is a hell. It is a real place where those who finally reject Jesus really go for all eternity. That is the warning. But the wheat will be gathered into the Lord’s barn to live forever with Him. The righteous, which is to say you who have received Jesus’ righteousness as your own by faith, will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of your Father. The main business of the Church is not to sort the weeds and wheat before the time. That job belongs to the holy angels on that Day. The main business of the Church is to preach. The main business of the Church is to hear the preaching, be forgiven, and live, in Christ, forever. Your sins are forgiven. You shall not die, but live. The Lord of the harvest declares it so. His Word does what it says. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.