Sunday, July 17, 2011
Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (July 17, 2011)
“Weeds and Wheat” (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43)
Weeds are those undesirable plants that pop up in your flowerbeds and your lawn. When you stop and think about it for a moment, though, some weeds are quite beautiful. Bright yellow dandelions. Delicate little buttercups. Pink clover sprinkled through your yard. Bold purple blossoms emerging from the prickly stem of the thistle. But no matter how pretty they are, you did not plant them. You don’t want them in your garden. They spread. They take over. Their roots intertwine with other plants. They compete for water and nutrients in the soil. They seem to grow faster than the desirable plants.
What do you do? You can spray weed killer on them. But the chemicals will land on the plants you want to keep and kill them, too.
You can do it the old fashioned way. You can pull them out by hand. That takes a bit more determination, depending on how many weeds have invaded your flowerbed. Besides, you may end up pulling out some of your other plants if the weeds are in close proximity to the plants you have cultivated.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus told a story about a man who sowed wheat in his field. At night, the man’s enemy came and sowed weeds in the very place where the man had planted his wheat. Not so evident in our English translation is the fact that these weeds are probably something called “darnel,” which looks an awful lot like wheat. But it isn’t wheat. It produces a bitter grain. It could make you ill. Like your garden with dandelions, buttercups, and thistles which you did not plant, this wheat farmer in Jesus’ parable did not plant that darnel. No matter how nice it may look, it is not wheat. It is an imposter. To avoid damaging the wheat crop, the farmer tells his workers to let the wheat and the weeds grow together until the harvest. If you prematurely try to get rid of the weeds, you may get rid of the wheat, too. At harvest time, the reapers will then separate the wheat from the weeds. The weeds will be burned in the fire. The wheat will be gathered into the barn.
Later, Jesus explains to us the meaning of the parable. He is the one who sows the good seed in the field of the world. He plows up the sinful hardness in your heart and plants the seed of faith so you can believe in him as your Savior from sin, death, and the devil. He waters you with the waters of Holy Baptism. The Holy Spirit causes your faith in Christ to grow as you continue to hear the Word of God. You are a child of the kingdom of God. You are good seed. But don’t brag about that fact. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). Remember, this goodness of which we speak does not come from yourself. You are good because of your good Savior who declares you good. He makes you grow. He makes you into a useful crop, one who gives the grain of good works in service to your neighbor. And he prepares you for a glorious harvest on the Last Day when the angels will gather you into the barn of God’s eternal dwelling place.
On the other hand, the devil is the one who sows the weeds in the field of the world. He cultivates false teachings that draw people away from salvation in Christ alone. He propagates all kinds of subtle and not-so-subtle temptations that threaten to spread and take over our lives. Like a noxious weed with a beautiful blossom, false teaching and temptation look attractive. But they are not. They are dangerous and deadly.
The devil takes people who have succumbed to his false teachings and temptations and plants them in the midst of God’s people in the Church. These “weedy” people do not believe in Christ as their Savior. They might be mistaken for those who do, like a weed that looks like wheat. They are nice. They are kind. They seem to give without expecting anything back. They volunteer to help when a need arises. They occupy a pew on Sunday morning and sing the liturgy and the hymns. They confess the creed. But deep down, they don’t believe a word of it. They are hypocrites. Mask-wearers. They pretend to be something they are not, for whatever reason … making business contacts, thinking they are earning brownie points with God, attending only because it makes their spouse happy. They do not bear the grain of true good works that are pleasing to God because they cannot. “Without faith it is impossible to please [God],” the author of Hebrews writes (Heb. 11:6). Weeds. Sons of the evil one. Destined for the eternal fire where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. An infinite agony because the infinite love of God was finally revealed to them, but they have no share in it.
Is it our place to go digging around in the field to find out who is a true believer? Jesus teaches us in the parable to let the weeds and the wheat grow together. It is often hard to distinguish the good seed from the bad. Sometimes those who appear to be bad seed deep down are faithful Christians. They struggle mightily with their sins. Their hearts are truly contrite. But outwardly, they may not appear to us to be the most pious of people. So don’t be so quick to judge someone else who has made a confession of faith in Christ. If you prematurely try to sort things out, you may end up hurting someone who is wheat while you were digging around trying to uproot a weed. Moreover, Jesus delays his harvest so that more people have the opportunity to turn from their sinful unbelief and to turn to him in repentant trust.
And let’s all admit that we have weeds that have grown up in our hearts and lives. We are not always nice and kind. We do not always give without expecting anything back. We’re not so good at loving God with all our hearts, souls, and minds and loving our neighbors as ourselves. Someone might look at the way we have acted and accuse US of being hypocrites.
But Jesus bore our “weeds” at the cross. All our thorny behaviors were placed upon the one who wore a crown of thorns for us. All our undesirable attitudes were placed upon Christ, “the desire of all nations” (Haggai 2:7).
The prophet Isaiah foretold how Jesus “grew up … like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Is. 53:2). As Jesus suffered and died for us, he was treated like a weed, fit only to be plucked out of God’s garden and thrown into the fire. Having finished his work of paying the price for the sin of the world, the body of Jesus was planted like a good seed in the tomb. Three days later, the good seed blossomed, resurrected, never to die again, bearing the fruit of our salvation. And today, in the Holy Communion, Jesus places the fruit of his cross into your mouths … the wheat of his body broken for you and the wine of his blood shed for you, assuring you that you have forgiveness, life, and salvation through him.
Forgiven and given faith to trust in Jesus, you are good seed. You are a son of the kingdom. You are righteous. You have been planted by your Savior Jesus in this field called the world. Through Word and Sacrament he causes you to grow and bear fruit, serving your neighbor in love. Your works may not seem very glorious. In fact, they may seem quite mundane. They don’t get much attention from others. You may never receive any thanks for the things you do. But that’s not the real reason why you do them. You do them simply because it’s what you do as a stalk of wheat in God’s field … producing grain for the benefit of others. And one day, the angels will gather you in at the final harvest and you will shine like the sun in the kingdom of your Father.