Sermon for Pentecost 6, Proper 11A, preached on Sunday, July 20, 2014.
A harried parent in the summer doldrums sent the demanding child to the garden to weed it. Forty-five minutes later the shocked parent looked as all the carefully tended plants of her garden were pulled up and the weeds left in place. The response of the child was simple – "But they all look alike..." And the child is correct. The most successful weeds look like the plants we want.
There has always been a great temptation to weed the church like you would weed a garden – to get rid of all but the true blue believers. Maybe the church would be better off without those Christmas and Easter folks or those with such obvious problems in their lives. There have ben chose who tried to turn the church into a purity cult of holy people whose perfect lives attested to their genuineness. The Puritans were such a group.
We may also be tempted to do just that. And we would be in good company. The disciples wondered if Jesus did not want them to pull up the weeds and get rid of the them; like the elders of Israel, they were concerned about those who were not one of them. But Jesus says "No." In fact, Jesus insists that judgment does not belong to the church or to individual Christians but to the Lord. God has determined that His church will remain among unbelievers until the day of judgment. Only then will the weeds be exposed and will God separate the wheat from the chaff, and not before.
Weeds? In the church? You betcha. Where did they come from? The devil, of course. He sows the weeds and steals the seed of God's Word (as we heard last week). Who are they? Not the obvious characters but sometimes the people whose outward life looks pretty good. But we cannot see into the heart. We cannot tell the actors from those who are genuine.
Why not get rid of them? The risk is that they look like believers. We cannot see the heart – only God can – and so we cannot risk harming the good in order to get rid of the bad. In addition, we are not given the right of judgment. God has reserved that for Himself. He who has saved us will sit as judge and this He earned by being faithful to death on the cross. If the Church were given this duty, we would surely forget the call to be witnesses and speak the Word of Christ to the world. Judgment is a consuming power in our hearts.
What will happen to the weeds in the church? God will judge them – perhaps the better word here is expose them. Once exposed, He will condemn them to the eternal fire. But we dare not rush this or presume that we can do this judgment.
What about the wheat? The wheat in Jesus' story are those who hear the Word of God and keep it by faith. They are those whom the Lord has sowed through the seed of His Word and in whom the Spirit has worked saving faith. God insists they belong to Him. He knows them. He protects them. He sustains them through the Word and the Sacraments. We are secure. We will endure by His grace to the harvest day.
Why not deliver the wheat – the faithful – from the weeds – the unfaithful? God says the time is not yet. Just as the world waited for thousands of years before the promise was kept and Christ took flesh and blood to enter our world, bear our weight of sin, and die to deliver us from our bondage to death, so the great and awesome day of the Lord will come in His time.
Instead of worrying about who or when, Jesus directs us to the what. What will happen to the faithful? God will harvest them – He will harvest US – to eternal life. Those whom He has called by His Word, washed in baptism, and set apart by faith He will keep to the day of judgment and He will deliver from this world of death to His kingdom of life – forevermore!
Here is the good news of the Kingdom. God has it in hand! He does not need us to clean house. He does not need us to decide who is a true believer and who is not. He does not ask our advice nor does He give us to know what is only His to know. In other words, we live not by sight but by faith, not by judgment but by trust. Our call is to live by faith in the holy Word of the holy Lord and that is enough.
Our focus is not the harvest (which God says the angels will handle and not us) but with the sowing of the seed. If we speak and live His Good News before the world, He has promised that His Word will not return to Him empty but will accomplish His purpose in sending it. And that starts with you and me. Convinced of this promise for ourselves, we speak it to the world.
Now let us be clear. We cannot judge the heart but we are called to judge doctrine or teaching. You are called by God to know His Word well enough that you can discern truth from falsehood – whether from this pulpit or a classroom or what you hear on TV or read on the internet. The Word is our guide to sift through the whispered and even shouted voices speaking lies, half-truths, and deception. We do not judge the heart but we had better judge what we hear by the standard of God’s Word and what has been believed and confessed since the cross – the creed does just that.
This is not simply a parable to explain why unbelievers and believers coexist until God determines the day but a call to trust the Lord and His Word to do what He has promised to do. We wrestle with this call to patience and trust but such is life in the kingdom of God. We have not everything but we have enough. We are not given the authority to judge but we are given the authority to baptize, to forgive sins, to proclaim the Gospel, and witness what God has done.
The problem is that we are not content to wait upon God but always tempted to act first and trust Him later. We are not content to wait upon the Lord but always tempted to judge because either God is not judging fast enough for us or we fear He does not know really know the playing field of this earth. We are not content to wait upon the Lord because ultimately, just like in the Garden of Eden, we want to be in charge. But we are not.
Ours is to sow the seed of God's promise and then to trust in that promise that it will not return to Him empty. We are so darn full of ourselves that we fear God cannot handle things without our assistance. But we are the ones in need. In need of patience... in need of trust... and in need of focusing less upon the authenticity of the saints below and more upon the genuineness of the grace that is from above. This is what we pray. Give us faith, trust, and patience. NOW!