Monday, July 24, 2023

Do not pull the weeds. . .

Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 11A, preached on Sunday, July 23, 2023.

The problem is clear.  Who sowed the weeds?  Every pastor worth his salt spends countless hours on the question.  Where did I go wrong?  If I preached good seed, why are there so many seeds that failed to sprout and so many weeds that grow up in their place?  The temptation of the preacher is to doubt the seed.  This is bad.  To doubt the goodness of the seed of God’s Word is nothing short of blasphemy.  Yet every preacher has wondered about this and come pretty close to laying the blame squarely upon God when great sermons seem to produce no results.  But there is something worse that doubting the seed.  That is replacing the seed of God’s Word with seed that we know will grow if planted and will reap a harvest, even it if is only weeds.  This too is the great temptation of the preacher.  If the people will not respond to orthodox doctrine and faithful Biblical preaching, then I will give them what they want to hear.  You and I know how many churches have succumbed to this fallacy.

As bad as these things are – doubting God or trying to supplement the message of sin and forgiveness and life and death with something that will sell to the crowds, there is one thing that is far worse.  That is to presume to be God and to decide what God ought to be doing.  The disciples first doubted that the Master had planted good seed and when they were assured that He had, they presumed that God needed help to sort out the weeds from the wheat.  “Do you want us to pull up the weeds?”  It sounds innocent enough.  When you see a neighbor’s yard a mess with weeds, you presume they cannot handle things and maybe need some help.  So you offer the phone number of a lawn service to take care of that problem.  The disciples offered themselves.  Worse than offending God, Jesus warns that pulling the weeds will endanger the wheat.

Ours is not the god of Islam who authorizes his followers to pull the weeds and burn them.  Ours is the God of mercy who is patient and who waits to show mercy to those who deserve none of it.  Ours is the God of Jonah who sends the prophet where the prophet does not want to go and to a people he hopes will not repent. Ours is the God of the cross who forgives those who crucify Him and dies as the innocent for the guilty.  Ours is the God who wills that all men would be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.  Even though we count on hearing this for ourselves, we bristle at sharing this with the people we have deemed unworthy of the Gospel, the weeds and tares of this mortal life who do not live up to our ideals.

We live in a world of purity cults.  It does not matter if you are conservative or liberal, in our world you must live up to certain standards to be worthy of being our friends, our allies, and our family.  You have to share certain political views or use the right pronouns or watch the right news channels or follow the same talking heads on the internet.  We are ready to draw boundaries but our God is always ready to open doors.

The disciples assume Jesus cannot handle it.  Look at the weeds.  He must be doing something wrong.  He must be sowing bad seed or cannot keep up with His weeding.  We assume the same thing.  Look at the people around you.  They are not the people they should be.  Either the seeds that they are hearing from this pulpit must be tainted or the pastor incapable of policing the flock.  Either way, they need our help.  We know who the good people are and who are weeds.  Jesus,  just let us dig in and we will get rid of the weeds and restore the shine to Your tarnished Church.  What could be wrong with that?  Surely, God and this pastor need our help because there are open sinners in this congregation and people who have not been faithful about worship and Bible study and good works.

But Jesus says, “No!”  He asks us to spread the seed but not to weed the soil, to share the faith but not to judge sinners, to call people to repentance but not to condemn them in their trespasses.  Why not?  What could possibly be wrong about establishing a few litmus tests or standards of behavior to decide who should be a member and who should not?  Jesus says that pulling the weeds will harm the wheat.  In other words by focusing on the personal righteousness of the individual instead of the cover of Christ’s righteousness, the faithful will suffer, they will lose their way, and they will be sacrificed for the cause of our own self-righteousness.  

Mohammed’s god rejoices at the death of infidels but the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked.  Our calling is not to create a perfect world or a perfect family or a perfect church.  Our calling is to speak the Word of God.  Our calling is not to destroy our enemies but to turn the other cheek.  Our calling is not to save the world but to love our neighbor.  Our goal is not to save the sinner but to proclaim the Kingdom of God – not to claim some territory for Jesus but to proclaim the reign of Christ through the Word and Sacraments.  Neither right nor left understands the mercy of God and so it is no surprise that we struggle with it as well.

We live by faith and not by sight.  We do not survey the vast fields of God’s planting with pride and confidence that the world is losing and we are winning.  Instead we see weeds and only weeds, sinners and only sinners.  That which God is doing is not yet done, not even that which He has begun in you and me.  The weeds are not out there but in here, in our hearts and minds, and until that day when Christ commands the harvest, we live in the daily battle against pride and self-righteousness.  It is not the world who is called to repentance but you and me, the saints declared righteous in baptism but who still live with the sinful desires and with guilty souls.  Jesus warns us that to pull up the weeds will endanger not simply the weak Christian wrestling with his demons but you and me, who sit in the pews on Sunday morning and go to Bible study and Sunday school.  It is not for others that Jesus warns but for you and me.     

Ours is not a God who rushes to judgment and shrugs off the collateral damage.  Ours is the God who is patient and kind, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.  Ours is not the God who comes to condemn.  Ours is the God who comes to save.  Ours is not the God who delights in patting the righteous on the back but who delights in one sinner who repents and all of heaven rejoices with Him.  My friends, do not get caught up in a desire to fix the church for Jesus or to send the world packing on its way to hell.  Do not presume that you know the difference between the weeds and the wheat.  Trust in the Lord.  Hear the Gospel.  Believe in it.  Come in repentance.  Go with the desire to share this Gospel.  Let your hearts be consumed not with anger over the sinner but with joy over every single one who repents.  In the holy name of Jesus.  Amen.

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