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Epiphany 5, Second Draft – Matthew 13:24-30

by pastorjuhl ~ February 5th, 2011

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

The Christian Church is full of wheat and weeds. That is the so-called “visible Church” or the Church that is seen with our eyes. Wherever the Gospel is preached and the Sacraments are administered according to Christ’s institution, we see the Church. Where the Church is seen, there are true and false Christians. True Christians are the wheat. False Christians are the tares. They both grow together. The sticky part is when we take it upon ourselves to figure out who is wheat and who are tares.

If you think it’s hard to figure out who is who in the Church, consider how hard it is to spot wheat and tares in the world, where Jesus puts His parable in Matthew chapter 13. It would be so much easier on all of us if those who are wheat would wear little halos, just like ancient Christian art. Those who are tares could wear some sort of pitchfork above their heads, or maybe something that looks like a weed. If the world were that way, then we’d know exactly who is saved and who is not saved.

It doesn’t work that way in the world. Wheat and tares grow side-by-side. There’s no way to tell who’s who. That’s the way our Lord would have it. Let both grow together. Nevertheless, when someone does something sinful in the world, we are quick to judge that person a tare. We wouldn’t do what he did! Or would we? Consider these words from Saint Augustine: Today I speak to the tares; but the sheep of the flock are themselves the tares. O unworthy Christians! You that fill the church and at the same time torment it by the wickedness of your lives. Correct your ways before the time of the harvest! Be not like those who said; “I have sinned, and what harm hath befallen me?”

It is easy to spot Satan’s work in the Church Militant. When someone sins, when that sin is known to all, and when the sinner refuses to repent of that public sin, then it is the congregation’s solemn duty to exclude that person from the congregation. The unrepentant sinner is welcome to hear the Word of God. We do not practice shunning. But that unrepentant sinner is not welcome to receive the Lord’s Supper. The unrepentant sinner does not receive Christian Burial. They are considered outside the Christian Church and in need of repentance. When one is put out of communion with the Christian Church, it is done out of sincere love. Knowing that unrepentant sin leads to this conclusion should give all of us pause to consider whether or not we still hold a grudge against someone, or if we refuse to forgive someone who apologizes to us. Saint Augustine’s words quoted a moment ago point out that even wheat can look like tares.

100 percent of the Christian Church is sinners. Take the Israelites for example. They turned their back on God and made their own idol out of gold. Some of the prophets openly defied God’s Word. You heard about Jonah last Sunday. He ran away from a public call to proclaim repentance in Nineveh. He ended up in the belly of a great fish for three days. The New Testament Church is full of examples. Saint Paul was once the chief persecutor of Christians. Saint Augustine was once an arch-heretic. If God can use people like Saint Paul and Saint Augustine to preach the Gospel, whom else might He use in His bride’s time of need?

The Church and the world look like a mess to the naked eye. Take comfort that both the Church and the world are a mess. Why? The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Consider also the words of the Introit from Psalm 37: Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb. For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land. The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord; he is their stronghold in the time of trouble.

The Lord is still the Lord of His Church. It is nothing short of a miracle in these last days of sore distress that the Church grows and blossoms when and where He wills. It is not given to us to go on a mad crusade trying to figure out who is a true or false Christian. Instead, it is given to us to be faithful. We call sin a sin when open, manifest sin threatens the life of a congregation. This is the loving thing to do. When a sinner repents, we forgive them and welcome them back into our fellowship with open arms. This is also the loving thing to do. It’s the way of our heavenly Father.

As it is in the Church, so it is in the world. Wheat and tares grow side-by-side. The hard part is telling them apart. Tares do wonderful things for people. Tares give to the poor, serve their neighbor, and love one another. It’s sad to say that not all these wonderful things tares do for others means a thing when it comes to salvation. Those who do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and call upon Him as Savior will be cast into the furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Merely doing good things and being nice is not enough to turn a tare into wheat.

Equally frustrating is the fact that wheat sowed by the Savior seems not to do or say anything that gives evidence they are wheat sowed by the Savior. It’s as if they are resting on their laurels, figuring God loves them anyway so they have a free pass through temporal life into eternal life.

How can we tell wheat apart from a tare? That is not given us to do. The landowner says Let both grow together. We leave the division of wheat and tares to Christ. He knows those who are His. That is a tough saying. Human reason demands to know everything right now. We want to be able to see who is and who is not saved. Eternal judgment belongs to God alone.

In the meantime, we bask in the joy of Jesus’ love. It’s so much easier to receive forgiveness and eternal life without having to snoop around looking for tares amid the wheat. Jesus sows us into the rich soil of His Church through the preaching of the Gospel and the giving out of His Sacraments. He will send His angels to gather up the wheat into the safety of His barn where those stored safely will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of the Father.

Both wheat and tares grow together in the field. It’s foolishness to modern farming, but to those who are being saved it is comfort. Comfort comes in believing that wheat won’t be harvested prematurely in order to destroy weeds. Both grow together. Both go to their respective places. Our Father in heaven receives all glory because the Word of Christ dwells in us richly.

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

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