Sunday, July 23, 2023

Wheat, Weeds, and the Harvest

[Below, you'll find the text of the message shared during both worship services of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio today. You'll also find live stream video of both the traditional and modern worship services.]

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

I once heard the pastor of a megachurch describe two questions he used to prepare all of his so-called “sermons”: “What do I want them to know? What do I want them to do?” It’s no surprise then, to learn that his messages were basically TED TALKS, motivational speeches with an occasional side of Jesus. He saw himself and the Church as being in the business of telling people what they would look like if they were holy disciples of Jesus and then giving them the steps, the ladder they could climb, to make themselves look like holy disciples.

There are at least three big problems with this approach. The first problem is that the focus isn’t on Jesus Christ and what He has done for us through His death and resurrection. And the focus isn’t on what He’s doing for us today–the means by which He promises to come to us and give us saving faith in Him–in His Word, in Holy Baptism, in Holy Communion, or in the fellowship of believers.

The focus in this approach, which is endemic to the United States these days, is turned away from the God revealed to us in Jesus and instead, is put on us: what we’ve done, what we’re doing, what we’re accomplishing.

But, friends, if we could attain the forgiveness of our sins or a holiness that would make us fit for eternity with God, then Jesus would not have needed to go to the cross to pay the penalty for our sins.

Christian faith isn’t a self-improvement project. It is not about becoming or being a moral person, because none of us is capable of obeying God’s moral law perfectly. Is that not correct.

Christian faith is about God coming to us in the crucified and risen Jesus to give us His forgiveness, His life, and His righteousness even though we don’t deserve any of these things.

The apostle Paul reminds us of this: “When we were still helpless [that means unable to save ourselves or make ourselves holy], Christ died for the wicked [that’s you and me] at the time that God chose.” (Romans 5:6, Good News Translation)

We are saved and we are made holy by Jesus alone and not by our Christian self-improvement efforts!

Quickly, the two other problems that this approach leads to must be clear. It leads either to spiritual pride or to spiritual despair

People who take this false preaching to heart will either be certain that they are holier than others because of all the good things they think they do or they will look at their repeated failures to free themselves of sin and temptation and give up on the Christian life altogether.

Either way, they are driven away from Christ and the life of righteousness only He can give to us. And that’s eternally tragic!

Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel lesson that it is the evil one himself, the devil, who works to delude us through the false gospel of Christian self-improvement and thereby, turn us away from reliance on Christ alone for our forgiveness and life with God.

In the lesson, Jesus tells a parable, which He leaves obscure and uninterpreted for the crowds looking for a religious how-to lesson. He then explains the parable to the disciples, people like you and me who turn to Jesus for forgiveness and new life with God.

In the parable, Jesus talks about the Kingdom of Heaven, that is, the Church, where the Gospel is rightly proclaimed and the Sacraments rightly administered. Until the day of Jesus’ return, what the Bible calls the Day of the Lord, the Kingdom of Heaven comes to us in God’s Word and the Sacraments, within the fellowship of the Church. 

In Jesus’ parable, a Sower, who is Jesus, the Son of Man, plants good seed in the world.

The good seed are disciples who trust that, Jesus is the way and the truth and the life and that there is no other way to forgiveness and life from God but through Jesus. (John 14:6)

The weeds are people on the membership rolls of Christian, even Lutheran Christian, churches who are like that megachurch pastor; they think that being holy is all about doing religious works which they’re sure they do.

Weeds are like the Pharisees who were horrified that Jesus spent time with sinners, proclaiming God’s forgiveness of their sins.

Weeds have been the cause of much evil in Christ’s Church. They start church fights, accuse fellow members of not being real Christians, work to rid their churches of what they regard as undesirables.

The enemy who plants these weeds among the wheat, of course, is Satan

In this parable, Jesus is warning Christians of a truth: The devil’s number one target for chaos, division, and false teaching is the Church, the Kingdom of heaven on earth.

Also in Jesus’ parable, servants, concerned that the Master has allowed his enemy to plant weeds among the wheat–that is, false disciples among the true–ask if the Master–Jesus Himself–wants them to pull up the sprouting weeds.

If the megachurch pastor were asked that question, he probably would answer, “Yes.” But, Christ the Master says, No. There’s no need for you to be vigilante harvesters, He basically says, “because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest.” (Matthew 13:29-30)

Jesus later explains that there will be a harvest. On the Day of His return to usher in the new heavens and the new earth, His angels will be the harvesters of His Church. They will yank up all the weeds, those who have trusted in their own righteousness, rather than trusting Christ’s righteousness, and send them to the fire of hell for all eternity. The angels will also bring the wheat, Christ’s disciples, sinners, like you and me, made righteous through their faith in Jesus, into eternity with God!

So, what are we in the Church to do about the weeds in our midst within the Church?

Sometimes, we’ll have to fight against their false teaching and point to Jesus and that He gives His righteousness to those who trust in Him.

Sometimes, we’ll leave one church or church body to be united with Christ through a different church or church body.

But, Jesus tells us today, our call isn’t to rid the Church of those we suspect of being fake Christians, weeds.

You see, even if a church is forced to excommunicate someone for spreading false doctrine or living in unrepentant sin, the excommunication should be done in the hopes of bring such folks back into the fellowship of Christ’s Church.

Why is that?

For one thing, we could be wrong in our judgments about our fellow church members. We may mistake wheat for weeds. God told the Old Testament judge, Samuel: “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 6:7)

Another reason we shouldn’t presume to tear those we think are weeds from the Church is that the Word of God–faithfully given in preaching, teaching, witnessing, Holy Baptism, and Holy Communion–can change weeds into wheat. (Isn’t that what He’s done and is doing to you and me? I know that I can be more weedy than wheaty sometimes.)

The Gospel Word of Jesus can leave even notorious weeds to confess, as The Small Catechism confesses: “I believe that Jesus Christ–true God…and also true man…has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, and has freed me from sin, death, and the power of devil…with His holy and precious blood and his innocent suffering and death…” It all depends on Jesus alone!

Until Jesus returns, our call as the Church is to proclaim the Good News, the Gospel, to wheat and weeds within and to the world outside the Church.

We share what the apostle Paul told his fellow Jews in Antioch: “...through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:38-39)

We are made righteous not by anything we do, but solely by what Jesus Christ has already done for us. Jesus promises in today’s lesson that those made “righteous [by Jesus and His grace] will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” (Matthew 13:43)

Friends, in Jesus Christ, you are eternally right with God. You are right with Him now!

I declare to you that, through Him, all your sins are forgiven, eternally buried by Christ.

By grace through faith in Jesus, you are righteous.

Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise!

Those who have ears, let them hear.


The Gospel of John, July 23, 2023

The adult Sunday School class of Living Water Lutheran Church started a study of the Gospel of John today.