Sunday, February 06, 2011

Sermon: Epiphany 5 - 2011

6 February 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 13:24-30 (Gen 18:20-33, Col 3:12-17)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Our Lord tells a story that calls to mind creation.

The plants of this earth reproduce by seeds “each according to their own kind.” After the fall, sinful man had to put up with weeds, which steal vital resources from the good fruit, which cause mankind to struggle in order to eat, which also lead the poor and handicapped to poverty and envy, while tempting the skilled and ambitious to greed and avarice and self-righteousness. The weeds lead to division among people, and are the source of seemingly endless strife.

Our Lord’s story, the Parable of the Weeds, follows on the heels of the more popular tale of the Parable of the Sower – in which God’s Word is compared to a little seed, that is often ignored, choked out, or scorched – but which sometimes takes root in good soil and multiplies by producing heads of grain that not only feed mankind but also replicate the wheat.

This parable, however, is not so much about God’s Word (which is always true), but rather about the Satan’s word (which contains falsehood). For Satan is the father of lies, and while he cannot create, he can distort. He can mutate and corrupt. And it leads to death. His word, though it can mimic the Word of God, is truly deadly and poisonous.

Since the fall, our world has been caught in a crossfire between the spawn of the “good seed,” the wheat, versus that of the “weeds” sown by “the enemy.” Jesus teaches us how we are to live in such a mixed and corrupted environment, and to do so in such a way as to minimize the work of Satan in our midst while enjoying the fruits of the Word in such a mess.

In describing the weeds, our Lord employs a word that translates into English as “darnel” – a particular kind of weed that mimics wheat. However, the seed of the darnel plant is actually poisonous. It is no accident that our Lord frames the story in this way.

The Word of God sprouts and grows in direct competition with the progeny of poisonous plants. And even as the good seed matures, multiplies, and feeds mankind – so too do the poisonous imitations of the Word. The corrupted imitations grow side by side with the good plants.

In the end, wheat is harvested, beaten into flour, sifted, and becomes the bread that also becomes the body of Christ. So too, the wheat in the Lord’s story is harvested, beaten into flour, sifted, and becomes the body of Christ, the Church. Christians are grown from the Word. Christians are fed on the Word. Christians are sowers of the Word.

And yet, the weeds are still here – even as they have been since the fall. They impede the progress of God’s Word and tempt man into further sin. By imitating what is good, mankind is often tripped up by evil.

And so, what do we do?

Our impulsive nature says to rip out the weeds by the roots and give the Word of God (and the wheat it produces) a chance to thrive. And yet, at the same time, sometimes the “cure” is worse than the disease. God does not immediately uproot that weeds, but waits and will call upon the angels do this at the end of the age – when the weeds will be cast into the flames along with Satan and his fallen angels and “all causes of sin and all law-breakers.”

Dear friends, people get anxious when Jesus speaks about hell. But the destruction of evil is what allows the good seed to thrive for eternity, as “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” as a result. Good cannot triumph unless evil is defeated.

Dear friends, our Lord is beseeching us to cling to God’s Word at all costs. Don’t seek after the seduction of some other seed because it may be less costly, or promises greater yield, or makes claims of a tastier bread. Don’t be fooled by Satanic imitation. And don’t allow yourselves to be merely imitators of the wheat.

For we delude ourselves if we think we have no weeds in our midst. The work of the devil is spread by the poisonous seeds of malice, gossip, distortions, threats, greed, envy, and self-righteousness. The weeds do their work by distracting people from the cross and from the forgiveness of sins, from God’s Word and from the holy sacraments. Dear friends, we must all examine ourselves. We must all resist the devil’s siren song, no matter how slick the packaging or how convincing the message. For Satan’s poison never comes in a box with a skull and crossbones on it. The devil always masquerades, always deceives, always allures. And yet his seed is always poisonous.

Let us not take the Lord’s grace for granted, as the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. As the Lord promised, he would indeed spare Sodom for the sake of ten righteous men – and yet there were not even ten to be found there. The weeds spread and prosper and choke out God’s Word. The Lord is calling us to caution and diligence, dear friends, to hard work in the kingdom and to integrity, even as He calls us to submit to Him as the ultimate Judge, the one who casts evil into the fire.

And how do we beat back the onslaught of the devil’s weeds, of the poisonous darnel, of the influence of those who seek to destroy God’s Word and tear apart his holy Church? St. Paul has taught us what we need to know, brothers and sisters: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must forgive.”

Do not allow evil to embitter you, to make you imitate evil, to cause you to fall into the devil’s snare in your frustration with the tangled weeds in either the world or the Lord’s vineyard. Our almighty and merciful Lord has it all under control, and He has promised a good and healthy yield in the fullness of time and at the harvest.

If you are cooperating with the devil’s work, now is the time to repent. The harvest could come at any moment. The reapers are always at the ready. Now is the time to renounce the spread of poison that threatens to take over your body and soul and leave you cast into “the fiery furnace” where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” In this fallen natural world, darnel cannot be transformed into wheat, but just as Christ turned water into wine, the Lord can miraculously change a tangle of weeds into beautiful stalks of grain in a supernatural way! Jesus does this every day. It is the work of repentance, and it is the cause of rejoicing in His entire creation.

Repent, dear friends! Repent and live!

For the good seed is a pure gift, pure grace, offered in pure mercy, and received purely by faith. It is indeed an act of faith to be patient with the weeds, knowing that their damage will be limited by God’s mercy. In the fullness of time, the wheat will be rid of the weeds, and the Church will be rid of oppression. How we long for that day, as we pray “Come, Lord Jesus!”

Meanwhile, nurture the Word; “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

And we can do this, dear friends, because we have been forgiven. Our weeds have been transformed into wheat. The darnels have been displaced by the Good Seed. We are fed with the Word, the very Bread of Life. We can resist the poison of the weeds because we are connected to the True Vine, the Seed of the woman, our Lord Jesus Christ who has come to cast the devil into the furnace.

For the Lord created His good creation out of love, even as He encourages us, His beloved creatures: “Above all, put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which you were called in one body.”

“He who has ears, let him hear.” Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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