Sermon from Rev. Zickler for July 23, 2017

20170723 Sermon Proper 11 2017
July 23, 2017
Matthew 13:24-30; 35-43

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning the lesson for our meditation is the Gospel lesson previously read from Matthew. Amen.

As we are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this year, it’s good sometimes to remember and reflect on some of the major points of the Reformation. Now, hopefully you all know that the Reformation started with Martin Luther nailing of the 95 Theses on the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31st, 1517. As he did that, it caused quite an uproar. Why? Well, to start it seemed that the problem was that this lowly monk in Podunk Germany was questioning the practice of indulgences by the papacy, which at that time was quite a cash cow. As things unraveled though, it became clear that there was more to it. Luther was actually challenging some of the major tenets regarding how one ultimately goes to heaven. Luther and Scripture teach that we are saved by grace through faith alone, and not by what we do. That is to say that none of us is able to earn our way to heaven by doing good things, or even by the good things we do outweighing the bad things we do. In fact, the Lord even tells us that all of our righteous acts are like filthy rags. So, how can anyone get to heaven? By trusting that what Jesus has done is sufficient. As Luther expounded on this Scriptural teaching, the whole of Europe exploded. And you can see why, hopefully.

In particular, hopefully you can see why in relation to what the Gospel lesson this morning is talking about. As Jesus speaks about this parable, this field with its plants, what does He describe? Well, He describes this good farmer taking seed and carefully putting that seed in his field. And I would guess that this farmer was assumed to have verified that this seed was pure. I think that’s what we can take from the response of the farmer when the servant asks, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?” He knows right away, that this wasn’t his doing. He knows the seed was good, there was nothing wrong with it. There were no bad seeds in it. But something went wrong, and I would assume also then this farmer knew his enemy well. He knew just what sort of issue he was up against. And he has his plan, right? Wait until the harvest comes and it will all be OK. But as he talks about this, what is Jesus describing? Well, He’s describing the Church living alongside of those who are wicked until His return. But as He does this, He’s making a point that it’s not our job to be plucking people out of the field, but that He’ll take care of it. In other words, He’s talking about the Church.

Now thinking about this in connection to Luther, what was so revolutionary about what Luther said about the Church? Or maybe not truly revolutionary, but revolutionary at the time. What did he say? How do we truly belong to the church? Well, we belong by virtue of baptism, by hearing the word, by receiving the Lord’s Supper, right? But we can do all of those things and still not technically be members of the Church, can’t we? We could sit in that pew week in and week out and we could look like the most diligent Christians in the world, but we could still not truly belong, couldn’t we? And why? Well, what makes us members of the Church? We are members by faith. We are those wheat plants as we not only hear what God says, not only receive those gifts that He gives, but in the end, our membership card is issued and renewed through faith.

And that’s a part of what Jesus is saying here, isn’t it? He’s talking about how there are these plants in the field, and you look at them and you can tell they just aren’t the right plants. The world is the Lord’s wheat field, and yet the Church is visible ultimately to Him. This tells us that some of the people gathered around the Gospel, around the Word proclaimed and the gifts Jesus gives at this rail, they aren’t really the right plants. So what do we do? What about these weeds that have snuck in, that have been planted by the enemy?

Well, as I spoke of the Reformation a minute ago, it’s worth mentioning another movement that came into the Lutheran Church about 150 years after the Reformation. This movement was called Pietism. Now, if you’re not familiar with this term, you might be thinking that this sounds good. After all, it sounds like we’re talking about something relating to piety, and piety is a good thing, right? Absolutely! We should always desire to be pious. To do what God desires of us in our daily lives, to be faithful to Him. But the Pietists did something that actually wasn’t helpful. What they did is they started making this piety the point. They made this actually essential to the Gospel. They started to say that if you aren’t a TRUE believer, then you’re not really a part of the Church, and you better be careful about that. YOU better do all that YOU can to make sure that YOUR faith is up to snuff. Now to be clear, like we said, if you don’t believe, you aren’t a part of the Church properly. If you are a hypocrite, you are one of the weeds. That is true. But when you start making it about you and your efforts, what’s going to happen? Well, let’s put it this way: if you are saved because YOU did all YOU can to make sure YOUR faith was real, who are you trusting really? You’re trusting in you, right? And if you’re trusting in you, who are you not trusting in? Jesus! And to shift this back to the Church, if the Church isn’t emphasizing trust in Jesus, what’s going to happen? Do you know?

Well, the first thing is that eventually you’re going to fall short, right? Eventually, you’re going to see just how unable you really are to do all of these things. In the meantime, though what else is going to happen? For example, think about the Pharisees. What did they do? They trusted in themselves, didn’t they? And what happened? Like I said a couple of weeks ago, they turned God’s Law into a checklist and they started making sure they did it all, that they attained it. That’s going to happen, because you have to keep proving that you’re doing this, that you’re keeping up. But what else comes with that? As you’re checking item and item off of your list, patting yourself on the back for how well you’re keeping, you’re going to do something else too. You’re going to start peeking over you’re list and looking at the person next to you. You’re going to start saying, look I’ve done X, Y, and Z, and Billy over there has barely even done X. I don’t know if Billy’s really a Christian. He obviously doesn’t have TRUE Faith. He’s not a TRUE Christian. And if He’s not a TRUE Christian, what should we do? Uproot them, right? Get that weed out of the field!

And here we see exactly what Jesus said not to do. Don’t we? That’s the whole point isn’t it? We’re not supposed to be going around checking the skeletons in everyone’s closets and checking into every gossipy rumor to see if we need to kick them out, right? The point is that we shouldn’t be pietistic Pharisees making it our job to examine everyone else’s fruit thoroughly to make sure that they are wheat and not weed. That’s what He’s communicating here, isn’t it?

But even as I say this, what does this mean for us? Well to start, does this mean that we never excommunicate, that we never address sin? Absolutely not. Of course we address sin. Jesus Himself even describes the Church going about excommunication in Matthew 18. So, it’s not about just letting all of this fly. But why do we not let sin fly? Why do we excommunicate? Well, to think about it a bit, what is the hope of excommunication? Is it to snatch the weed out of the Church as quickly as possible? No. It’s in hopes that the sinner will come to repentance, that they’ll see what they’re doing and how that affects their relationship to our Lord. We don’t tell people they’re sinners to make them feel bad and do what we want them to do. No! We tell them so that they see what a horrible state they’re in and repent, returning to our Lord and receiving His mercy and forgiveness. So, it doesn’t mean that we don’t excommunicate. But it does serve as a reminder as to why we excommunicate. It also tells us that in excommunicating, we need to be careful that as are taking a weed out, we don’t unwillingly uproot one of the wheat plants who belongs in the Church. In other words the farmer can’t just go gangbusters ripping weed after weed or eventually he’s going to destroy plants that are supposed to be there.

And as we think about that, something we have to remember is how broken everything is in the fallen world. Even the church. If you’ve been in my new members’ class, or in Bible Class, hopefully you’ve heard me say that often we underestimate just how deep the effect of sin goes in the world, and all the more upon us. This is a good reminder of that. Jesus said that the Church is so broken now in this time that as good as it is because it is God’s Kingdom, it’s still going to be a mess in this world. Think about it. Sin makes such a mess of things that even where God takes away people’s sins, sin still messes things up.

To make this more concrete, think about this. Have you ever heard of someone saying that they don’t go to church because they know just how hypocritical people are in the Church? Of course there are! Of course people in the pews of a church are hypocritical! They’re sinners! Sinners are hypocrites! But Jesus came for sinners! And as He’s talking about this, He’s saying, quit worrying about what a hypocrite or what a sinner the person in the world, or even in the pew next to you is! Instead, worry about what a sinner you are! As you worry about that, then you’ll see a greater need! Jesus. You’ll see that as He bled and died on the cross, He died for the sins of that sinner next to you, and in an even greater mercy He died for your sin! He bore your sin on the cross. In the sincerity of His faith He bore the brunt of your hypocrisy! For your faith that’s showy and trusts in you instead of Him, He suffered God’s wrath to win your forgiveness so that you will be raised on the last day in His resurrection.

And blessedly this applies to pastors too. It applies to the fact that even when a pastor is a hypocrite, it doesn’t make what’s happening here any less effective. You might find a pastor that has sinned. But even still, Jesus is here doing what He does, giving His gifts of forgiveness, mercy and life through the promises of His Word, through His body and blood.

And ultimately, in all of this, what Jesus is saying, is that you can trust that He’s got His Church well taken care of. Even more so, He’ll take care of it until the day of His return. And on that day, He’ll make sure that those weeds of the world get tossed out, so you don’t have to fret about it too much. It’s His Church, and He’s OK taking care of it without you worrying too much about it. So instead of worrying, pray. Pray for His people, pray for His Church. Pray that He would come quickly.

Finally to tie this back to the Reformation, yes the Church is about faith, we are in the Church by faith, and by faith alone, but that faith is something that doesn’t look back at itself, it doesn’t compare itself to the other plants in the field. Instead it looks outside of itself. It looks to Jesus and to His promises. Promises to the whole Church that He will take care to fulfill perfectly in His Grace. Amen.