Shine Like the Sun in the Kingdom

Text: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Date: Pentecost VII (Proper 11) + July 23, 2017

What an appropriate Gospel reading for us on this first Sunday meeting here in the Troy Historic Village. [Thanks to everyone who helped the move yesterday.] It is appropriate because Jesus is here speaking to two different audiences; first to the great crowds that had gathered about him, so great that Jesus got into a boat to make a sort of amphitheater of the shore of the sea, then secondly to his disciples only in the house. With our change in location many have thought this may be an opportunity for outreach into our new community. We encourage visitors to check us out, but more to check out Jesus whom we proclaim.

When people consider coming to church or becoming a Christian, many may have different expectations. “Will joining in on the Christian faith help straighten out my life?” They may have even heard the TV preachers promise health and healing or financial gain. When these things don’t happen, many may easily fall away, like the story of the seed that was planted but then choked out because life seems to be just as troubled as before or like the weeds of the deceit of wealth. We heard about that in Jesus’ first parable (last week) of the Sower. These parables answer the question why so many people do not respond in faith and discipleship to the Gospel.

Today’s parable of the weeds seeks to answer our questions of whether the kingdom and reign of God is really succeeding in the world. First notice that in these parables Jesus begins by saying, “The reign of heaven is like this.” Here He means to talk about the experience of the Church now, today, even while still in this world. In other parables Jesus will say, “The reign of heaven will be like this,” meaning to tell of the final outcome of God’s work in our world. That’s what the last words of today’s Gospel point to when He says, “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Notice we are not commanded to try to “shine like the sun” now because we can’t yet as we are surrounded and weighed down by the effects of sin which has not yet been completely removed from us. But there is coming a day when we will be completely set free from sin, death and the devil and will shine reflecting the very glory of God in heaven, paradise, the new heavens and earth.

I like Professor Jeff Gibbs’ summary of these parables saying that the parable of the weeds means to say, God’s rule “will be different, but for now, this is what you get!” In His explanation of these parables it is as if Jesus is assuring His disciples that things will be put right on that day, the last day, but not yet.

The seed of God’s Word is powerful and will not return to God empty handed. It is God Himself, the Holy Spirit, reaching out and speaking through the preached Word of the Scriptures. Through the hearing of the Word people are brought to repentance and given the gift of saving faith. This happens not because of anything the hearer does, but almost surprisingly when he or she is moved to say, “I believe.”

So, God’s rule does mean to make a difference in your life, but that difference is hidden to the eyes of faith. This is what you get at the same time, the enemy, the devil comes and sows his seeds producing the weeds of doubt and disbelief. And so, it is that God calls you to faith, hope, and love even while yet struggling with the weeds of unbelief, doubt and hatred all around us and even yet in us. This seems to be happening to an even greater degree in our time. And these weeds are not only “out there” in the world. Jesus says, “the field is the world.” But the Church is planted in the midst of this same world and the same lack of faith, doubt, and denial can spring up even in the Church. That’s why the Christian faith in this world and in this Church is always a matter of daily repentance, repeated confession and absolution and the need of Church discipline.

I was hoping, in the little detail of the Lord not allowing his servants to gather up the weeds, that I might find an excuse to not be so concerned for my lawn or garden. But that’s not the issue. Because the crop in the parable is wheat. The roots of the weeds intertwine with the roots of the wheat, so it is impossible to pull up the weeds without also rooting up some of the wheat along with them. So, what are we to do about the sins of others even of those I call my friends and brothers? The answer: it’s not your job to try to fix anything. It is God’s work through His Word of Law and Gospel to bring people to contrition and sorrow over their sin, to repentance and to receive forgiveness and the gift of faith. No one can do that for anyone else. At the last day, the harvest, the close of the age, God will finally bring ultimate justice.

I’ve always said that when the Bible talks about being justified it is more than being right. It is most helpful for us to remember that to be justified is to be killed. We speak of enemies or criminals being justified by the sword, justified by hanging, or justified by the firing squad. When the Bible speaks of being justified by faith it means to be killed in such a way that you will live forever. God’s declaration of you to be forgiven of all your sin takes punishment and death away.

Until the last day we will continue to experience, as St. Paul said today, “the sufferings of this present time.” But it is suffering in the sure and certain hope of our final deliverance that we can continue to live now by faith, the hope as the prophet Daniel saw it. “But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (Dan 12:1b-3). It is in that hope that “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”