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Pentecost 9, “Jesus Is Lord of the Harvest”

Pastor Gary Wong August 2, 2020

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

24 Jesus told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. 27 "The owner's servants came to him and said, 'Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?' 28 "'An enemy did this,' he replied. "The servants asked him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?' 29 "'No,' he answered, 'because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.'"

36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field." 37 He answered, "The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. 40 "As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

Many of you know the nursery rhyme that begins, “Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?” If you had asked me, “Gary, Gary, how does your garden grow?” I might have said, “What garden?” Growing up in San Francisco, I knew about the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. I was also familiar with our next door neighbor’s meticulously maintained lawn and flower garden. The Wong family garden was a 25’ x 50’ slab of cement that matched the concrete sidewalk in the front of our house. My dad wanted a no - maintenance garden—no flowers, no shrubs, no trees, no lawn. The only green things my dad wanted to see were vegetables on his dinner plate.

A lot of that changed for me when I moved to Minnesota. Coming from the Golden State, I was amazed at how green the Land of 10,000 Lakes is in the summer. As we drove through the countryside, I couldn’t get over seeing field after field of corn and beans. Back then. I didn’t realize that I was looking at soy beans rather than green beans; I didn’t know the difference between field corn and sweet corn. My naiveté is understandable. Many of the veggies I ate came in cans or frozen in bags. I didn’t appreciate fresh from the farm or garden produce until I came here. One Sunday after church, my wife served a delicious dinner. I took a bite of a vegetable that melted in my mouth. When I asked her what it was, she said it was beets. I replied, “No way! These are delicious!”

Truly, those fresh beets and every other fresh vegetable taste so much better than the same produce in a can. I was so impressed that we decided to make a garden at our home. With advice from my father-in-law (the son of a farmer), we planted potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini. We cultivated, fertilized, and watered our garden religiously. It was hard, sometimes frustrating work, especially when rabbits and the occasional deer ate our budding plants and when weeds invaded the garden. Yet, God blessed our efforts and we enjoyed a bountiful harvest of produce throughout the summer and even into the winter and spring from what we had canned or frozen.

Today’s lesson talks about a harvest of souls. In his Gospel, Matthew records the account of Jesus speaking to a huge crowd in Galilee. According to the former tax collector turned apostle, Jesus had been in a house filled with people listening to him teach about the kingdom of God. It was so crowded that Jesus went out of the house to the shores of the Sea of Galilee. He then got into a boat and set out a little distance from the shore so that everyone could comfortably hear him. Using parables, Jesus continued to teach about God’s kingdom. Parables are earthly stories that have a heavenly meaning. They are simple stories based on common, everyday events to which the audience can relate. In Jesus’ day, everyone was familiar with the picture of a farmer cultivating a field, sowing seed, and harvesting a crop. As the Master Communicator, Jesus used that familiar picture to connect his audience to the specific spiritual truth he was teaching. At times, Jesus would teach a parable and immediately explain what the parable meant. Sometimes he would teach without any explanation.

The story Jesus presents in the Parable of the Weeds is simple and straightforward. Jesus describes a man sowing good seed in his field. During the night, an enemy sowed weeds among the wheat. When the servants discovered the weeds among the wheat, they asked the owner, “Do you want us to go out and pull them up?” (13:28). The owner answered, “No.” Jesus concludes the parable with this command from the owner: “Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: ‘First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn’” (13:29, 30). After teaching the Parable of the Weeds, Jesus went on to teach two other parables. Why didn’t Jesus immediately explain the meaning of this parable as he had done with the Parable of the Sower? The Bible doesn’t give us a definitive answer. Perhaps it was simply a matter of time. If Jesus were to explain every parable, the crowd might have been there all day and perhaps into the night. Perhaps the explanation wasn’t for public consumption. Since Jesus was training his disciples for the day when they would be teaching these precious truths on their own, maybe Jesus wanted his disciples to ask him. In any case, it wasn’t until Jesus had gone into the house that his disciples pressed him for an explanation of this particular parable.

Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ question was a blessing to them and to us. The first thing that Jesus reveals is that the Son of Man—Jesus’ favorite title for himself—is the sower of the seed Furthermore, “the good seed” are believers, or as Jesus describes them, “the sons of the kingdom” (v.38a). Where does Jesus sow the good seed (or plant believers)? Jesus says the field is the world in which we live. Now, there are others living in this world besides believers. The weeds to which Jesus is referring are unbelievers, or as Jesus describes them, “the sons of the evil one”; furthermore, “the enemy who sows these weeds is the devil” (vv.38, 39). In other words, in this world there is wheat and there are weeds; there are believers and unbelievers. While we certainly thank God that we are the wheat and not weeds, we shouldn’t take that fact for granted. The fact is, every one of us started off as a bad seed. Because of the sinful nature we inherited from our parents, all of us were born enemies of God. Yet, because he loves us, God chose to transform some bad seeds into good seeds. Through the power of God’s Word at our baptisms, the Holy Spirit planted the seed of faith in our hearts. By faith, we believe that Jesus Christ, God’s one and only Son, came down from heaven to live on this sin-filled earth. He became one of us to live a perfect life and then die the death we deserved. Paul tells us that “God made [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Because of Jesus and through faith in him, we are now righteous in God’s sight. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection assure us that one day we will live with him in heaven forever.

Meanwhile, we live in this world even as we look forward to the day when Jesus will bring us out of this world. This parable teaches that we live among unbelievers, whom Jesus describes as weeds. So, how are we to deal with unbelievers in our midst? How do we deal with weeds in our garden? When we discover weeds among our plants, we want to get rid of them. We dig deep and yank them out with a vengeance because we know that if we leave even a little root behind, the weeds will just grow back again. Farmers spend a lot of money on herbicides that either prevent weeds from growing or killing those weeds that do manage to grow. We employ every means possible to get rid of weeds whenever we find them. That’s what the servants in our parable wanted to do. Yet, when they discovered the weeds sprouting up with the wheat, they were surprised when the owner told them not to pull them out. What was God’s reason for letting the weeds remain? The owner said, “While you are pulling out the weeds, you will root up the wheat with them” (v.29). In other words, the last thing God would want is that in the process of weeding out unbelievers, we would hurt or destroy the faith of believers. As the parable points out, figuring out what is a weed and what is wheat isn’t as easy as one might think. The weed that was sowed is called darnel, a noxious weed that is indistinguishable from wheat in its early stages. It’s only at harvest time when this weed becomes evident to all. In a similar way, you and I cannot know for certain who is a believer, an unbeliever, or a hypocrite. A person’s words and actions may give us a clue, but the only one who truly knows is God, who alone can see into hearts.

So a lot of damage could be done if we try to get rid of those whom we think are unbelievers. We might end up hurting believers. How so? We might uproot the faith of new Christians or those whose faith is weak by pounding them with the law in a legalistic, unloving way. We might drive them away from Jesus if we pile on more guilt on their consciences rather than lifting that burden with the good news that their sins are forgiven in Christ. We might also harm the faith of the strong by fostering a “holier than thou” attitude toward Christian denominations whose doctrines are not in line with God’s Word, or by hanging out a “You’re Not Welcome” sign to Muslims, Mormons, and other non-Christian groups.

Another reason that God does not want us to root out unbelievers is that it is not our job. God’s Word makes it clear that Jesus will do that on Judgment Day. In the explanation of this parable, Jesus says that he will “weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil” (v.41). God’s angels are the harvesters who will throw unbelievers into the fiery furnace of hell where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

So, does this mean that we are to do absolutely nothing about unbelievers who are in our midst? Not at all! While we will never be able to keep out or eliminate hypocrites from our congregation, we certainly can do everything in our power to prevent false teachers and their doctrines from taking root. We can do this by preaching and teaching God’s Word in its truth and purity and appropriately applying it to our lives. We use God’s law to rebuke and correct, while we apply the gospel to comfort and encourage. We share God’s Word with unbelievers so that they, too, can become sons and daughters in God’s kingdom.

In the Parable of the Weeds, Jesus teaches that in this world, we live among many who are opposed to God. Our challenge is to live in this world but not be overcome by its sinful ways. God grows his garden through the means of grace. God has graciously planted the seed of faith in our hearts. He’s given us his Word and sacraments to grow our faith so we can produce fruits of faith. When Jesus returns, he will separate the weeds from the wheat. We praise God that we will be included in the harvest of the righteous on the Last Day. Amen.

“Great God, What Do I See and Hear?”(CW 208)

Text: Psalms and Hymns, Sheffield, 1802, St.1, alt.

William B. Collyer, 1782-1854, st. 2-4, alt.

Great God, what do I see and hear?

The end of things created;

The judge of mankind shall appear

On clouds of glory seated.

The trumpet sounds, the graves restore

The dead which they contained before;

Prepare, my soul to meet him!

The dead in Christ shall first arise

At that last trumpet’s sounding.

Caught up to meet him in the skies,

With joy their Lord surrounding.

No gloomy fears their souls dismay;

His presence sheds eternal day

On those prepared to meet him.

O Christ, you died, and yet you live;

To me account your merit.

My pardon seal, my sins forgive,

And cleanse me by your Spirit

Beneath your cross I view the day

When heav’n and earth shall pass away,

And thus prepare to meet you.

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