Epiphany 5, 2019
The Epistle – Colossians 3:12-17
The Gospel – St. Matthew 13:24-30
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
The connection of this Sunday with the Epiphany season might not be very clear to us when we hear the Gospel tell us about Jesus giving His Parable of the Weeds…or the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares.
In previous weeks we have seen the glory of Christ from His birth, to His early childhood through to His baptism.
But what we can see here today is how Christ is governing and preserving His Church to the very end.
We see how the Church exists during His rule and reign.
He is, by His power, keeping His Church on the path of truth and hope…as our prayer says in part today.
And we see Him finally at the end, sorting all things so the final product will be a pure and undefiled Church in every way…something He will present to the Father on the last day without spot or wrinkle.
But until then, we should take a look at this Parable for what it teaches us in the meantime. It is specifically designed for Christians everywhere who are concerned about the state of the Church both now and in the future.
We have to go down to verses 36 – 43 to hear His explanation…so let’s do so.
Matthew says, “Then [Jesus] left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.”  He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man.  The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one,  and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.  Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.  The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers,  and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.” (ESV)
The Kingdom of Heaven is first what we need to understand. We are the Kingdom. We are the subjects in God’s Kingdom. We are subjects in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Though we are still certainly here on earth and our future dwelling awaits us, nevertheless, we are members of the Kingdom now because we belong to Christ now…and He has translated us into His Kingdom by us being baptized into Him…into the faith of Christianity.
So in this parable in particular, the Kingdom of Heaven includes the Church on earth. ..sometimes called the Church Militant.
Jesus says the field is the world. This is His way of including the Church in all places as well as in all times.
The sower is the Son of Man. Son of Man is a title Jesus used for Himself quite often. He is telling us then that He is the one who is planting the Church….sowing the seed….all over the world.
The good seed is the sons of the Kingdom.
The Church is made up of good seed, which are the people of God…made good only by being members of Christ’s body. Not good by nature, but considered for the parable’s sake, good nevertheless.
Jesus goes on to say that while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat…the good seed, and went away.
Christ certainly does not sow weeds in His own precious Church. But Satan does.
Satan sees and takes advantage of any opportunity to sow discord…especially in the Church of God.
Jesus had Judas among His ranks. There were 11 not 12 who would receive His blessing, be breathed upon and who would eat the sacred Holy Communion Meal that He would institute at the Last Supper.
The harvesting of the seeds that grow up in the Church is the end of the age or the end of time or the last day when Christ comes again.
In that day, both the good plants and the weeds actually grow together in the same field…in the Church.
Wherever the Church is, unfortunately there are weeds within. It is just a fact of the world we live in.
But at the end of the age, when Christ comes to judge the world with righteousness, He says, “Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.  The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers,  and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
The righteous are harvested and gathered into His barn…into His Kingdom, but the weeds are found out by His angels….rounded up, and thrown into the fire to be burned.
In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. A very bleak and even horrifying picture for those who are not good seed in the Kingdom of God.
But there is also the better side of this. Christians….true Christians who live now in the hope of Christ’s return, ….who live in anticipation of is coming again to gather us into His Kingdom are also mentioned.
He says, “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.” (ESV)
Those of us who truly believe…truly persevere unto the end by God’s grace, will on the last day, shine like the sun in the Kingdom.
Bp. Ryle - “The visible Church is set before us as a mixed body. It is a vast “field” in which “wheat and tares” grow side by side. We must expect to find believers and unbelievers, converted and unconverted, “the children of the kingdom, and the children of the wicked one,” all mingled together in every congregation of baptized people.”
He also points out that “The purest preaching of the Gospel will not prevent this. In every age of the Church, the same state of things has existed. It was the experience of the early Fathers. It was the experience of the Reformers. It is the experience of the best ministers at the present hour. There has never been a visible Church or a religious assembly, of which the members have been all “wheat.” The devil, that great enemy of souls, has always taken care to sow ‘tares.’”
The Church will be partly impure until the very end. Hypocrites, frauds and others will be found among the wheat.
But it is Jesus’ desire that they all grow together until the time of the harvest. None will get away with being an imposter.
And we are not to interfere by making ourselves premature harvesters. Jesus will send His angels to do this work at the right time.
This does not mean that the Church is to allow anyone to do anything either. Especially when it comes to those who are causing problems and discord within the Church.
There is a mechanism to discipline and even excommunicate when necessary those who are deemed to be upsetting the peace and harmony in the Church.
But this always has to be done with great care and caution. Jesus said in that parable that if we attempt to find the weeds and pull them up we can cause more damage to the good plants…the wheat… than completely clean out the bad.
Anyone who has done even a small amount of yard work will know that when pulling weeds, we can sometimes accidentally pull up some good plants at the same time. This, it seems Jesus means, happens out of carelessness or perhaps overzealousness.
The same goes for the Church and discipline.
Too much or being too harsh can incite greater problems than addressing things with appropriate severity and moderation….and with grace. That will probably go a lot farther and be more effective.
St. Augustine said in a sermon, “Those who are tares today, may be wheat tomorrow.”
Either way, Jesus’ point is that we will always have an imperfect Church because it is made up of sinners. …and sometimes disingenuous people and unbelievers.
Finally, Jesus is pointing us toward something as well.
Toward perseverance in the church in the meantime…knowing that Jesus is the one who will finally do the sorting out…the binding and the bundling and the casting out. ..through His angels.
His final words here today are, “Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” (ESV)
Christ has given the charge of His Church to His ministers. They are to do His work to grow the seeds He has planted through the message of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments.
He is to water and fertilize. God will give the increase.
Our Epistle today tells us what the kind of plant Christ desires us to be in the field. One that is occupied with the work of being a Christian….not on the one hand always looking for weeds….and on the other not becoming a tare either.
“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 also must forgive.”
This can go a long way to keeping the Church in peace and harmony and might even lead some of Augustine’s weeds into the wheat column as well.
The Collect prayer today was asking God to keep His Church continually in His true religion. That we would lean only on the hope of His heavenly grace. And that we would be defended by His mighty power.
The only way God’s Church will be kept unto the end is by His grace flowing throughout His kingdom on earth…watering His field….throughout the world in all places where the Church is.
This call from the Apostle Paul is exactly what the Church needs to keep itself as weed free as possible…and also to keep the Church as bound firmly together as it needs to be to weather all that the Church has to undergo….from the inside, as well as the outside.
Paul says, love binds everything together in perfect harmony.
The Peace of Christ is to rule in our hearts. To keep us at peace individually as well as a Church body…because we are called into one body.
The Word of Christ, which we receive through the Scriptures, both read and preached should dwell in our hearts…and that knowledge will guide us to true love for one another.
He says finally at the end, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (ESV)
The urgent and repeated call by Paul for the Church to be unified should tell us something. It should tell us that there is the danger of disunity.
There is a danger of discord.
There is the danger even of weeds among the wheat.
But if we take heed to Paul’s words here today and couple them with Jesus’ promise that the very gates of hell shall never fell the Church, we can dwell in the unity of faith in the bond of peace and in righteousness of life.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.