Sunday, February 6, 2011

Epiphany 5 Sermon

(Or... the "not-recyclable until 2038 sermon)

Epiphany 5 – February 6th, 2011 – Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
Epiphany is the season of Light – the season where we focus on and marvel at the fact that God loved poor, miserable sinners such as us, and so He came down Himself, became Man, in order to win us salvation with His death upon the Cross. When Christ comes to earth, He comes to shed His blood and die so that we who are condemned to death by reason of our sin might be forgiven; He comes to rise again on the third day in order to burst open the doors of death so that we too will rise. And all through Epiphany we’ve seen how this is something that Christ does for all men – that Jesus is indeed the Light to Lighten the Gentiles. The Wise Men – Jesus came for them. The poor and lame, even the Lepers. Jesus came for them. The Centurion and others who are hated, Jesus came for them. Even those of little faith, the weak, those who find the Christian life to be a struggle, Jesus came for them. Or in other words, He came for us. This is the wonder and joy that we see in the Church – that we are gathered here together and that in this Church our sins are richly and daily forgiven.

But it seems to us that there still is a problem. Evil remains in the world. Listen to our parable for today. “The Kingdom of Heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also.” So, here’s the situation – what do you when what you thought was wheat turns out to be a weed instead? And the way this works is that when they were young, the weeds looked a lot like wheat, but it was only in their ripening that you could tell the difference. Now, our Lord tells us what is going on – “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. This field is the world, and the good seed is the children of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil.” I think this is an apt description of the world – you’ve got some wheat, and you’ve got some weeds. You’ve got those who are focused upon Christ – the children of the kingdom – those who are baptized and live out their baptismal lives, by daily repentance struggling against sin and seeking Christ’s forgiveness – and then you’ve got the weeds… who don’t. Who brush off the idea of repentance, who don’t care a whit about forgiveness.

People who care nothing for Christ and His Church often cause us great pain and sorrow. I have been keeping the Christians in Egypt in my prayers, because with that turmoil in that country, who knows how things will go for them – it seems the weeds are growing up around them ever stronger. Or even closer to home, there are those who reject Christ or ignore Him or even hate Jesus, and as such they can reject us, or ignore us, or even hate us. And the bitter, bitter irony of this is that Christ Jesus came for all – we know that Jesus came and died for the sins of the whole world – their sin too – those people who are the fiercest and most bitter opponents, the most hateful and hurtful people we know, Christ died for them too. And yet, they reject, deny, and ignore. That is sad. And then, often, they cause troubles for us, annoyances for us – and then suddenly we don’t just feel sorrow – we can want to do something about them… and what sort of things?

When the servants see the wheat in the field, and the master tells them that an enemy has sowed them there, the servants ask a question. “Then do you want us to go out and gather them?” Sounds sort of nice – gather. Let’s be a bit more colorful – do you want us to rip them out of the ground, bundle them up, and burn them. That’s what they would be gathered for – indeed, on the day of harvest, that is what will happen. But do you see the approach, the servants are eager to dive into the field and start ripping and pulling and tearing, all in order to “fix” things. This, likewise, can be the way we are tempted to respond as well. When we see wickedness, when we see people who anger and annoy us, our first response can be to want to reap vengeance, to dive on in, both fist swinging, and pummel the tar out of those evil people. Our first thoughts can be on trying to make sure that the wicked get what they have coming to them. We can want to be destroyers.

But the master stops his servants, doesn’t let them go traipsing through the fields to go on their weed hunt. Why? “No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.” The master is worried about what today gets called “collateral damage.” Sure, you might get the weeds, but how many plants of wheat will you dislodge, displace, hurt, and even destroy in the process? What are the unintended consequences of your actions? Who else will it hurt? And this, dear friends, is what we ourselves need to remember whenever we want vengeance, whenever we want to “take it to” someone, whenever we want to be the instrument of punishment. This always ends up hurting extra people - especially when they see you, a Christian, rampaging through the field like the proverbial bull in a china shop. In our zeal to fix, to punish, we can often bruise and batter people we didn’t intend to. And why? Because in seeking revenge, we stop focusing on our neighbors and stop focusing on showing them love, but rather we seek revenge, and don’t see the other damage we are doing.

This isn’t to say that the wicked get off scot free. Hardly. “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.” Gathered to be burned – but just not by you. Not your job. Our Lord explains that on the last day, that’s when things will get sorted – not until then. And this really drives home a point that we need to remember. Even with all the times where our Lord gives warnings of the end, of how the wicked will be thrown into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth – that’s not His focus. That’s not why Jesus comes, at least not primarily. The reason He comes is to rescue people from sin, to save them from everlasting torment. The reason He warns us of the fires of the last day isn’t so that we can look up at the sky and say, “I hope Jesus comes today so so-and-so will finally get it.” He teaches this so that people might understand the consequences of evil, repent of it, and receive life. In other words, Jesus is much more interested in mercy.

So now I will call upon you to examine yourself. Are your thoughts more thoughts of mercy or thoughts of vengeance? Are your thoughts more towards delighting in the wonders of forgiveness that Christ has won for all, that all people should benefit from, or our your thoughts more focused on how someone else did you wrong? When you see your neighbor, do you see someone for whom Christ Jesus has died, or do you see someone who is an annoyance, making your life more difficult? Do you love your enemies and desire mercy for them, or do you hate them back and desire their destruction? It’s easy to view people as difficulties, as burdens – because to be honest, sometimes they are. But that’s not all they are – they are people for whom Christ Jesus died, they are people put into our lives so that they might receive from us love and mercy.

In this, we fail. I don’t see any way around it, I don’t see how I can claim anything else. I doubt any one of us would have to think too hard to come up with times when, even quite recently, we’ve been angry, annoyed, put out, and as a result have let that anger, and maybe even a desire for vengeance, come to the fore and overshadow love and patience and mercy. And so this text today calls us to repentance – warns us of our sinful desires for vengeance, calls us to the carpet for the sin of neglecting to show mercy and love.

But why does our Lord give us this parable? Not because He hates us, not because He wants to hurry up and get to His vengeance against us – but because He is God Almighty who has come to earth to win forgiveness for precisely this sin and all other sins which swirl around us. He calls us to His House, His table, not in order to condemn us, but in order to forgive us and give us life in His name. Hear the last verse, the closing word of this parable – “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let Him hear.” Forgiveness and restoration is Christ’s goal, Christ’s focus – and He doesn’t want your eyes to be taken off of this – He doesn’t want you to waste your time worrying about punishment and condemnation – He will see to that sad duty when it is needed; but that is not for you and I. Jesus has something better for us – we are children of the Kingdom, washed clean of our sin by the gift of Baptism, and we are being prepared for the everlasting Kingdom where we will shine forth in holiness and righteousness. This is what Christ’s mercy brings about in you and me – and so, let us continue to turn away from sin and give thanks to God that He continually shows us and gives us His mercy through His almighty and life giving Word, and let us pray that His mercy shape us ever more into agents of love and mercy, even until the last day when we will do so perfectly. In the Name…


Phillip said...

Just be glad you're on the one-year lectionary. Will any of us be alive when they get to reuse Epiphany 8?

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

It's 2038 as well, I think.