10 Pentecost Proper A11
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43 Sermon
July 20, 2014

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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
42 "O Thou Love Unbounded"
512 "O Christ, Our True And Only Light"
574 "Come, Ye Thankful People, Come"
376 "Rock Of Ages, Cleft For Me" 


TEXT (vs. 40-43):  [Jesus said] “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age.  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.  They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where 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.

            This morning as we're sitting here in church, how many people in Seward are doing, or have done the same thing this weekend?  If we were to look at the national average of those who regularly attend church, the number would be somewhere around 2,500 people; and that's a generous number.  What that means, is that at least 4,500 people aren't in church, or roughly two-thirds.  Of course we have to allow for vacations, illness, work schedules, and other things.  But the truth of the matter, is that there are people out there who aren't warming a pew anywhere. 

            Now I realize that using the population of Seward might not accurately represent the national averages; but this makes it a bit more personal than using the 300,000 people in the Lincoln Metro.  That's why I'm using actual numbers, and not just percentages.  So let's use Seward's population of 7,000 and crunch some numbers.

            Like I said, there are some 2,500 people who regularly attend church.  Of the 4,500 who aren't attending church, approximately 1,200 are self-proclaimed atheists.  And that leaves about 3,300 people who claim to be religious or spiritual, but for whatever reason they aren't in church.

            I think that if people spent as much energy going to church as they do thinking up excuses, then those figures would drastically change.  And I've heard about every excuse in the book too.  "I'm spiritual, but not religious...I don't believe in organized religion...I think all religions are equally as good...I can worship God out in nature better than I can sitting in church..."  I'm sure you've heard all these.

            But the one overriding excuse I have heard the most, is when someone complains, “The church is full of hypocrites!”  I can’t even begin to count the number of times that I’ve heard someone utter those words.  You’ve probably heard them a few times yourself.  It is a very easy excuse, one that people seem all too ready to use.  People are looking for some sort of reason as to why they refuse to darken the door of a church building, and this is a cliché and hackneyed catch phrase they use to try to justify their actions.  Of course we know that it is nothing more than a huge cop-out.

            Even so, what basis do they use to make such an accusation?  Quite simply put, they look at people according to a standard they have created.  They have their own ideas as to how a Christian should and shouldn’t act.  And when a church member doesn’t measure up to their subjective standards, then they are labeled as a hypocrite.

            So what is a hypocrite?  Merriam-Webster defines it as follows:   “A person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion, or a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings.”  In other words, the charge that is being leveled is that the church is full of people who say they are Christians, but in reality aren’t Christians at all.

            This seems to be what troubles people, and it goes far deeper than a convenient excuse.  So is it true?  Is the church REALLY full of hypocrites?  Do you think that people who make this accusation are doing so with a certain amount of accuracy?

            In our Gospel reading for today, this is exactly the issue Jesus is addressing.  And yes, there are hypocrites in the church.  Even Jesus himself says that the church is full of hypocrites!  He makes the same observation, and it's not an excuse either.  So what does Jesus say we need to do about them?  What is the proper way to deal with these hypocrites in the church?  I can guarantee you that Jesus does not advocate that people stay away from church because of the hypocrites.

            Before we get into the details of this, I’d like to take a few minutes to do a little background work.  Our Gospel reading for today is from Matthew chapter 13.  In this chapter, we find Jesus telling a total of seven different parables.  All of these parables have a common thread, in that they all deal with growth in God’s Kingdom.  We’re told that the crowds that followed Jesus were so large, that he had to get into a boat and go out a ways in the water in order to speak to the people gathered on the shore.

            While he is out in the boat, he tells four different parables.  The first one is the Gospel we had last week, which is the parable of the sower, which explains how God’s Word is received.  The second one is our Gospel lesson for this morning, which is the parable of the tares, or weeds amongst the wheat.  The third one is the parable of the mustard seed, and the fourth one is the parable of the yeast.

            Following all this, Jesus goes into a house with his disciples, which provides a more private intimate session with them.  It’s there where Jesus explains the parable of the weeds amongst the wheat.  He then follows with the parable of the hidden treasure, the parable of the pearl of great price, and the parable of the net.  There’s certainly a lot going on in this chapter!

            What makes our Gospel lesson today so notable, is that Jesus tells the parable to the crowd, but fully explains it to the disciples in private.  The disciples needed to know about hypocrites in the church, and what to do about them.  The problem wasn't a new one either; they were well acquainted with the hypocritical Pharisees, and it was a problem that wasn't going to go away anytime soon.

            The parable is simple, really.  A farmer sows wheat in his field.  But an enemy of the farmer sneaks in, and sows weeds in the field too, with the intent of destroying the farmer’s crop. 

            Now here’s where things get kind of tricky.  In our English translations of the Bible, the generic word “weeds” is used; or in the case of the King James translation, the word used is “tares.”  When we think of weeds or tares, we would almost automatically think about the weeds that usually affect farmers here in theUSA.  There are things like cockleburs, scotch thistles, milkweeds, button weeds, and any one of a number of different species of weeds that threaten crops.

            However if we look in the original Greek text, the word translated as “weeds” is the word “zizania,” which refers to a specific kind of weed known only in that particular area of Israel and the middle east.  Zizania so closely mimics wheat that it is virtually impossible to tell them apart while they are growing.  There’s a plant in theUnited Statesknown as darnel rye, which is almost identical to the zizania Jesus is speaking about.

            Zizania competes with the wheat for soil nutrients and water; and when it is all mixed up together with the good wheat, the yield is greatly reduced.  But the biggest problem is that it is virtually impossible to detect until it is too late.  When the wheat heads, so does the zizania.  But unlike the golden kernels of the pure wheat, the kernels of the zizania are black, poisonous, and completely unfit for consumption.  It is impossible to get rid of the zizania when it is first noticed, because the root systems are so intertwined, that attempting to get rid of the zizania would also tear out and destroy the root system of the good wheat.

            So the workers ask the farmer if he wants them to try to pull the weeds.  The farmer’s reply is recorded in verses 29-30:  “`No,' he answered, `because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them.   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 burnt; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.'"

            The application is obvious.  The true believers in Christ are represented by the good wheat.  The unbelievers in the church, or the hypocrites are represented by the zizania, or the weeds, or tares.  And yes, we will find both in the visible church on earth.  With this parable, Jesus explains God’s logic in keeping the two together and allowing them to exist side-by-side.

            We just had our massive July 4th celebration in Seward.  When you surveyed the crowd, how could you tell who was a believer and who was an unbeliever?  We really couldn’t tell, because we can’t see a person’s faith.  It’s like trying to distinguish between wheat and zizania while they’re growing.  You just can’t tell.

            The evidence is shown in the fruit.  When wheat and zizania form heads, then the evidence is clear.  So it is with the believer and the unbeliever.  In Galatians 5, the apostle Paul explains the different fruits.  For the unbeliever, the fruits are:  “…sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” (vs. 19-21)  But for the believer, the fruits are just the opposite:  “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (vs. 22-23)

            As human beings, it is our natural reaction to want to go and do a little weeding.  Our logic tells us that it would be best to simply eradicate those unbelieving hypocrites.  Wouldn’t life be a whole lot simpler?  Why don’t we just get rid of them?  Why doesn’t God just reach down from heaven and eliminate those people? 

            In various chapters of human history, and those are rather dismal chapters I might add, well-meaning people have tried to do just this.  It has been tried, but it has never been successful.

            There were the Crusades; and between the 11th and 13th centuries, there were about nine of them.  Christians from the European area attempted to reclaimJerusalem and much of theHoly Land, and take it from the predominately Muslim and also Jewish control.  Thousands upon thousands of people were killed in the name of the Lord trying to freeJerusalem from the Muslims and Jews.  It was a miserable and bloody failure.

            But people tend to learn the hard way, so in the 16th Century the Spanish Inquisition took place, and again many thousands were killed.  Once again, Christians attempted to eradicate the Muslims and the Jews.  And again it didn’t work.  Human logic failed once again.  We can’t mandate faith, nor can we force anybody to believe.

            So when people stay away from church and complain that the church is full of hypocrites, what do they propose the church should do about it?  I like Henry Ford's old saying:  "Don't find fault, find a remedy; anybody can complain."  Would they advocate another Crusade or Spanish Inquisition to try to do some house cleaning?  Is it God’s will that we should kill off the unbelievers?  Jesus says to let the two grow together.  You can’t uproot one without doing irreparable damage to the other.

            God says to let the wheat and the zizania, the believers and the hypocrites grow together.  At the harvest, which will be judgment day, God will sort everybody out.  The believers will go to their heavenly inheritance waiting for them.  But the unbelievers, those who willfully and purposely rejected God’s grace in Christ Jesus, those who rejected the Gospel, will go to the place they opted to go, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

            There is another very good reason to let the weeds and wheat grow together, and that is the power of God’s Word.  That is something we just can’t underestimate.  For you see, God’s Word has the power to change things; and if we carry through with this parable, his Word has the power to change the zizania, the weeds or tares into wheat.  And that is truly a miracle.

            If we were to go out and try to eliminate the hypocrites, then it would be like us saying that God’s Word doesn’t have the power to change them.  We would be passing judgment on them ourselves, and that is something that only God can do.  Judgment doesn’t come until a person’s life on this earth has ended; and when it does, then we have to trust that God will sort things out.  There’s nothing we can do; that’s God’s privilege and right.

            All we need to do is look at our own selves as good examples.  An honest assessment of ourselves will reveal that we have taken the role of hypocrite more times than we’d like to admit.  Our fruits frequently have not matched the faith we profess.

            But as Christians, as believers, we have the message of the Gospel that gives us hope.  We have the promise that God will completely forgive us and restore us through faith in Jesus our Saviour.  We have that hope ever before us that when Judgment day comes, we will be taken into the heavenly realms, and not burnt up with the weeds.

            So is the church full of hypocrites?  You bet it is, and that describes everybody in the church, at least at one time or another.  So for a person to say that they don’t want to go to church because it is full of hypocrites is just about like a sick person not wanting to go to the hospital because it is full of sick people.  It’s just that ridiculous.

            In our parable today, when the land owner sees the zizania growing in his wheat field, he says, “an enemy did this.”  The enemy of course refers to Satan and what he tries to do.  He wants his followers to infiltrate God’s people in order to trick them and deceive them and otherwise try to ruin God’s kingdom on earth.  It’s like the old saying goes, “Wherever God builds a church, the devil builds a chapel.”

            As believers in Christ, we continue to come to his house for worship, fellowship, and to be built up and strengthened in our faith.  We continue to feed on his Word.  And we know that God will preserve his faithful children amongst all hypocrisy and unbelief.  We pray that God will help us fight the good fight against our enemy the devil, with the assurance that we will indeed inherit the crown of righteousness for all eternity.