Sermon for 17 July 2020                                      Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

 

“Gathered into the Father’s Arms – in Good Time”
(Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43)

 

Grace, mercy and peace, from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

 

Text:  Matthew 13:30 ~ “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.’”  This is our text.

 

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.  Amen.

 

Lest you get all full of yourself and look down your long, self-righteous nose at the weeds, let me remind you:  We are no better than the weeds, because we all deserve to be thrown into a fiery furnace.  But that’s not the point of comparison in this parable.  You might remember that last week we read another parable about a farmer sowing seed, but that parable dealt with what happens to the seed in various soils, which is a completely different problem from today’s lesson.  Today, in this “Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds,” Jesus teaches us to be patient, like God is patient.  God is patiently enduring evil for now in this world, actually protecting us, by allowing good and evil to grow side by side – for now.

 

When Jesus explains this parable to his disciples, he says plainly that “all causes of sin and all law-breakers” will be cast into the fiery furnace.  All?  Who, then, can escape?  All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  Nobody has kept the Law of God.  At the beginning of this service we each confessed to God that we deserve eternal punishment for all our sins.  Jesus says that the “Righteous” shall escape and will “shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”  Earlier, Jesus said these righteous ones were the good wheat that would be gathered safely into their Master’s barn.  Can we filthy sinners possibly be those righteous ones?

Yes, by the grace of God!  The Righteous are those whom God has declared and made righteous.  You are the good wheat, because God makes you so.  (“He who has ears, let him hear.”)

 

Your heavenly Father not only made you righteous, but he also continues to keep you safe.  Your Creator is also your Provider.  Not you yourself, but Providence is keeping you breathing, keeping your heart beating, keeping you alive.  God is so concerned about you that he won’t destroy the weeds – at least, not yet.  God will eventually destroy all evil, but, if he were to remove evil from the world prematurely, he would surely harm his righteous ones, and he loves you too much to risk it, so he patiently waits.

 

We read in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”  God, you see, is not only trying to keep you in the fold, but he is also patiently allowing more time for the rebellious ones to repent and be saved – “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”  God is not slow, but patient.

 

Besides, “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).  So, be grateful you’re not getting what you actually deserve, and (more than just grateful) be joyful that better days are coming!  You see, Mother Nature is not your god or goddess.  As our Old Testament lesson reassures us, “There is no other God, so fear not!”  No, this virus is not Mother Nature’s (or “The Universe’s”) way of punishing you for abusing Planet Earth.  We will survive – and even thrive!  We will survive this pandemic – even if we die.  “Though we die, yet shall we live!”  Somewhere between living in constant fear and living in total recklessness, we have been given a way to live fearlessly and even joyfully – and without putting the Lord our God to the test.  Through the Cross of Christ, God is still providing for our eternal well-being, even while we live under the constant threat of death.  (It’s only temporary.)

 

In the days of C. S. Lewis (during World War II), the new, constant threat of death came not from a virus, but from the new bomb.  Here’s what C. S. Lewis wrote in 1948, in a paper he called, “On Living in an Atomic Age”:

 

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year.  Or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night.  Or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer… an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of [traffic] accidents.”

 

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me… you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented [before COVID-19 arrived] and quite a high percentage of us were [already] going to die in [various] unpleasant ways. …  It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances, and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.”

 

Lewis continues, “This is the first point to be made [Every one of us has always been terminal.]  And the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together.  If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb [or virus] (when it comes) find us doing sensible and human things – praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts – not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking [constantly] about bombs [or viruses]. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

 

 

This quote from C. S. Lewis would sound unforgivably harsh, if not for the fact that God has already saved us from suffering and death, by giving us eternal life, through the cross of Jesus Christ.  Our heavenly Father is protecting us NOW from the evil that surrounds us and he will graciously spare us when he ultimately does destroy all evil.  Not because we are so much better than those other sinners.  No!  We’re not any better.  We are great sinners, but we have an even greater Savior.

 

Our great Savior, Jesus Christ, sweat drops of blood, as he faced what was about to happen to him, as he faced the horror of what he would allow them to do to him.  As he prayed in the garden the night before he would be nailed to the cross and left hanging there until he finally took his last breath – as Jesus fervently prayed that his Father in heaven would spare him (“Let this cup pass – yet not my will but Thine be done”), even as he prayed to be spared, Jesus was loving us with the greatest love of all.  “Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”  You are that friend.  Jesus gave his life for you, to pay for your sins.  (The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ, our Savior.)

 

Your sins are gone.  You are righteous in God’s eyes.  God has accepted the price Jesus paid for your sins.  God has declared you to be pure, perfect, and holy – perfectly righteous, because Jesus was perfectly righteous for you.  He was cast into the fiery furnace, so you won’t have to be.  He was forsaken, so God will never forsake you.  Your heavenly Father is protecting you now, every moment of every day, keeping you from all evil.  You need not live in fear of COVID-19, “for you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”  Jesus said to his disciples, “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on.  For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing (Luke 12:22).

 

 

Again and again, our Savior reminds us to “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Have no fear, little flock…  At least 158 times in his Word, God comforts us by saying, “Fear not.”  It’s like our heavenly Father is telling us, “I got this.  I’m God! (And there is no other.)”

 

You are more than conquerors, even over death.  You are God’s righteous ones, and even death cannot harm you!  It’s just a portal, a doorway to eternal life with everlasting joy.  You are the precious wheat that God gathers into his barn.  God gathers you into his strong arms and comforts you by whispering, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”

 

We know we will survive – we have God’s Word on it!  And, because we know we will survive, we will lead holy and joyful lives, not fearful and faithless lives.  Remember, fear does not spare you from the bad days; fear only keeps you from enjoying the good days.

 

Your heavenly Father declares, “Gather the wheat into my barn… Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.  He who has ears, let him hear.”  Amen.

 

The peace of God, which is beyond all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.