Goal: To fully understand we are, at the same time, sinners and saints.
Malady: We must have, as did Luther, a right balance of Law and Gospel.
Means: Use the Gospel (Matthew 13:24-30) and the Epistle (Romans 8:28-38) to show both our predicament as sinners, and our grandest hopes as saints.
Hymn of the Day: A Mighty Fortress is Our God – No. 656
The Gospel according to Saint Matthew, the 13th Chapter
24 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 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.”
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My home congregation pastor told me as he recommended and sent me off to the Seminary:
“Jeffrey, if you aren’t nervous every time you step into the pulpit, stop preaching. You are speaking of the things of God!”
Sobering words, which in all my years, I have never forgotten. There is, to me, always an “edginess” to being up here handling the Scripture. And especially today, for the words of both our Gospel, and our Epistle, go directly to the heart of all we believe, teach and confess as Lutherans. Luther once said he was willing to call any preacher who could rightly divide Law and Gospel a Doctor of Theology.
In our Gospel of the wheat and the tares, as most of us grew up knowing it – tares meaning the weeds that grow almost exclusively in wheat field. They look somewhat similar to wheat, but in removing them, one can lose the wheat as well. Jesus calls His faithful “wheat” – which He has sown through His Word, and carefully nurtured. The weeds? They are the corruption of the devil and hell, growing alongside of the wheat. Jesus puts matters right in the forefront that not all in the Church are the believers they say they are, nor are all the things we do as “Church” of “the Lord.”
Uh, oh! Not supposed to be so blunt. This is a day and age where everyone is really okay, and God loves us all and overlooks our sins and that’s that, so tell us nice things about ourselves, Pastor. Let me change that “Uh, oh!” to “Oh, no!” In my ordination vows that every pastor makes, I promised the Lord and His Church I would preach the whole counsel of God, and I would be plenty worried if I resorted to the “I’m okay, you’re okay” very secular mentality that has, unfortunately, invaded even Christian pulpit.
The message of the Gospel is far too clear to permit that. Now this does not mean that we need to be looking around and wondering who might be the tares among us us. Go look in the mirror! In our old natures, our old Adam’s, we are all also tares. We can be the tares in our own wheat-fields of faith. The devil is not picky, however he can get us to go against the Lord makes him happy.
So we have the Law – the Small Catechism explains it simply, that the Law shows us our sins. We need the Law, as St. Paul writes to the Hebrews:
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
The Law shows us our need for the Gospel constantly, in preaching and in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar. To relieve us of our sinfulness, and set us aright each new day! When one understands the Law shows how we are also tares, then we understand our true need for the Gospel constantly. The Confession of Sins we make every Sunday – read those words from the hymnal –
“I, a poor miserable sinner, confess that I have sinned . . . in thought, word and deed, in what I have done and failed to do, not loving God with our whole heart , mind and soul, or our neighbor as ourselves.”
Those are not idle words. They are that sword St. Paul speaks of, the Law doing its work on our sinful selves. That is very much God’s intent. Jesus is the Chief Physician. What surgeon would tell his patient?: “Oh, that malignant tumor you have is no big deal. You really don’t need to worry about having surgery to cut it out.” God is not content to leave us in our sins, to leave us as tares. The whole of Jesus’ bloody suffering and death on the Cross was meant to pay our price that, as we see our sin, we know God has also provided the means of total forgiveness, made tares into wheat – redeemed us through Holy Baptism, in the preaching of the Word, and at the epitome of the Gospel – putting Jesus into us at the Lord’s Supper. God does not desire that a single one of us be lost! He will let the weeds grow, and at the harvest, the final judgment, separate the two. He won’t risk losing one stalk of wheat – the good seed!
So, you see, we are walking dilemmas – walking paradoxes. By nature, we are sinners. By the hope we’re given in the Gospel, Jesus declares us to be saints. I hate hearing the Law show me my sins – I don’t like it any more than anyone else, but it is a necessity, so that I can properly understand how the surgery the Gospel performs cures me – over and over again in this life and world, the eternity might be free of sin through the Cross.
And yet, eternity is ours to glimpse even in this world. Listen carefully and with the ears of faith as I read again the words of our Epistle, perhaps the most comforting words in all of Scripture:
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Now we can clearly see the context of how Law and Gospel must be present. God loves us so much He warns us that our sin will kill us. He warns us against being complacent when we should be diligent. The devil will not give us a moment’s rest. There was the old saw about Luther being challenged, or challenging someone, to go into a closet and try to pray the Lord’s Prayer without any mental distractions. Whoever took the challenge, and came back in seconds, admitting that it took but seconds for his mind to wander off on heaven, and also, how he had skipped breakfast or whatever. Try it yourselves, and see how the devil will intrude>
Yet we sing the words of A Mighty Fortress – “But for us fights the Valiant One” Who is Christ! Jesus knows we are besieged daily by the powers of hell, even when we are unaware of it, and through the Gospel, is working to keep us faithful, even through our daily failures. And, as grow in faith, we begin to understand the words of C.S. Lewis:
“ A moderately bad man knows he is not very good: a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right. This is common sense, really. You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping. You can see mistakes in arithmetic when your mind is working properly: while you are making them you cannot see them. You can understand the nature of drunkenness when you are sober, not when you are drunk.
“Good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either.
“When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less.”
Let us vow to God and ourselves again this day, to see our daily sinfulness, that we might daily have in Christ the blessed forgiveness that assures us of our future. Do not let the devil rob us of that treasure by convincing us we are “okay as we are.” We are not. Only in Christ Jesus, in the Blessed Word and Sacrament, can we know our eternity, and to daily fix our minds on the things of Heaven and eternity, for Jesus sake.