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Friday, July 15, 2011

11.A after Pentecost - Ordinary Time

"Cares are thorns to the poor: wealth to the rich; the desire of other things to all." John Wesley


Matthew 13:24-43

24He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” 31He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” 33He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” 34Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. 35This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth to speak in parables; I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.” 36Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

Prayer for this Week
With a love both powerful and patient, O God you sustain the growth of the good seed your Son has planted. Let your word like a mustard seed, bear rich fruit within us, and like a little yeast, produce its effects throughout the whole church. Thus may we dare to hope that a new humanity will blossom and grow to shine like the sun in your kingdom when the Lord of the harvest returns at the end of the age.

From Prayers for Sundays and Seasons, Year A; edited by Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP

Some Thoughts
We remember from our work on this chapter last week that Jesus has been surrounded by crowds and is teaching from a boat. He is teaching in parables as was his custom on many occasions; and was a traditional form of teaching and preaching. Perhaps not unlike our postmodern custom of preaching which weaves in cultural stories, narratives, movies, and prose.

The material in this cycle of teaching is unique to Matthew's Gospel and so may offer insight about the nature of his community.

The Greek indicates that this first story is about a householder with servants. He has fields and during the night while everyone is asleep an enemy comes and sows weeds into his perfectly good field. His servants are very concerned and want to pull up the weeds. He then says, "No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn."

According to Leviticus 19.19 sowing weeds into the field makes the field ritually impure. As a number of scholars point out just gathering the weeds won't fix the problem.

So perhaps in keeping with the sowing of seeds which is also part of this chapter the kingdom of heaven is very different than the community of faith in Jesus' time which aimed at being pure. Perhaps the kingdom of heaven exists in the midst of the impure - the profane. Not unlike the sower who sows seeds with abandon; we see that the idea of where the community of God exists is in the world. That there is no separation in the world between the righteous and the unrighteous. That the mission of God is in the midst of the people of God (those actively participating in the kingdom and those who have not yet heard the Gospel).

We might be challenged then after reading the first parable in this sunday's lesson to ask ourselves: Do we have enough weeds in our field?

The second parable is the parable of the mustard seed. This parable then continues to challenge our notion of the nature of the kingdom of God. First we have a kingdom which lives out its mission in the midst of weeds which is seen by the establishment as unclean and impure. Now we read that the kingdom of heave is a weed.

No one plants a field of mustard seed. It is voracious and chokes out all other growth. In fact it will blossom and bloom and spread to neighboring fields. It grows into a wild bush where many creatures inhabit and live.

We might be challenged then after reading the second parable to ask ourselves: As missionaries do we sow a Gospel that is voracious and weed like; in which many creatures may find shelter?

In the last parable Jesus says: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” This is crazy! This parable of the kingdom is even wilder than the sower who sows with abandon; the farmer who allows the weeds into his field; or the farmer who grows mustard!

Think about this for a minute. The woman has yeast. She must remove it for the sabbath. This yeast (given the period of time) would have been much like a sourdough starter today. So she is going to mix the yeast in with flour and bake the bread thereby cleaning the house of all its impurity and insuring she does not do any work. She takes this starter and mixes it with "three measures of flour." A measure of flour in the first century was about 8.5 liters; or 36 cups. She has mixed this threefold meaning that she has mixed her yeast starter into 108 cups flour! This will mean that she will end up making about 18 loaves of bread. A loaf of bread would have cost a person a day's wages in Jesus time.

So the kingdom of heaven is like a mad baker! The parable of the yeast is not unlike the parable of the sower. The results is a multiplication of ample amounts.

We are challenged in this third parable to ask ourselves: is our mission proclamation of the Gospel kneading into the world around us copious amounts of yeast to bring forth a great bounty of bread for the world?

Is our Gospel proclamation providing the world around us enough bread that those who are hungry are fed?

The last portion of our text today is an apocalyptic interpretation of the parable about the wheat and the weeds.

36Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

I do think that one has to make a decision as the preacher how one is going to approach the text. Jesus himself teaches to the crowd and teaches to his closest followers. Will you preach to the wheat and the weeds both parts of this text?

I do think that the preacher needs to make some mention of the reality that the Gospel offers a vision of an end that includes judgement. How is that judgement to be explained.

The reality is that this pulls into the text the a Daniel (12.3) like prophetic vision of the end. Perhaps it is entombed in Jesus' time period and should be overlooked. But I think that we loose something if we don't also deal with accountability. I think that for Jesus and for Matthew's community the message is clear: the proclamation of the kingdom of God matters to God.

No matter what the end times are going to be like...no matter what judgment will be like...our work to sow the seeds, live in a mixed community, proclaim the gospel like a weed and leavening the world around us MATTERS to our God. This is our work and we believe it matters and is essential to life in a community that proclaims Jesus as Lord.

A Blessing
I visited St. Bartholomew's in Estes Park last Sunday and this was the blessing used by the priest. I liked it and thought I would share it with you as I think it ties into today's lesson. We have work to do and our footprints in the garden are short, there is community to embrace, a weed like Gospel to sow, and leaven to knead!

"Remember that life is short and we have too little time to gladden the hearts of those who travel the way with us. So be quick to be kind, make haste to love, and may the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be with you now and forever more."

An Excellent Sermon by Martin Luther
Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany; Matthew 13:24-30

A Sermon by Martin Luther; taken from his Church Postil of 1525.
[The following sermon is taken from volume II:100-104 of The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI). It was originally published in 1906 in English by Lutherans in All Lands Press (Minneapolis, MN), as The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther, vol. 11. The pagination from the Baker edition has been maintained for referencing. This e-text was scanned and edited by Richard Bucher, it is in the public domain and it may be copied and distributed without restriction.]

Matt. 13:24-30: Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn. 

1. The Saviour himself explained this parable in the same chapter upon the request of his disciples and says: He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; and the field is the world; and the good seed, these are the children of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy that sowed them is the devil; and the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. These seven points of explanation comprehend and clearly set forth what Christ meant by this parable. But who could have discovered such an interpretation, seeing that in this parable he calls people the seed and the world the field; although in the parable preceding this one he defines the seed to be the Word of God and the field the people or the hearts of the people. If Christ himself had not here interpreted this parable every one would have imitated his explanation of the preceding parable and considered the seed to be the Word of God, and thus the Saviour's object and understanding of it would have been lost. 

2. Permit me to make an observation here for the benefit of the wise and learned who study the Scriptures. Imitating or guessing is not to be allowed in the explanation of Scripture; but one should and must be sure and firm. Just like Joseph in Gen. 40:12f. interpreted the two dreams of the butler and baker so differently, although they resembled each other, and he did not make the one a copy of the other. True, the danger would not have been great if the seed had been interpreted to be the Word of God; still had this been the case the parable would not have been thus understood correctly. 

3. Now this Gospel teaches us how the kingdom of God or Christianity fares in the world, especially on account of its teaching, namely, that we are not to think that only true Christians and the pure doctrine of God are to dwell upon the earth; but that there must be also false Christians and heretics in order that the true Christians may be approved, as St. Paul says in 1 Cor. 2:19. For this parable treats not of false Christians, who are so only outwardly in their lives, but of those who are unchristian in their doctrine and faith under the name Christian, who beautifully play the hypocrite and work harm. It is a matter of the conscience and not of the hand. And they must be very spiritual servants to be able to identify the tares among the wheat. And the sum of all is that we should not marvel nor be terrified if there spring up among us many different false teachings and false faiths. Satan is constantly among the children of God. (Job 1:6). 

4. Again this Gospel teaches how we should conduct ourselves toward these heretics and false teachers. We are not to uproot nor destroy them. Here he says publicly let both grow together. We have to do here with God's Word alone; for in this matter he who errs today may find the truth tomorrow. Who knows when the Word of God may touch his heart? But if he be burned at the stake, or otherwise destroyed, it is thereby assured that he can never find the truth; and thus the Word of God is snatched from him, and he must be lost, who otherwise might have been saved. Hence the Lord says here, that the wheat also will be uprooted if we weed out the tares. That is something awful in the eyes of God and never to be justified. 

5. From this observe what raging and furious people we have been these many years, in that we desired to force others to believe; the Turks with the sword, heretics with fire, the Jews with death, and thus outroot the tares by our own power, as if we were the ones who could reign over hearts and spirits, and make them pious and right, which God's Word alone must do. But by murder we separate the people from the Word, so that it cannot possibly work upon them and we bring thus, with one stroke a double murder upon ourselves, as far as it lies in our power, namely, in that we murder the body for time and the soul for eternity, and afterwards say we did God a service by our actions, and wish to merit something special in heaven. 

6. Therefore this passage should in all reason terrify the grand inquisitors and murderers of the people, where they are not brazened faced, even if they have to deal with true heretics. But at present they burn the true saints and are themselves heretics. What is that but uprooting the wheat, and pretending to exterminate the tares, like insane people? 

7. Today's Gospel also teaches by this parable that our free will amounts to nothing, since the good seed is sowed only by Christ, and Satan can sow nothing but evil Seed; as we also see that the field of itself yields nothing but tares, which the cattle eat, although the field receives them and they make the field green as if they were wheat. In the same way the false Christians among the true Christians are of no use but to feed the world and be food for Satan, and they are so beautifully green and hypocritical, as if they alone were the saints, and hold the place in Christendom as if they were lords there, and the government and highest places belonged to them; and for no other reason than that they glory that they are Christians and are among Christians in the church of Christ, although they see and confess that they live unchristian lives. 

8. In that the Saviour pictures here also Satan scattering his seed while the people sleep and no one sees who did it, he shows how Satan adorns and disguises himself so that he cannot be taken for Satan. As we experienced when Christianity was planted in the world Satan thrust into its midst false teachers. People securely think here God is enthroned without a rival and Satan is a thousand miles away, and no one sees anything except how they parade the Word, name and work of God. That course proves beautifully effective. But when the wheat springs up, then we see the tares, that is, if we are conscientious with Gods Word and teach faith, we see that it brings forth fruit, then they go about and antagonize it, and wish to be masters of the field and fear lest only wheat grows in the field, and their interests be overlooked. 

9. Then the church and pastor marvel; but they are not allowed to pass judgment, and eagerly wish to interpret all for the best, since such persons bear the Christian name. But it is apparent they are tares and evil seed, have strayed from the faith and fallen to trust in works, and think of rooting out the tares. They lament because of it before the Lord, in the heartfelt prayer of their spirit. For the sower of the good seed says again, they should not uproot it, that is, they should have patience, and suffer such blasphemy, and commend all to God; for although the tares hinder the wheat, yet they make it the more beautiful to behold, compared with the tares, as St. Paul also says in 1 Cor. 2:19: "For there must be false factions among you, that they that are approved may be made manifest among you." This is sufficient on today's text. 

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