"The Utopian Dream"
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
+ In Nomine Jesu +
The message this morning is based on the Gospel reading from Matthew 13, the parable of the wheat and the tares. It's in this part of Matthew's Gospel that Jesus begins to speak to the crowds in parables, what have been called earthly stories with heavenly meanings. In last week's reading, the parable of the sower, we were confronted with the realization that it is possible to lose our faith. The soils in the parable represented the hearts into which God's Word is sown. In the shallow soil faith never takes root. In the rocky soil the roots of faith are shallow such that it can't stand trial and persecution. In the thorny soil the cares of the world choke faith out. And yet, Christ is the sower. He prepares the soil through His Word that the seed might grow and prosper. He tends it. He nurtures it. We are cautioned only to handle His Word with care.
The parable of the sower contrasts with this morning's parable in that it essentially dealt a very personal application of God's Word, while the parable of the wheat and the tares deals with the world in which Christians rub shoulders with unbelievers every day. The Son of Man, Jesus, plants a crop, and someone, the devil, comes and plants tares among the wheat. Both are left to grow. In time the reaper comes to harvest the wheat. "Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place 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."
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
As most of you are aware, Dawn and I just returned from a trip to Michigan. Over the six days we spent on the road we logged some 3,600 miles through 8 states. While it is best, of course, to stay awake while driving, I could, nonetheless, dream of a highway system that better suited my desire. I envisioned a utopian highway sprawling across the fruited plains. In my perfect scenario there were no potholes, no cracks in the pavement. At the same time, there was no road construction. The roads just didn't wear out. Cars ahead of me yielded to my every move. Exits were exactly where they needed to be. Though heading East in the morning, the sun arose that particular day in the West that it's blinding rays not be an issue. And trucks! Well, the trucks had their own highway system where they battled with one another in a choreographed symphony of speeding up and slowing down.
That was my utopian dream. The problem with such dreams is that, while we can dream them, we can't make them come to pass. Eventually, perhaps even in the best part of the dream, we are shaken back to reality, to a world where people and things weary us, where we groan with the rest of God's creation as with the "pangs of childbirth."
Of course, over those 3,600 miles there were potholes and cracks in the road and consequently there was road construction. Oklahoma, by the way, won the prize for the most road construction. I battled with other cars to change lanes without having to turn off my cruise control. Dawn put up with my occasional grumbling. And trucks! Well, they didn't have their own highway system, and that choreographed symphony of speeding up and slowing down was really more like the raking of finger nails across a chalkboard.
Two of Jesus' disciples dreamt of a utopian world in which all that stood against Christ and His kingdom would be destroyed. You may remember those disciples. They were James and John, the two "sons of thunder." When Jesus had "set His face toward Jerusalem," that is, as He made His way there to be crucified for the sins of the world, He traveled through a Samaritan city where the people refused to receive Him. Indignant, James and John said, "Lord, would you like us to call down fire to consume them?" At which time, Jesus rebuked them and moved on to another city.
In a similar fashion, here in the parable of the wheat and the tares, the servants of the Master envisioned a pristine field of wheat, a field unencumbered by tares. And so, they asked their Master "would you like for us to gather up the tares and burn them in the fire?" To which their Master replied, "no, lest in gathering up the tares you root up the wheat along with them."
Two things are evident in the Master's reply to his servants. One, sometimes the wheat and the tares are so intertwined that the tares can't be pulled up without pulling up the wheat along with them. And therefore, two, until the day of the harvest, wheat and tares will grow together in the same field.
We all like to think that we can identify those who are Christian by the stellar conduct of their lives. And yet, it is precisely the nature of a Christian that he is a sinner redeemed by grace. In other words, the essential difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is not the quality of life lived. Rather, it is that the Christian confesses his sin finding his righteousness in Christ, while the non-Christian confesses his righteousness, and yet, stands before Christ a sinner.
Like the servants in the parable, we are ill prepared to distinguish the wheat from the tares in the Master's field. "In one of the first crusades, knights from western Europe blew through an Arab town on their way to the Holy Land and killed everyone in sight. It was not until later, when they turned the bodies over, that they found crosses around most of their victims' necks. It never occurred to them that Christians came in brown as well as white." So because of the fact that we often can't tell the wheat from the tares, and that they are so often intertwined, we see that the Master of the field is more interested that things grow than he is in a pure or clean or uniformly tidy field.
Of course, in a perfect world we would all be Christians. Actually, I should say, in a perfect world, we would all be Missouri Synod Lutherans, believing the Word of God as it been so beautifully and rightly confessed in the Lutheran Confessions. But the world, as a whole, is neither Christian nor Lutheran. Rather, the world is made up of a mixture of people of many different faiths. There are Buddhists, Muslims, Mormans, Jehovah's Witnesses and the like. Some even trust with their whole heart, mind, body and soul that God doesn't exist.
While we are called to sow the seed of God's Word that others might come to faith in Jesus, to be counted among the vast field of sinners who find their righteousness in Him, we are also called to be realists, acknowledging the fact that there will always be tares among the wheat in the field. We live in a militant church, standing firm against the forces that would deny Christ and His blessings. So, whatever utopian dreams we have this side of heaven we are therefore called to set aside, that we might dream of a new day, of a new heaven and new earth, in which all that sets itself against Christ and His reign will be destroyed, a world where "the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father."
The promise of the parable is so beautifully portrayed in the hymn we sang just before the sermon. Many of our loved ones have gone before us. They lived out their days among the tares of the field. For them "the fight was fierce, the warfare long." They dreamt of a new day, of a new heaven and a new earth. Perhaps it was when they most wearied of their struggle that "the golden evening brightened in the west; for, soon, soon to faithful warriors cometh rest; sweet is the calm of paradise the blest." As Luther reminds us in his great reformation hymn, "Christ holds the field forever."
My little dream of a utopian highway was actually rooted in the sin of selfishness, although, even in my selfishness I did allow for other cares to be on the road. The one utopian dream that is pure and holy was dreamt by God. And, not only has He dreamt it, He brings it to pass through the sacrifice of His own dear Son. And so, "Lo, there breaks a yet more glorious day: The saints triumphant rise in bright array; The King of glory passes on His way." And the saints "shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father." In Jesus' name. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
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