Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
July 23, 2017
“Just Thistles While You Work”
Matthew 13:24-30, 36–43
Rev. Richard Langness
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours this day from our triune God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
No doubt, many of you have watched an old movie where the pioneer plows his field using his horse and single furrow plow. When I was in my teenage years my father decided to return to his farming days and start growing sod for our family’s landscaping business. This meant that I spent many afternoons and summer days driving tractor and working the ground. My plow was a three bottom plow so I think that I was about three times faster than that pioneer of old; but that was about it. I would drive the length of the field and then turn around and drive it again. Back and forth and round and round until the field was completely plowed. So in this monotony I couldn’t help but consider the money one could make if one could fine a beneficial use for weeds. Yes, this was before I came to the understanding that when God curses something it is cursed well.
“And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”” (Genesis 3:17-19) There is no getting away from the curse. There is no getting around the reality that our world and our lives are filled with thorns and thistles that do nothing but add more toil to our lives.
Thorns and thistles come in various forms. The weeds in the parable are probably one of the easiest forms to recognize. One doesn’t have to be a farmer to understand how weeds can be a nuisance and burden. Just being a home owner and wanting to have a nice yard gives one that perspective of weeds. But thorns and thistles can be found in our everyday life experiences and they are not necessarily in plant form. There are those people who can be rather prickly and irritating in our lives. We can find them at school, at work, and in our recreation. They even exist in congregations.
As Jesus explains the parable He gives us the big picture. “He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end 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.” (Matthew 13:37-43) The field is the world. Where God has sown the sons of the kingdom, the devil has now sown the sons of the evil one. And sometimes it is difficult to discern who is who.
Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23) There are people who talk the talk very well. Yet, they do not walk the walk. They may call themselves Christians but in the end they are strangers to Christ. Likewise, there are many like the thief who was crucified with Christ. He had done things worthy of death but now as he is dying he cries out in faith for Jesus to remember him. And Jesus answers him with mercy and declares to him. “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
Like the servants who wanted to go out into the field and gather up the weeds, there are many times when it sure seems like it would be a good idea to get rid of the sinners in our midst. The church would run so much smoother if we didn’t have those voices of contention, those thistles who prick us and irritate us. But what did the master say to the servants? “But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 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.” ’ ” (Matthew 13:29-30) We cannot gather up the thistles because we may root up the saints instead. And in reality we just might be the thistle that our neighbor would have bound.
I love this parable for two reasons. The first is that it gives us a better picture of how to deal with the thistles in our life. Our fleshly response to them is to cast them away as if they are a curse to our lives. And granted, if there is tension, it is the result of sin. The curse is being effective in revealing our sin. But Jesus Christ has died for all. He was crucified for the sins of the world. He was crucified for those thistles in our lives that we wish would just go away. Thus, this parable gives us eyes to see the reality that our duty is not to attack and root up the thistles in our lives but to live with them and show them the grace and mercy of God.
God has given us work to do. He has given us our jobs as a means of providing us with our daily bread. In those jobs we will probably have those thistles that will make our jobs more difficult. But God has given us a greater work to do as well. He has called us to make disciples wherever we go. Thus, those thistles are the true focal point of our work. They are the mission field! We are to love them and care for them while we go about our day to day tasks. Rather than casting them away as the enemy, we are to love them as our neighbor. They may hurt us and irritate us, but in the end, they are just thistles while we work in the kingdom.
But here now is the second and greatest reason why I love this parable. We confess that we are always at the same time both saint and sinner. This means that there is never a moment in our lives when we are not in rebellion towards God. But it also means that there is never a moment in our lives when the blood of Christ is not poured out upon us. Each of us is that field. There is within each of us that new creation that God has planted within us through Jesus Christ. Through the blood of Christ and through the hearing of God’s Word, you have been made a child of the kingdom. The very righteousness of Christ has been put upon you. His life has been planted in you. But you know that you do not always live as Christ.
There is within each of us a sinful nature that we have inherited through Adam’s sin. The devil has planted it there. Just as the sons of the evil one will not be gathered up until the end of the age, so also will we not be freed from our sinful nature until we die or Christ returns. We will have to face temptation by our sinful nature, the world, and the devil himself until the end of the age. But what a comforting thought it is that God does not just strike us down in the midst of our sin. What a comfort it is to know that God is ever patient and merciful. He will judge the thistle at the appointed time and it will truly be the thistle. He will also preserve the wheat to be gathered into His barn. “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” (Matthew 13:43a)
You and I do not have to let sin weigh us down. God has given us the gifts of confession and absolution. We need only confess our sin and God is gracious and merciful to forgive our sin. In the face of the thistles within our lives God gives to us His absolution. He declares to you, “Your sins are forgiven!” Yes, those sins in our lives are prickly little thistles; they are not good things to hold onto. But thanks be to God who forgives our sins and gives us the means to overcome those sins. He has secured the harvest even in the midst of the thistles that sprout up within. So do not deny your sin but confess it freely before God and the peace of God, which surpasses all our understanding will guard and keep you unto life everlasting. Amen.