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“Bundled Together”

Date: July 23, 2017 Speaker: Pastor Mark Wiesenborn


“Bundled Together”

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

 Seventh Sunday after Pentecost: July 23, 2017

Pastor Mark Wiesenborn

St. Matthew Lutheran Church, Houston, Texas


Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  The text for this morning’s sermon message is taken from the Gospel reading in Matthew chapter 13:

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.”


Dear friends in Christ, I am sure that many of you have heard of and some have even used the on-line marketplace known as eBay.  People from all over the world are drawn to this and similar services to advertise new and used items which are sold through a silent auction process.  Some sellers also allow you to “Buy It Now” if you are willing to pay a higher price immediately, instead of taking your chances in the auction.


In the course of being a Seminary student and Vicar, Kristen and I ended up moving five times in a span of five years.  We were pleased to discover that eBay was a great place to find replacement pieces for some of the dishes and other items that had been broken or misplaced along the way.  What surprised me most about shopping there is that nearly every seller demonstrates a relentless desire to maintain a GOOD reputation within the eBay community.  This happens through a peculiar little routine that unfolds while your transaction is being completed.  Based on how quickly you pay for your purchase, the seller is supposed to give you public feedback that can be either Positive, or Neutral, or Negative.  Then as soon as you receive your shipment, you are expected to provide feedback for that seller.  Reputable sellers with 95% or higher Positive feedback are attractive to new customers.  On the other hand, getting even a small amount of Negative feedback can damage someone’s reputation to the point that others may no longer be willing to conduct business with them.  So as a result, complete strangers from all over the world are forced to engage in outwardly courteous relationships purely for the sake of keeping their own Positive reputations intact.


Whether we realize it or not, that is a form of being tied together in BUNDLES.  For the sake of keeping our own positive reputations intact, we are sometimes willing to lower our expectations and perhaps to compromise some of our most cherished values.  Even if you have never used a computer and have not heard of eBay before, you probably know exactly what it means to be “politically correct”.  Truth becomes relative, people and their principles become wishy-washy, and after awhile the path of least resistance becomes the preferred way to make our way through the disconnected maze of life in these United States.  And to make everyone feel good about it, we call this “tolerance” and “mutual respect”.


This morning there are two directions I need to go with this messageThe first one has to do with our relationships here in the church, as Christian brothers and sisters.  Do you remember the story of Joseph, who lived with his father Jacob in the land of Canaan?  When Joseph was a young man of seventeen he was tending the flocks with his older brothers, and he brought their father a bad report about them.  We might call that Negative feedback!  Now Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, and he made a richly ornamented robe for him.  When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.


And then Joseph had a dream – and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more!  He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.”


A “sheaf” is a bundle of good grain, which is gathered up and tied together for a specific purpose.  Joseph’s brothers said to him, “Do you intend to rule over us?  Will YOU (little brother) actually rule US?”  And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.


If you remember how the story unfolds while Joseph’s vision was being fulfilled, you may remember that these brothers first talked of killing him – and then they relented, and sold him into slavery instead.  But the spirit of the Lord was with Joseph, and by his wisdom and the gift of interpreting dreams he eventually came to serve Pharaoh as the governor of Egypt.  When famine came over all the land, Jacob sent his sons from Canaan to buy grain.  And there they found their forsaken brother Joseph – who now held their lives, and their futures, in his hands.


The God who created us holds our lives and our futures in His hands.  Joseph’s dream was pointing us to Jesus, the perfect sheaf who will rule over all others.  Jesus teaches us in a parable, in terms of people who will be bundled together either as wheat or as weeds on the great and glorious Day of the Lord.


Most of us have no sympathy for weeds.  They show up uninvited in our lawns and in our flowerbeds, competing for space and resources with the more agreeable plants.  Sometimes they call attention to themselves by growing tall and sprawling out in unexpected directions, and a few bring prickly thorns and leave messy seeds behind.  If they start to get out of control, we might be tempted to spray some potent weed killer in a few places – so it takes wisdom to hold back, knowing that some of the better behaved plants could also be harmed or even destroyed.


If the lives and the futures of God’s more “prickly” people were in OUR hands, we would probably say and do some things that we might later regret.  Think about a rosebush.  Without the fragrant blossoms, those who are quick to judge could easily mistake it for an aggressive weed.  But with a little patience, we are able to see an amazing transformation taking place!


The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.  [Luke 19:10]  Even among Christians, we will encounter people who call attention to themselves in unattractive ways.  Martin Luther explains this parable by saying that “people securely think God is enthroned without a rival and that Satan is a thousand miles away, and so no one sees anything except how they parade the Word, the name, and the work of God.”  They know who Christ is, but not all walk in his steps.


In the church and especially in congregation meetings, it is essential that everyone should be allowed to have their say.  But it is necessary to realize that not everyone can have their wayIt simply is not possible for “all of us to agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among us and that we may be perfectly united in mind and thought.”  [1st Corinthians 1:10]  But we should certainly try, with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength.  When we disagree, SIN sometimes makes Christians think, look, and act like weeds – producing an uninvited and ugly crop of gossip, lies, criticism, and complaining.  Reckless thorns can produce hurt feelings and damaged relationships, and seeds of discontent can spread until the entire garden is in danger.  Who can rescue us from this body of death?  Only our precious Lord and Savior – who suffered for the sake of our sins, and was crucified and rose again so that we might finally appreciate the amazing grace of a loving God.


Jesus commands us to Love one another, even when we may not always agree on the color of paint chosen for the ladies restroom, or the selection of hymns offered in our worship services, or the exact wording of revisions to the Constitution and By-Laws.  Because we have been planted for a purpose, we cannot allow our enemy to get us sidetracked with personal preferences and battles for control over the decision-making process.  Every single day people are dying without saving faith in Jesus Christ, and we have been called to be workers in God’s harvest field while there is still time to make a difference in this community!


This brings me to the second part of today’s message, which has to do with our relationships with those outside of the Christian church.  Several years ago, following our Independence Day worship service, a young man asked to speak with me for a few minutes.  He was a Muslim graduate student from Turkey who at that time was working with the Rice University Institute for Religious Tolerance. He was hoping to recruit me as a Lutheran pastor to participate in their Interfaith Dialogue programs.


An invitation like this places me in an interesting and awkward position.  At the risk of being labeled as judgmental and unloving, I politely explained to him that my ordination vows in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod explicitly prohibit participation in any interfaith activities where Jesus Christ is not proclaimed as the ONLY path to salvation and eternal life.  He alone is the way, and the truth, and the life.  The Apostle Peter says, “In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” [1st Peter 3:15]


Christians absolutely cannot fall into the trap of respecting religious diversity to the point that we compromise the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.  If we are afraid when asked about our beliefs to give negative feedback to those who fervently follow other faiths, then we may be settling for outwardly courteous relationships purely for the sake of keeping our own Positive reputations intact.


And if we do this, we are crucifying Christ in our hearts.  Explaining the parable, Jesus teaches that: “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.”  Our Old Testament lesson challenges the empty promises of pagan religions, where our heavenly Father speaks with clear authority:

Is there any God besides me?  No, there is no other Rock

          I know not one.


In this life and in this world, the weeds are growing side-by-side with the good grain.  But the time is coming, when the Son of Man will send out His angels as reapers, 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.


     Until then, may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ which saves us, and the love of God which sustains us, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit which sends us forth with a powerful message of HOPE, be with you always.  Amen!

GOSPEL READING – Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 [ESV]


      24 Jesus 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.’”


      36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.”

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