I confess that I am no gardener. Still every Spring, Cindi and I give a shot at straightening out the garden, such as it is, in the backyard. After being trapped inside with the cold, it is always a delight – at the beginning anyway - to get out and fiddle in the yard. I remember diligently pulling weeds and such one fine spring day, trying to clear it out some of the mess so that the flowers could grow unhindered. I was feeling more zealous than usual and managed to clear a nice big spot. I was rather proud of my work. You know where this is heading, don’t you? Unfortunately, it happened that one of the weeds that I got rid of turned out to be the hibiscus that we’d planted and which we both enjoyed so very much. Ah, weeding can be dangerous business if you are not an expert in identifying the weed from the desired plant. And I'm not.
And so today’s readings, in which the Lord informs us that none of us is in a position to judge with certainty whether a person is weed or wanted plant; in our Lord’s words, tares or wheat. And even if you do know which is which, the danger the Lord speaks of us damaging and uprooting the wheat while you’re going after the tare. That’s a job for the angels at the end of days and not for us. Then, we’re told, they’ll gather the weeds first and burn them in bundles, while they’ll gather the wheat into the Lord’s barn, where our Lord says, the righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father.
And so we shouldn’t be surprised, perhaps, to find angels doing their gathering business in our first reading. The Lord’s heard the cry that has come up against Sodom and Gomorrah, and so He sends His angels to do what? They are sent to gather the wheat away from the tares. To literally pull Lot and his family out of the burn pile before the fire is set. But Abraham doesn’t know that. All he knows is that judgment is set to fall on the cities and that his beloved nephew and family are there. And so offers to us what is the first example of intercessory prayer in the Sacred Scriptures. He pleads with Yahweh not to wipe out the righteous (that is, those who are righteous by their faith) with the wicked. “Will not the judge of all the earth do what is just?” Abraham pleads. For it would not be just for the righteous to be swept away in the judgment that befalls the wicked.
The Lord had already taken thought for this, of course. We’ll find that’s always the way in our prayers. He wants us to ask Him, and sooner or later we learn that we may ask Him in the complete confidence that He’s more on the ball than we are, that He’s provided already more than we’ve even dreamed of. The angels, after all, were already on their way to rescue Lot and free him and his from the judgment about to strike before Abraham uttered a word.
And so in the community of the Church, this family of God, His baptized, that stretches around the globe and throughout the centuries. As long as God has himself a Church in this world, you’ll find that among the people of God – those reborn by the Holy Spirit in the waters of Baptism and who cling with living faith to the Gospel promises – among them will invariably be mixed those who don’t truly belong; Christians in name only and not in fact. Try to have yourself a Church where that doesn’t happen, and you end up deceiving yourself and doing all kinds of damage to God’s good wheat crop. It finally is not our business to go through the Lord’s field and pull out the weeds from the wheat. We can’t see into the heart to do that. The Lord Jesus tells us He’ll send His angels to do the job at the end of close of the Age.
That doesn’t mean that sin goes unrebuked in the Church; or that those who persist in open and blatant rebellion against God are not to be put out of the fellowship. Both need to happen and the Lord expects both to happen. It does mean, howeer, that we do not try to have ourselves a Church where there are no sinners. The Lord only has a Church of sinners – forgiven under His blood, fighting against the sin in their lives by the power of the Holy Spirit each day, and so called to be forbearing toward one another.
Did you catch that in today’s Epistle? “Bearing with one another, if any has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” Welcome to life in the Church – where there is always much that needs to be forgiven. Instead of griping, you forgive! You will find here people that irritate the daylights out of you; people so stubborn and ornery that you can scarcely put up with them; people foolishly toying with sin and expecting not to be burned; people full of themselves and happy to pass judgment on their neighbor for not being as spiritual as they are; people near to despair over the ongoing struggles against sin and wondering where is that power of the Spirit they’ve been promised. Yes, there is MUCH up with which we must put to live in the Church – and most of all others have to put up with us.
So St. Paul’s solution was baptismal. “Put on” – whenever you hear that lingo that’s Baptism talk - faith putting on its baptismal righteousness. “Put on as God’s chosen ones, holy, and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” All of this is how we do that bearing with each. St. Paul is in effect saying: Be who you are in Christ. Live from Christ and not from your old Adam and his sinful ways. And the big thing to put on is love that binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let Christ’s peace rule your hearts and be thankful.
How you will accomplish this he tells you when he says: “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your heart to God.” The Word of Christ does the job – clothes you in the very attitude of Christ Himself. Our Lord is not hasty to judgment. Our Lord bears with us - bears our sins to death on His tree. And He awaits with remarkable patience our repentance so that we might enter into His life, and thus be precious wheat gathered for the Kingdom and not sad tares, destined only for the burning.
And He comes to you anew this day, planting in you good Kingdom seed, His Words, and by His Words, His very body and blood that on His cross wiped out all your sin, by which He would raise a crop of good works in your life, to bless this congregation, and to bless His world. You worry about that crop in your life and you leave off judging your neighbor. The Lord will take care of sorting out the real and the fake; that’s not your business. Last I checked, none of you and certainly not I were angels qualified for the task. We wouldn’t want to be cutting down and yanking up one of the Lord’s hibiscus plants, would we?
Your Lord has His Church in this world with all the mess that that entails, all the weakness. But see, His strength is made perfect in such weakness, and thus He confounds the wise and gives grace to the humble, and for that we can all give glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit in his Church, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.