July 19, 2020
This week online we read from Matthew’s gospel a parable about wheat and weeds… and then follow that up with Jesus explaining the parable to his disciples. Listen for the Word of God as it speaks to you today.
READ Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
I have to admit that I like last week’s parable of the sower from Matthew’s gospel better than this week’s parable. So much so that in twenty years of ministry I have never preached a sermon on this passage. Now maybe it’s because I’ve always thought two Sundays in a row with a sermon based on a parable about seeds… what am I going to say that I haven’t said already?
Or maybe it’s the parable itself and its message. Because on the surface of this parable there’s that quick slippery slope of identifying yourself only with the wheat and then taking the opportunity to really let the weeds… as you see the weeds… to really let the weeds have it. Just unleash on those weeds. As I’ve said before… as a preacher I have to confess that it does feel good to write those kind of sermons. It’s not necessarily the best way to deliver the good news of the kingdom… but it does feel good… and I know that for some of you out there… it feels good to listen to those messages as well. I mean, who doesn’t like to be told that they are the wheat among the weeds? It’s very cathartic especially when we’re surrounded by so much confusion… when the society around us is so volatile and unpredictable. Sometimes nothing feels better than a good old-fashioned weed stomping.
And I don’t want to completely disregard that way of looking at this parable… because there is wheat and there are weeds. There are those things sown by Christ which grow the kingdom when lived out by Christians. There are those things sown by Christ through the work of the Spirit which are indicative of faith in Christ. There are those ways of being Christian that are right… we can’t deny this. If we deny this… we do so to our own detriment. And last week I put before you Paul’s fruit of the Spirit as an example of those things that are right… that are indicative of faith in Christ. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. As Paul says… there is no law against such things. Through these the kingdom of God grows in the world. A fellowship of faith like ours should be… should be… overflowing with such a bountiful harvest as this.
So we need to say there is wheat sown by Christ… and that wheat can be defined. We need to say that… and maybe try not to jump to the feel good weed stomping that does not reflect the characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit.
Scripture is always defining the wheat… those things that are God’s ways. In the outside service, they will be hearing this same idea put to them from Romans… “[F]or if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.” Flesh and Spirit. Weeds and wheat. While the binary nature may make some of us uncomfortable… there has to be that line of demarcation… there has to be that point where if you can’t tell the difference between the two… flesh and spirit… weeds and wheat… or if you prefer the confusion because you don’t like where you know you’re going to come out because you’re not going to look good… then the lower ideal will win out. As long as there is confusion… the wheat will not thrive because it will be discerned to be a weed… or to use the words from Romans… we will continue to be slaves to fear.
There are weeds among the wheat… and those weeds also need to be defined because… again… if we cannot distinguish between the two… then what good are we? How are we to work in the building of the kingdom of which Christ is the architect if we can’t tell the difference between the materials that are before us? The story of the three little pigs keeps jumping into my brain. If we can’t tell the difference between what would be built using bricks and what would be built using straw… or weeds to keep our metaphors intact… then the architectural plans are never going to be realized. If we can’t see that there is a difference between the fruit of the Spirit and the works of the flesh… to go back to Paul… then we are going to set about building the kingdom thinking we can do so with fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing and the like. And those structures we build thinking that they are somehow growing the kingdom… will either quickly become dilapidated or go up in flames.
But again… we need to be careful with this parable. It’s not an “us” versus “them” situation. That’s where the bottom falls out of our slippery slope with this parable. Again… as good as it might feel to let the “thems” have it… that really gets us nowhere. It’s an easy place to go… and Lord knows I’ve gone there before. What a satisfying way to blow off some steam… but in the long run… that’s all it does. Blow off some steam that is usually more a reflection of my own frustrations than anything. There is no growth toward the harvest because “us” versus “them” uses the works of the flesh… anger… strife… enmities… probably a bit of jealousy and envy thrown in for flavor. We have to be careful that we don’t point the finger at those types of people. That’s what’s working in my mind whenever we get to that “us” and “them” place. Those types of people. That’s something that last week’s parable warned me against… as the sower in that parable kept throwing seeds and spreading them upon those types of people… those hard path types… and those rocky, shallow types… and those who were covered with thorns… all those types had seed thrown upon them… maybe with the unending hope of the sower that something might grow… something might grow even on them. The growth of the seed making them good… the good tree is known by the good fruit.
I read this parable today and it speaks to me about the potential God sows… and what holds back that potential. I don’t think that’s what Matthew necessarily intended. I think Matthew’s message has to do with the knowledge that at the end of the age… at the end when all is said and done… God’s judgment will happen and in the end we will be judged by our actions… by our own fruits… of whether or not we contributed to the good harvest or if we worked as an impediment to the coming kingdom. I think this parable works pretty much the same way as the parable of the sheep and the goats… also found in Matthew… where again at the final judgment we will be accountable for our actions… whether or not we gave food to the hungry or drink to the thirsty… whether or not we welcomed the stranger or clothed the naked… whether or not we took care of the sick or visited those in prison. Again there’s that discernable action… there is that clear delineation between the wheat and the weed… between the Spirit and the flesh… between the sheep and the goat… where there is a clear yes and a clear no. We hear the parable between the sheep and the goats and we see not just a limited list of approved actions actions… that’s not what that’s about… but we see the Spirit that is behind those actions… the Spirit that opens us to other actions outside of the limited list that parable gives… if we just follow that Spirit… cast out our fear and follow that Spirit wherever it might lead.
Which… in my thinking… gets me back to potential again. Because as I’ve been a part of different congregations… or I listen to my colleagues about what they encounter in congregations… we see the wheat. We see the wheat there as we look at the field before us. We see that potential of what could be… of what God has sown… of how the Spirit has gifted and worked the soil. I mean… Saints… that’s what keeps so many of us ministers in ministry… the potential God reveals to our eyes. And then… there are the weeds. And there are always weeds… choking away that potential. Here is what I’ve observed in ministry… it doesn’t take many weeds to choke away that potential of the wheat. It doesn’t take too many works of the flesh to derail an entire congregation from growing in the Spirit. One or two bullies… either outright bullies or passive aggressive control freaks… can put a congregation so into fear that you can quickly get to the point about wondering if this can still be called a church of Christ? Look back at that list of the works of the flesh and look at how many of those words are talking about a breakdown in relationship usually grounded on self-centeredness. The difference between the sheep and the goats… the faith of the goats are putting them out into the world acting in a way that could be described as the kingdom of heaven. All we know about the goats is that they are not. They are not living according to the Spirit that drives them to live as though the kingdom of heaven already surrounds them in all its glory.
The weeds are there in our faith communities… holding us back… diverting our energies… making vital things that are arbitrary and peripheral instead of keeping our focus on living into the kingdom. But again… gotta watch for that “us” versus “them”… right… where if only we could get rid of them then everything would suddenly be perfect. The weeds are there in ourselves as we ourselves can exhibit both the potential of the wheat sown and the potential of the weed sown. The weeds are there… but as the parable speaks against weeding along the way… of putting our energies into that action… perhaps because of the toll that takes on the wheat…after all the parable is very concerned that wheat not be accidentally uprooted in the battle against the weeds… maybe the lesson for us is… despite the weeds… to grow the hell out of the wheat… make it overshadow the weeds that are there… have the wheat choke away the weeds for a change. Maybe that’s the message for us today… grow the wheat… put your most into making the good fruit grow… live by the Spirit so completely that the fruit of the spirit is natural and normal… so natural and normal that when the Son of Man comes to separate the sheep and the goats you might find yourself surprised like the sheep do in that parable… being told that when you cared for the least of these, so you did it to me.
So many metaphors… wheat, weeds, sheep, goats… there’s only one way to end a sermon that has tried to talk the talk of a parables… Let anyone with ears listen! Amen.