Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sermon: Wheat and Weeds

Our gospel reading today is one of Jesus’ ‘kingdom parables’. Jesus gives a set of ideas or illustrations from life, that are to teach his disciples about the kingdom of God. (When Matthew speaks of the kingdom of heaven and Luke of the kingdom of God, they’re talking about the same thing). And when Jesus taught, and the gospel writers passed on his teaching on the kingdom, they weren’t speaking about that far off place where we’ll find ourselves when we die, they’re talking about God’s majestic rule and reign being near, ‘close at hand’ said Jesus. They’re speaking of a kingdom whose presence is being made known here and now, on earth. A kingdom of which we become citizens now by believing in and following Jesus.

So Jesus starts teaching about what this ‘close at hand’ ‘here and now’ kingdom is like. Last week (while I was camped in a field with our youth group for ...!) you reflected on the parable of the sower – a parable about how people hear and receive the message of the kingdom. The seed scattered is the word of God and that seed, Jesus says, is received on what compares to a variety of types of ground – on the path where it is immediately snatched away; on the rocky ground where its root is shallow and though it springs up quickly it soon withers and dies; among the weeds or thorns, where the growth is choked by all the cares of life and other priorities; or on the fertile soil where it takes root and grows up producing a harvest. This is the kind of ground we each can aim to be and pray to be, as well as the kind of ground we pray that we will meet when we go out scattering the seed of God’s word. And that is a part of our call as citizens of the kingdom – to go and scatter the seeds of God’s word wherever and whenever and however we can.

And Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom continues with today’s parable of the wheat and weeds – we’ll come back to that in a moment. But Jesus gives one image after another to get this kingdom message to take root in us – next he speaks of the kingdom as like a mustard seed – the tiniest seed that grows into a tree in which the birds come and perch in its branches – what does he mean? He means it starts off small but ends up substantial indeed. He says the kingdom is like the yeast in bread that as it’s mixed in works through the whole batch of dough – the kingdom spreads through us and it spreads through the world. He says the kingdom is like treasure hidden in a field – that’s of such great value that it’s worth selling all we have to buy the field to get the treasure! And similarly, the kingdom is like a pearl that’s worth everything we have to acquire.

It’s important that as we look at one of these parables today we consider the whole picture that Jesus is giving us, of this kingdom that is close at hand, that is near, that is at our fingertips. Because the reason we can have expectation and hope that God will be at work in us and among us and through us today – is because his kingdom is here, close at hand, near, at your fingertips but not out of reach!

‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, YOUR KINGDOM COME, your will be done, on earth as in heaven’ that’s what we pray when we pray as Jesus taught us to pray. ‘Your kingdom come’ – when we long for healing of body, mind or spirit we’re asking for God’s heavenly kingdom to be present in the here and now, showing up in earthly lives; when we pray for evil to be squashed and repentance to be seen in ours or other’s lives we’re asking for the kingdom to be demonstrated here and now. When we scatter the seed of God’s word we’re asking for people to be added to the kingdom of God that they will know his rule and reign in their lives now and have an eternal inheritance that brings them safely through death and into his wonderful kingdom in all its fullness. It’s all about the kingdom, being a part of the kingdom now and seeing the works of the kingdom around us, close at hand.

So as we zoom in on today’s kingdom parable what does it tell us?

Well, let’s start in the garden… I was visiting my friend’s elderly mum recently and in her garden she has a flower bed that is planted up with lots of plants around a rose that’s in memory of her late husband. And on this particular day D was weeding the flower bed. And it was quite a task as the hot weather plus all the rain had made the weeds go mad! So I got on with helping, but not being the most informed of gardeners, at times I wasn’t sure exactly what was weed and what was flower. So every so often I’d stop and ask to avoid pulling up some precious plant that was supposed to be there because it looked like a weed to me!

And in a sense this is what Jesus was talking about – in the world there is wheat and there are weeds – children of the kingdom and children of evil, and God is letting them grow up alongside and mixed up with one another until the harvest. Unlike my experience in the garden of trying to tell the flowers from the weeds and sometimes getting it wrong and pulling up a flower, God leaves the weeds until the end of times so that the wheat doesn’t get uprooted with them.

Sometimes we Christians get dejected because we see so much evil around us – where is God? Why is he letting the evil flourish? Where is justice when the oppressor still oppresses, and the murderer still murders, and the thief still robs and steals, and the governors can be corrupt, and the abuser continues to abuse… where is God? God is there protecting the wheat by letting the weeds grow in its midst – but the time of the harvest will come and the reaper will reap and the wheat will be placed in the barn and the weeds be burned on the fire. This is the time when the children of righteousness (who have received the gift of righteousness from God) will ‘shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father’ but the children of evil will be uprooted and will receive the fruits of their evil ways and their rejection of life from God.

There are two further things to note about this parable…

1) Jesus died once for ALL upon the cross – the good news is that he has done everything necessary for all – even the worst offender, the worst weed, to come to God in repentance and become righteousness, become wheat, receive forgiveness and life.

You know, sometimes I think God can’t win with us – sometimes we hear this kind of parable and think “how can a loving God let anyone go into the fire?” But I say to you, remember that he came to rescue all of us from the fire – a free gift received through grace by faith and offered to everyone. And then on the other hand we think – “how can God forgive the vilest offender and welcome them into his kingdom?” St. Paul was one of them – a vile murderer – but he received forgiveness and a new start through Christ, and he’s blessed us with his writings. We can’t have it both ways and be outraged (if you are outraged) that there’s potential for not getting into the kingdom but also get outraged that people we think shouldn’t get in, might get in! Quite often what we want to do is throw some right nasty characters onto the fire – the Hitlers, the Mugabes, the abusers, the paedophiles – we’re often happy to hear of the fire of death when we think of them; but then we get outraged again that God’s grace and mercy is so massive that the rescue plan, the cross, is there for absolutely anyone to receive when they come with repentance and remorse.

What’s that all about? It’s about the 2nd point…. That it’s not for us to be trying to tell the wheat from the weeds! I got it wrong in the flowerbed and couldn’t always tell the flowers from the weeds and we won’t always be able to tell the kingdom wheat from the spiritual weeds – that’s God’s job.

Our job is to receive his grace, his free gift, for ourselves and to get out there chucking the seeds far and wide so that a load of it lands on good, receptive soil and adds to that final harvest for the kingdom.

Last week I was prayer walking around our community with G, one of the elders from... And as we walked we saw the extent of all the new building round here – perhaps much more than you may have seen from (main) Road. And that building work means a lot of new homes, and a lot of new homes means a lot of people moving into our harvest field. As a church we need to be getting ready because we are the workers that God sends into the harvest, we are the ones to go scattering the seeds of the word of God and we are the ones who will need to be ready to love and disciple the ones who come looking for the way into the kingdom.

As citizens of the kingdom of God we need to be praying – pray for the kingdom to come in this place, whether for the present community or the ones who are moving in; pray for good soil as we go out, pray for workers to go into the harvest – that might be as simply as needing more of us to be willing to deliver our literature as the number of homes to deliver to increases significantly. Pray that in this place where God has put each of us there will be a ton of wheat to be harvested when the day comes! And pray that as a church community, our love and nurture can encompass and welcome those whom God wants to add to his kingdom.



At July 17, 2011 2:49 am, Blogger Sharon said...

I like the connection with last week's passage and also the reminder that we pray for the kingdom to come all the time and this is what it looks like. Thanks! Also, thank you for your prayers which are much appreciated.

At July 17, 2011 3:10 am, Blogger Chelley said...

Thanks Sharon for taking the time to read and comment, it's much appreciated too! And hope all goes well tomorrow and you feel well x


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