SERMON from: “From Seeds to Weeds” 7-17-11

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

24 He put before them another parable: The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from? 28 He answered, An enemy has done this. The slaves said to him, Then do you want us to go and gather them? 29 But he replied, No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect 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 approached 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 are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children 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 collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

From Seeds to Weeds

In the coming weeks, we will learn more and more about each other. As I am the one with regular access to large portions of time in front of the entire congregation, you will learn more about me than I will learn about you at first. So, let me tell you that I am what you may call a “lectionary preacher.” This means I follow a 3-year plan which covers nearly the entirety of scripture for the purposes of study, preaching, etc. For the foreseeable future, you will be seeing a lot of preaching coming from the gospel of Matthew. I may deviate from that plan as I feel the spirit lead me, but you will be receiving a steady diet of Matthew for awhile. If you ever want to have some sort of idea of the scripture upon which I will be preaching, search the term “revised common lectionary” for a clue. I am also a Chicago Bears fan.

Let me begin with an apology to the farmers here today. I will be using a few farming analogies today. They will not be perfect. In fact, they may even be down right laughable to the professional farmer. For this, I am sorry in advance. I will, however, ask you for some understanding and hope that these misunderstandings will not prevent you from getting the full meaning of the message which is attempting to be conveyed.

Now, the most important thing that a stalk of wheat needs to grow and thrive is understanding of the field in which it is planted (How’s that for a bad analogy?). Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds is essentially about the faithful and the not faithful. A stalk of wheat needs to understand the fact that the particular field in which they are planted is also home to something else–weeds. The forces which act against these two things–the sun, rain and the farmers care–are available to both. Those forces don’t discriminate between the two. The faithful need to understand that the non faithful receive the same access to these resources, they just have more motivation to attain those resources.

For our purposes, typically this parable is seen as a warning against being a weed. The weeds don’t get a happy ending. This type of thinking–which I eluded to last week–leads us to the eventuality of attempting to make judgements against our fellow human beings. Even though the parable gives a specific warning against this type of behavior, we feel comfortable with it. We come by it naturally. Our survival instincts force us to make value judgements towards others based upon our understanding of the world around us and the world according to scripture. The farmer is not worried about the “weeds”–or non faithful–until the harvest. We like to compare ourselves against the weeds to see how we are doing. Or–if we are being honest–to make sure we have reason to feel superior to them.

We even attempt to make distinctions between how bad one weed is when compared to another one. I guess we do this because, if we focus our attention on the sins of all the others, we don’t have to work on our own. Two people popped into mind when I was thinking about this. Tiger Woods is one weed which grew tall and fell far. His numerous infidelities made him the subject of vast scrutiny. I wasn’t there, but I am sure many a pastor made use of his example as what not to do in the bonds of marriage. We can all look to him as an example of what not to do.

We can even look at other wheat stalks for this kind of comparison living. Ted Haggard (remember him?) was a mega-church pastor and president of the National Association of Evangelicals. HIs fall included revelations of his drug abuse and infidelity with male prostitutes. Not only did he do these things, but he denied it publicly for a long time before finally coming clean. I was watching a documentary a while back which featured he and his family as they were attempting to survive after his fall from grace.

Who is worse? Tiger Woods was unfaithful numerous times, while Ted Haggard’s problems included actual breaking of the law. Who is worse? I don’t think there is a contest here. Ted Haggard was the leader of a large Christian organization. Upon violating God and man’s law, he lied about it. I am pretty sure I remember hearing in scripture about these kinds of Christian leaders being particularly bad. Tiger Woods is a buddhist golfer. Ted Haggard was the Shepard of a flock of God’s people. What is it that they say about “the bigger they are?”

Well, there I go. I just did it. I am worrying about the weeds when I should be worrying about being the best stalk of wheat I can be–which is what living the Christian life boils down to. Who are you in relation to where God wants you to be? However, this has historically proved much easier said than done. Operation Rescue is a Christian organization which fights against abortion wherever it can. It’s crusade has spawned many attempts to take the lives of doctors and nurses which serve in the clinics they target. Most recently, Scott Roeder walked into a Lutheran church in Kansas and shot Dr. George Tiller as he was serving as an usher during Sunday morning worship. Say what you will about Dr. Tiller’s practice, but Roeder’s actions were most certainly an attempt to destroy the weeds.

Pastor’s libraries are filled with any number of commentaries on the Bible. These are books that have been written by scholars and committees of scholars which provide further insight into what the Bible says about a particular issue. My favorite one had this to say about the Christians relationship to the weeds with which they live:

Jesus’ followers need to recognize that the world is so infected, but they also need to resist the impulse to purge the world of evil. Under no circumstances are they to rid the world of those they would identify as demonic. Just as God sends rain and sunshine on the good and the bad, the just and the unjust…so Jesus’ disciples…are to let the wheat and weeds grow side by side and leave judgement to God…this is the main point of the parable…

In other words, don’t kill (obviously) those with which you vehemently disagree and find a way to exist with the weeds. It really couldn’t be clearer.

I can’t resist reacting like a petulant teenager to this reality by saying: but why? How much easier would it have been to live the Christian life if we didn’t have to exist with those who are not like us? We wouldn’t have to defend our faith because everyone would just be that faith. We wouldn’t have to worry about sin, because everyone would understand the will of God when it comes to sin and we would just do the things we needed to do to not do it. That would have been super easy.

Yet, here we are. We have to find a way to live this life to the best of our abilities and the best of what God desires of us. All the while, we have to be mindful that not everyone believes as we do–and live accordingly. We have to learn to deal with the weeds and we cannot kill them–we cannot attempt to rid the world of them. God will have the final say, but we have to learn how to live in the meantime.

This parable makes me realize an important point. You cannot take the parables literally–it’s why they are parables. It is important, however, to glean the message of the parable and attempt to understand them in light of lessons from other parables and Jesus’ other teachings. That’s how we get a theology. That’s how we read the Bible. That’s how we know how to live our lives surrounded by weeds.

However, let’s go back to the weeds. The wheat and weeds have a few things in common. They were both created by the same creator. So, let us remember that no matter who they are, the person you are looking at at any given time is another of God’s creatures of sacred worth. I like to say that the other person has a family that has their picture on the wall. We have to learn how to co-exist with the weeds, if not live with and love the weeds.

Maybe more importantly is this: haven’t we all been weeds at one time or another? We could be a stalk of wheat one moment and a weed the next. Do we want someone seeking to destroy the weeds when we are so close to them, or could possibly be one ourselves? God’s work upon our lives is a transforming one. Unlike the Transformers of recent big screen fame, it takes us a lot longer to become (or transform into) what God wants us to be. Hopefully, we are striving on a daily basis to be these types of people. We avoid the temptation to sin. We study our faith. We fellowship in the community of faith. We serve as a demonstration of our faith. Hopefully, we are doing that. While we are doing those things, God is continuing to work us into the vessels he desires us to be. With that being said, we can still be weeds. It is possible to go from seeds to weeds.

But for a moment, let’s forget the eventual destruction of the weeds and understand them as the parable asks us to. We need to understand that there is wheat and there are weeds. The faithful and non faithful. How is it that Jesus calls us to treat these types of people in other places in scripture. We are to love them. We are to turn our cheek to them. We are to give them the shirt off our back. Jesus leaves the earth saying that we are to spend our time attempting to make them disciples. Not only do we have to exist with them, we need to live with and love them.

What, then, does that mean? How does that play itself out? Invite your friends and neighbors to church. Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God. I have a theory that if our relationship with God is in good working order, everything else flows easily from there.

When we are in relationship with him and allow him to do His work in us, we learn some things in the process. We learn what the desires of His heart are. We learn what His expectations of us are. Do we listen for the still small voice of God? When we are in right relationship with Him, we are more likely to hear what he says and know what he wants. The easiest answer to the question of how we live in light of this parable is to understand from where we get the things we need to survive and thrive.

Which leaves us wondering how, then, do we live? Unfortunately, this is no silver bullet. There is no one formula which we should follow to get us to where we want to go. No matter who tells you there is, we must realize that there are several Christian ways to get where we need to be. We need to understand this, lest we believe others are weeds we need to destroy. This is the path I am currently working on and would encourage you to follow me on as we begin to do ministry together.

It begins with knowing who we are. Of course, I am talking about studying the scriptures and understanding that the Christian faith has been in the works for thousands of years. We don’t have to know everything. It’s not as important to know who people such as Polycarp, Augustine and Abelard are–they are early Christian thinkers, by the way–as it is to know who Jesus was and what it was he taught. Having been a student and pastor for the better part of a decade now, I can tell you that one of the dangers the church faces today is lack of knowledge about who they are. How can we “go forth into the world” when we don’t know what it is we should be teaching when we do? It causes a lack of credibility even worse than that which the church already has in the world. We need to know who we are.

The most important part of knowing who we are is knowing that to be a Christian, we must be in community. The church is a good start. Being here gives you a taste of that. It was how the church was built and how the church has been sustained throughout its history.

However, it goes even further. I have been doing a lot of study about small groups ministry. Small groups ministry is the church being engaged in Christian fellowship outside that one hour on Sunday morning. The congregation meets in smaller groups at designated times and studies, fellowships and just is the church. You might think this type of ministry is overkill or unnecessary. However, wherever you see a church engaged in small groups ministry, you tend to see more vital and effective congregations growing to meet the needs of our time. They know who they are and are engaged in being the church. It is community and it is especially important to the life of the church.

As an extension of the community, the church comes together to worship. It is also so vitally important for every member to be in worship regularly. It is our opportunity to show corporately our praise and adoration to our God and creator. A vital congregation engages in vital worship. That requires attendance to be vital, as well.

Finally, when a church does these things, the need to serve becomes that more evident and important. Every member in service needs to be the credo of a church. It is our tangible demonstration to the world and ourselves that we are people of God. “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead (James 2:17).” Let me be clear: we do not have to serve to be recipients of the grace of God. That is a free gift. However, a vital and living faith is demonstrated through works. A thriving church is a serving church. It is the outward and visible sign of the love which we receive from God.

Study. Community. Worship. Service. To live and do these things is how we live in a world with weeds. And, in the process, some of those weeds may just turn into beautiful stalks of wheat. Bad farming analogy; great Christian analogy.

In closing, let me go back to the weeds. We have a negative view of the weeds, in light of this scripture. One thing we need to realize is that those weeds may need the wheat to become wheat themselves. Casting Crowns–a Christian rock group–has a song entitled Does Anybody Hear Her?. The song tells a story of a girl who is a weed and lives her life in the midst of weeds. She is looking for answers and tries to find them in the arms of a man who leaves her in a very precarious situation–pregnant. The words of the chorus go like this:

Does anybody hear her? Can anybody see?
Or does anybody even knows she’s going down today
Under the shadow of our steeple
With all the lost and lonely people
Searching for the hope that’s tucked away in you and me
Does anybody hear her? Can anybody see?

How many weeds are being lost in the shadow of this steeple? It doesn’t have to be any of them. By the grace of God, let’s go forth and make sure. AMEN

Study
Community
Worship
Service

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