Welcome to our worship today.
A Ordinary 16. Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 Romans 8: 12-25
The farmer sows the seed:
I am not the best gardener, I keep the grass and hedges in check and that’s about it. For those gardeners amongst you though I assume it must be very annoying when you spend a lot of time carefully preparing the soil, planting and nurturing the seeds only to find weeds springing up all around them after the first shower of rain! The weeds can be difficult to remove without uprooting the delicate seedings. Thats annoying enough, but imagine if if it happened because someone deliberately planted the weeds out of malice!
This is what Jesus says is happening in this story. A man sows his field with seed, and we are told that the seed is good. But when everyone is asleep an enemy comes and sows weeds amongst the wheat. The labourers ask if they should go and pull up the weeds – but you wouldn’t be able to do that until they had grown enough, and the wheat would have grown at the same time so it would not be possible to pull up the weeds without trampling the wheat in the process and risking pulling it up along with the weeds. So the farmer says – let both grow together until the harvest time and then the weeds can be separated out and burnt.
The story is separated into two parts, which is a way of marking a change of audience. Jesus is telling the story to a crowd gathered on the lakeside, a sceptical crowd whose minds, he says, are “dull” and who have “stopped their ears” and “shut their eyes” to the truth of what Jesus is teaching. The second part of the story is where Jesus explains its meaning to the disciples alone in the house at a later time.
He explains that, in this allegory, the farmer is Jesus himself and the seed represents the ‘children of the kingdom of God’. Who are ‘the children of the kingdom?’ In one sense we are all children of God because we are all created by God and loved by him as a parent loves their children. But in this context Jesus seems to be referring specifically to those who are children because they are part of a particular family. That is the family of those who have chosen to follow Jesus in order to fulfil God’s will for their lives. Like the seed, which begins to grow when it is planted and watered and nurtured, Jesus’ disciples grow in faith – which is a key part of being in the kingdom of God.
So the good seed begins to grow – but alongside it so do the weeds. In the early days there may be little obvious difference between the green shoots of the wheat and the green shoots of the weeds. I remember planting seeds at school in a plastic cup and getting very excited when a green shoot began to poke out of the soil. Only to find sometime later that it wasn’t the seed I’d planted at all but a weed – I couldn’t tell until it had grown enough for me to be able to recognise the shape of the leaves.
What is a weed anyway? Jesus says that the weeds here are those who are the ‘children of the evil one’. Earlier, Jesus says in Matthew 12:30, that those who are not his followers are stumbling blocks in his way – “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me, scatters”. So we can assume that the weeds represent those who choose not to follow the will of God.
In the field or garden there is no real difference between a weed and a flower, except its location. A weed is simply a flower that has grown in the wrong place or in the wrong way. And it is the gardener – or farmer – who determines what that place should be. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson a weed is “a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered”.
God has a plan for all of our lives, and if we choose not to recognise or follow his plan for us then we will not be able to achieve our full potential, our virtues will not be discovered. Some part of our potential as the human beings that God creates us to be, will be missing
Perhaps there are times then when we all feel like a weed! – in the wrong place at the wrong time! Times when our potential goes unrecognised. We may have gifts and skills that are not needed at a particular place and time but which may be much appreciated somewhere else.
Part of growing in the way that God wants is being where He wants and needs us to be at any particular time. This isn’t always easy but it is a question that is very uppermost in the minds of most Methodist Ministers especially at stationing time! Where does God want us to be? It’s not just a question of geography – it is about where we need to be in terms of God’s mission. What are the particular areas of work that he is calling us to at a particular time?
And the same applies to our churches. As churches we always need to be asking if the work we are doing is still right for this time, this place, still what God is asking of us: Are we still producing fruit for the kingdom?
In my garden there are some apple trees that haven’t produced any fruit for several years now. I have thought that maybe their time is over and I need to chop them down, replace them. But I give them one last chance! Maybe they will produce fruit next year! At this time we need to be thinking along these lines. Are we still producing fruit for the kingdom or have we become too choked up with weeds? Are we still doing the right things in the right places? or are we like weeds – growing but in the wrong way, the wrong place or at the wrong time?
We need to reflect on what what have we learned over the last few months about what is important and necessary, and where are we wasting time and energy on activities that, like my apple trees, once bore good fruit but are now barren.
By telling the servantsnot to pull up the weeds for fear of damaging good plants, the farmer allows the plants to develop and grow together – even the weeds have a chance to grow in the right way, and to bear good fruit after all. God defaults to generosity and wants to give everybody a chance to come to him. We live side by side – the wheat and the weeds. Paul in Romans reminds us that there will be suffering as the Kingdom is still in the process of being created, Paul likens it to childbirth – there is pain but the promise and hope of a better future.
God gives people a chance to repent and turn back to him, to become children of the kingdom, and that means we have a responsibility to help others do that, to tell others about the right way to grow – the way of Jesus. It is not our job to decide whom God will or will not include in his kingdom but to give as many people as possible the opportunity to be included by giving them the chance to choose. We have a responsibility to live, show and tell the gospel message.
Finally the story reminds us that judgement is not cancelled, merely postponed. The plants and weeds are garnered and each have their own fate in the end. But judgement has both a negative and positive side. Too often when we think of judgement we think of a courtroom and judgement as being sentenced to some kind of punishment. There is another side. Think of the judgment in a village flower and vegetable show: here the judgement is about who will be rewarded with a prize.
As followers of Jesus, as children of the Kingdom, perhaps we should think of judgement much more as being like the latter and look forward to the reward that God has for us. Paul reminds us that all we suffer now will be worth it for the glory that will be revealed in us. Amen.
14th July 2020