s049g99 Somerton Park Sunday 16 a 18/7/99
""Where then did these weeds come from?" He answered, "An enemy has done this"" Matthew 13:27-28
These parables of the wheat and the weeds, the mustard seed and the birds, reminds me of the story of the retired gardener, not too frequent in Church, who was tending his front garden when the parson happened to walk by. The parson, seeing an opportunity to drop one of his pearls of wisdom where it could well be taken notice of, remarked to the gardener: "Isn't it wonderful how God makes things to grow?" To which the quick-witted gardener replied: "Yes, but you should've seen the mess before I started to tidy it up!"
As someone who has no green fingers whatsoever, I find it amazing how easily weeds spring up unwanted, while the things I plant and nurture with all the love and care I can muster, wilt and die like nine pins. I reflect that weeds, like (I suppose) cancers, are just ordinary parts of creation which are simply prolific and hardier than others. Thus when they spring up where and when we really don't want them, they interrupt or push out other things, which would grow normally if there were space for them.
This is an important reading for it gives us some clues as to the nature of evil. When, in the parable Jesus says "An enemy has done this" we are reassured that things like weeds and cancers which dominate and take over are not of God. It is idle speculation as to the ultimate origin of these things, but from where ever they come, God does not intend them nor inflict them on us.
Life itself presents us with difficulties. In the words of the contemporary American theologian, Forrest Gump: "Shit happens". God wishes our happiness, which we might define as an absence of dis-ease. Equally God wishes our fulfilment, which we might recognise as coming from our success at overcoming the trials that beset us and the temptations which life puts in our way. But God is not the hard task-master. (Matthew 25:24) In him "there is no variation or shadow due to change" (James 1:17) and in him there is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5).
This reading talks abundantly of God's care for his own. Firstly God sows the seed. Note well that the servants did not sow the seed. The servants come to the master to say: "Did you not sow good seed in the field?" God sows the field. Again from last week's sermon, we as the Church, are to be the good ground to accept and nurture the seed that God sows. We don't sow the seed, it is blasphemous to suggest we do. The kingdom of God is not dependent on how many skilled evangelists the Church can place in the field. It is dependent on how ready the Church is to accept the people God brings into our midst. After all they are just ordinary sinners like ourselves.
God sows good seed. When what was sown turns into rampant weeds, overrunning the field to the detriment of other plants, there is only one thing to do. Rip out the weeds. But God has very skilled angels to do that.
God sows good seeds. As St Peter, in his very lengthy conversion experience in Acts chapter 9 verse 36 to chapter 10 verse 48, and encapsulated in the text of his first sermon to the Gentiles in chapter 10 verse 34 states clearly: "I truly understand that God shows no partiality ..." Those people he formerly thought were unclean - God had called clean - they were good. Who are the gentiles in our midst? The outcasts of Jesus' day? Those who do not express their sexuality in the same way as the majority? The drug users and the AIDS sufferers?
Again as I pointed out in last week's sermon, God sows people - they are the seeds - not the teaching that Jesus gave. We are told quite specifically: "The good seed are the children of the kingdom ... the weeds are the children of the evil one". (13:38) We are called to be simply the good soil in the world, to be a welcoming, not an alienating, community, accepting the people who God brings into our midst, because they are good seed which God plants.
And as a final rebuke to any position of authority which we as the Church might think is ours, we find the slaves of the householder, in their enthusiasm, saying: "Then do you want us to gather them up?" How quick we are to judge! I recall visiting someone who happened to be weeding their front garden. She was lamenting how in her efforts to weed she was pulling up bulbs! God cares for the children so much that God is prepared to let the weeds grow up, lest those who are good are disturbed. God has got the harvesting all sorted out, and the last thing we need to worry about is whether some weeds will slip in undetected into God's kingdom.
How much we value enthusiasm. We think we sow the seeds of God's word in schools, street corners, in the letters to the editor and in political rallies. We expect people to live up to our expectations of what a "Christian" or an "Anglican" might be. And all the while we are failing to see in the people God puts around us the good seed he so abundantly sows. We fail to recognise they are even there and they disappear into fields unknown. We don't allow them to make their contribution because they might upset the bricks and mortar or the ministries which are ours. And we expect them to live up to our expectations rather than growing into the person God meant them to be. The birds, the rocks and the thorns.
It is the consistent witness of scripture that self appointed "religious" people try to protect God from ordinary people (eg Mark 10:13 and Matthew 21:12) and it is the consistent witness of scripture that Jesus sat down and ate with sinners, and so accepted the contribution they wanted to make. How often do we hear John 14:6 quoted as if Jesus himself stands between us and God keeping people away? People like those who don't believe, those who don't believe enough, or those who don't believe the right things?
We, like the slaves of the householder are quietly bidden to wait. What a rich theme this is. I recall the words of Moses to the Israelites as it seemed they were trapped by the advancing Egyptian onslaught behind them and the sea in front of them. "Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance of the Lord ... you have only to keep still" says Moses. (Exodus 14:13,14) We make such a virtue of enthusiasm when real enthusiasm consists of "love, joy, peace, patience ..." (Galatians 5:22)
God will not be hoodwinked by "the crafts and assaults of the devil", and the words of Jesus make it quite plain that this is so. There is a "furnace of fire", "there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth", but we are not called to bear the responsibility of consigning anyone to that place ourselves. After all, being our own worst enemy, we would just as likely to consign ourselves there first! God has got that all organised.
I return to my definition of weeds. Weeds are just ordinary plants which are particularly prolific and hardy. By growing quickly they stop other plants from growing into the plants God created them for. So we have two little mini parables between the parable of the good and bad seed and its explanation. The parable of the mustard seed and the parable of the leaven. Both the mustard seed and the yeast exist for other parts of the creation. The tree which springs from the smallest of all seeds becomes a safe haven for birds. The yeast leavens the flour. Both find their own fulfilment in working for others, unlike weeds which invade the ground and choke out other plants - promoting only themselves and working against others.
God curbs our enthusiasm by calling us to wait. Wanting instant answers or solutions brings death, being prepared to wait gives life. God has got all the time in the world.
The message of the parables today is to give us hope. We are the good seed that God has planted, provided we are allowing the others seeds which God has planted their rightful place too. We will find our own fulfilment as we grow into the person God meant us to be, not as we trample over others. Because God is in charge we can give others and ourselves time, and in doing so we give life itself.
The words of these parables inevitably point to Jesus himself, in his death and resurrection, which was for others. The cross and resurrection being for others (and we might as well be the "others" to which he is referring) the blessings of the parable of life are reflected in our lives through that cross and resurrection. As we look to God (rather than trample over others) we partake of the wheat gathered in at the harvest, we find a safe haven in the branches of his cross, we are the leavened of God, and we are the righteous who "will shine like the sun in the kingdom of" the Father. Amen.
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