Monday, July 21, 2008

The Wheat and the Weeds

For the first time, I am posting here a sermon. I preached yesterday morning, and wanted to share. Comment or not, but be gentle!


Today we are looking at another of Jesus parables. You’ll remember from last week, Bernie taught us that parables are stories about everyday things used by Jesus to make the people ponder spiritual concepts. He rarely explained them – and when he did, it was only to his disciples.

Today, as you know from the reading we just heard, we are in Matthew, Chapter 13, and are using two sections – the parable of the wheat and weeds, and its explanation. You could turn there now to follow along as we unpack this parable a bit.

We are told that a man sowed good seed in his field. Then we find that while everyone was sleeping, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat. Both spring up and form heads, and the servants realize that weeds are growing among the wheat.

The servants come to the man about the issue. It’s interesting to me that they almost start off in an accusatory way. “Didn’t you use good seed?” Like it was somehow the man’s own fault that weeds had appeared!

The owner knows that and enemy planted the weeds. This was something with which one farmer would threaten another if they were enemies at that time. People would thus have understood this as a normal type of threatened action.

Then they ask if he wants them to take care of it. Like some bunch of tough guys, takin’ care of business. They thought they knew exactly what the owner wanted them to do, and were eager to get on with it.

They are told no, because while they are pulling weeds they may hurt the wheat.

Why? Were the servants incompetent? No. The weed referred to here is sometimes called “darnel,” and it when it starts out it looks just like wheat. By the time one can tell the difference – by the time the servants could have realized the problem - the roots would have become intertwined, and so pulling up one would also ruin the other.

The wheat was not going to be destroyed by the weeds. It might slightly diminish the amount of fruit the wheat would bear, but the owner would still reap a good harvest. What the servants proposed could easily have obliterated the entire harvest! Hence, the harvesters would wait until it was time, and take care of separating everything then.

This was one of the parables that Jesus decided to explain to His disciples. We find out that the “Son of Man” is the owner of the field, which is “the world.” Jesus owns the world, and sows good seed into it. The good seed stands for the children of the kingdom. That’s us – we are the good seed, if we are living as citizens of the kingdom of God.

But the evil one – the enemy – came and sowed weeds among the wheat. That seed stands for the children of the evil one. And all of us are to grow together until the end, at which time the harvesters will come and bring the good wheat into the barn and throw the weeds out where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

There are implications to this passage for us to consider this morning.

Apparently, there will, in fact, be a separation and sorting at some point when God deems the time is right. Harvest time will come, and those that are with God will be with Him forever, and those that are not won’t. It seems fairly clear. And it is right in line with other parables about things being sorted out – the sheep and the goats, the good fish and the bad fish.

Also, we see that the harvest and separation will not be done until it is time. Until then, wheat and weeds are to be allowed to grow together. And, yes, their roots will become intertwined. In a way, they will become dependent upon each other.

There are many people who go through life wishing they never had to interact or work with people that are “outside” the kingdom. One hears people lament about not being able to work in a “Christian environment.” They would rather insulate themselves, become part of some closed off community of only believers, people who “believe like me.”

But the field, you see, is the world. We are sown into the world – all over it, generously, God’s people placed in all the areas where God’s people should be. That’s all areas. That’s all over the world.

We are the seed in this parable. And we are sown where the master intends. There is nothing random about it, as we see form another of today’s lectionary readings, Psalm 139. You are knit together, fearfully and wonderfully, on purpose, by God Himself, who knows all of your days in their entirety before one if them even starts. You are placed where you are placed on purpose, and are simply supposed to be God’s person there.

Last week, we talked about looking to ourselves, and deciding what kind of soil we are for the seed of the word, generously sown by God, to grow in. This time we see we ARE the seed, and our responsibility is to become the best wheat we can be – bear the best fruit we can bear. Haven’t we read somewhere that we are to bear fruit, that we will be known by our fruit, even that God will help us to bear good fruit by the power of His Spirit?

So, good soil, good fruit. All connected.

However, as we live our lives, we should avoid the temptation to pull up the weeds.

And herein is the main point of the parable.

I imagine that this being Matthew, a Jewish-oriented book, written by a Jew, that the “servants” might have been taken by that crowd to be the religious leaders. They were very into making sure everyone knew what they had to do to be “in.” And, they were likely good at naming who was “in” and who was “out.”

I imagine that they had good intentions; they were trying to follow God’s law perfectly, and the traditions and interpretations they had developed over the years helped them decide how exactly to follow God’s law. Trouble is, they made their traditions of equal authority to the original words. And there were different schools of thought. So everybody’s going around trying to decide who is in and who is out, but nobody comes to the same conclusion.

Add to that the simple fact that people cannot see the heart, and God can, and we understand why it is far more preferable to let God handle the decision making.

Which is why the harvesters are NOT the servants. Did you ever notice that? The explanation of the parable does not say that the God will send the servants into the field to harvest and separate the wheat and the weeds. He says he will send harvesters – angels.

With good intentions, there are those of us who get very concerned with knowing where everyone is at spiritually. Which is a nice way of saying we would like to be the judges sometimes of who is in the kingdom and who is out.

The problem is, like the servants in the passage, we don’t really know weeds from wheat.

This past year I completed my 20th year teaching music. I have taught in two districts. I remember when I was back at my first job, and the music department was not as big and busy as the one where I am now, I served as the JV volleyball coach for a year. A freshman girl came in and tried out, and she wasn’t very good. I was going to cut her, but the head coach wouldn’t let me. She reminded me this girl was only a freshman, and we had no idea how she would do as she grew. So we kept her. By her senior year she was our best server, leading the team in aces.

Last year, I saw a trumpet player become a lead trumpet player in my band. Now, you have to know that band directors, with consideration of several factors, try to steer students to instruments where their odds of success are high. We look at facial and mouth structure, mainly. In fact, if you ever go to a college music department, you might notice that all the professors look like their instruments. The guy with the thin lips and the little round glasses? Always the clarinet guy. The guy who has longish hair and maybe a moustache or goatee? The guitar guy. At my college, in fact, the guitar instructor looked like Tom Selleck, so we called him “Magnum G.I.”

At any rate, I never would have thought this young man would be able to succeed on trumpet like he has. I had reasons for thinking that – facial and lip structure mostly. I really tried to convince him to change to a low brass instrument. But he wanted to play trumpet, and so he has worked hard, and become the lead. I must say I am impressed.

When you are in a field like mine, working on the development of people, you quickly see the proof of this parable.

Especially since, as anything under over-analysis would, the parable breaks down – even Jesus parables, if we read too much into them, aren’t perfect.

For this one, the one factor that isn’t mentioned, but that is very real, is that God can turn weeds into wheat.

How many of us, looking back, can see that we were headed for being weeds had God not changed our hearts and made us wheat – children of the kingdom? I look back at my life and say, “Total weed, man.”

Not that kind of weed – get your mind back on track… 

I had another student several years back who, as a sophomore, was arrested for possession of drugs and taken out of school by the police in the middle of the day. He had been scheduled to join us on the music trip that year, and his parents (to their credit as they lost money) and I quickly agreed that this was a serious enough offense that this would no longer be possible.

This could have gone either way. There were those who were ready to write him off – and I have seen it happen where the people who would write someone off were proven right in the end.

But this young man stayed in the fight. He came back to school, stayed in the band, celebrated with us when we had a successful trip, and felt the love and forgiveness of his fellow band students, and me. He worked hard, ended up the leader of his section, succeeded in his other classes, and went to college. He still visits when he can. And he has turned into a fine man. And there is a level of faith there.

Some might have said upon his arrest that here, clearly, was a weed. Not so! He’s wheat all the way.

I say a level of belief, but I don’t know where or if he goes to church faithfully, what his doctrine is, or anything like all that.

But that isn’t my job. I am just supposed to be wheat, cultivate the garden, and try to live like a child of the kingdom. I am supposed to do that wherever God has placed me. I am not supposed to disentangle my roots from the rest. I am supposed to interact, love, work, and live with people who are not people of the kingdom. Does this mean that sometimes people might mistake me for a weed?

Probably. There are those who would think I was a weed just because of the worship music I like. Or how I dress. Or that I am perfectly content being single. Or that I sometimes get “passionate” in debate, or drive a little fast, or listen to – gasp – non-Christian music. There are plenty of people trying to decide who is in and who is out – building walls of doctrine and defending them brick by brick.

The problem is that when we are busy trying to keep out “the riff-raff,” we are seldom modeling the lives of love, grace, and mercy that God would want us to live.

We are sown into the world to bear God’s image to the world. It is a part of God’s plan of redemption for the whole earth. I mean, who else but the Great Redeemer would worry about turning weeds into wheat? Why not just take the wheat and run?

God loves the world. All of it. And He has planted us all over the world to show His image. Will everyone decide to follow God? No, some will reject Him. But that is for Him to deal with, not us.

Finally, I want to note one other thing. This phrase, “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” seems to be used almost exclusively by Matthew. And it seems to be related to the harshest of punishments, and these punishments are reserved for the people that had been inside the kingdom the whole time.

In other words, it is possible that what this means is that people who are outside the kingdom will receive less severe punishment than the people that are inside the kingdom but not bearing fruit. Because, maybe, they are so busy trying to decide about everybody else, they forget to look to their own soil, their own fruit bearing.

In the end, we are not responsible for the harvest. We do not need to weed God’s garden. An editorial by Bill McNabb in a magazine called The Door put it this way:

“I had an old seminary professor who began and ended his apologetics lecture with one sentence: "You defend God like you defend a lion -- you get out of his way." God, it seems, has never had much trouble with his enemies -- it's his friends who give him fits. . . . The theologian Karl Rahner put it this way: "The number one cause of atheism is Christians. Those who proclaim God with their mouths and deny Him with their lifestyles is what an unbelieving world finds simply unbelievable." Perhaps the best defense of God would be to just keep our mouths shut and live like He told us to. The gospel would then have such power and attraction that we wouldn't have to worry about defending it.”

So in all our rush to do God a favor by weeding the garden, maybe we should pause and just be glad we aren’t the ones responsible for doing that, and just live like He tells us to live. Let’s remember that Jesus Himself didn’t weed out Judas who would betray Him, nor did He weed out Peter who would deny Him.

Nor did He weed out……me.

I, for one, am glad that decision isn’t mine to make. Or yours. Let’s rejoice in the fact that it’s God who decides in the end.

Let’s pray.

1 comment:

  1. Ha. I don't usually have a comment to read, because i don't think many people know about my blog!

    But as usual, you're a step ahead of me, always so wise. =)

    I saw your dad come out of Kelly's TV the other day, but I didn't say hi, to spare him the awkwardness of not knowing who I was. Ha.

    How is your summer? You're gonna be back in school very soon...are you psyched, or overwhelmed, etc?

    Hope you're doing well-love you!