Sermon for July 23, 2017
Proper 11A – RCL Track 1
Jesus put before the crowd another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 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?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 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.’”
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.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!”
Today we have the first of two Sunday’s in Matthew’s Gospel devoted to parables that start out with “The kingdom of heaven is like….” A question that many over the millennia have tried to sort out. And sometimes the sorting turns out ok and sometimes the sorting and the dividing ends up being very bad. Parables are met to instruct and to make one ponder. They are really not meant to tell us the answers. They are supposed to make us think. They are presented frequently as binary objects in a world that is not binary but a world that is multifaceted.
In his commentary on todays lesson David Lose – a preacher I like to follow, said that "according to C. H. Dodd, one of the great NT scholars of the last century, [parables] are “a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its precise application as to tease it into active thought” (Dodd, Parables of the Kingdom, 1935:16)
Active thought. Not passive. They can be like a burr under a saddle or like the song that gets stuck in your head. They make us think – or at least they try to make us think. We really would rather have someone explain in vivid detail what the kingdom of heaven is like and also explain to us why evil exists in the world. In these days of computers we probably want heaven to have a facebook page where we can see who is a friend – and by extension who is a foe. We don’t want ambiguity.
Which brings us to our parable. The kingdom of heaven is one where our crazy farmer from the parable last Sunday sows good seed hoping that only good will sprout. But unfortunately – as every gardener and farmer in the world knows some weeds always manage to sprout up among the good seed that we plant. And so in life we have good people and we see evil. And right now with our political climate it seems that you are either for someone, or some political stance, or you are branded as evil.
All we have to do is read the political commentaries from the left and from the right to know that there are apparently only two sides and the other one is evil. And we should do all that we can in our lifetime to pursue our view of the good and throw the evil into the fires of hell.
We ask God all the time if we can uproot the weeds we see around us! And we know what the weeds look like and how they act right? And as good Christian people we should help the harvest by plucking out the weeds – after all isn’t that what we do with our gardens? But when the slaves ask the land owner if they should pluck out the weeds they get the wrong answer. Or at least wrong from our perspective.
The landowner – who in Jesus’ explanation is God – tells the workers to leave the weeds. For in trying to rid the field of weeds they are likely to disturb and damage – or even kill the wheat. Leave them be.
Leave them be. Let the weeds grow alongside the good. I don’t want to do that! I want to rid the world of evil. Now. I want to bring God’s radical kingdom of Love and peace to our world. Now. I can judge the good from the bad – after all I have been to seminary and trained in the arcane art of theology and interpretations. And some clergy might actually have you believe that their training and credentials make them the perfect person to tend God’s garden and keep the evil out – and yes uproot the evil they see.
But there is a problem with that theology. And that is there is ambiguity in our world. And we cannot always tell what is good and what is evil. We might well mistake the wheat for the weed – or the weed for the wheat. Life is not binary. Life is not all about black and white, good and evil, the saved and the dammed. And the parable makes it relatively clear that God does not plant the evil. God plants good seed.
Jesus is clear. It is not our job to judge the good and the evil. It is not our job to throw the evil into the fires of hell where there will be gnashing of teeth. Jesus is clear that we are not to judge. That God at the end of times will judge. That when all is over God will gather up the weeds and burn them.
Does that mean we do nothing and live with evil? No. We should call out evil systems and work to bring justice into an unjust world. We should work to bring food to people who have nothing – No one should go hungry considering all of the food that is wasted in our world. So yes we need to work to bring about God’s kingdom of love to fruition – but we don’t do that by being judgemental.
We do that as crazy as it sounds when we nurture. Not when we tear down. We bring good into the world when we support the wheat. When we provide water and good soil in which love can flourish. And when we remember that we are a people who believe in redemption. We believe that God can forgive and God can gather the evil that is in our hearts and throw it into the furnace. Our job is to assist in sowing the good and in the building up of God’s good creation.
I performed a baptism on Wednesday and was struck – as I always am by our baptismal promises. There are a series of promises that we make every time we witness a baptism and every time we renew our baptismal vows. We are asked “Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers? Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” And each time we respond “I will with God’s help.”
We build up the kingdom when we follow our baptismal promises. We are called to exercise our ministry to all people and to call out the injustice in the world. We are called to recognize that there may indeed be weeds growing in our world but if we nurture the wheat the wheat will outgrow the weeds. There is no place in our baptismal promises where we are called to judge the world.
And there is no place in this parable – as frustrating as it can be – where we are told we should judge. That whole judgment thing is to be left up to God. Not us. And how frustrating that can be at times.
This is all good but what does this parable really tell us about the kingdom of God? It tells us more about how we are to behave rather than painting a picture of some future place where we join the angels, archangels and the whole company of heaven. And perhaps that is the point. We are called to build up the community of God and respect all of creation here. Now. Not in some future place. And we do that when we love not when we judge.
It is the times where we do recognize God’s good seed in all of God’s creation that we glimpse the kingdom of God. It is the times when we sow goodness and leave the judgment to God that we create God’s dream of a kingdom where we do respect all of creation and love God and love our neighbor. When we work for justice in our society we build up the kingdom.
Perhaps this parable leaves us wanting more explanation on what the kingdom of heaven is like – and you are in luck we get more parables on the what God’s kingdom is like next week! So stay tuned! Maybe next week we will really learn what the Kingdom of God is like!