Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Sermon: Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43 Kingdom Parables: The Wheat and the Weeds

I'll hold my hands up, just so that you can see for sure: I don’t have green fingers. As I sometimes say, the only things I can grow are weeds. And that was definitely the case when we got married and had our first home together. There was a bit of a garden at the front, and more of a garden at the back. Our neighbours on either side were great gardeners, so the pressure was on. So off we went to a garden centre, got a few nice plants and so on. We planted them, watered them, and waited.

After a wee while, there was something growing, shooting up tall, and bringing these great flowers. I was so pleased at our efforts, until one of our neighbours pointed out that the bluebells I had been proud of were actually a weed. I quite liked them, but they weren’t what we had planted. Their seeds were already in the soil, waiting to come again.

And come they did. Better than any of our own plants! If you keep any sort of a garden, even a wee window box, then you know that you have to keep weeding it. To show off the flowers that you want, you have to get rid of the weeds. What’s a weed? Anything that shouldn’t be there.

In our Bible reading tonight, Jesus tells another of his kingdom parables. It’s an earthly, everyday story to teach us something about the kingdom of God. The story will show us some detail of what the kingdom of God is like. So let’s look at the parable, beginning in verse 24.

We’re told of a man who sows good seed in his field. He’s happy with his work, and waits for the plants to sprout. But unknown to him, in the dead of night, an enemy has come along and sowed weeds among the wheat. At first, it’s not obvious what has happened. It just looks like a good crop is growing.

But, verse 26, ‘When the wheat sprouted and formed ears, then the weeds also appeared.’ Alongside the wheat, there are the weeds. You see, the weeds here are probably darnel, a mildly poisonous weed that looks like wheat in the early stages. It’s only when the grains appear that the weeds are seen to be different. But by then it’s too late.

The wheat and the weeds are growing in and out through each other. It’s not that all the wheat are in this side of the field and all the weeds are in the other field. They’re side by side and through other.

The servants of the farmer are surprised when the weeds appear: ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did the weeds come from?’ (27) If you sow good seed, you expect a good crop - not weeds. It’s as if they’re asking if he’s still got the receipt for the seed. Or if he’s still got the packet the seeds came from. Are you sure they were good seed that was sown?

The farmer realises an enemy has done this - something which was devastating, and illegal in Roman law. The weeds would threaten the wheat growing. Remember the parable of the sower - where the thorns grow up and choke the plants? So what should be done? We need to do the weeding! We need to get rid of the weeds!

So that’s what the servants ask: ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

But the farmer tells them to wait: ‘No, because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest.’ The roots and shoots of the wheat and weeds are tangled together, it would be too messy to get rid of the weeds now. In taking out the weeds, you might also threaten the harvest. It’s only when the harvest comes that the weeds can be easily separated from the wheat. Then the weeds will be collected first and tied to be burned, and afterwards the wheat gathered and brought into the barn.

So that’s the story of the wheat and the weeds. But what is it all about? Is Jesus warning about the dangers of agricultural terrorism? The need to have someone guarding your fields at night to stop enemies sowing weeds? Tips for farmers when it comes to weeding? Well, no.

When Jesus gets into the house, away from the crowd, the disciples ask him to explain it. As Jesus explains the story, we find that we’re in the story - it explains the world as we know it now, and gives us a warning about the future.

Jesus is the farmer, the one who sows the good seed. Here, the good seed are the children of the kingdom - those who belong to Jesus. On the other side, the weeds are the children of the evil one, sown by the enemy, the devil, in opposition to Jesus and his purposes. Isn’t this what we see in the world? There are both sorts of people in the world. And sometimes you can’t tell which are which. The children of the kingdom and the children of the evil one grow up together.

Just as the wheat and the weeds for a time looked the same, so it is with people you meet on the street. Some who look like weeds might actually be wheat; while some who look like wheat, the real thing, could actually be weeds. Here and now it’s hard to tell, but harvest is coming.

This was the thing that the writer of Psalm 73 struggled with. To his eyes, it seemed as if the weeds were flourishing, as if it was a better life to be wicked. But then, he entered the sanctuary of God ‘then I understood their final destiny.’ In the presence of God he sees beyond this life to the judgement, to the harvest, and sees that crime doesn’t pay; that wickedness will be judged; that it is only the wheat that will be taken into glory.

Now, the parable is about the world - all the world is God’s own field, as we sung in our first hymn. But the church too reflects this field. Even the church can be a ‘mixed’ organisation - wheat and weeds side by side, looking fairly similar. It’s sometimes hard to tell. You can have those who on the surface look to be faithful members, but in fact they’re not. The fruit shows the heart - they might look like wheat, but they produce weeds.

We’re now in this season of growth, but one day, some day (soon), will come the time of the harvest. The owner of the field will call time and send his workers in to gather the harvest. At that time it will be so obvious which is which - the wheat and the weeds.

Here’s what Jesus says: ‘As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear!’

Jesus is giving us a solemn warning here about what lies ahead for those who are not his people. Harvest time is coming, at the end of the world, when time itself shall cease, and the judgement of all is at hand. Just as you wouldn’t want any weeds spoiling your gardens or window boxes, so there is no room in God’s kingdom for those who are evildoers. Sin and sinners would be out of place in that atmosphere of perfect holiness.

We don’t like hearing about judgement; it’s not an easy thing to speak about - yet the Lord Jesus speaks of it, and so must we. You see, this world is not all there is, despite what the New Atheists try to tell us. If this world was all that existed, then there would be no justice. Hitler commanded the genocide of millions of Jews and others, and committed suicide before he could be captured and brought before a war trial. Did he escape justice? Our hearts cry out for justice - because there is a just God.

Jesus describes the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. I know that some of you have a tender conscience, and as we speak of evildoers, your heart immediately cries out. You’re all too aware of your sins and failings. But look at the contrast - evildoers are the weeds, but the righteous are the wheat.

None of us are righteous by our own efforts. All of us deserve the fire of hell for our sins. But the good news is that Jesus endured our punishment; he died the death we deserved, and as we trust in him, we have that great exchange - he takes away our sin, and gives us his righteousness. We are found to be his, to be that good seed - and so no longer face punishment, but paradise.

A few years ago, I was part of a inter-diocesan discussion day on human sexuality. At our particular table of 8, it seemed as if I was the only one who believed in the biblical definition of marriage as one man and one woman, so I had spoken up, seeking to be faithful. The final session of the day was a reflection on this very parable. We were asked to reflect on it, then share our thoughts on it. One woman almost leapt over the table, to tell me that we can’t judge and shouldn’t judge! Yes, ok, I said, but look, the judgement is coming.

Everyone you meet is destined for either the fiery furnace or shining like the sun in the kingdom of our Father. We might not be able to tell who’s who (for sure) - but we labour to bring the good news, to share God’s word, so that the wheat will be revealed, and gathered to glory. Harvest is coming.

This sermon was preached in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Sunday evening 6th August 2017.

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