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Pentecost 7A Sermon
Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43
19, 2020


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Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

24 He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27And 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?” 28He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” 29But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30Let 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.” ’
36 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.’ 37He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

If you are like me, you have only seen wheat fields from a car window while you drive down a country road. I have never walked through a wheat field, let alone work in one, so when I hear Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds, it doesn’t connect with me on a personal level. Sure it makes sense – if you are trying to maximize the amount of wheat harvested, leave any weeds alone until the very end and pull them up when you process the wheat which will inevitably be uprooted at the same time. A pastor friend of mine has a small patch of wheat that he planted in his yard, just enough to harvest and mill and get a few dozen loaves of bread out of. He claims that he absolutely hates the weeds, and that it gives him endless satisfaction pulling them out. As a matter of fact, he doesn’t mind sacrificing some of the wheat because of the pleasure that he gets pulling those pesky weeds.
That is certainly not the attitude of the sower in this parable … and for that, I am forever grateful. If you have heard this parable told for a long time you may remember it as the wheat and the tares. Tares are a specific type of weed which is sometimes called the bearded darnel. There is a picture of those weeds on your worship bulletin this week, seemingly growing side by side with healthy wheat. As you can see, the tares on the right look an awful lot like the wheat on the left, so much so that it is often difficult to tell them apart. As a matter of fact, the farmers of Jesus time and place would have let these plants thrive until they started to dry out and turn brown as the harvest approached. It is then that the wheat, weighed down by the good fruit on their stalks, start to bend while the tares stand up tall and proud. The seeds of the tares are much smaller and lighter, and they have a toxic quality to them. When ingested, they can make someone sleepy or drunk-like, and can be deadly to animals and sometimes to humans. It is at the time of harvest that the farmer knows which ones to gather into the barn, and which ones to burn in order to protect his livestock and family.

While I appreciate the explanation of the parable that is recorded in this gospel, I am not sure that it is very helpful. It certainly is not like Jesus to give such specific allegorical comparisons for the parts of one of these stories. Parables remind us that the faith that we share and the kingdom that we expect are not intellectual ideas to be believed, but experiences of the creating and redeeming work of God’s power to change lives. We all experience parables differently at different times in our lives. I touched on that last week in the story of the sower, the seeds and the soil. Instead of delving into Jesus’ explanation deeply today, I want to take a few minutes to share how I – at this time and place in my life – am experiencing the creating and redeeming power of God to change lives in this well-known parable.

In the story, does the sower get angry at the weeds? Does he curse them out or condemn them because of who they are? No, as a matter of fact, he is more concerned with the one who is responsible for putting them there in the first place, who Jesus simply calls an enemy. Wait a minute … God has an enemy? Oh yes, God has many enemies and they are all under the power of the evil one, the devil, who wishes only to deceive and bring death instead of life to God’s creation. The sower is not concerned with rooting out the weeds; the sower is most concerned with tending and encouraging the good wheat to grow and to be as fruitful as it was created to be. Both good and evil exist and grow side by side in the world. This is reality that we cannot deny. By focusing on the good – loving our neighbors, sharing God’s blessings – we are tending to the world as our creator called us to do. God has promised to root out evil at the right time … even if it is at the very end of time, and even if it is the evil that exists in our own hearts. That is the hope that Paul talks about in the portion of his letter to the Romans that we heard this morning. And our task is a difficult one … to wait for it with patience.

In his early years, Martin Luther was so obsessed with his own sinful thoughts, words and deeds that he was never able to experience God’s goodness and grace. It was when his spiritual advisors and confessors finally got through to him with the grace and mercy of God in spite of his sinfulness and selfishness that he was able to experience the blessings of life in God’s garden. From then on, he grew in faith and love so that he was able to bear the fruit of God’s gospel and share those blessings so that others could grow in faith and love as well.

We don’t grow by focusing on our weaknesses or the presence of evil in our lives either. We grow by focusing on the gifts that God has given us. Each of us can celebrate the promise that while an enemy of God has planted within each of us the capacity to act with greed, selfishness and hatred, God has sown seeds in all of us for the capacity to share God’s goodness with the world. Meanwhile, we all wait patiently with hope for God’s judgement and salvation to be fulfilled, working actively for justice and peace in our community and world.
Matthew likes to use the phrase, “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth …” It is here as all causes of sin and evildoers are collected like the tares during the harvest to be thrown into the furnace of fire. This week I heard someone talk about how that phrase, “gnashing of teeth,” has been misunderstood by many of us. We tend to think that signifies feelings of utter despair and grief at the time of judgment. The fact that it is accompanied by weeping makes us look at it this way. But it many other places in the Bible – especially in The Psalms – those who gnash their teeth are angry, expressing fury at God and the righteous. I will confess that while this is a new insight to me, I am just as confused by it as I was when I thought that those who gnash the teeth are in anguish. Anger instead of anguish, I see it, but I don’t know exactly what to do with it. The only thing I can think of is that just as the presence of evil in our hearts and in the world is inevitable, right alongside of love and righteousness, so also it will hang on to the very end, fighting for it’s life and victory even to the time when the catharsis is burning it out of our lives. To be sure, there still is weeping, and who among us doesn’t grieve change and leaving behind those parts of life which bring pleasure, but not true joy. We might say that this is a promise that simultaneously brings hope for deeper relationship with God and peace in the world AND brings grief and even anger at the repentance that we are all called to share. That part of us will show intense anger at God even as God is saving us.
Life is not easy. We live in a world where good and evil exist side-by-side. We live as people within whom good and evil exist side-by-side. We live out an anger and grief at the presence of that evil within and around us, not only because of what others do, but because of what we think and say and do. The reason for our Christian suffering, according to Paul, is that we refuse to settle for the world as it is. We live in hope for a world where God has no enemies and there are no weeds in the wheat field. As we groan, we must remember that the suffering of this world is not an end unto itself – it is like the labor pains of a woman giving birth. The outcome is not death, but new life. As we endure with patience, in the midst of the suffering and anger of our lives, may we continue to celebrate with each other the hope that is ours as children of God. Amen.