Sermon – 23 July 17 – Philip

Wheat and Weeds

Readings: Matthew 13: 24 – 30 & 36 – 43 & Romans 8: 12 – 25

Well if you ever thought bioterrorism was a modern phenomenon you might need to think again; as it seems to me that’s exactly what we have in this story of the wheat and the weeds.  And it’s a fairly simple story that Jesus tells: – a farmer goes out and sows good seed in his field happily looking forward to a fine harvest later in the year.   But then something bad happens as someone tampers with the crop.  As during the night when everyone is asleep the man’s enemy creeps in and sows loads of weeds amongst all the wheat and then makes himself scarce.  And it only becomes apparent what’s happened when all the stuff begins to grow – the wheat and the weeds – and the weeds are all over the place.  And you can imagine the dismay and disappointment.  “What a mess – all that hard work and look at it now.”
And apparently this was not an uncommon thing at the time; if someone was that way inclined and wanted to get even with his neighbour.  And so those listening to Jesus would be quite familiar with the scenario he was describing.  Well as the farmer and his servants are surveying the sad scene before them the servants say to him: “Hey boss, it was good seed you planted wasn’t it?  So where did all these weeds come?”  And I wonder if that might easily be a cry which resonates with our own experience at some time or another.  “I’ve sown good seed in my life and in my home and in my family.  Lord, I’ve tried to do all that is right and follow you and so where do all these heartaches and disappointments come from.  Why do these bad things keep happening?”
And that immediately gives rise to the age old question of why does evil continue to be so persistent in the world?   Why does God, for instance, not step in and do something about it?  Why doesn’t he weed it out?  And, of course, it’s a recurring question but I’m not sure the parable is trying to provide an answer to that.  The story seems to me to be more to do with giving a picture of the world as it is.  Jesus is describing the reality of the world we all live in and with which we are all familiar; the world in which good and evil are so intertwined together.
But the question is still there in the parable.  ‘Why doesn’t the boss do something about it?’  And that’s a question uppermost in the servant’s minds as they are getting totally fed up with the weeds growing all over the place.  And so they go to the farmer ask: “Do you want us to go and pull out all the weeds?”
Now it seems a reasonable thing to ask doesn’t it.  It’s what we do with our gardens at home isn’t it.  It’s what Janet does with her allotment.  We do our best to try and get rid of the weeds so that all the good plants have plenty of moisture and room to grow.  It seems like the right thing to do.  But how does the farmer answer?  Well he says “no because while you are pulling up the weeds, you may pull up the wheat with them.  Let them both grow together until the harvest.”
And so the reason Jesus gives for not pulling out the weeds is because of the harm it will do to the wheat.  And that begins to make sense when we consider the sort of weeds the parable is talking about.  And I’m given to understand it’s a sort of rye grass, a plant called darnel – which is how it is translated in the New Jerusalem Bible.  Apparently it looks very much like wheat in the early stages of its growth and sometimes it’s referred to as ‘false wheat’ as it can be very hard to distinguish between the two – and so if you start trying to pull out the weeds you finish up pulling out some of the wheat as well.
And trying to distinguish the wheat from the weeds in real life situations is not as easy and as obvious as we sometimes like to think.  That’s the reality  And when we try we can so easily, if we are not careful, fall into the trap of making premature judgements that can potentially hinder someone else’s spiritual growth.
And what Jesus is saying here, in the parable is that he is far more concerned with growth rather than he is with uprooting anything – at least in the present.  And if we are followers of Jesus shouldn’t that be our concern too?  And what it’s saying to me is that we ought to be directing our energies into sharing with Jesus in the work of building for his Kingdom and bearing fruit that will be a blessing to others.
“Do you want us to pull out all the weeds” ask the servants.  And the farmer’s answer is, in effect, for them to wait.  And waiting isn’t something we are always very good at – is it?   We can be so impatient at times expecting God to do something now – immediately.  “Lord, do something” we pray.  And when the answer is ‘wait’ it’s not always what we want to hear.
Waiting can be difficult but we are told to wait – to be patient and let the wheat and the weeds grow together until the harvest.  The time is not yet.  There is still growth to be done.  There is still time for people to turn and accept Jesus as their Lord and King.
And you may have noticed from the text that the parable is split into two parts, as about half way through it jumps from verse 30 to verse 36.  And in between are two smaller parables which were not included in this morning’s set reading.
And one’s about a tiny mustard seed which over time grows into tree into which birds can find rest and build their nests and the other about a woman baking bread.  Both pictures of everyday life but in which Jesus is giving insights into what the Kingdom of God is like.
And these two mini parables are a bit like the filling between two slices of bread – a sort of sandwich.  And they are not tucked in there by accident as this element of waiting seems to run like a common thread in the background through both of them.  Waiting for the tree to grow in the one and waiting for the yeast to permeate through the dough before the loaf is finally ready in the other.  Waiting – and sometimes we need to wait as God is working out his purposes.  His timing is not always ours.
Well let’s go back now to the other part of the sandwich in the wheat and the weeds as that’s where it tells us what the various components in the story are meant to represent.  And so for example, we know that the field represents the world and that Jesus represents the farmer who sows the good seed.  We also know that the wheat that grows from the seed represents all those in right relationship with the Father.  In other words the followers of Jesus.
And so the field is the world says Jesus, and as in the time of Jesus, we live in a tension filled world with the good and evil still growing together and intertwining themselves into every relationship of life.
And it’s not just the world around us but also the inner world of the human heart and those inner conflicts and tensions we all face each day.  It’s the human condition.  And the Apostle Paul sums this up very well in his letter to the Romans when he says: ‘Look it’s like this – while I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  And the moment I decide to do good, sin is always there waiting to trip me up.’
But then he does go on to say this – that if we are ‘in Christ’ there is then no condemnation hanging over our heads because there’s a new power at work within us – the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.  And if we are open to the Spirit’s work within us, then there is an inner witness of the Spirit’s presence that can give us a deep inner assurance that Jesus is right there with us, helping us to face the reality of the world we all live in – the world as it is – the wheat and the weeds growing together.
But they will not always grow together – it’s only until the harvest says Jesus.  And that gives us a link into our first reading from Romans 8 where the Apostle is pointing us to the future and the renewal and redemption of the whole of God’s creation at the end of this present age – describing it as ‘a time when the whole of created life will be set free from its slavery to decay’.  And it’s something for us to look forward to, saying he considers that ‘our present circumstances are not even worth comparing with the glory that’s going to be revealed in us.’  And it will be a glory that’s beyond all our imagining – something that at present we cannot even begin to grasp with our finite minds.
But in the meantime, he says, all creation is creaking and groaning and still waiting for all this to happen.  And there’s that theme of waiting again – the wheat and weeds still growing together until the harvest.  And the Christian hope is that this state of affairs will not last forever.  It’s only for a season.
And so we should not be discouraged – things will not always continue as they are.
It’s God’s field and he’s the one in sovereign control and he’s the one who sees the big picture.  And so we can be confident of this, that he will tend the field properly and take care of the weeds in due time.   And then, as it says in the final verse of the parable: “Then the righteous (that is those in right relationship with the Lord Jesus) will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”
And, of course, that ‘shining like the sun’ will be wonderful.  But while we are still waiting for the Kingdom to come in all its fullness there is something we can and should be doing now.  And that is seeking to reflect something of the beauty and glory of Jesus in the world as it is.  And as I was preparing what to say today – some words of an old worship song came to mind and with these I’ll finish.
‘Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me,
All his wonderful passion and purity
O my Saviour divine, all my being refine,
Till the beauty of Jesus is seen in me.’
Philip Newell (Reader)
Sermon preached at St Laurence’s, Scalby at a service of Holy Communion on Sunday 23rd July 2017