Matthew 13:24–30, 36–43
Grace and peace to you, my sisters and brothers in Christ.
We’re back to the garden again. Last week we heard Jesus tell a parable of the kingdom, likening it to a farmer whose seed, haphazardly thrown, produces abundantly. Pastor Bitner invited us to peek into his garden, with its lonely, but cherished blossom.
As we follow Jesus through the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus continues to speak of the Kingdom of God, trying to use familiar images and plausible events to describe something that is so beyond our comprehension. So today, we’re back in the garden again.
This farmer seems a bit more responsible. He plants his seed in the field. When the field sprouts weeds along with wheat, the slaves wonder about the farmer. But the farmer knows he has planted good seed. So the slaves ask- should we rip out all the weeds? But these weeds are a certain type of weed that looks so similar to the young wheat plants, the slaves would be likely to rip out a good portion of the crop as they weeded. So the farmer says no, wait. Only at the harvest will the difference be known.
Since we visited Pastor Bitner’s garden last Sunday, I’ll invite you into mine today. Now, in my vegetable garden, I’ve very clearly marked every precious seedling. Thanks to the recent rain and hot weather, my veggies are growing well- along with an abundance of weeds which have blanketed the ground. It could use a little weeding. But when we first moved into the parsonage, all around the house was a mixture of weeds and flowers. Clearly the last intern hadn’t been very interested in gardening. So one afternoon, I set to the task of clearing up the flower beds. But I soon found I really couldn’t tell what to pull out. I could see a mum here and a familiar border plant there- but as for the rest, who knew? The dilemma I faced was that this wasn’t my house. Would I pull a weed- only to hear the next Sunday that the intern’s wife ripped out the beautiful flower planted by so-and-so-important-church-person? How could I decide in a garden that was created by another?
Pastor Bitner and his family are out in Maine on a much deserved family vacation. But before he left this week, we were looking at the bulletin together. When I first saw the design on the cover: wheat being gathered together at the top of the page, a consuming fire rising up from the bottom to destroy the weeds, and the caption: The Parable of the Weeds written in fiery letters- I exclaimed in surprise. I imagine I said something quite ridiculous, like- uh, that’s a lot of fire. That was clearly the point of the drawing.
This parable is often referred to as the Parable of the Weeds, or the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares… but according to Jesus, this is a parable of the Kingdom of God. This whole story is what Jesus is trying to use to tell us about the Kingdom. But we want it to be about the bad guys getting their punishment, about good versus bad, about us versus them.
Pastor Bitner asked me if I was going to preach “Fire and Brimstone” today. Since he isn’t here and is beyond the reach of our radio broadcast, he asked for a hard copy. It’s my last preaching Sunday here at Zion, and here’s my chance to preach some Fire- I guess somehow I haven’t done that in my preaching yet.
I love the movie “The Village”. It’s about a community that has separated itself from the modern world. People have fled horrible experiences of violence and have chosen to live as if they were in a simpler time. They’ve formed a new community, and raised their children in this community, pretending as if there were no modern world beyond their guarded borders. Parents have sacrificed the health of their children to maintain this illusion. But more than this, they have invented a horrible, violent monster to live in the bordering woods. Periodically, one of the founding adults dresses up as this monster and comes into the village to mark its presence, to keep the villagers afraid and contained in the community. The founders believe they must keep up this image of danger, that the village will only be safe if fear keeps people inside. This utopian community is built only on fear.
This is what the church has thought necessary for so long. Back in high school, I remember a friend had a sign in his locker. It read, “If you died today, do you know if you’d be in heaven or hell?”. Where did we go astray- when did the church decide that we need to start pointing fingers in faces, describing fiery pits of agony laid out just for you!? When did we stop trusting God? When did we try to become like God- knowing good and evil? That was the temptation of Eden, and has been our temptation ever since. We have tried to push God out of the picture and claim God’s name for ourselves. We have wanted so much to scream God’s judgment at others.
How could we not trust that God would gather together God’s children? When did we think that the love in the story of God’s creating, God’s redeeming and healing presence throughout the ages, and so near us today, needed to be augmented with visions of fire and fear conjured on our lips? Does God become Incarnate in Jesus to set us free from sin- brokenness and death- so that we can be in bondage to fear? No. But so that we can be free to love and act in that love for the sake of creation.
God’s love and mercy are so great- so present to you- to me- that we are freed from the futile desires of the farmer’s slaves. God loves us- us who are broken and messed up and hurting and wrong. If we can grasp just a bit of that reality- we will see how ridiculous it is for us to think we can tell the wheat from the weeds. We can’t walk down the street, or watch news of people in distant lands and think- they must be weeds, sown by the evil one, destined for eternal fires. Our political propaganda may want to say- there is the axis of evil- there are the evildoers- but the children of God know the depth and breadth of God’s love. We know the power of God’s forgiveness is greater than we could muster in ourselves. We can’t draw the boundaries of God’s kingdom.
In this parable of the kingdom, it is only the apocalyptic figure, the Son of Man, who judges. We come to know this Son of Man is Jesus. Jesus whose path leads to Jerusalem, leads to betrayal, suffering and death. Whose resurrection confirms that God does not leave us in death and darkness. As people of the cross, it is through that cross that we know God’s work in our world. The cross is the great surprise, the axis on which our understanding of God is shifted. God is not primarily a distant judge of glory and power. God is revealed in suffering. What we assume we know about God God breaks apart on the cross. Our desire to create an angry God on behalf of whom we can speak judgment and wag fingers is our path to idolatry. If this parable shows us that only the Son of Man is the judge, then the cross, on which Jesus suffers for the sake of all, transforms the justice system.
All of creation groans in labor pains for rebirth. It is not just about us. All creation is God’s handiwork- all we see, all we know, all we have yet to discover. Together with all of creation we long for and strain towards a time when there will be no more “causes of evil”, no more pain and suffering, no more brokenness. We live in hope for this time. We live in God’s work and promise of completion. Our hope rests in God’s promise, on God’s action. There is no room in our hope for the judgment of others. There is only room for God. God loves us.
May the love of God, which is given to you today and always, fill your hearts and overflow into the world. Amen.