Broken and Blessed

Pent5 / John Stiles / Holy Cross Lutheran Church / 7-17-11

Matthew 13:24-43
24He 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.’” … 36Then 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!

Children’s Time: Have you ever been on a looong road trip and gotten bored? I mean after all the books and puzzles and video games have gotten old – and there’s nothing else to do – there are 4 words that every parent hears coming from the back seat: ARE WE THERE YET? In our lessons today, the workers in the field were ready to chop down some weeds, but it wasn’t time yet. The owner said to leave them be. They were impatient. The Bible says that “in hope we were saved.” In other words, we hope for what we don’t yet see – a time where love replaces hate – and all people share all things in common. We’re not there yet… but we are waiting with patience. So the next time you find yourself looking out the window… craning your neck to see if it’s here yet… a train… the Twins game to start… the fireworks… remember to wait patiently for God, too, and never give up hope.

Intro: Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Well, we’re back in the garden this week. As you may recall, last week we witnessed some strange seeding techniques by the sower in Jesus’ parable, who apparently had no trouble sowing seed on the rocks and among the thorns or on the footpath… as well as the good soil.

Today we have a landowner whose slaves have reported that there are weeds in his field of wheat. “An enemy has done this,” says the landowner.

And so it begins: what do we do with those pesky weeds? Matthew uses the Greek term: zizania which refers to a type of wild rice grass, such as “darnel.” Though it resembles wheat when it first comes up, you can’t tell if it’s darnel until the grain comes in. Wheat slumps over, heavy with grain. Darnel points straight up. And it grows plentifully in Palestine. Eat it and it will make you sick.

Later, Jesus explains the parable: “The good seed is the children of the kingdom and the weeds are the children of the evil one.” It’s so clear of who’s who. But how to deal with the wheat calls or patience and forebearance. “Let them be,” says the landowner, “for in pulling them up, you may uproot the wheat along with them.”

There’s a sense of God’s justice running throughout this parable that confounds the minds of followers. “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” we hear in Matthew earlier. Or, “In order to remove a speck of sawdust from your neighbor’s eye, first remove the log that is in your own eye… then you will see clearly to help your neighbor.” Like those slaves, it seems so obvious to us what needs to be done: “Why let the weeds grow alongside the wheat?”

The irony in all this is that the slaves are opposed to God – moreso than even the weeds! And all along they thought they knew what was best for the wheat.

“Let them both grow together… for now,” says the landowner. “There’ll come a day when God’s angels will separate them out and we’ll have a bumper crop of wheat and a burning of the weeds.”

But until then… leave the weeds alone.

Leave them alone, eh? Even if they are crowding out the wheat? Growing out of control? Obviously, this isn’t a free pass to ignore all sin that comes up in our community. Jesus provides instruction to Peter with a sharp reprimand: “Get behind me, Satan!” and Matthew 5:29, he says, “If your right hand causes you to sin cut it off!”

And yet, here the weeds are kept in place – there’s no cutting them out prematurely. God will purify them with fire on the day of harvest. I like that image of fire purifying rather than simply destroying the weeds in the end because I believe there’s hope for all God has created to become good and free of all evil.

Heaven & Hell – I was at camp this week and got to sit in on a Bible study with a bunch of 4-6th grade boys. And somehow we got on the topic of heaven and hell – and it was fascinating to hear what their images of “the afterlife” were like. Some thought you get to come back as an angel and help people. Others painted images of firey torment and gnashing of teeth.

Rob Bell, in his book Love Wins has renewed the debate on universal salvation: that is – that everyone goes to heaven when it’s all said and done. Now that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t still guide evildoers through some firey ordeals on the way to that perfect place. But imagine for a moment even one person sitting in hell for all eternity. What might that look like on God’s resume at the end of time? “Well, I guess that Amazing Grace was only so-so grace. It didn’t work for her. Or him.” I mean, is there truly a force of evil in the world greater than the love of God?

So, I suggested to these boys that they think about hell as a banquet table, spread with all your favorite foods. Trouble is: everyone’s arms are locked at the elbows so they can’t eat. How’s that for hell? And heaven is an identical scene – same big table with lots and lots of food – same locked elbows, but in heaven people have learned to feed one another. And it’s a grand feast and celebration!

When we focus only on ourselves, then there is a fire waiting for us sooner or later – to refine and purify us and bring us back to what God intended us to be: the body of Christ – all for one and one for all.

Romans 8 – Paul speaks of this in terms of living by the spirit, rather than living by the flesh. The word for “flesh” in the Greek is sarx. We miss the point if we make it just about “the body” and imagine “sins of the flesh” as purely sexual. No, sarx is that fleshly, lustful, craving for power. When we live by it we’re constantly dissatisfied because we’ll never have enough – or someone else will always have more – or worse, that they might be out to get control of ‘ours!’ The spirit of the flesh requires constant micro managing and keeping others in line – by whatever means necessary.

In Pharaoh’s Egypt, in the Old Testament, power was kept through an elaborate system of priests, administrators and the military. And God despised that system, which built and empire on the backs of slaves. What was offered is a new way of living – under a new rule: a rule of love, trust and promise. “I will be your God and you shall be my people.”

Instead of abandoning his people in Egypt – God led them through the wilderness and broke their spirits – much like one breaks in a horse for riding.

As some of you know, there are horse-raisers in my family line. And I couldn’t help sharing this quote from Charles Stanley, in his book The Blessings of Brokenness as he reflects on the breaking-in of a horse:

On most of my wilderness trips, I contact an outfitter who assigns me a horse for the trek. Sometimes I’ve had very gentle horses who, with the slightest movement of the reins, have known exactly what to do. Such a horse obeys instantly. Sometimes merely a spoken word will do.

I’ve ridden other very independent horses! I could pull on the reins, jerk the reins, kick with my stirrups, speak sharply, and nothing happened that I wanted to have happen! These horses supposedly had been broken, but as far as I was concerned they were not broken very well. At times, these independent horses have put me into dangerous positions – lunging forward down a hill, balking through narrow passageways. Believe me, I’d much rather have a gentle, well-broken horse anytime, in any situation.

What happens in the breaking of a horse? Contrary to what many people believe, the horse’s spirit isn’t broken. A well-broken horse remains strong, eager, quick-witted, and aware, and he loves to gallop when given free rein. Rather, it is the horse’s independence that is broken. The breaking of a horse results in the horse giving instant obedience to its rider.” (p.47)

Now, we’re not horses – we are children of the heavenly father. We “hand over the reigns” to God – because we long to be led by a new spirit – a spirit of love and gentleness. No longer independent – but inter-dependent, children of the same heavenly father.

Yes, enemies still plant weeds, and our own sins blind us to think we can take matters into our own hands. Don’t give up hope. For in hope we were saved. There will come a day when all will feast at that banquet table as sisters and brothers. There will come a day when the wheat will sit at table with the weeds, redeemed in goodness.

ARE WE THERE YET? No, but we wait for it with patience and hope.

Let us pray: O God we give you thanks for your love and patience with the weeds in our lives. Don’t give up on us, and teach us through suffering to wait patiently for that day when your harvest is gathered in glory, in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

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One Comment on “Broken and Blessed”

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