The following sermon was preached on July 19, 2020 at Glory of God Lutheran Church in Wheat Ridge, CO. The gospel text for this sixth Sunday after Pentecost is Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43. Season And Story subscribers may also download this sermon manuscript as a PDF. (video coming soon)
Matt. 13:24 [Jesus] put before [the crowds] another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And 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?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let 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.’”
Matt. 13:36 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.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!
If there ever was a moment when Jesus might have used the “mic drop” motion, it might just be here, he might have even followed it with three snaps in a Z formation. And if you think that I’m being flippant in the beginning of this sermon and not addressing “evildoers” as God will in the final judgement then you may be very disappointed with this sermon. And if you are disappointed enough then maybe you’ll reach out to me so we can talk.
As I’ve been wrestling with this text a thought occurred to me. What if Jesus’ explanation is sarcastic in tone? What if when the disciples come to him demanding an explanation Jesus is just so frustrated that his own students aren’t getting it that he throws up his hands in disgust and gives them the answer they want to hear in which they are the wheat and those other people are the weeds, and the best thing to do is nothing until God comes to burn out the ones rightly judged as worthless by the gods the in-crowd have fashioned in the shape of our own judgements. See what I did there? Yes, we most certainly are the in-crowd in our own minds, and we’ve fashioned a lot of idols to get to where we are. What if Jesus response is really about turning over the tables in the temples of our minds? What if Jesus’ finely wrapped explanation is just another layer in God’s relentless call for confession, repentance, and ultimate forgiveness?
Am I making you angry? Is the idea that Jesus explanation isn’t what it seems starting to get under your skin? I hope so, because it seems to me that this is Jesus’ point: he wants to get under our skin. The Spirit in her wisdom is a knife and Jesus is the storytelling surgeon who knows we need something more than easy answers if we are ever going to grow beyond our self imposed malignancies of us and them.
One of the reasons I’m not satisfied with Jesus’ seemingly easy explanation of his own parable is because of it’s easiness. Christian fundamentalism’s whole model of “god said it; I believe it; that settles it” is something that if applied to Jesus’ explanation results in the judgement coming too early and not from God because if we’re honest with ourselves we’re kind of like the slaves in the story; we want to be like the angels, and we cannot wait to start ripping out the weeds. We too easily justify our actions as God-breathed when it’s really the bad breath of our desire to be like God that kills the faithful wheat God has planted. Patience is required; but patience is not inaction.
I hope one of the things you’ve picked up from my first two sermons here at Glory of God is that I think knowing the context of the scriptures is really important. And to get into this context I’m going to really try to push some buttons because I think Jesus is pushing buttons in this reading. Here’s my button pushing declaration: “god said it; I believe it; that settles it” is a consistently faithless use of scripture and applying this fundamentalist principle to this reading from Matthew may well be an evil act of sowing weeds in the world.
As you may remember, two Sundays ago I addressed my frustration with our assigned reading from Matthew because it cut out some verses in the middle in which Jesus calls his listeners to repent. I then referenced how Martin Luther made the same call to repentance in the first of his 95 theses saying that our whole lives be lives of repentance. Then last week our lectionary did it again. Our reading cut out the middle verses which then removed an important contextual element to help us understand that Jesus explanation last week is not a condemnation of anyone who assembled on the lakeshore in mass and in need. Again, Martin Luther’s explanation of the eighth commandment helps bring the full scriptural context back into focus when he says we are to see our neighbors in the best possible light.
Again today, our lectionary cuts some verses out of the middle of our reading, and I find this cut just as problematic because we lose the context that Jesus in Matthew intends for us. The one redemption for this weeks lectionary cut is that we will hear the cut verses next week. Still, I think it’s important for us to know the context, so here it is. In the first half of todays reading Jesus’ parable clearly makes an assessment of the weeds as bad, yet in the section of verses cut away from today’s reading Jesus’ next parable makes an assessment of another weed as good. The judgement of “weeds bad” is simply not as clear cut as today’s limited and frankly Frankensteined reading makes it. When we read this parable of bad weeds next to a parable of a good weed we have to rightly ask if there’s something deeper here than “god said it; I believe it; that settles it.”
We need to let the Spirit do her work of opening us up to something more than the dualism of either weeds or wheat. And there is a hint in Matthew’s telling of this parable which is lost when we don’t keep the full context in mind. Remember, weeds are not universally bad as we’ll find out in next weeks reading, but evil is being actively sown into our world. Our worldly response to evil is often what Martin Luther labeled as right-handed power of might in which we attempt to pull weeds which we cannot rightly identify from the wheat which we’ll ultimately kill in the process. The farmer here offers a different and worldly unsatisfying response to evil: it’s patience. Remember, patience is required; but patience is not inaction.
The farmer, who is God the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, says something more than what our English bibles translate in verse 30 as “let them both grow together…”. That word that is translated as “let” is a soil that is rich and deep. Some other translations of this word in other parts of scripture include pass them both over, to pardon them both, and to forgive! This is what Luther called the left-handed power of forgiveness in Christ. This is the power of God breaking into our world. In this parable Jesus does not deny that evil is afoot, but Jesus response to evil is not as passive as our first reading of verse 30 might suggest. Forgiveness is never passive or maybe the better way to put it is that passive forgiveness is a weed masquerading as wheat in the field of this world. In the same way confession without repentance is not a right confession and like a weed confession without repentance offers no nourishment to the body. No justice – no peace. There’s much more to say here, but it might be best left for our next conversation… please know that I’m looking forward to hearing from you.This last week was marked by the beginning of eternal rest for two pillars in our nation. The Reverend C.T. Vivian and Representative John Lewis were both leaders in the civil rights movement, they both suffered violence at the hands of police officers enforcing white supremacy in Selma, Alabama in 1965, and I cannot help but frame my study of this scripture against all that they achieved and all that we are experiencing today. Their lives and their embodiment of non-violent resistance are now completely enmeshed in my reading of this scripture. They, like the farmer in Jesus parable, did not hesitate to call out the evil that was and is still sowing weeds in our midst. Hear these words from Congressman Lewis: “Too many of us still believe our differences define us… Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year; it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” And from Reverend Vivian: “People do not choose rebellion, it is forced upon them. Revolution is always an act of self-defense… Nonviolence is the only honorable way of dealing with social change, because if we are wrong, nobody gets hurt but us…”
Their Spirit filled response was not passive resignation, but to stand against their being mislabeled as weeds. And in standing they shown as the sun, casting light upon the true weeds of white supremacy in both the Church and the state, calling this nation to confession with a repentance that we are still working out, in the hope that one day we might find a forgiveness in which the seeds of white supremacy are weeded from our midst as we learn to see one another as wheat planted together to nourish one another. Patience is required; but patience is not inaction. May we learn to stand as they did and shine like the sun in the Kin-dom. Let anyone with ears listen! Amen!