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Sermon for 20 July 2014


Wisdom 12:13, Romans 8:12-25, Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Last week we heard Jesus telling the parable of the sower, with it’s call to seek out good soil on which to sow the seed of God’s word, so that it can grow and bear a wonderful fruit. And before moving on to today’s agricultural parable, I have one more thought about it which I want to share, because it has been on my mind this week.

I spoke last week about the challenge that faces the church in this country to continue to grow and flourish at a time when the pattern of faith and belief is changing dramatically. I mentioned the figure from a recent report by the Church of England which suggests that the church as a whole will be 1/10th of its current size by 2057 if things continue as they are at the moment. 

The report is clear that the particular challenge is not to stop people leaving the church - that isn’t the main problem - the real challenge is to grow the church amongst the young. The days when - to return to the parable of the sower - seeds from growing plants just dropped onto the ground and grew naturally, are fading. Now, the seed has to be very deliberately sown - and we have to be the sowers.

In that context, it has struck me again this week that we have a particular calling placed on us here at St Mary’s. We have up to 50 children coming to church each Sunday, and we have excellent contact with others through the local schools. This is a wonderful gift that we are asked to nurture and grow, not just for our church, but for the church as a whole. The church’s research shows that if young people are still involved with a church community at the age of 20 - 25, they are likely to be there for the rest of their lives. And that’s our call - to nurture generations of young faithful Christians who will go on to bless the church and the world into the future.

Just imagine these 50 children and young people growing up and sharing their faith with their children and in their workplaces. Imagine them growing up to be Christian doctors and dentists, business women and entrepeneurs, each of them living their lives as disciples of Jesus. Imagine those who will be called to a specific Christian ministry - as teachers, priests, youth workers or evangelists. Imagine if it wasn’t 50 children, but 60, or 70 or 100. Each of them bearing good fruit for God and his Kingdom. That’s the call put before us.

We are called to sow seeds amongst the children and young people of these villages, not because it’s nice to have a full Sunday Club, but because God needs us to do it for his glory and for his kingdom.

Now to today’s parable - often know as the parable of the wheat and the tares. And there are 5 points I want to notice about this story.

It comes as part of a much longer passage in which Jesus tells people about the Kingdom of Heaven - what the other gospel writers call the kingdom of God; In a seres of rich images, Jesus tells us how the kingdom is like a sower who goes out to sow, like a treasure hidden in a field, like a merchant looking for fine pearls and like a net thrown into the sea. And today, it’s like someone who sowed good seed on his farm.

That is worth noticing, because we easily miss it. Jesus says that the Kingdom of God is like a sower who sowed good seed. The kingdom of God remember, is what things are like when God is in charge - when things are the way He wants them to be. So, according to Jesus, God’s kingdom isn’t something static. It can’t be defined by a physical boundary - it is marked out by something active - by sowing, growth and by new life. So, Jesus tells us, it’s when good seed is sown, that the kingdom is here. So, point number 1; If we want the world to become more the way that God created it to be, we need to be out there sowing seeds. We need to sow seeds of faith amongst those who do not believe; we need to sow seeds of peace wherever there’s conflict; seeds of generosity in a self centred world; seeds of forgiveness, mercy and justice.

But there’s a catch. While some people are sowing good seed, there are others sowing something much more dangerous. The particular weed in question was probably darnel - which still grows today and which looks just like wheat. 

The sowing of weeds in your enemies field was a genuine danger in Middle Eastern societies 2000 years ago - in fact sowing darnel was a crime punishable by law in the Roman Empire, and apparently it’s still one of the worst threats that can be made in India - ‘I will sow weeds in your field’. It’s hard for us to capture the level of threat in those words - but just imagine that the field of wheat that you’re relying on for the next season’s food turns out to be full of weeds, so that when harvest time comes, you have a useless crop. Now you won’t eat, your children won’t eat, and you have no seed for next year - you face ruin.  

Point number 2, therefore is that God’s good kingdom is under threat - it exists in the midst of a broken and fallen world in which evil is very real. And God knows we don’t have to look very far to see that at the moment; whether it’s an airplane being blown out of the sky, much of the Middle East on fire or ongoing revelations about child abuse in our own country. This parable warns us against ever being tempted to play down the fact that evil is alive and well in our world. Evil exists, and part of our calling as Christians is to notice it, to name it and to challenge it.

But we need to be careful - after all which one of us is ready to claim the status of wheat? The world contains both wheat and weeds, side by side, and it’s very hard to distinguish the two - so hard in fact that pulling one out risks pulling it all out. And perhaps we recognise that truth in ourselves as well. That within us grows good seed and weed, side by side. Each one of us is capable of extraordinary generosity and goodness, but we are also quite able to be destructive and self centred and to damage others. So Point number 3 is that this parable reminds us that when judgement comes - and it will come - all evil will be challenged by God. So before we point the finger at others, we should remember that the weeds in our own hearts will also be uprooted and thrown onto the fire.

But, point 4, this parable also shows us how God will deal with that evil. In a Middle Eastern culture, the act of sowing weeds in someone’s field would have set up a feud, and feuds continued for generations - handed down from parent to child to grandchild, perpetuating a cycle of retaliation and violence. And things aren’t so different today, are they - whether it’s the renewing of age-old conflicts between Sunni and Shia or Russian and Ukrainian, or the cycles of unhappiness that we receive from our parents and pass on to our children. Well this story shows us that God is not interested in cycles of that sort - the farmer is not told to go and get his enemy back with more weeds. Instead God’s answer seems to be patience - He is ready to wait for the right moment.

And when that moment comes - point 5 - he will act, and he will act decisively. Harvest time is coming, and then wheat and weeds, good and evil will be separated and sorted. And if you’re thinking that’s all a bit ‘hell and damnation’ think of it like this - there will come a day when those who perpetuate violence against the innocent will be brought to justice; there will come a day when those who prey on children will come before God’s throne and hear his verdict; there will come a day when those who live off the misery of others, those who deal in violence, those who oppress the weak will have to answer for their actions. 

Because evil cannot continue in God’s kingdom; there can be no suffering or misery when God returns everything to the way he designed it to be. 

Despite the serious tone of this parable, it is actually a story about hope - because it promises that evil will not win. We don’t know when that day will come, and we don’t know why God is waiting, but it will happen. And while we wait patiently for that great day, our task is to keep on sowing good seed, to continue standing up against evil and to root out the darkness in our own hearts.


Posted: 20/07/2014 at 20:37
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