This is the text of the message I prepared for KSSM for Sunday 19th July 2020. We were still in lockdown.
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43; Romans 8:12-25
The parables are radical and provocative stories, which is the main reason why they are told at all. Throughout Matthew 13, and the other chapters made up of parables in the gospels, Jesus is teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven; the way the world will be when God alone reigns and all other kings and empires are overcome by the presence of God fully revealed in the world. If Jesus was to teach openly about these things, to use a list of facts rather than a story with hidden meaning, then the people who are threatened by the Kingdom’s coming might have an insight into what lays ahead, and arrest and silence Jesus. Of course this is ultimately what did happen; however, in the short term Jesus was able to get away with teaching subversive stuff by hiding it in his weird little stories.
The villain in the Parable of Weeds is satan, not Caesar nor the Sanhedrin, but this isn’t always the case where Jesus is teaching. It’s true that satan doesn’t have an army occupying Jerusalem’s posh suburbs, so Jesus might have been able to be a bit more upfront this time, but in the middle of a long teaching time for him he’s kept up the narrative with the parable form. So, let’s look at what Jesus actually says, openly then in private about what he said in parables and in public.
In Matthew 13:24a Jesus makes it clear that once again (or perhaps “still”) he is talking about the Kingdom of God and specifically what that Kingdom is like. Then in Matthew 13:24b he tells the unique point of this story, that the Kingdom began as a good and pure idea which in Matthew 13:25 is seen to be destroyed later by the fault of an external force, an enemy who sows destructiveness. Weeds are destructive, we know this from last week’s parable (which was only five minutes ago in Jesus’ day), where in Matthew 13:22 Jesus describes the weeds as choking influences. So it is interesting that in this story the master does not instruct his slaves to get rid of the weeds which might choke the wheat; indeed he resists their offer to get out the Roundup because of the potential danger to the good crop. It is as if Jesus has such faith in the seed of the gospel that he assumes it to be choke-resistant and weeding is not required. Or maybe his confidence is in the soil, and that his crop will always grow better in his soil than weeds will grow. “Nah, don’t worry about the weeds in this paddock,” he says, “weeds won’t grow well in that soil anyway so they won’t be a problem.” Whether it’s a superior class of soil, or of seed, the danger from the weeds is lesser to the good crop than the danger of the weeding.
In last week’s parable the seed was the gospel and the soil was your heart; but today the good seed is you (the children of the kingdom according to Matthew 13:38) and the soil is the world. There are two kinds of seed in this story and that same verse, (Matthew 13:38), tells that there is bad seed which is the children of the world alongside the good seed which you are. At the right time Jesus will send the angels to remove the weeds and then to gather the harvest; the crop depending upon its seed ends up in the fire or in the barn, and that’s the point of the story. Last week one of the points made was that good crop can be crowded out or choked by bad crop; this week Jesus’ people are imperilled by satan’s people, but Jesus’ people don’t need rescuing just yet because they will be known by their steadfastness even in peril.
So, what is your seed quality? Maybe the better question, far more accusative and personal, asks which seed you are. And, even more blunt, whose child are you?
In Romans 8:12 we are told that we owe nothing to the world but everything to Jesus. Is that true of you? How true is that of you? Since I am writing for my congregation here, people I know to be Christians and children of the Kingdom (Matthew 13:38), I’m more concerned for degree than identity. I know you are all Christian, none of you belong to satan at all, but as much as you belong to the kingdom how much do you belong to the kingdom, and how much do you still belong to the world? How attached, how deep are you within the Christ whose you are? How dead are you to the world and how alive to Christ: how much has the Spirit [put] to death the deeds of the flesh, your body (Romans 8:13)?
In Romans 8:13 we are told that those who live according to the flesh…will die, which does sound rather dire, however Paul goes on to say that if by the Spirit you abandon and neglect, (or even actively kill), deeds of the body you will live. I see this not as a “sin leads to Hell”, to eternal death rather than eternal life, kind of teaching; rather it is a “stupid things have stupid results”. Which is not to say that sin does not lead to spiritual death (it does), but this verse says more than that.
It was a widely publicised phrase a while back that “Christians are not perfect, just forgiven”, and whilst I’m much more likely to preach from scripture than from bumper stickers the phrase holds a lot of truth. We are not perfect, yet, and we are in the process of being perfected, still, and in the mean-time when we do stupid things we require grace and forgiveness. That’s what I get out of today’s passages, that it is good to hunger for God and righteousness and to want to be “a better Christian” by being more like Christ and less like the world. But when you fall short and do something stupid; or you engage in some self-reflection on the quality of your person as a seed or a bed of soil, and you are disappointed at how far you haven’t yet come, the solution is not to sulk but to seek grace.
I was talking with a friend recently, (in fact she and I were workshopping sermons a bit and I wrote the first two pages of today’s effort in her company) and we were discussing the difference between treatment and diagnosis. Without a diagnosis it is hard to get the right treatment, but with a diagnosis the treatment options are opened up. I have a Mental Illness for which I take an anti-depressant medication, and I practice a healthy lifestyle where I avoid excess alcohol and stressing situations, and I drink a lot of water and spend a lot of time in solitude and quietness. There’s no point in my taking insulin injections, or blood thinning medication; a wheelchair is of no use to me, and I won’t benefit from thrice-weekly physiotherapy. At the same time if all I had was a diagnosis but wasn’t engaging in therapy at all then what would be the point of that diagnosis? It would just be a name, perhaps a label.
Again I ask you the questions, as a diagnosis. What is the quality of your seed? What is the quality of your soil? Whose child are you? What deeds of the flesh do you continue to practice? None of this is a about judgementalism or for me to assert moral superiority; it’s about you being able to identify areas in your life that you need to work on (or maybe work towards) by the Spirit (Romans 8:13), the same Spirit who is bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God; and if children then heirs (Romans 8:16-17a).
Jesus spoke often of the Kingdom of God in his parables, knowing that the news was radical and provocative: it is this same Kingdom of which we are joint heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17b). The news of grace, and of God’s supportive empowering available to us (treatment) beyond God’s forgiveness of our sinful state (diagnosis), is equally radical, equally provocative. In this knowledge I encourage you to take some time this week or next to search your spirit with the Spirit of God as company, diagnose and address with God the help you need, and then allow God to meet with your strength to work toward your salvation.