Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 7/20

          This is the second week in a row that the gospel text has been a parable followed by an explanation of the parable. In some ways that renders the sermon superfluous.  You’ve got the parable, you’ve got Jesus’ explanation of it so I could get out the way here, we could just move along to communion and then go have strawberry shortcake.  My work has already been done for me, by Jesus no less! 

I’ve said before though, that at least some of those who study these things say that these parable explanations are probably not actually the words of Jesus.  They are placed on his lips, but the thinking is that more than likely they represent the interpretation of the early church or the gospel writer, Matthew in this case.  It’s not impossible that Jesus would have provided explanation at some point, but by definition parables are open ended, open to a variety of interpretations.  So that doesn’t mean that the interpretation in the last part of today’s gospel is wrong, only that other interpretations are permitted in which case the sermon may not be superfluous.

          One of the things that’s interesting about the explanation to today’s parable of the Wheat and the Weeds is the question posed to Jesus, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field?”  There’s a subtle but important shift in that question and it doesn’t really matter if it was actually posed by the disciples or if this question and subsequent explanation are the invention of Matthew because either way, a shift in concern has taken place.  In the parable itself, the householder is primarily concerned about the wheat, the harvest, the positive side of things.  In the explanation, the disciples are primarily concerned about the weeds, the negative side of things.

          I think that is significant because it indicates that very early there was a temptation to make following Jesus more of a preoccupation with what one was against instead of being about what one was for.  The disciples (or Matthew) were identifying with the slaves in the parable, slaves who were worried about the weeds, pretty sure they could get rid of them because they could tell the difference.  They knew what was wheat and what was weed or so they thought, and if you had to sacrifice a little wheat to get the weeds, so be it.  The householder though said, “Not so fast.”  He was willing to live with the weeds for the sake of maximizing the harvest; he didn’t want to lose any of the wheat.  Interpreting this on a larger scale we could say he was more concerned with providing salvation than he was with executing judgment.

          Now there is a judgment component to this; it’s in there; you’ve got the furnace of fire and the weeping and gnashing of teeth but how curious it is that often this judgment piece is what we gravitate toward.  It comes up a lot in Bible studies; we want to know who the weeds are; we want to know who is going to weep and gnash their teeth and burn in hell forever.  We want to know, because we’re pretty sure it’s not us; we’re pretty sure that we’re wheat.

          This parable is an indication that this desire to know who the weeds are and then making Christianity largely about being against those weeds has been around for a long time, and it persists, but I don’t believe that Christianity is well served or well represented when it is primarily about what you are against.  I remember when Pope John Paul II died a few years ago they asked Jerry Falwell or one of those people about it and the response was, “Oh yeah, the Pope was a great guy.  He was against all the right things.”  I’m not sure that John Paul would want to be remembered mostly for what he was against. 

          Still…it probably wouldn’t be right to interpret this parable as a call to do nothing; the temptation to say there’s never a time when weeding is necessary needs to be avoided too.  There are some weeds that are quite harmless, more of a nuisance than anything, but there are also those that can be quite invasive and destructive, ultimately damaging the harvest.  So there can be a need for weeding but there is a definite caution in this parable about being in too big a hurry about it.  There’s a caution about rushing to judgment concerning what or who we perceive as weeds.  The message of the parable may be that it’s better to focus on the patience of the householder who’s concern is less about the weeds, more about the wheat and the ultimate harvest.

          This parable is an invitation to think about what we are for as followers of Christ rather than what we are against.  The things we are for ought to be the things Jesus is for which are things like justice and peace and forgiveness and righteousness; the biblical vision of shalom which is all of creation in harmony living in the joy and well being of every other creature.  That’s what Jesus was for and it represents a remarkable vision of hope which the world doesn’t hear enough of.  As followers of Christ this is the vision we are for and so we offer it, not blissfully oblivious to the realities of a fallen world but confident that in spite of those realities, ultimately the vision of Jesus will prevail.

Jesus lived that vision and it is part of what he and we are for.  There is a moral component to what we are for, an ethic and a way to live; so we lift up the vision, but there is also the reality of knowing that we can’t live it like Jesus did.  If our relationship with God depends on our ability to live as Jesus did, we’re all in trouble.  So another part of what we are for is the image of a God, revealed in Jesus who loves us and forgives us despite our inability to live the vision. 

          We are for the God who is for us.  Christianity is about the belief that the living God has fulfilled his promises and has accepted us, has forgiven us, has saved us in the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  This God has given us new life, in Jesus.  A door has been opened for us and it can never be closed.  This is a positive message of hope that doesn’t depend on us doing anything; it depends only on God’s grace, God’s action on our behalf.

          We are for the God who the Psalmist calls gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and full of kindness and truth.  That is a God who is mindful of the weeds, but not overly concerned with them; not yet anyway.  We are for the God who has identified us as his children and as St. Paul say, “If children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.”  That is as positive an identity as we could ever hope to have.

          This is the message that we are for, the good news the world needs to hear.  It places us in relationship with the God who is for us.  It’s the positive and hopeful kind of proclamation we ought to be about.

          We live in a world that has largely gone negative.  Politicians win elections by going negative, telling us all the reasons we ought to be afraid of what will happen if this candidate or that candidate wins and you read history and you find that this is nothing new; going negative has always worked.  Then you read the Bible, this parable of wheat and weeds, and you see that this inclination to focus on the negative, to be more concerned about what we are against than what we are for, that’s been around a long time too.

          But in the face of negativity, the householder was concerned about the harvest.  In a world gone negative we counter with a positive message of hope and salvation.  Let us be a church that stands for, not against.  Let us be a church that finds its identity in the positive, life giving faith that Christianity is, not in the negative focus on weeds that make us afraid.  If there’s weeding to be done let it be in our own personal gardens where weeds of prejudice and self-righteous judgment get in the way.

          Let us be a church, let us be individuals who follow Jesus, the householder, concerned about the harvest.          

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
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