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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 07/20/2014

Some of you know very well from experience that if you work in a nursing home or have loved ones there or visit people there, you have to try and maintain something of a sense of humor about some of the things that happen because it can be pretty depressing otherwise. Along that line, one of the things I’ve noticed over the years I have visited nursing homes is that there have been a number of people who were in what I would call the pleasantly confused state of dementia who would talk about having gone downstairs to do this or upstairs to do that when of course there are no stairs, the place is all on one level. You don’t correct them, you just go with it because in their mind, that’s what they did; there’s no point in arguing.

Anyway, this was a few years ago now, but I was visiting Pearl Forchini over at Mather, some of you might remember her, and she was telling me she had just been downstairs for some activity, I don’t remember what, but then her roommate, who was in about the same pleasantly confused condition as Pearl said, “I wish you’d show me where those stairs are because I’ve looked and I sure can’t find them.”

As Jesus went around Galilee talking about the Kingdom of God and how the Kingdom of God has come near, I can picture someone saying to him, “I wish you would show me where this Kingdom of God is, because I sure can’t find it.” The same question might have been posed 50 or 60 years later when Matthew wrote his gospel, the same question might still be posed today. Evidence of the kingdom can be hard to find.

Today we get another of Jesus’ parables, the parable of the wheat and the weeds. When thinking about parables, while we know there’s never just one interpretation, one approach in looking for meaning is to try and determine the implied question to which Jesus was responding. Sometimes the question is provided, often it’s not, but you assume that something prompted Jesus to tell these little stories. It might be impossible to know for sure what that something was, but if you look at the parable itself and the general context of what Jesus was talking about along with what else was going on at the time, you can at least speculate.

In the case of this parable of the wheat and the weeds, the background is that with all Jesus’ talk about the kingdom being present or being near, day to day life for the average person hadn’t changed very much. Evil was still present in abundance, opposition to Jesus was present on several fronts, those who had been in power were still in power which might have prompted someone to say to Jesus, “Show me this kingdom you’re talking about, because I sure can’t find it.” Why were so many rejecting the message of Jesus? Why were the Romans still in control? Why wasn’t separation of the righteous and the unrighteous happening? If Jesus was the Messiah, wasn’t all that supposed to be taken care of?

A couple of thousand years later, we’re still pretty much asking the same questions. We proclaim that in and through Jesus everything has changed; he has conquered death and ushered in a new age, and yet, the day to day reality for most people hasn’t changed. Evil and violence are still out there. It often seems that things are getting worse instead of better with political gridlock in this country, seemingly endless war in parts of the Middle East, passenger planes being shot out of the sky. On the religious front more and more people are opposed to the church or they’re indifferent toward it, seeing it as irrelevant. For some it’s not even indifference because God and Jesus and the church aren’t even on their radar and Sunday is just another day.

Along with that, within the church, even within individual church bodies like the ELCA, there is disagreement on theological questions, disagreements on how the Bible should be interpreted, disagreements on the moral teachings of the church. With all of that, we too might ask, “Just where and what is this Kingdom of God?” If they were impatient for evidence back in the first century, we’re even more impatient now.

So Jesus told the parable of the wheat and the weeds. As usual he didn’t come at the question head on but instead he created an image that they would have been familiar with, an image of good crops growing amidst weeds. In sorting out that image you find that there’s a caution about being in a rush to pull the weeds and with that the rather strange recommendation not to do anything, to just let it all grow together, weeds and wheat. In other parables characters are praised for taking decisive action of some kind; in this one though, inaction is the suggested course.

As farming or gardening advice this isn’t worth much, but this isn’t farming or gardening advice; it’s kingdom advice and apparently, contrary to expectation, contrary to our wishes, one of the characteristics of the kingdom is that it can’t be rushed. It doesn’t arrive as a cataclysmic, landscape altering event that shakes things up and causes everyone to sit up and take notice. The kingdom Jesus proclaimed comes in the midst of the messy reality of the world, not in place of it, at least not yet.

When we hear the term “Kingdom of God” it’s hard not to think of a place, a place like the Land of Oz or something, but as described by Jesus in this and other parables “kingdom” might be better understood as an unfolding process or an unfolding way of life. It’s more a part of what theologians refer to as the “already but not yet” and I’ve talked about this before. In and through Jesus the kingdom has come near, it has been revealed; that’s the already. But we’re not there yet, the kingdom isn’t fully realized. We live in the in between times, knowing the promise of the kingdom but not yet having experienced its full disclosure.

With the parable, Jesus counsels patience concerning the in between time; he counsels caution in thinking that if we could just eliminate all the weeds, then we would experience the full reality of his kingdom. That’s a technique that gets tried in a lot of different ways but it doesn’t work. There will be a separation, it will happen, but in the meantime, in the in between time, wheat and weeds, good and evil will exist side by side.

That however raises another question regarding this parable. With the caution against pulling the weeds it can seem like Jesus is recommending being passive in the face of evil. I don’t think that’s the case though because again, I think the assumed question behind the parable is “Where’s the kingdom?” not “What are we supposed to do with the weeds?” What Jesus is doing is describing reality; good and evil do exist side by side in the world and also within each of us. Evil should be resisted but what should also be resisted is the idea that we have the means to fully eradicate it and with that eradication cause the kingdom to be revealed. The kingdom will be revealed—in God’s time, not ours.

Seen this way, movement toward the kingdom, revelation of the kingdom becomes part of the ongoing process of creation. A few weeks ago I talked about creation being called good, but not perfect, not perfect because the process of creation is not finished yet, another example of already but not yet. What the creation story tells us and what the parable of the wheat and weeds confirms is that while things are not perfect yet, we’re moving in that direction, moving toward a time when our prayer, “Thy will be done, thy kingdom come” will be fully answered.

In the meantime, despite all that evidence to the contrary, there is hope; the kingdom is out there. There are weeds, but there’s also wheat and maybe part of what Jesus is doing in this parable is to encourage us to change our vision, to focus on the wheat, to tend the wheat rather than being obsessed with the weeds. I don’t know much about gardening, but even I know that you never get all the weeds; it’s a losing battle. You do what you can, but it’s better to focus on the flowers and the crops. They represent the kingdom and they are there.

Today’s text ends with Jesus saying, “Let anyone with ears listen!” In responding to “I wish you would show me this kingdom because I sure can’t find it,” besides having ears to listen, in looking for the kingdom it’s also a matter of “Let anyone with eyes, see.”

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

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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welcomes me, and whoever
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