[This was shared during worship with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, this morning.]
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
When I was in the first grade, we learned about how seeds become plants. To show us how the process worked, we were each given seeds and some dirt. We were told to take them home and ask our parents for an old cup and then plant our seeds in the dirt in the cup, put the cup in a windowsill where it could catch light from the sun, water the seeds slightly every day, and then watch what happened.
I did everything our teacher told us to do. But after a few days, I got impatient. Nothing had sprouted. I knew from our study at school that, at the very least, by that point, the seed should have been sprouting some roots beneath the surface. But, I wondered, since nothing seemed to be happening above the dirt, if anything was happening beneath it.
I just had to find out, so I could fix things. So, I poked around and found that below the dirt, my seed had sprouted a root that looked just like the one pictured in the mimeographed handout our teacher had given to us.
Just then, my Mom walked into the kitchen and explained that since that I had dug the seed from the dirt, it would no longer grow. (I don't know if that was true or not, but it's what my Mom told me.) My impatience had ruined everything!
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus tells a parable—or story—that tells we Christians to be patient for the full flowering of God’s kingdom. We may not be able to see it clearly, but God has already answered the petition Jesus taught us in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come.”
That’s why Jesus says elsewhere that the time of God’s kingdom “is coming and now is.”* God’s kingdom isn’t yet all that it will be when Jesus returns to this earth. But it is alive in our world and it is alive in all who turn from sin and trust in Christ as their God and Lord.
Our call, as believers in Jesus, is to patiently be about God’s business and to patiently trust that one day, as Jesus promises at the end of today’s lesson, “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their father.”
Please pull out the Celebrate inserts and take a look at our Gospel lesson. “Someone” (Jesus says the someone is Himself) sows good seed in a field. The field in this parable, Jesus explains, is the world in which you and I live.
Unlike last Sunday’s Gospel lesson, in which the seeds represented the Word of God, Jesus explains that the good seeds in this parable, are the children of God’s kingdom—those who believe in Jesus Christ.
Once, Jesus says, while everybody was asleep, an enemy—Jesus identifies this as the devil—goes into the field and sows weeds.
It needs to be pointed out that Jesus, in the original Greek in which the New Testament was written, identifies a specific kind of weed that was sown, the weed known as a tare. The problem with the tare is that, like people, masquerading as Christians or children of God, this weed looks exactly like wheat…until the ears appear.
By the time tares are seen to be growing alongside wheat, it’s usually too late to save the wheat!
That explains what happens next in Jesus’ parable. The slaves of the householder—servants of Jesus—discover the tares among the wheat. They go to the Master—Jesus—and ask if they can uproot the weeds and burn them. They think that by this strategy, they (and not their Master) can save the wheat.
This request and the thinking behind it is really no different from what I did as a first grader. I thought that I could speed up or fix the processes for growth that God Himself created by uprooting the seed in the cup on our kitchen windowsill. We need to trust that God knows what He’s doing. He doesn’t need us to “fix” things.
Once, Jesus and His disciples were heading to Jerusalem and passed through a town in Samaria. Knowing that Jesus is a Jew headed for the Jewish holy city, none of the Samaritans in that town would share food, water, or hospitality with Jesus or His disciples. Two of the disciples, James and John asked Jesus, “Do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy this village, Lord?” They wanted to pluck up the weeds of unrighteousness, rather than trusting Jesus to take care of things with His own long-term plan. Jesus, instead, turned to James and John and rebuked (or reprimanded or condemned) them and left the disbelieving village intact, allowing the people there to live and grow with the hope that, somewhere among the tares, wheat—people who trust in Christ for forgiveness and life—might take root and grow there.
We see Christians impatient with the way God does things in our world today.
Some well-meaning believers, for example, insist that courthouse squares must have statues with the Ten Commandments inscribed on them.
Other believers send their bishops to testify before Congress, on the theory that it’s righteous and godly for the federal government to appropriate X-amount-of-dollars to combat this or that problem in the world.
Advocates of such steps are often quick to write off the faith or righteousness of those who disagree with them. But, no coercive step we may lobby a government body into doing will hasten the coming of God’s kingdom.
Both of them exhibit impatience with God and the way He intends to work in this world.
In the Great Commandment to love God and love neighbor and in the Great Commission to share God’s Word about Jesus in its fullness and make disciples, Jesus has shown us the role His followers are to play in the coming of His kingdom.
We’re to be patient. We’re to be patient in accepting that, by allowing wheat and weeds to grow side by side, God knows what He’s doing.
In verse 29 of the Gospel lesson, the Master of Jesus’ parable, instructs the slaves not to gather the weeds for fear that in doing so, the wheat would be uprooted at the same time.
It can be depressing for Christians to look at the world today. There are many things we might like to see uprooted.
We see people relying on material goods rather than on God to give their lives meaning.
We see people ignoring the needs of others so that they can pursue what they call “happiness.”
We see people ignoring God’s will that sexual intimacy is to be expressed between one man and one woman in a lifelong relationship known as marriage.
We hear people violating God’s command that we not bear false witness as they engage in gossip.
We see people consumed with resentment and hatred, murdering one another with words and with guns.
Even more depressingly, if we’re honest, we see how every day, we ourselves violate the Ten Commandments, failing to love God and to love neighbor.
We see how, because of our sins, we ourselves constantly need to come to God, seeking forgiveness in the Name of Jesus. (Personally, there are times, when I consider my sins, that I wonder why God puts up with me at all!)
When will this madness all come to an end?
When will Jesus bring His Kingdom to us in its fullness, ridding the world of its evil and ridding us of the evil that lives inside each of us?
We don’t know the answers to those questions. But we do know two things.
First, we know that evil will come to an end.
In Jesus’ parable, the Master lets the wheat and the weeds keep growing. But at harvest time—or, as Jesus explains, when Jesus returns to the earth—the weeds—all the causes of sin and all evildoers—will be thrown into the furnace of fire. There, Jesus says, there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” as people spend an eternity regretting that they rejected Jesus’ free gifts of forgiveness and new life.
But the reapers—the angels or messengers of God—will also gather the wheat into the Master’s barn. Those made righteous by the grace of God given to all who turn from sin and believe in Jesus Christ, will live with God for eternity!
When God’s people are gathered to Him in eternity, then their perseverance in turning constantly to Jesus for life and hope, forgiveness and new life, will be rewarded.
The apostle Peter says this about Jesus’ promise to gather us into an eternity without sin, evil, pain, or suffering: “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all come to repentance.” The Lord is patient.
And this is why God is patient. God can do something that, so far as I know, has never happened in any farm field: He can turn weeds into wheat.
God can convert those imprisoned by sin and evil into the forgiven children of God. He will do this for anyone who turns from sin and trusts Jesus as God, Savior, and King of their lives.
Jesus hasn’t returned yet because He wants to use His Church—you and me—to share His message with all the world—wheat and weeds.
God wants all people to have the opportunity to live in His kingdom.
If you trust in Jesus, you can live each day in the confidence that Paul expressed in the New Testament: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” The lives we live here, no matter how long or short they may turn out to be, aren't even a fraction of the eternity God wants us to spend with Him!
Meanwhile, while we live this life, our call is clear. As Ephesians puts it, “Be careful how you live…making the most of the time, because the days are evil…”
Even in a world filled with the weeds of evil and sin, you can grow strong as a child of God!
Keep loving God and loving neighbor.
Keep repenting and believing in Christ.
Keep praying in Christ’s Name and keep sharing Christ with others in word and deed.
Know and be happy that you are already at this very moment, part of God’s kingdom.
And know that one day, in the presence of your Lord Jesus, sin and evil will be a thing of the past, and, with all believers in Christ, you will shine like the sun in the kingdom of your Father.
That’s worth being patient for. Amen!
*Jesus used this phrasing several times during His ministry.