The chosen hymns for this week, He came down that we might have love and You Lord are both Lamb and Shepherd can be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.
The Parable of the weeds
Matthew 13: 24-30 & 36-43
Welcome to our time of reflection for Sunday for 19th July.
I have been watching a series on Netflix which has been driving me nuts.
It is called Dark.
The first two series are set in different time zones, where some characters are children, teenagers, middle aged and old. And different people play each of these characters, but they don’t tell you which ones are which.
What is worse some of them are good guys in one time era, but because of what has happened to them they become bad guys in another era.
What is worse some of them are travelling in time, so the teenagers are visiting times when their parents were teenagers.
In fact it may be that some of the people are their own grandparents.
I thought that was bad enough, then came series three where they introduced parallel worlds, where people who had died in one world were alive in the other.
One person who was deaf in one world was now able to hear in the other, while one person who had one eye in one world now had both eyes but now he only has one arm.
And there are people who are travelling between one parallel universe and another, and one time and another.
And they don’t give you any warning, they just shift from one time and one dimension to another.
So a scene appears and you are trying to work out which time era it is, which of the parallel universes it is, and which of the people travelling between era’s and universes it may be.
Life was simpler when I was younger and was watching the black and white matinees on the television on a Saturday morning. The good cowboy wore a white hat and the bad cowboy wore a black hat.
We would love the world to be black and white, the trouble is that we don’t deal with a simple world, we deal with a complex world, and the answers we need tend to be complex.
That was also the case in the time of Christ when people were asking, ‘If God is good, how come there is so much bad in the world?’
As we think about that, Margaret will lead us in our prayer and reading
Margaret: Reading Matthew 13: 24-30 & 36-43
We have the early church asking a tough question.
‘If we are the good guys, how come the bad guys are doing so well and we are struggling?’
The early church was struggling with persecution. People were dying for their faith.
If they were the good guys why was God allowing the bad guys to be so dominant?
And the gospel writers tried to remember Jesus’ words and which parables or incidents might bring comfort to this struggling band.
And Matthew remembers this one. And he pretty much spells out what it means.
A farmer sows some good seed.
The farmer is obviously God, the field is obviously the world and the good seed is obviously the good church folk.
And the good seed grows as it should.
But suddenly the servants realise that there are other seeds growing in the field as well.
What should they do?
Well the first thing they do is try to find someone to blame...’It wisni ma fault. Some bad man came along and did it.’
But just blaming someone doesn’t solve the problem, what to do about those horrible weeds?
Maybe they should pull up all those bad weeds.
But if they do that then how many good plants will die?
There would be the good plants that get trod on by the workers trying to reach the bad weeds.
There will be good plants that die because they might look like bad plants and are ripped up by mistake.
There will be good plants that die because their roots are tangled in with the roots of the weeds so when the weeds get ripped out the ground the good plant would get ripped out as well.
It’s all very complicated.
So the farmer suggests that they let them all grow. And then when they get to the harvest it is very easy to tell which plant is which and they can pull up the weeds then harvest the good plants.
And that makes it all very simple.
There are good guys and there are bad guys. And in the end the good guys will be ok and the bad guys won’t. So they can all relax and not worry.
Do you feel that we can all relax now and not worry?
You see it’s not so simple.
The good thing about stories is that they can have more than one message.
Like little red riding hood, originally written to warn people not to veer off the path as you would meet dangerous people who could harm you, but equally you could hear the message and understand the lesson to be, make sure you make friends with good people who can protect you in the end.
That’s why Jesus used stories to tell people things. If he wanted to be really blunt and say, ‘The good go to heaven and the bad go to hell,’ then he would have just said that.
But he didn’t. To the crowd he told this story and let them work it out.
And life is far more complex than black and white.
For instance; who are the good guys and who are the bad guys?
Let me pose a question to you...
Should Christians take drugs?
Gut instinct...Yes or No?
Only I take drugs, have done since my heart attacks; three in the morning, one at night. Does that mean that I’m not a Christian?
Of course not, we didn’t mean medical drugs, just other drugs.
What like alcohol and cigarettes?
So if I have a drink and have a cigarette I can’t be a Christian?
Of coarse not, we don’t mean legal drugs just illegal drugs.
But what if some of these illegal drugs become legal?
Well in some countries it isn’t illegal to take marijuana. So does that mean that Christians can take marijuana in those countries but not in others?
But where does that leave Christians taking alcohol, once it was illegal, and still is in some countries.
So Christians in say Saudi Arabia, if they are visiting Britain and start drinking then they can’t really be Christians because it is illegal where they stay
Or what about drugs like morphine that are legal but you can misuse?
Well obviously if you misuse something then it is wrong.
Well does that work with other things as well...like sugar?
People misuse that all the time and that damages health.
Are they the same as drug abusers?
See how complex things get?
What’s worse, it is easy to see how these complexities can cause insecurities in the faith of people when they try to work out where they stand with God.
I once heard a seminar when a very respected Christian speaker was asked how you could be sure you were one of the good guys that got to heaven?
And he said, ‘God gives you the assurance of faith.’
So if you don’t feel assured are you going to hell?
That’s where I think this parable is very useful.
Imagine for a while that the field isn’t the whole world, but the whole world of your heart.
Let me explain.
To let you know how sad I am I have been studying the book of Leviticus in my private quiet time. Have a go at reading it and see how long you last before you give up.
That will give you an indication of what a sad person I am.
Let me give you a rundown of the book.
The people are in the desert, they have escaped Egypt where they were slaves and they are preparing themselves to go into the Promised Land.
The whole book is about sacrifices that needed to be given; sacrifices for sin offerings, guilt offerings, all kinds of offerings.
And the reason that these offerings were needed was that the world had two parts.
There was God and his goodness, purity, holiness. And his people needed to reflect that.
And there was the world and the evil in the world that was perpetually trying to contaminate the pure. The pure needed to be cleansed of contamination because God could not abide impurity. The only thing God was interested in was purity. So the people needed to be decontaminated of their impurities before they faced God.
In their eyes that was all that mattered to God, purity, holiness.
Jesus fought against that concept.
If that was the case then God didn’t care about people, just people that were pure.
If that was the case then when the field got weeds then the servants would go in and hack away at the weeds when they found out the enemy had planted them at the start, it wouldn’t have mattered if some of the good plants were sacrificed because what mattered was that the field stayed pure.
But that’s not what happens.
If the field is our heart then there is the complex idea that there are good things growing in there and bad things growing in there.
God cares enough for us that he gives the good parts a chance to grow.
And maybe that’s the hope we can get from this parable.
We can look at ourselves and not be too impressed with what we see.
We can look at ourselves and sometimes think our faith is going backwards.
This parable is saying...
God isn’t finished with us yet.
God hasn’t given up on us yet.
God is still hoping that the good plants will grow.
God is still hoping that the inspiration he wants to give us will find its place in our heart.
And here is the thing, the more the good plants grow, the less food that the weeds have to grow on.
If you have a field that is full of good plants, it is difficult for the weeds to get in.
If our heart is full of compassion and love, then hatred and jealousy don’t last long, we see their effects on our life and we refuse to let them dominate our life. The good plants squeeze out the bad plants.
There is hope in this parable.
If we slip up, if we fail, if we botch up, if we make a mistake; and we all do at some time, then God isn’t waiting to obliterate us for our failure, he cares too much about us for that.
He is willing to wait, willing to be patient, and hope the good within us can grow.
We probably all have met people that have made some terrible mistakes when they were younger, but it didn’t destroy them, they learnt and grew and became amazing people. That is because God cared enough to let the good grow.
The next time you read this parable think of the field as your heart.
And be careful what you let grow there, and be very sure of this, no matter what you do something will grow.
If you don’t let God encourage love and joy and hope and patience then jealousy and envy and hatred and spite will just creep in.
If you don’t let God’s seeds of faith and purpose grow then seeds of indifference and self obliteration will just creep in.
God may sow wonderful seeds, but it is our choice which we let grow.
Let’s just make sure we make the right choice.
Let us pray.
And there will be moments of silence in this prayer
We know we want compassion in our hearts, but we need to encourage it.
So we pray for those we know that need your help just now....
If there are things you want us to do to help these people then encourage us and inspire us to put our words into action.
We know that we want more hope in our hearts, but we need to encourage it.
So we pray for areas in our lives where we see things need to change...
If there are things you want us to do to help create this future and make our world better then encourage us and inspire us to put our words into actions.
We know we what more joy in our heart, but we need to encourage it.
So we pray for remembrance of what in the past has brought us true joy...
If there are things we can do to bring joy to others, to give the opportunity of joy within ourselves, then encourage and inspire us to put our words into actions.
May we reflect on how you have been with us in the past, and be assured that you are with us now, walking the journey of faith every step of the way,
wishing us to seek your wisdom,
hoping we will accept your guidance.
These things we ask in Jesus name
Until next time...
May we let God’s hope grow with our hearts.
May we let God’s joy grow within our hearts.
May we let God’s love grow within our hearts. Amen