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Worship Theme: Christians live by faith, recognizing the battle between truth and error
Sermon Theme: What Shall We Do About the Weeds?
Gardening would be fun if it always worked out the way you wanted it to! What a dream it would be if the flowers would always grow the way they did on the picture on the seed packet. It would be a great if the shrubs would always stay well-manicured and the top soil only ever grew the good stuff. But shrubs die, tomato plants don’t always produce enough tomatoes to render them a good investment, and of course there are those dreaded weeds.
It’s hard enough to keep weeds out the garden when you can recognize them. But what about the weeds that look like good plants? We had an interesting experience this Spring at our new home. Not being the ones who planted the flowers or the bushes, we had to figure out what plants were supposed to be there and which ones were wild growing weeds. I was halfway through weeding a bed of overrun grass that we inherited when the distinct smell of onions started filling the air. Guess what? “We have chives”! Or I guess now I should say – “We had chives!”
This world has only ever seen one garden immune from such problems – the perfect garden called Eden. And it’s because of what happened there that every garden since has been worked through the toil of the gardener. It’s a consequence of Adam and Eve’s sin that caused God to say: “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground (Genesis 3:17-19).
In Matthew chapter 13, Jesus uses these gardening ground rules to plant in his hearers a picture of the kingdom of God. In last week’s Gospel, Jesus compared the reception that different kinds of soil have for seeds with the way that people respond to the gospel being proclaimed. And today we see another gardening picture from our Savior. Jesus himself will answer the question for us – What Shall We Do About the Weeds?
So, we’ve established that all weeds are a result of sin in the world, but these weeds in this earthly story have a spiritual significance attached. Jesus tells us: The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
There is reality in these words. God’s people, the wheat, will have to live their lives alongside the sons of the evil one. There are and always will be weeds among the wheat!
You won’t find a farmer who disagrees with the logic, “Let’s burn the weeds.” Unless it jeopardizes the health of the plant, the farmer is going to pull those weeds up. And they certainly won’t just leave them laying in the field. Otherwise they’ll take root again and you’ll have to deal with them again. Otherwise their seeds will be scattered and new weeds will take root making more work and making it once again harder for the wheat to grow.
And you might not be that hard pressed to find some Christians who take the same tact. “Life would be easier if there weren’t all these unbelieving influences around us!” There might even be some voices in your head and heart that say: “Our country would be better if there were more Christians in higher positions. God should promote all the ones who believe in him and start weeding out the pagans from among us!” God should make living as his children easier by allowing us to grow unfettered in the field.
There are some parents who try to raise their children in a similar way. They try to shelter their children from every temptation, every evil influence, every problem, every example of sin that might ever come their way. That might seem like good parenting on the surface, but it’s preventing them from seeing what the world is all about. Unless the parent’s plan is to keep little Johnny and Susie at home forever, eventually they are going to leave the nest. Eventually they will step out from the bubble and figure out that it’s not all wheat out there. Eventually a weed will grow up next to them and they are going to need to learn how to deal with that fact. Eventually they are going to be exposed to sinful influences and be faced with decisions between right and wrong. A bubbled childhood may not necessarily be the best strategy for their future. God could bubble us, the wheat in his field, the children of his family. But he doesn’t. He doesn’t separate us from the rest of the world, rather he allows us, he forces us to live and grow together. Wheat and weeds, believers and unbelievers. And he has some good reasons for that to be so!!
It makes good sense for the farmer to use herbicides to do everything he can to prevent unwanted growth in his fields, but God doesn’t have the same approach. God doesn’t have the same approach, because something happens in God’s field that doesn’t happen in nature. In God’s field, weeds can become wheat!
In fact, that’s what happened to you! Born a child of sin, born in open hostility to God, born deserving of being bound and burned, yet thank God that he didn’t employ the tactic of the servants who asked “‘Do you want us to go and pull the weeds up?’ Thank God that he didn’t pull us up and cast us away. Thank God that he didn’t cast us onto the burn pile of hell like we deserve. Instead he changed us. He changed us from weeds to wheat! He changed us from being children of the evil one to being heirs of heavenly glory. He adopted us, thistles, thorns and all, and made us to be prosperous wheat in his field.
But that change wasn’t just a snap judgment! It wasn’t some divine change of mindset. Someone took our place, paid our debt, laid on that burn pile for us. God changed us, by allowing his Son to change. There has never been a finer stalk of wheat in the world. We are talking “blue ribbon, gold medal, best in fair” wheat. Yet Jesus was willing to take on the weeds’ curse. He was willing to become like a weed, to be bound and carried away, to be burned by the fiery wrath of the anger of a righteous God. All God’s wrath for the weeds of this world and for the times that the wheat in his field acts more like weeds, that’s what Jesus was willing to endure, so that we could be forgiven, so that we could have a place in the field of God, so that we could be wheat.
And though we might be tempted still to long for heaven on earth, to be rid of the temptations that come our way or the negative influences that surround us, God reminds us of his biblical botany. He reminds us that weeds can turn to wheat. What has happened to us can happen for those in our lives. God doesn’t pull up the weeds from around us, because he wants us to be a positive influence in their lives. He wants us to be light in the world and salt of the earth. Is it true that the weeds in our lives might be a negative influence on us? Sure, that’s true, but only if we let them. That will only happen if we let it happen, because we have the real power on our side. We have the Miracle-Gro of the gospel to dispense – to dispense to ourselves as God grows our connection to him, as he waters and feeds and makes us strong in him. That gospel strengthens us when the weeds try to choke us out, when they try to do us harm. The gospel promises us that nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus. And that Miracle-Gro that makes us strong is a strong force in the lives of the weeds that are growing near us. It can change hearts and turn weeds into wheat!
If we live our lives worried about who might change us, what negative influences there might be, what bad characteristics might rub off on us, we are missing the point. God doesn’t have us as wheat among weeds as some grand test of our faithfulness. He does so, so that we can be a positive influence on others. So, let’s be the voice of calm in a troubled world. Let’s be the voice of love in a place that is increasingly loveless. Let’s be light in a dark place and speak words of hope for a hopeless people. Instead of growing upset or fearful, let’s embrace our position as wheat among weeds! Let’s celebrate that we’ve been planted in the fields of our God. Let’s rejoice that we know how the harvest will turn out, and let’s work while it is day – that many, many more weeds might turn to wheat and enemies of God turn to members of his family!!
What Shall We Do About the Weeds? Let’s do what was done for us. Pray for them, love them, and show those weeds Jesus, that the gospel can do its thing, that they might join us in the certain hope of being gathered for glory, that they might be, with us, a part of God’s heavenly harvest! Amen.
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