Welcome the Weeds!?
A sermon draft for Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
What is the kingdom of Heaven like? Well, there will be a time of judgement. There will be a time when the weeds will be cleaned out. It's clear the church believed this from the beginning. We have hoped for a time of safety and justice. But it seems Jesus had slightly different ideas about how judgement works!
Firstly, in Matthew 25 we see that an awful lot of folk who thought they were good seed— sheep in that story— turned out to be goats; that is, what today's parable would call weeds. And a lot of what the good people and the powers that be thought were weeds, turned out to be good wheat!
Secondly, the weeds are not cleaned out by us. They are cleaned out by the angels of the son of man; that's the second part of the parable, or they are pulled out by the reapers; that's in the first part. Not by us!
We are the slaves of the householder and the householder says don't pull them up because "in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat." Churches that make a big deal of cleansing themselves and getting rid of the weeds damage themselves.
Judgement is not our business. Judge not that you be not judged. Let me read you the whole text from Matthew 7:
‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4Or how can you say to your neighbour, “Let me take the speck out of your eye”, while the log is in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.
Judgement is not our business.
Here is the gospel for today... get this... it is the gospel, the GOOD NEWS.
The kingdom of heaven is like a field with weeds and God says don't pull them out. If we make judgement and pretend to pull out weeds we will damage the kingdom of heaven.
Judgement is not our business.
If this is God's place and God's people, then unlike so many other institutions, this is a safe place. They will not kick you or me out if we look a bit weedy. Good news!
So what do we do if we spot a weed coming up right there in the third pew?
Well, we might ask, is it doing anything? Does it really matter? Is it a clear and present danger? No. Well, leave it alone, then. It might get converted and bear fruit.
After all, isn't that what happened to us?
A weed might even teach us something! I learned some of my best lessons from people who, frankly, I often thought we would have been better off without! So it's pretty risky for me to call them weeds and to try and uproot them. In fact, a weedy bloke I once judged is now a minister who has preached the world over, and had a profound effect on people! Who am I to judge!?
So what do we do?
Our job is to keep this place safe for people. We are to make it a place of growing and healing. If we think that we have cleaned the logs out of our own eyes and we can see that someone is a sinner; that is, they are making the place less than it should be, then there is a set process in Matthew 18.
15 ‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector.
Ah then... we do kick some people out!
NO! Actually we are meant to bring tax collectors and sinners in to the church so that they may meet the love of God in God's people, and be healed and converted. We love them all the more, while at the same time making sure we do not behave in the way they were behaving.
That's a challenge! But it's real. Just after this text, Peter asks Jesus a question.
21 Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ 22Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
OK, let's get beyond theory and go to a really serious challenge. Let's imagine that The Advertiser breaks the news that the nice old bloke who has started coming to Friday night cafe is a paedophile with multiple convictions.
It is not for us to judge... but... we must keep people safe. How do we balance this?
I can tell you that you can't keep children safe around a multiple offender; people have tried and failed. There is no way I think I am better at keeping people safe than they were. So that means that we can't have that person in at tea; we have kids here.
The key thing here is not that we get rid of the weed. That's our instinct, but the Gospel says don't uproot the weeds, you will also uproot the wheat.
The key thing is simply to see we are not able to keep people safe if he eats here with us on Friday nights.
Now we face the challenge. Will we provide him with tea to take home on a tray... let's say he lives just down the street?
Would I sit outside and eat with him, if it were summer time? He is after all, a child of God.
Would I say, "Mate, you know what your problem is. You know we can't keep you, or the kids, safe ...so how about you come around on Wednesdays when there are no kids, and I'll supply you lunch and some company for an hour?"
Or would we just tell him to clear off and not come back?
Now, honestly, I hope we don't face this particular challenge. I'm not sure I could practice what I have just preached; I have some unresolved issues with sex offenders. But the text says that we are to keep people safe without pulling up weeds. If I don't seek to care for him, then I fail the kingdom. If I just say, "Go away," then I fail the kingdom.
Now mostly it never comes to this, and that's why I've chosen an over the top example... although this very example does happen.
However, we usually get upset by behaviour that is much less dangerous than this. And either we ignore it, which is a failure, or we kick the person out, calling them a weed, which is a failure, when they are not that much different to us.
The thing is that weeds are part of the kingdom to the very end. And we are to love them like we love the tax collectors and sinners.
So every time I kick someone out and feel that I have done a good thing, I have comprehensively failed. If the Council and I decide we simply cannot keep people safe with someone present, that is not a success leading to safety and purity; it is a failure to be kingdom. We might have to recognise that we have to fail, and that we have no choice in a particular case. But it is not a success. God will forgive us, but in some sense that failure will uproot some of our being wheat; it will lessen the harvest in this place.
Big sigh.... it's hard, isn't it!? Did you expect to be hearing a sermon like this?
But it is good news, too. Because even at my most weedy, it means that the Kingdom of Heaven, and a church which seeks to be like the Kingdom of Heaven, will not abandon me. God says, "I will never leave you nor forsake you," and that is the kind of people we are meant to be.
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!
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