Saturday, February 10, 2007

Epiphany 5 - Matthew 13

(wma audio download)

The Reign of God, the way God rules, the Kingdom which is over all Kingdoms, the function of the activity of the LORD God in this world, is like a man who plants a good crop in his field. But when he is asleep an enemy comes and scatters the seed of weeds and brambles all amidst the crop so that when the good seed came up, they did not come up alone. Amongst the beautiful, fruitful heads of grain were thistles and thorns and all manner of useless crop, worthy of nothing but waste and casting into the fire.

So begins the parable. But gosh. Is it even worth going on? I mean, we’ve all heard the parables before, and we all know what they mean, right. Jesus even takes the time in the text to explain this one. And parables pretty much like primitive sermon illustrations, right? They’re self-sufficient. No need to explain, just tell the story. People relate to things like seed and weeds and such, and so there you have it: wam! Bang! Boom! Faith is made. We’ve got the Gospel. We already know all the right things. Why go over it again? Let’s pass the offering plate and focus on something a bit more relevant.

Or, wait. Maybe not. I mean, I guess that kind of thinking, which is no less than thinking that the teaching of Jesus in parables are a bunch of child’s play, is a pretty easy route to go if one is a self-righteous, cocky, arrogant fool. Since more or less of the time I certainly fall under that category, (and something tells me I’m not alone,) maybe we should exercise a little more caution regarding the Words of our Lord, the Word regarding which the Apostle tells us is the stuff that faith and peace and life are made of. Maybe Jesus’ words don’t ever get old. Maybe we get old. Maybe we get lazy. Maybe we have let sin have it’s way with us.

But if anything is clear, it’s that thinking that these parables are child’s play and common knowledge and even easy to understand is as foolish as planting a field of weeds. For the fact is clear that as many times and as often as Jesus told parables, not only the mass crowds, but even the disciples whom he taught day by day, consistently and without fail had no idea what on earth Jesus was talking about. “Explain to us,” they say, and, “why do you speak in parables” they say, and he answers them. “I speak this way so that the unbelievers, who have already chosen not to enter the saving Reign of God, those who are the cursed seed of the evil one – I speak in parables so that they will hear my words, and not believe, so they will see my miracles and my truth, and they will not understand it. They are to be kept dull with sin and faithlessness. Their eyes are to stay closed. And if I were to speak plainly, then they might open their eyes, repent, and I would heal them. And that shall not be.”

Huh? What’s that Jesus? Not exactly Church growth strategies. A bit unmissional. Rather mean…unfair, even, wouldn’t you say? That’s so the opposite of seeker-friendly that it is downright unloving and uncaring. But wait, this is Jesus. Isn’t Jesus the one who sends the mission? Isn’t Jesus the one who saves the unbeliever? Then, maybe, if what Jesus is saying sounds unmissional and unfair, then maybe it is we who have the wrong mission and the wrong understanding of justice. Maybe we disciples do not understand the parables so much as we like to think. Hear then, the parable of the weeds in the field explained by our Lord:

Jesus Christ sows good seed. He sows salvation. He sends out his Word and by his Word he chooses, he pinpoints, he elects men, women and children to be his own, to live under him in his Kingdom, justified by faith and purchased by the shedding of blood. Many are called, but few are chosen.

The field in which this sowing and reaping of new relationships with the living God goes on is this fallen world, with all its many perils and pitfalls and problems. You – you are the good seed. You are those to whom eyes have been given to see, those to whom ears have been given to hear: for listen, the Christ is raised, and you believe it. So, know this, then, as those baptized into that grace, you are the good seed.

Yet, in this mission field of a world, and therefore, also in this Church which lies in, with and under it, there is an enemy who has come; the evil one, the deceiver, Satan, as real and vile as the sins of Soddom and Ghamorra, an enemy as deadly as any you or I have ever had or known. And here, in the field from which we grow, he has sewn his own sons, the sons of the reign of perdition, who already stand condemned by the fall of Adam, who reject being the good seed, who have destined themselves to return to dust and perish in ashes. These are the hypocrites, the liars, the gluttons, the adulterers, the idolaters, who love greed and mammon and the work of their hands. And yet, see how they claim for themselves a place in God’s Reign, in this field, in this world, and, yes, even in this mission, the Church.

It is they who teach us to see the very Words of our Lord as unmissional. It is they who think the justice of God unfair. And as we grow up with them, they spare no expense to choke us out, to weigh us down with cares and worldly thoughts. For the more the weeds can destroy the good seed, the more the weeds can believe that they belong in the field, so much so that the very angels of God have asked, “May we go and destroy them! May we rip them up?”

Yet, in his missional Wisdom God has held back the hand of his servants the angels from segregating us completely. And why? Lest now even you, the good seed, be lost in the shuffle, and carried away with your enemies. For your own roots are so dangerously entangled with the unbelievers, so forced to sift between lies and deceptions, that you walk in peril all the way. Yes, so great are the weeds and so shallow and full of stones the ground that truly, were it left to you to stand against this wicked tide there is no doubt but that you would fall seventy seven times over and then fall again. And yet, hear the good news of these parables.

You are the good seed, for the purest and more righteous seed of all is Christ, and by hearing of him you have put your hope in his name, the one seed of the woman, born of a virgin, planted in the ground as one man, and yet, like the mustard plant, having come up again and blossomed to become the greatest of all shrubs of the field. And, in him, scattered in the dispersion like yeast mixed with flour, you are working your way through all of civilization, journeying not only through your own life, but through the lives of others, and leavening all you touch. For, in Christ, you are the good seed, branches bound to the vine. Yes, apart from him you can do nothing, you will bear no fruit and be cast into the fire. But you are not apart from him. He has planted himself in you, promising that you are his own by the word of his baptism, and reminding you that he is your own by the word of his meal.

And as the weeds grow around you, you are not them. You have been called out in order that you might shine like the sun, righteous in name, righteous in fact, breaking free from the mold and the weeds to produce the crop time and time over.

This is the meaning of the parable, and not all have been given to understand it. The veil of Moses which is the curve-in-on-itself heart of unbelief covers the faces of many, and they cannot penetrate this miracle of Christ uttered from the foundation of the world as the glory and power of God to save. And yet, amidst that field and its many weeds, there are more to be called the good seed. There are those in bondage to the evil one and his lies, already choked to the point of death. They too need what you have heard this day. They too must hear the life that is in these words. They are there. And the mission, dear friends, is that we join minds in one faith and one baptism under the one Lord who rules this harvest by his mighty Reign, and we go get them.

In the Name…

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