“Wheat and Weeds and Ambiguity”
A sermon by Andrew Philip Long
The First Presbyterian Church of Enid, OK
July 23, 2017
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
The parable of the wheat and weeds is one of the more challenging parables in the gospel of Matthew. This is due, in part, I think to the fact that we might want the parable to do more than it was intended to do. This parable is not an explanation of evil, and it is not an invitation to divide the world into “wheat” and “weeds.” This parable also does not give us permission to sit on our butts until God comes in judgment. It is a story that was most likely trying to help Matthew’s community make sense of massive disruptions in their homes, in their community, in the world. This parable also likely helped Matthew’s community make sense of people who had fallen away, defected from the faith, when the persecutions became particularly intense. So with all that this parable is, and all that it is not, it is up to us to make some interpretive leaps so that Christ’s parable of the wheat and weeds speaks to us here and now, today.
We live, as you know, with so many choices, so many obligations, so many demands and opportunities. This is the burden and blessing of modern life. However, this means that we must be increasingly vigilant in exercising discretion and good judgment. More and more, as our schedules get tighter and tighter, we must go about the work of discerning what is most worthy of our time and attention and what type of commitments can bring about some type of change in the world. We also have to do the work of finding those things that will help us make sense of our lives and the world we live in. This is one of the reasons I think mainline Christian churches are on the decline: there are 168 hours in a week and they are precious—if an hour in church doesn’t somehow help you to make sense of life, of God, of the world, why go? But that is a topic for another day.
This where the parable of the wheat and weeds comes in. This parable is full of ambiguity, the same type of ambiguity we face each day. The sower went out and planted good seed; the sower made a conscious choice to plant a particular seed in a particular place because they knew it would grow and thrive. But then, while everyone was sleeping, an enemy came and planted weeds with the wheat. When the wheat sprouted and grew, so too did the weeds. Ideally, the servants would just go and pull the weeds, and in fact that is exactly what they wanted to do. But the sower knows that if the servants rip out the weeds now, the whole crop of mature wheat will be compromised. So the sower, and the servants, must wait. They must wait for both the weeds and the wheat to finish growing. They must wait for the weeds and the wheat to be ready to harvest. They must wait until the weeds and wheat are gathered into the barn—only then can they separate the weeds from the wheat.
Does this sound familiar to you? If not wheat and weeds, maybe it is making the difficult choice between getting a job to support the family or staying at home to spend more time with the family. Maybe it is making the difficult choice between supporting someone who consistently struggles at work and pulls the quality of your team down or firing that person. Maybe it is making the difficult choice between sending your kid to the best school or the school you can afford. Maybe it is making the difficult choice between treatment that will make you deathly ill or living with a deadly illness. Maybe it is the difficult choice between staying comfortable exactly where you are even though you are miserable or stepping out into new and unknown pastures where God leads you. Maybe it is making the difficult choice between giving into pressure because it just plain sucks to be left out or sticking to your values and risking isolation. Maybe it is…the list goes on an on.
Our lives are littered with situations where there is no clear or easy answer. And yet we so rarely talk about these things in the church. Maybe we don’t know what to say, or maybe we ourselves aren’t quite sure how faith relates to this. What I hear in this parable today is a promise from Jesus that no matter how ambiguous our lives become, no matter how difficult the choices are, no matter how many directions and commitments pull and tug and tear us apart, in the end, God will sort things out.
This is not to say that everything will turn out just fine. Sometimes we don’t make the right choices; sometimes things just go wrong. The promise we hear from Jesus today is not that the Christian faith prevents us from hardship or gives us easy answers. No, the promise is that we are not justified by right choices and carefully laid plans, but by grace through our faith in God. And knowing that we have God’s extravagant and unconditional love and regard in spite of our poor choices frees us to live in the moment, this moment, for God, for one another, and for the world.
We don’t live in an ideal world; that all went up in smoke in a garden so long ago. But we serve an ideal God, a God who works everything together for the good of those that God loves. That’s you and me, that’s every creature under the sun: that’s who and what God loves. We’re faced with a myriad of challenging decisions, some small and others large, to which there are no clear answers. Some decisions we’ll get right, others wrong, and still others we won’t know whether we were right or wrong for many years to come. But we still need to make them. And we can make them confidently because we are loved by God and God can do a lot with a few weeds, a little bit of wheat, and a whole lot of ambiguity.
So what should we do? We can’t just sit around and wait for God to do the sorting—we could be waiting a very long wait. What should we do, what can we do?
A colleague of mine said recently that in a world like ours that is so colored by ambiguity, the only absolute is to be found in absolution. I think those are powerful words, and supply one of the main reasons why Christ’s followers gather every week to worship. We worship together each week because we have to join together with others and acknowledge that life is hard, sometimes really hard, and the choices in front of us are not always clear or easy. We worship together to support one another and remind each other that we're not nutty. At least not very nutty. But we gather not only to support one another. We also gather to hear that we are not the center of the universe, we are not the masters of our own fate, the world is not in our hands. The world is in God’s hands, and no matter how our choices turn out, no matter the consequences of our decisions, God continually offers us grace and forgiveness. Then, forgiven, God sends us back into the world to decide and chose and compromise as we try to be the people God has called us to be.
So meditate on that today. Consider the difficulties you face and the ambiguity that clouds your life, your relationships, your faith. Consider these and remember that you are deeply loved by God, and not only loved but forgiven and set free for new life. You have been taken from the darkness of sin and death and placed in God’s marvelous light. Take comfort in that; have hope that there is always more than what you can see and feel. In the end, it will be up to God to sort things out. And God will. God will have the final word on evil and disaster and calamity and pain—waiting for it will be hard, but we do not wait alone…we do nothing alone. We wait together; we worship together; we confess our sins together; we support one another; we strengthen each other. Together we will nurture the best and brightest things within us, the good wheat, as Christ’s followers, so that when the sorting comes, we will be gathered in great abundance into God’s storehouse. In God’s storehouse, there is nothing that can destroy us. Thanks be to God! Amen.