Sermon 6 Pentecost A 2014 Fr. Ray Kasch St. Patrick’s Anglican Church
Lessons Romans 8:18-25; St. Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Last week we heard from Jesus concerning the parable of the sower and this week we have a similar parable about sowing but the differences in the two parables are worth noting. In last week’s parable the seed was the Word of God and the soil was our hearts. In today’s parable we are the seed and the soil or the field is the world. Unlike last week, the sower is identified in this parable. The One who sows the wheat, which are the children of the kingdom, is Jesus Himself. But also there is other seed being sown in the world. These are weeds, which are children of the evil one, and these seeds are sown into the world by the Satan.
What is Jesus talking about and why is He giving these parables? The answer to that is found in His opening sentence. “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to….” These are parables about the kingdom of God. Notice that He is not talking to them about heaven; He is talking to them about the kingdom of God.
My parents raised me in the Church and so I heard a lot of sermons and attended many Sunday school classes. It was most probably due to my own spiritual deafness but I don’t remember from those days much talk about the kingdom of God. We heard a lot about heaven. We sang songs like, “Heaven is a wonderful place, filled with glory and grace, I want to see my Savior’s face. Heaven in a wonderful place.” I heard talk of what heaven is like, I heard talk of how to get there. I even heard suggestions of who will and who will not be there. But I heard very little about the kingdom of God and in particular there was an absence of talk about living in that kingdom in the here and now.
But Jesus wants His audience to catch a vision of the kingdom of God so He gives them metaphors that they can understand. He talks of farming to farmers and fishing to fishermen. He even goes on and explains the metaphors so that they will realize that this is not some secret that He has for only a chosen few. It is a call to all of His flock. He will teach them to pray daily for the kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. He will teach them how to live in that kingdom in the present because He is the King and has come in their midst. They had been looking for the restoration of the Davidic kingdom but what Jesus is talking about is that and so much more. It is the dawning of a new day.
The Church today is in as desperate need of Jesus’ teaching of the kingdom as was that first audience. I say that because I fear that the Church is asking the wrong questions and therefore coming up with the wrong answers. For example I see a lot of handwringing on the Internet about the state of the Church in America. Membership and baptisms are on a decline and people fear that we are going the way of Europe and will soon be post Christian, if we are not there already. Therefore the question being constantly discussed is how to attract the Millennials back to Church.
Answers come back that we need to find out what kind of music they like and so sacred space is now filled with so many rock instruments that it looks like a Rolling Stones reunion tour. We need to serve only the finest coffee because they are used to Starbucks. Since they tend to be dubious of authority, clergy now preach in torn jeans with shirttails hanging out and rolled up sleeves to show some tattoos for street cred. And since Millennials were baptized in relativism and confirmed in diversity, the Church needs to shy away from dogma or anything that could be construed as politically incorrect. In some cases they have abandoned the sermon altogether and now have plays or interviews or make comments on movie clips that are shown on giant high def. screens.
Please don’t misunderstand. I also want to attract the Millennials, and any other generation for that matter. But I don’t think the place to begin is by asking ourselves how we can pander to their wants. The question is not “how do we attract Millennials?” the question is “How do we please God?” And Jesus’ answer is that we please God by proclaiming and walking in His kingdom. When Millennials see a people who walk in the righteousness, peace and joy of the Holy Ghost, which is Paul’s definition of the kingdom of God, they will be attracted. We must remember that if Jesus was just about attracting a crowd then He did not do a very good job of it. In fact He managed to chase them all away and was down to a handful at the time of His death and even one of them betrayed Him. But He didn’t come to attract a crowd. He came to proclaim the kingdom of God. That said let’s get back to the parable.
The first thing that jumps out to me in this second parable it that there is not a lot of wiggle room here. The two choices are wheat or weeds. Imagine what His audience must have been thinking when they heard this parable. It had to be something like, “I sure hope I’m in the wheat category because I don’t like what happens to the weeds.” But we also need to look deeper into this parable because there is more here than just determining if you and I personally are a wheat or a weed. What Jesus is showing us is the clash of two kingdoms. Jesus is sowing into the world children of the kingdom while Satan is sowing children of the enemy. A war is happening and the prize is this world. Allow me to give you a more modern parable.
During World War Two, Nazi Germany conquered France in 1940. When it did the Free French government went into exile and moved to England under Charles de Gaulle. Some of the French who remained behind formed a resistance movement and they did all that they could to disrupt the Nazis. They derailed trains, blew up ammo dumps, stopped the distribution of supplies and engaged in guerilla warfare tactics. But there was also another player in the game and that was a puppet government called the Vichy government, named for the town in which it was formed. This government compromised and cooperated with the Nazis even to extent of arresting Jews for deportation to the death camps.
In this analogy Christ is our de Gaulle. He is with us by His Spirit but He has gone to glory and we await His return. In the meantime we are to be the resistance movement who fights against the forces of evil. St. Paul reminds us that our warfare is not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers in heavenly places and so we do our warfare in a spiritual manner. Everywhere we extend the kingdom of God we are pushing back the forces of darkness. How do we extend the kingdom? Every time we do what the King has commanded us to do, we are extending His kingdom.
You are doing it this week. You rallied behind the 9 folks who wanted to share the love of Christ in Bolivia. You gave them your money and your prayers and you sent them out. They will touch lives while there and they will come back themselves changed people. Sure we could have just sent a check to Bolivia but that is not the kingdom way. “For God so loved the world that He sent a check” is a line not found in Scripture. Christianity is incarnational; it’s about His taking on our humanity, it’s about His Body and Blood, it’s about us being His Body.
I also see in this analogy from World War Two the Vichy government being the part of the Church that compromises with the world. They think that by compromise they will become more popular but all they are really doing is empowering the enemy. I’m referring to these main line denominations that are changing Jesus’ definition of marriage. That may seem minor but it in turn impacts adoption and foster care and a myriad of other laws that will change to accommodate this new definition. It also means the loss personal freedoms for those who by conscience could not support such a change. We have already witnessed Christian run businesses that have had to close because they cannot in good conscience go against what Jesus taught.
I’m referring to the non-denominations that water down the Gospel so that no one is offended. American theologian Richard Neihbur prophetically described it in 1950 saying, “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.”’ As long as you feel good when you leave church then mission accomplished. It doesn’t really matter how you live your life the rest of the week.
I’m referring to the Church of England that just violated 2,000 years of holy tradition by ordaining women bishops so that the Church can be seen as current and relevant. Other than realizing that there is no biblical warrant for what they did, you would have thought that they would at least taken a look at how well that worked for the Episcopal Church. The first female bishop in America was in 1989 and membership since that time has dropped by one half million souls while our general population has increased by seventy million during that same time. Compromise never meets its expected ends. Compromise does not work because it is not the kingdom way.
The second thing that we see in this parable is that there is no room for triumphalism and so we need to temper our expectations. We have to believe that when Jesus’ original hearers understood that He was proclaiming, Himself as King and that the kingdom of God had arrived, that they got excited. Some of them fully expected that the Romans would be driven out of Palestine, that evil rulers like Herod would be replaced and that the burdens put on them by their religious leaders would be lifted. Instead the Romans destroyed the temple, Herod died while in power and they would soon be martyred. In short the kingdom of God is not a panacea, at least not until it comes in its fullness. That means those of us who are wheat are going to have to get used to the weeds.
This parable gave great insight to Augustine and later to the Reformers about the nature of the Church. Jesus not allowing the angels to pluck out the weeds from the wheat until the final day means that the Church is going to be a mixed bag. It will have wheat and weeds, sheep and goats. The Reformers spoke of this as the visible and the invisible Church. The visible Church is made up of all who claim to be wheat while the invisible Church is made up of those who truly are wheat. The key here is that only Christ knows who is in the invisible Church.
Such a distinction is important for two reasons. First, if you realize that the Church is going to be a mixed bag, then it puts limits on Church discipline. The Prayer Book gives a priest the authority to excommunicate someone but only for what it calls “notorious sin” which is the kind of sin that is a scandal to the Name of Christ. When even non-believers are shocked by what we are doing in the Church then it is time to act. But if I excommunicated everyone who sinned, then I would not be allowed to come to Church and neither would you. If the Church had consistently applied this parable of the sower then it would have prevented the Spanish Inquisition (because no one expects the Spanish Inquisition) or Calvin’s Geneva where sinning could get you banished from the city, blasphemy was punished by death and lewd singing would get your tongue pierced. I guess the latter would be seen today as a good thing but you get the point.
The other reason that this distinction of two kingdoms is important is that it makes us more accepting and patient with one another. I talked with a guy who has been in and out of a number of denominations and then a number of churches within his denomination. That can be a good thing because we change on our journey. Over half of our congregations and our priests grew up in other traditions. But it is not a good thing when what is fueling the wandering is discontentment due to some idealized version of what the Church should be. As the saying goes, “If you ever do find the perfect church, don’t join it because you will ruin it.” Jesus is letting us know right off that neither the world nor the church is going to be perfect so we learn to live with the imperfections and live in the hope that one day the angels will come and the weeds will be gone.
I love how Jesus ends this parable. He says, “The Son of Man will send out his angels and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers (that by the way is your ‘Rapture”)….Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” This is not going off to heaven to get your wings. This is reigning with Christ in a new heaven and a new earth and that is our destiny if we will take up our cross and follow Him. It is this vision of the kingdom of God that has kept my batteries charged up for the last 40 plus years. It is the belief that the kingdom is to be lived in the here and now and that one day it will come in its fullness that keeps me going. As a Churchman I obviously love the Church but this vision of the kingdom is greater than the Church. It involves all of creation, which is also waiting and groaning for the kingdom to come in its fullness. I love being an Anglican but that is not where my hope lies. If Anglicanism stopped tomorrow it would not stop the kingdom from coming. We are to live for the kingdom that is here now and that is coming in its fullness. We are given the incredible privilege of being a part of that kingdom as Christ makes all things new. As Jesus said, “Let him who has ears to hear, listen.”