Wheat, Weeds and Wildflowers PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Tuesday, 30 June 2015 15:39


First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls, KS

Wheat, Weeds and Wildflowers:  Matthew 13:24-30

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor

June 28, 2015


Matthew 13:24-30 (CEB)

24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like someone who planted good seed in his field. 25 While people were sleeping, an enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat and went away. 26 When the stalks sprouted and bore grain, then the weeds also appeared.

27 “The servants of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Master, didn’t you plant good seed in your field? Then how is it that it has weeds?’

28 “‘An enemy has done this,’ he answered.

“The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and gather them?’

29 “But the landowner said, ‘No, because if you gather the weeds, you’ll pull up the wheat along with them. 30  Let both grow side by side until the harvest. And at harvest time I’ll say to the harvesters, “First gather the weeds and tie them together in bundles to be burned. But bring the wheat into my barn.” ’”

I was reading a book of stories from Fred Craddock’s sermons.  It was one of Bill Imohoff’s favorite books and Anita lent it to me as I worked on Bill’s service.  In the process I came across this story related to this morning’s parable.

The story was about a pastor in Columbia, Tennessee, the pastor of the largest church in town, and in many ways a very successful minister, … except that his church was full of problems. Whatever he said or did, there was a big problem.  He got so sick and tired of it.

Fred says:  I saw him downtown one day and I said, “How’s it going?”

He said, “Terrible, I’m thinking of quitting.”

“Aw, you’re not going to…”

“Why not?”

“Oh, you don’t want to quit.”

He said, “You know what I am going to do?  I’m going to buy a little piece of land over in Arkansas in a rice field, and I’m going to build my own church.  It’s going to be a study where I can do my work, and it’ll have a beautiful tall spire, and that’ll be it.  No sanctuary.  No Sunday school rooms.  No fellowship hall.  No members.  Just me and God.”

That’s the problem with the church, you know, it’s got so many sinners in it!   The difficult part of the parable is that the Master said, “Leave the weeds alone.”


Let us Pray:  Holy Spirit guide the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts that we might see the kingdom among the weeds.  Amen


Some of you may have noticed the area between the manse driveway and the neighbor’s.  For several years, I’ve been putting in Iris roots and various seeds trying to get a nice border there.  If you’ve seen it you know it’s a mess.  I really don’t know the difference between a weed and wild flower.  What am I supposed to do about weeds that bloom?  Some consider our state flower just that – a weed that blooms!   And then there is the grass, some of it getting tall among the Echinacea.   Their full heads blow nicely in the wind.  I am not and never will be a master gardener.  But I love to throw seeds and bury roots that will otherwise be trashed!

The farmer in the story knew what he was doing.  He sowed good seed.  That’s a given, the seed was good.  An enemy, however, planted weeds while no one was looking.

Oh, it is tempting to spend the rest of my time this morning ranting about the weeds that enemies have sown.  Christians are known for their spirited debates, whether it is about sexuality, ordination, divestment or immigration.  Last week we didn’t even know if the Pope was a weed or wheat when he released his encyclical on climate change.

Despite Jesus admonition to “Judge not, lest we be judged” Matt 7:1   we have built our reputation on knowing right from wrong, good from bad, so much so that the master’s admonition to “leave them alone” is downright painful!

But turn the story on its side and you’ll hear that the story as one about ambiguity.  Our lives are filled with ambiguity.  Much as we would like it, the world is seldom black and white.  My favorite seminary professor, when asked an either/or question, would frequently answer: Yes - or Both! That’s the problem with parables!

Of course, some of you may have peaked and read ahead and you know that Matthew added an explanation in verse 36 and following.  Scholars point out, however, that the explanation is separated by two other parables and runs in a different direction the parable it purports to explain.  They suggest that the explanation is not from Jesus but Matthew, who allegorizes the story to the comfort a conflicted church comprised of both traditional Jews and followers of the “Way.”   I think it is very pastoral of Matthew and it would be tempting to follow his lead… however…

Jesus says: the sower planted good seeds.  The servants report that there are weeds among the wheat.  Are they accusing the Master of using contaminated seed?  Don’t we do that we discount Jesus teachings as impractical, no longer applicable or just plain too hard.  I’m thinking of things like love your enemy Matt 5:44 and forgive 70 x 7 Matt 18:22.

You know that I mean, don’t you?

Jesus says this is the work of the enemy.  (Now that’s a vague term, ideal for a parable that is resisting being allegorized!)

Now, there grows in the Holy Land a plant called Darnel, that looks just like wheat, but it doesn’t develop a head, it bears no fruit.  The servants want to just rip out the weeds, but the sower knows that to tear out the weeds at this point risks ruining the maturing wheat.  And so the Master says wait.  This response to his servants is understated, but quietly revolutionary.

“Let them grow together,” he says.

It’s not your business, or even my business, to go around pulling weeds.  Let them grow together.  We are going to live with both the wheat and the weeds until the day of harvest when they can be separated without risk to the yield.

This is a gentle rebuke to the servants who try to go around naming what represents a weed and what doesn’t; a rebuke to the servant who tries to tell the Master what belongs in the field and what doesn’t.

But, this story doesn’t address the nature of the enemy, only that it happened while “people slept.”  Weeds and grain are growing together and we just have to wait, to leave it till harvest when all will be sorted out.  This is good news and bad news!

Let’s start with the Good News. We know that we are made in the image and likeness of God and therefore fundamentally good.  (good seed) Yet, all of us know that we mess up.  We make stupid, bad, evil decisions quite often.  Our lives are littered with situations where there is no clear or easy answer.

I realize can’t even begin to phrase the choices coherently; but I know that you live with questions about what to plant and when, whether to buy or sell cattle, whether to support the school bond issue, if or when to burn a field … or which treatment option is best for you or you loved one.  Our lives are filled with ambiguity.

What’s more we know that the church is filled with hypocrites, sinners like you and me.   We talk a good game on Sunday, but often yield to the culture during the week.  Our denomination recently approved the vote of General Assembly not to condemn pastors who officiate at same sex marriages – if the marriage is in accordance with civil law.  This week the Supreme Court ruled that marriage equality is the law of the land – in all 50 states.  Some Christians are rejoicing and others mourning.  Jesus say’s live with the ambiguity.

We don’t often talk about these things in church.  Maybe we don’t know what to say.  Or maybe we ourselves aren’t quite sure how the faith relates to public policy or private choices.  Can it be that the point of the parable is Jesus’ promise that in ambiguous, challenging situations we have the promise that, in the end, God will sort things out.

Of course, that doesn’t mean everything will turn out just fine.  Sometimes we don’t choose well.  Sometimes things go wrong.  The promise here isn’t that Christian faith prevents hardship.  The promise is that we are not justified by our right choices but rather by grace through faith.  And knowing we have God’s unconditional grace, in spite of our poor choices, frees us to live in the moment.

God is not attempting to weed the field, in order to insure a bountiful harvest.  The good news is that in God’s Kingdom weeds can bloom to announce the God’s goodness.  Dandelions can be greens for the salad or the blooms syrup for the pancakes.  Our challenge is to see the potential in the field and to notice where God is working to save a weed like me.

That would be an easy place to stop, but I’ve been haunted all week by what seems to me to be the ultimate weed among the wheat.   On June 17th, 21-year-old Dylan Roof walked into a bible study at the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.  He sat quietly with them for an hour and then stood up, shouting racial slurs and shooting.  Nine people were killed.

It is horrible, it’s awful, wrong and evil… and it happened in church – in God’s own field.  What are we to do?  What are we to think?

The problem is: we all think we are the good grain, sown by God and the others, those who are different, are the weeds!   Even Dylan thought he was going a good thing because he was rooting out what he saw as evil.

Ah ha!  That’s the point of the parable isn’t it?

It is not our job to judge, we’ll do more harm than good when we try to do a job reserved for God.  Will killing Johar Tsarnaev bring back 8-year-old Martin Richards?  Jesus gave us the model, he did not resist the evil that executed him but prayed for them, “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing.”

We saw that living Spirit when Martin’s parents publically rejected the death penalty for Johar.  We’ve witnessed it in the folks at Mother Emmanuel as they promised to pray for Dylan and then gathered for worship, confronting the pain with praise.

We live in the in-between, when evil and good exist in the same field, the same context.  It is not ours to retaliate or fix.

This is a hard parable.  I’ve struggled with in all week.  In my anger and pain about the shootings I want to desperately to rail about racism and hatred and encourage us to notice our own complicity in those sins.  But the Parable is not that simple.

This parable demands that we grow and make choices in the midst of the ambiguity - praying for God to guide us.  It challenges us to see the good fruit even in the midst of the weeds.  It insists that God is anticipating a bountiful harvest.  Who knows but what seem to us like weeds might bear good grain?  With God all things are possible.

Perhaps the parable calls us to notice the small seedlings of hate, fear and violence in our midst - racism, nationalism, sexism, and consumerism, offer them to the Master in prayer that he might remove them from our hearts.

We talked about Jacob with the kids.  He was not a good guy.  He was a weed!  Yet God continued to guide and care for him.  When we fail to live as God's people, we are like flowers, which give way to weeds.  But God seeks us out, not to condemn us, but to comfort, to forgive, and to bring us home.  So let us bow in the prayer of confession as printed in the bulletins.
















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