given on Sunday, September 28, 2014
Scripture Base: Matthew 13:36-43 “Parable of the Wheat and Weeds”
24 Here is another story Jesus told: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. 25 But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away. 26 When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew.
27 “The farmer’s workers went to him and said, ‘Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds! Where did they come from?’
28 “‘An enemy has done this!’ the farmer exclaimed.
“‘Should we pull out the weeds?’ they asked.
29 “‘No,’ he replied, ‘you’ll uproot the wheat if you do. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles, and burn them, and to put the wheat in the barn.’” . . .
Out driving along our country roads, no one can miss the fact harvest is under way. The smells of the cornfield, the signs of the shelled corn along the edge of the road, the dust in the horizon, even the big trucks lumbering along the roads all announce harvest. Of course we do live in a rural community, and harvest season creates a sense of mystery. In fact, many simply accept harvest as part of a farmer’s lifestyle and don’t think about any mystery.
The parable of the wheat and the weeds can help unravel mysteries of harvest especially since it speaks directly to those raised in the farming community. To be honest, even those raised in the urban environment may understand because their own family heritage began on a farm. Of course the ones who truly are urban born and bred, through and through, the parable can share the mystery of harvest, too.
First, though, what mysteries of harvest are there? For me, a daughter of the family farm, harvest is filled with images that demonstrate mysteries of life. When the combine goes through the fields and cuts, shells, and loads the corn, the machine becomes like a magician performing a trick.
I can see the process, I can hear an explanation about how the combine works, and I can watch the corn fill the hopper. Yet, an element of mystery remains how such a device can process the corn plant from its place in the field to a pile of debris and a hopper heaped with shiny yellow corn. The process is one of the mysteries of harvest.
The picking of the corn is a symbolic representation of life’s final phase—or is it? The life cycle of a grain is a parallel to the life cycle of people. Jesus was sharing the parable of the wheat and the weeds to an audience that worked the fields in an agrarian culture. The audience struggling to raise a bountiful harvest knew exactly what message Jesus was sharing with them. And the same message should be that clear to us as we harvest this year’s crops.
Mysteries of harvest begin with the mystery of life itself. The creation story remains mysterious because no one can prove or disprove the story in a manner that all can agree. The questions remain and are discussed in various manners such as asking once again whether the chicken or the egg came first.
Life is filled with mystery and as the life cycle progresses some mysteries can be unraveled, but others continue to tease rational minds. The wheat and the weeds parable relates how difficult it can be to sort out the good from the bad, the wheat from the weed, the faithful from the unfaithful.
Two plants with extremely similar characteristics planted side by side in the same dirt receiving the same weather conditions as it sprouts, grows, and produces the fruit. The workers know the problem, but the owner knows the risks of pulling up the weeds. Not until harvest can the two be separated.
The mystery remains until harvest. Harvest 2014 has surprises for all of us. The growing season has been filled with different weather patterns, with rain and drought, with cold and heat, with sunny days and cloudy ones. Not until harvest do farmers know the full effect of the growing conditions.
As the combines travel through the fields, the mystery of production unfolds. How many bushels per acre does this field produce? Across the road, the results may be the same or very different. Sometimes the differences are very small, but sometimes they are vastly different and farmers analyze why: sometimes the answer is obvious, and sometimes it remains a mystery.
When Jesus selected the Apostles, he chose a group of individuals from various backgrounds. These men had to be trained much like a farmer has to prepare the field for planting. The parables were as critical as the plow, the disc, the planter, and the seeds. The Apostles needed to understand the mysteries of faith in order to prepare the people for harvest or judgment.
While reading the parables in Matthew, the wheat and the weed parable is immediately followed by the parable of the mustard seed and another of the yeast. But the Apostles were still struggling to understand the mysteries of the lessons.
In Matthew 13, verse 34 explains how Jesus used the parables:
34Jesus always used stories and illustrations like these when speaking to the crowds. In fact, he never spoke to them without using such parables. 35This fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet:
“I will speak to you in parables.
I will explain things hidden since the creation of the world.”
The mystery of the wheat and the weeds had to be explained to the Apostles even after the crowd left. They asked Jesus to explain the story:
37 Jesus replied, “The Son of Man[b] is the farmer who plants the good seed. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed represents the people of the Kingdom. The weeds are the people who belong to the evil one. 39 The enemy who planted the weeds among the wheat is the devil. The harvest is the end of the world,[c] and the harvesters are the angels.
40 “Just as the weeds are sorted out and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the world. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will remove from his Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 And the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!
Imagine how frustrated Jesus might have been. These were his chosen Apostles whom he was going to leave the entire responsibility of carrying His Word to the world. The world was the field, and yet the farmers—the Apostles—were struggling to unravel the mystery of faith so they could continue planting the seeds for God’s harvest.
The symbolism of harvest is found throughout the Bible. Harvest continues to demonstrate how God judges his followers when death ends their physical lives. It begins in Exodus and ends in Revelation. Understanding the mystery of harvest literally as well as symbolically is difficult.
Rev. Bob Farr, Doug Anderson, and Lay Person Kay Katon have identified four observations concerning the condition of churches today, and understanding the first two is critical to the life of the church:
- Inwardly focused churches tend to define and practice evangelism as “reconnecting disconnected church folks.”
- Outwardly focused churches define and practice evangelism as connecting the unconnected folks to Jesus and then to the church.
The harvest, so to speak, of our churches does not have to be a mystery. We must take an honest assessment of what we do, how we do it, and what else can be done. Are we inwardly focused or are we outwardly focused?
Over the next few months, as we prepare for fall events, Charge Conference, Advent and a new Christian year, it is important that we follow God’s commandment to love one another and are equipped to carry out the commission of making new disciples of Christ for the transformation of the earth. Set goals for your personal faith journey and join with the church family to set goals for the coming year.
As a church, remember the theme “to hold fast to love and justice.” As we move into action with the community children on Halloween and open the doors for the turkey dinner, let us be outwardly focused. As Thanksgiving celebrates the harvest, let us celebrate the arrival of Jesus during Advent.
Let us look for methods to increase God’s harvest. There are books to read, leaders to train, and ideas to share. We may be thinking more about harvesting than planting, but even farmers begin ordering seed for next year’s planting during harvest. Maybe some of the practices cannot be done, but we can modify or create new ones. We can share the love of God in ways that produces a record-breaking harvest. The mystery of faith will answer the mystery of harvest.
Please join in a closing prayer:
Thank you for a year filled with love.
Thank you for seasons to plant,
to grow, and to harvest.
We acknowledge our dependence
on your guidance through the Bible
and the teachings of Jesus.
May we seek ways to share the love
and to fight for justice for all.
Guide us through the Holy Spirit
to be the outwardly focused church
caring for the unchurched,
the hurting, the lonely, the ailing
and even the strong still struggling
to unravel the mysteries of faith.