Dear Friends, we are well aware of the grief, loss, anxiety, and even anger around in our world, nation, and community over the MH17 plane disaster and over the ongoing violence in Gaza and in many places in the world. We continue to pray to God for comfort and strength for those in need; justice for the oppressed; and that God’s kingdom, as so wonderfully expressed by Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel reading today, may come! We also cling to the words of Paul in his letter to the Romans this morning: "Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, 'For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.' No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Today’s Gospel passage contains another agricultural parable about the Kingdom of God and it containing wheat and weeds. The mixed field of the kingdom may be the church or it may be the world, but in either case, "Thank God that it’s only God who judges" - that in the end we won't be the ones who judge ourselves or one another. Still, there is another way to look at this mix of good and evil, and that's to look within ourselves, as several writers suggest. Thomas Long writes, "It is easy for Christians to look through the church windows at the world and to think of ourselves as God's special insiders, the ones who will 'shine like the sun' in the end. We can relish with smug self-satisfaction the thought of worldly types being rounded up at the great finale, collected like weeds and burned up in the everlasting fire. However, we are, ourselves, a mixture of good and evil. Sometimes we are faithful, and sometimes we are not...."
Jesus' parable speaks of the burning of the weeds, as was customary in that time when weeds provided fuel for the fires. It's Matthew's way to read fiery judgment into the story, terrifying us even centuries later. But we could see that fire, Long writes, as a purifying of all that "deadens humanity or corrupts God's world. Whatever is in the world, or in us, that poisons our humanity and breaks our relationship with God will, thank the Lord, be burned up in the fires of God's everlasting love" (Matthew, Westminster Bible Companion). These are strangely, vividly reassuring words, strengthening words, sustaining words for us today just as they were for the very first Christians struggling to survive against the odds. Our job, in a mixed field, is not to give ourselves to the enemy by devoting all our energy to the destruction of the weeds, but to mind our own business, so to speak – our business being the reconciliation of the world through the practice of unshielded love. If we will give ourselves to that, God will take care of the rest.
Today’s Gospel passage from Matthew is the well-known parable of the Sower.
Many will reflect upon what type of “soil” they are and whether they are receptive or not to the Word of God. But what if this parable is not about our own successes and failures and birds and rocks and thorns but about the extravagance of a sower who flings seed everywhere, wastes it with holy abandon; confident that there is enough seed to go around, that there is plenty, and that when the harvest comes in at last it will fill every barn in the neighbourhood to the rafters. The focus is not on us and our shortfalls but on the generosity of our maker.
When Christians today proclaim the counter-cultural gospel of love, peace, justice, and acceptance of all God's children, we face many of the same responses our ancestors in faith encountered: persecution, indifference, hostility, closed minds, loss of place and community. And yet God works great wonders in all situations, and is astonishingly extravagant in offering grace and new life in the harshest of situations and the deepest deprivations.
The sower is remarkably free in throwing the seed on all sorts of potential "growth areas". There's no calculation or careful husbandry of the seeds in the pocket. In the face of all sorts of obstacles and dangers, the sower counts on the bountiful return of a few seeds; they imagine the plentiful harvest reaped when even a few of the seeds find fertile soil. May we today remember that our God is a generous God.
In today’s long Gospel passage from Matthew there is too much to reflect upon for one day! I am particularly drawn to the last three verses (Matthew 11.28-30) where Jesus invites us all to come to him to find our rest.
In a world which seems to be busier and more complex each day and where the demands upon us as individuals and as the church grow year by year it is a source of comfort to remember Jesus words that in him we will ‘find rest for our souls.’
Too often religion is reduced to a series of rules and actions yet we are reminded of the grace and comfort to be found IN Jesus, and that his burden is able to be borne because it fits each of us well!
May we continue today and all days to learn from him so as to be the people God wants us to be.
Reverend Jennie Savage