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Should We Kill the Weeds? July 20, 2014

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Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

July 20, 2014

 

Focus: God will deliver the righteous.

Function: That the hearers spend time in the fields.

Structure: Walking through the text.

 

Should We Kill the Weeds?

 

It was just over a month ago that I got so frustrated with my lawn that I took it to Facebook.  I posted “I’m declaring war on the dandelions in my yard.  Anyone found an attack strategy that was particularly effective?”  If you know any of the people I’ve spent time with in my life, you might imagine I got a variety of answers.

From the simple ones, giving real, practical advice, to the sarcastic, to the humorous.  But, the funniest one by far was one of Hannah’s relatives.  He suggested that we lob grenades into our yard…of course, warning the neighbors first.  That would certainly kill the dandelions, but there wouldn’t be anything else left either.

As goofy as that illustration was, it’s right in line with the parable we read from Matthew this morning.  The parable of the weeds, as we call it.  Jesus is again trying to help the disciples and the crowd understand the kingdom of God.

So He tells this parable:

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.  So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also.  And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’  He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’  But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.  Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

And after confusing the crowd with another of His parables, the disciples later ask Him to explain the parable of the weeds.  And He does.  Jesus is the sower, the world is the field, the good seed are the children of God.  Weeds are the sons of the evil one, the devil snuck them in.  At the end of time, both will be gathered, us to everlasting life in the glory of God, and the wicked ones to be burned in the fire.

This is actually one of the most straightforward parables that Jesus ever tells His disciples.  And then He explains it.  So, the sermon’s over, right Pastor Steve?  Well, not quite.

You see, there are parts of this parable that we struggle with.  Right off the bat, we struggle with the idea of evil in the world, just like the workers wondering where the weeds came from.  Why was the tree in the garden in the first place if they weren’t supposed to eat its fruit?  Life would be so much easier without sin and temptation.  Why, o God, do You allow evil to exist?  Life would be wonderful without x, y, and z.  And Pastor Kath spoke to that last week.

Instead of asking why bad things happen to good people, perhaps the most powerful statement for me last week was when he reversed that question.  Why do good things happen to bad people?  That’s what we are.  We were the bad soil, the no good and worthless weeds.  But Christ, as the sower, has changed that.  He didn’t give up on us.

Despite our worthlessness and our weedyness, Christ died for us.  Instead of standing by and doing nothing, Jesus went to the cross and bled out for us.  He surrendered Himself for us.  As He says in John 12:24, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  Jesus is that grain.  And He died.  And He has born much fruit.

He went to the cross and rose from the grave so that we would no longer be weeds, seeds of the evil one.  His death and His resurrection are the ultimate good things, and they unite us with Him.  It’s only in Him that we can say we are good.

There’s a reason I didn’t throw grenades at my lawn.  A reason other than it being massively illegal.  You see, there’s good grass there.  There are plants and trees that provide oxygen, that help the soil and make our little part of town a better looking place.  I don’t want to forfeit that.  Neither did God.  When Christ planted the seed of faith in our hearts through His sacrifice, He planted the good seed, He planted sons of the kingdom.   And if He were to uproot everything, we’d all be hurting.  You might recall how Abraham felt when he heard that God was going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.  Because we’d all lose so much that we care about at the same time.  We have relationships with the weeds, they’re our family and friends whom we love.  Instead, God is waiting for the harvest.

But for as straightforward as the parable is, we still don’t like the outcome.  We don’t like the idea that there’s a Paradise and a hell.  Our sinful nature wrestles with that daily.  We say it’s not fair.  We say, “if God is loving, He would save everyone.”

We just don’t like the idea of hell, really.  And we’re afraid today to call anyone out on their sin.  I’m sure you’ve heard someone quote the Bible to you, saying, “Don’t judge.”  “You can’t call me a sinner, you can’t say I’m going to hell, that’s so judgmental of you.”  “You’re so intolerant.”  The problem there is that we’ve watered down what it means to judge.  In the Scripture, the Judge is God.  And when judgment day comes, that decision is permanent.  But even in our courts, what the judge says goes.  This isn’t name-calling, it’s a declaration of fact, you’re either in or you’re out, you’re either guilty or you’re innocent.  And, let’s face it, apart from Christ, God says we’re all guilty.

We don’t have the power of judgment in that sense.  That’s why the Scripture actually says, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.”  We have no power to condemn.  We can’t make the call on whether someone’s going to hell.  Only God can.  Because only He truly knows their hearts.  But we are called upon to call sin sin.  That’s not judging.  If we’re doing it right, it’s actually loving.  It might be tough love, but it’s love.  Because we don’t want them to be weeds, we don’t want them to go to hell.  We want them to shine with us in the glory of God the Father.

And we do have the power to forgive.  God gave us that power.  The power to forgive each other and to restore our relationships.  And so, I would like to ask your forgiveness for something this morning.  As I’ve looked back over my first year of ministry among you, one of my bigger regrets is that I’ve allowed too much negativity to creep into God’s ministry.  I’ve spent too much time being pessimistic and not enough time building you up with words of love and encouragement.  Please forgive me.

That pessimism showed itself even in my yard.  See, as I look out at my yard, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.  I remember looking out over my dandelion forest and feeling depressed.  I remember getting down on my hands and knees and pulling them up by their roots one by one.  And then noticing, sadly, that it had taken a half an hour to do a few square feet.  If we look at the big picture, it’s overwhelming.  And if we’re caught up in the negative mindsets of things like pessimism, depression, anger, or criticism, then we’re doomed from the start.

You see, if we look out at the field, the harvest field, we can easily see good seed and weeds.  But the weeds can feel so vastly overpowering.  This is the part of the young adult ministry Bible class a couple of weeks ago that I didn’t get to say since we ran out of time.  This is the biggest reason why the millennial generation avoids the church today.  We’ve hedged ourselves off.  We feel we’re inadequate, incapable of helping to change the world in some way.  When Jesus says to be in the world, but not of the world, too often we take the “us against the world” approach, we have to get away from it.  I’m even guilty of preaching that way sometimes.  But, they’re looking for a “we can change the world” approach.

Millennials are disturbed by churches when they only harp on those main political issues, and ignore the big picture.  Why spend so much time on two or three hot topics, when we could spend more time serving and loving our neighbors, feeding the starving children around the world?  Helping fight and eradicate the diseases that we already have the cure for.  Providing food and shelter, counseling, addiction rehab, transportation.  So many needs.  It’s overwhelming.

But it doesn’t have to be.  You see, we’re not in charge.  We’re workers in the field.  We’re laborers and workers of the harvest.  And we’re not alone.  God is at work, constantly working His field.  And He’s put us together in this place, called us to be His workers in His field.  As a community, as a group of workers, the task is nowhere near as daunting.  And if we stop and think that the world over, there are one billion of us, the work really isn’t as overwhelming.

If we work together, if we serve side by side, we can make a difference in this world.  We can help scatter the seed that will continue to raise up new crops for the Lord.  And also, by sharing the good seed, we can see God work the miracle of turning weeds into wheat for His harvest.  Only He can make that impact on someone’s heart, to change their sinful nature into faith.

God does still love them; He does still want them to be overwhelmed by the good seed, overpowered by the love and forgiveness of our Savior Jesus Christ.  That as He rose from the dead, they rise from the dead, and that together we live and continue to work the harvest field.

As I think back on some of that positive, practical feedback I got about my yard, it applies.  In learning how weeds work, how dandelions thrive or not, I have learned that if the grass is weak and the dandelions are given a chance to grow strong, they will slowly choke out the grass, and more weeds will grow. But the reverse is also true.  If the grass is thick and the roots are strong, the dandelions can’t make it, they’re choked out.

So next spring, I’m going to work at overseeding the yard, getting as much grass to grow as possible.  If I can manage that, the weeds won’t have room to grow.  And so we as a church continue to work the field together, planting seed, growing the good crop.  As we do, there will be less and less room for evil and temptation in our lives.  Sure, Satan will attack with stronger weeds.  But we have a bigger God.  And He’s in charge.

 

 

 

Freedom by the Blood July 6, 2014

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Zechariah 9:9-12

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

July 6, 2014

 

Focus: God freed us by His blood.

Function: That the hearers rejoice in the blood of the Lamb.

Structure: This is the historical situation of the text…these are the meanings for us now.

 

Freedom by the Blood

 

“Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!  Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!  See, your King comes to you, righteous and having salvation….”

The words of the prophet Zechariah mark a celebration, rejoicing.  They mark the arrival of a King, a King who would bring with Him peace.  Because of this, we can have this reading in the midst of our celebration.

As we come together this weekend, many of you are with your family and friends.  Many more aren’t here because they’ve traveled to see their family and friends.  We are celebrating.  If you were here in town just a couple of days ago, you would have seen the celebration.  The street dance, the festival, the food, the parade, the fireworks.  Stewartville loves to celebrate the 4th of July.

It’s Independence Day.  It’s the day we gather to celebrate the events that happened 238 years ago, as our nation’s Founding Fathers put pen to paper and signed the Declaration of Independence into existence.  It was fought for and won.  It’s been fought for by millions of men and women ever since.  And so it isn’t only a place on our calendar, but it’s the very freedom that makes this country what it is.

After decades of war and civil war, the remainder of God’s people were conquered by Babylon in 587 BC.  For roughly 50 years, they served in Babylon, many, if not all, under poor conditions.  They were weighed down, they were oppressed.  But in 538 BC, King Cyrus the Great led his Persian army against Babylon, and won.  God had sent him.  God had given him a mission.  “Set My people free.”  And so in that same year, Cyrus proclaimed that freedom to God’s children.  They were free to return to Judah and Jerusalem.

“As for you, because of the blood of My covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.  Return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.”

After the United States declared their independence, there was a growing process.  It took thirteen years to get the Constitution in place.  It took time to figure everything out again.  It was no different for God’s people.  Not only did they not have a plan, they hadn’t even begun to think about what freedom might look like.

But God kept His promise.  He reminded them of the blood of the covenant, by which He pledged Himself to be their God, and they His people.  He never forgot.  He was still looking out for them.

So in the midst of their newfound independence mixed with confusion and chaos, God again provided for His people.  He gave them two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah.  In recent history, God’s people only knew the prophets for declaring bad things for them.  Isaiah and Jeremiah forecasted the doom of the nation.  Some prophets are so negative, you’ll never hear about them in most churches.

But not so with Zechariah.  Martin Luther said this about him:

“This prophet lived after the Babylonian captivity.  With his colleague, Haggai, he helped to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple and to bring the scattered people together again, so that government and order might be set up in the land again.  He is truly one of the most comforting of the prophets.  He presents many lovely and reassuring visions, and gives many sweet and kindly words, in order to encourage and strengthen the troubled and scattered people to proceed with the building and the government despite the great and varied resistance which they had till then encountered.”

It wasn’t often a prophet was sent to encourage and build up God’s people.  But in their newfound independence, delivered by the blood of the covenant, they were lost, and encouragement was exactly what they needed.  They had been free for 16 years and they had accomplished nothing.  Many of them, out of fear, hadn’t even left Cyrus’ Persia.

But in the year 520, that’s what Zechariah and Haggai did.  They empowered the people with God’s Word, and inspired them to return to their homes and rebuild.  And so they did.  And by the year 516 BC, the new temple was complete.  And they celebrated.  They’d been set free.

Zechariah did, however, leave them with a couple other prophesies to remember.  He warned them of people who would come, false christs, who would claim to be their Savior.  But these men would only lead them astray.

And then he told them of the true Christ.  Of the King who would come to them “gentle and riding on a donkey, the colt, the foal of a donkey.”  “He will proclaim peace to the nations.  His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.”  We celebrated this together on Palm Sunday just about three months ago.

But he also told them about the thirty silver coins and that their shepherd would be struck.  These events came to pass through Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Christ and then the crucifixion.  The King’s blood was shed.

The peace Zechariah proclaimed to God’s people wasn’t the peace they expected.  After the generations of war, they expected earthly peace, a ceasefire.  But that’s not what we needed.  Instead, God again provided for His people precisely what was needed.  And the blood was shed.

The blood of the covenant, which Jesus calls “the new covenant in My blood,” is again God taking care of His people.  By His blood you are free.  By His blood your transgressions have been forgiven.  By His blood, your sins have been washed away.  By His blood, you have been washed clean.  All of us, and now Emi, are white as snow.  We are clean, we are free.

But in our newfound freedom from sin, we are just like God’s people of old, just like the Founding Fathers of this nation.  We are lost.  If you doubt it, try to read through Paul’s statement again.  It’s tongue tangling!  “What I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…for what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”

In our freedom, we’re lost and confused.  We allow ourselves to get caught up in the world and the culture around us.  We believe the lies and we give in to the temptations.  We listen to the false christs who lead us astray.  We seek the comforts of this world rather than rely on the only true source of comfort.

For this Paul tells us there is another law at work, a war being waged.  He says, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  The peace that was prophesied wasn’t a ceasefire.  The peace that was prophesied was the blood of the Lamb.  That our sin is washed clean.  That we are free.  The peace of God is salvation.

And to help us in the present time, God has provided many gifts for His people.  There’s the gift of baptism, when God calls us His child.  There’s the gift of the Lord’s Supper, where He freely forgives us of our sins.  There’s the gift of the church and this community, where we gather together to be built up and encouraged.  There’s the gift of parents, teachers, pastors, and others who help to raise us in the one true faith.  There’s the gift of God’s holy Word, which continues to strengthen our faith as we read it daily.  God has richly blessed His people.

Zechariah closed his prophetic ministry with one more prophecy.  He foretold the coming day of the Lord.  He told the people that the day would come when “Yahweh will be King over all the earth.  On that day Yahweh will be One and His name One…Jerusalem shall dwell in security.”  When that day comes, we will no longer be lost or confused.  We will see clearly.  We will not only taste the freedom that we have in Christ, but we will enjoy to the fullest.  And it will be cause for celebration and rejoicing.