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Becoming: Parable of the Weeds

Date: 24/10/2021/Speaker: Ps Gary Chan

Good morning church, my name is Gary and today we are continuing with the second part of our sermon series on “Becoming”.

As we go into the Word today, would you join me a word of prayer?

Dear God, thank You so much for your presence in our lives and in the life of this church. Jesus, this is Your church, Your body.

Thank you for your grace, your faithfulness, for holding us together as a community especially over the past 2 years. You say that whatever You plant, no one can pluck up.

Thank you for the leaders who have weathered the storm of this pandemic, thank you for the leaders who continue to weather the storm. Thank you that you have not just sustained us to go through the pandemic, but for the places in our lives and the relationships and the ministries that have grown in and through the storm. Thank you for the knowledge that at the end of the day, all things work together for Your purposes and our good because we believe You love us and that we are each called according to your purpose. As we approach the end of this year and prepare for the next, thank You that we are a part of Your plans and that Your desire is that we have clarity of vision and understand the future You have for each one of us and for this ministry.

As we gather around Your word this morning, we ask you once again to touch our eyes to see, our eyes to hear, our hearts to understand. Feed us and challenge us with the wisdom and instruction of Your word. We thank you in advance for the seeds of the kin-dom you are sowing in our lives and how you continue to nurture of our hearts and minds. In Jesus precious name, amen.

INTRO & RECAP

Today, we are going to build on last week’s sermon on the Parable of the Sower out of Matthew 13 that Pauline shared.

If you missed last week’s sermon, I encourage you to catch it online, but for those who did listen in, I hope you took notes because I would like to begin by asking you to take a moment to reflect and share what you remembered or took away from the sermon.

If you are joining us live, you can submit your responses anonymously by going to menti.com and enter in the code “2438 2456”. This is a great way that we can all build today’s sermon together and have your voice heard.

While you are entering your responses, here are my three things I took away that is foundational for me.

The first is that God sows the Word of the kin-dom of God extravagantly regardless of the condition of the soil. The soil represents the hearts of all humanity, including your heart and my heart.

I was reflecting on what are the essentials of the Word of the kin-dom that is being sown in our hearts. For me I can’t remember so many but it comes down to three key attributes of God I think are foundational to the gospel message – that God is love, God is life and God is light. Love, life, and light.

As God sows the Word of the kin-dom into our lives, likewise we are called to sow generously into the lives of others. And Pauline reminded us that we need to pay attention to what we are sowing. Do our lives speak and bear witness to the kindom in reflection to the sower? Are we sowing love, life, and light in the lives of others? We aren’t bearing witness or reflecting the sower if we are sowing something else.

Finally, what we sow depends on the condition of our own soil – are we hard ground, or in a rocky place, or have other priorities that pre-occupy us, or are we good soil that will bear a harvest in due season? We cannot sow what we have not yet received, not yet understood, or not yet lived out.

So let’s look at your responses that you have shared.

Today we continue building on this with the next parable that follows right after the parable of the sower – the Parable of the Weeds. Many of us are familiar with the Parable of the Sower, but how many of us have looked at this this next parable? Let’s read it the parable together as well as the explanation that Jesus shared.

So first the parable –

Matthew 13:24-30 (Inclusive Bible)

Jesus presented another parable to those gathered. “The kindom of heaven is like a farmer who sowed good seed in a field. While everyone was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and then made off. When the crop began to mature and yield grain, the weeds became evident as well.”

“The farmer’s workers came and asked, ‘Did you not sow good seed in your field? Where are the weeds coming from?'”

“The farmer replied, ‘I see an enemy’s hand in this.'”

“They in turn asked, ‘Do you want us to go out and pull them up?'”

“‘No,’ replied the farmer, ‘if you pull up the weeds, you might take the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until the harvest, then at harvest time I will order the harvesters first to collect the weeds and bundle them up to burn, then to gather the wheat into my barn.'”

And now Jesus’ explanation –

Matthew 13:36-41 (Inclusive Bible)

Then Jesus left the crowd and went into the house. The disciples also came in and said, “explain the parable about the weeds in the field.”

Jesus answered, “The farmer sowing the good seed is the Chosen One, the field is the world, and the good seed, the citizens of the kindom. The weeds are the followers of the Evil One, and the enemy who sowed them is the Devil. The harvest is the end of the world, while the harvesters are the angels. Just as weeds are collected and burned, so it will be at the end of the age. The Chosen One will send the angels who will weed out the kindom of everything that causes sin and all who act lawlessly.”

This parable is an important second part to the Parable of the Sower. Jesus preached this to the crowd right after the Parable of the Sower and we are going to look at how this Parable is connected and builds on the previous one. There are some similarities but some important differences that we will get into.

In this Parable of the Weeds, we see that like the previous parable that there is a good sower that goes to sow good seed. But what there are some important differences here.

The first is that the seed is no longer the Word of kindom of God but instead are the disciples that are to carry this Word into the world. And the second big difference is that there is another sower – a bad sower that sows bad seed.

The good seed grows to become wheat, and the bad seed grows to become weeds. And in Jesus’ explanation of the parable, the good sower is Jesus. And the bad sower is the Devil. And the good seed are those that follow Jesus, and the bad seed are those that follow the Evil One.

Before we go further, I think it is important to engage what Jesus is saying here because the literal reading is clear that there are two types of people being sown into the world – those that follow God, and those that follow the Devil.

So in order for us to move forward from here, we need to first look at and understand the Devil and his followers. Let me ask you – “Who or what (do you think) is the Devil?” To narrow the responses, I have put four choices up for you to choose from. Is it a “powerful evil being?” “A fallen angel?” “External powers and principalities?” or “Something else or (you) don’t know?”

Let’s look at your responses.

The answer is all of them and at the same time actually maybe none of them. Let me explain.

The first three choices can all actually be found in the Bible. And the reason for that is that the understanding of the Devil has actually evolved in scripture and over time. Stay with me here because this is foundational to our understanding of what Jesus is talking about.

In the Old Testament and in early Judaism, the ancient Jews did not believe that there was just one God. They believed that there were other gods like the gods of Egypt and Moab, but YHWH was above all other gods. And in the Old Testament and other writings from that time, we find other powerful evil beings like “Mastema” and “Belial”.

In the book of Job we meet “Satan”, or rather, the “satan”, which is not really a name of a being like “Mastema” or “Belial” but a description of its character. “The satan” literally means “the accuser” or “the adversary”. And in the Book of Numbers , this adversary is none other than an angel of God.

Anyone heard of the name “Lucifer”? No, I am not referring to the Netflix TV series. Some of us know this name from early translations of Book of Isaiah that supposedly belongs to a fallen angel of God before he fell and became “satan”. But actually the name belongs to a Babylonian king who fell because of his pride and but he gets co-opted into the idea of being this same angel of God before his fall.

When Judaism evolved to believe that God was not just the one true God, but the one and only God, the presence of an anti-God really also helped to deal with all the misery that the Jews were going through.

Since God was good, God needed to have a powerful arch enemy. And we start to see this term for the “Devil” start to appear, which is derived from the Greek word “diabolos” which means also, not surprisingly, “the accuser”.

When the New Testament and this parable in Matthew 13 was written, the dominant understanding of that time was that there was a struggle in the heavenly realms between good and evil. We have God who is good, and the accuser, the “diabolos”, the Devil, assigned the role to play of all that is evil. And the struggle happening in the heavenly realms is projected in all the good and evil seen in the world – if you were good, you followed God and represented good, otherwise you followed these power and principalities under the control of the devil and represented evil.

So in that time, there were two neat groups – the followers of God or the followers of the Devil; the sheep and the goats. It is critical that we understand that Jesus was telling this parable using the current understanding of that time in his parable.

But since the time of the gospels, we also continue to see that there was a continual evolution of the understanding of evil being influenced from Greek culture – how the mind and body operates separately – the mind being superior and the flesh being weaker that could be under other influences. We see the apostle Paul wrestling with this duality of good and evil in his own life, saying things like “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Rom 7:15)

In the middle ages, the catholic church continued this evolution of understanding that because God is good and God created everything, the Devil had to be good when he was created. So how did the devil become bad? He made himself bad by his own free will, and poor Lucifer gets further elevated into the spotlight. And he gets a makeover as well, with the horns of a goat, a pitchfork and a tail.

Modern science has now given us new lenses that we can use to describe the devil, this accuser. We know today that we all have mixed motivations – we carry both wheat and weed within us and we have this farmer’s field within each one of us. And it could literally come from the way that we are wired.

Maybe the devil is not a being out there opposing God and influencing us to be evil, but this response comes from a place of a very primal biological response from the part of our brain called the amygdala meant to protect us when that gets activated when we are in fear. It gives us the very basic “fight”, “flight”, or “freeze” responses when we are in danger.

Could the devil not be something out there tormenting us to be bad, but when fear response within each one rules how we act? And maybe we are not trying to avoid physical harm, but are reacting to situations where there could be a fear of loss, fear of death, fear of lack (kiasu, kiasee, kiabo). And these potential accusers and adversaries rule us over the part of our brain where love, life and light come from?

What if evil is when we don’t know or forget that we are a child of God, made in the image of God, and have the kin-dom of God within us to be love, life and light to others. Could evil be anything then that gives in to our fear responses and cause us to live in opposition with the kin-dom of God?

I know that’s a lot to take in, but it is important we hold these thoughts as we look at the language Jesus used in the parable but also how we can understand and apply this Parable in our time today.

So what was Jesus saying to His followers then and also to us today in this parable?

1/ It is a Word to comfort and encourage His followers.

Matt 13:27-28a

“The farmer’s workers came and asked, ‘Did you not sow good seed in your field? Where are the weeds coming from?'”

“The farmer replied, ‘I see an enemy’s hand in this.'”

This parable was a word of comfort to the followers of Jesus who were experiencing the weed-like opposition to Jesus’ ministry. These were the religious authorities who criticised, challenged and were hostile Jesus’ ministry.

Jesus is saying that the message of the kin-dom is good. There is nothing wrong with the message even though the very people who should be in support of it, the religious leaders of the time, were in opposition to it.

Jesus here is empathizing with the disciples saying “it’s not you, it’s them” and you should expect the opposition. It doesn’t mean that when you see weeds, when you are persecuted that you aren’t on the right path. Your call is good. You are good seed and you are to be planted into the world.

Jesus is saying to the disciples then as he is to us now to continue to nurture the soil of our hearts and minds and nurture the soil of those around you. Make sure you don’t get discouraged and things don’t get rocky with all the persecution and resistance.

So instead of fighting, flighting, or freezing, would you continue “face” this opposition instead?

2/ It is a Word to commend wisdom and restraint to His followers.

Matt 13:28b-30

“They in turn asked, ‘Do you want us to go out and pull them up?'”

“‘No,’ replied the farmer, ‘if you pull up the weeds, you might take the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until the harvest, then at harvest time I will order the harvesters first to collect the weeds and bundle them up to burn, then to gather the wheat into my barn.'”

The disciples often wanted to go head on to clarify what was wheat and what was weed.

The weed that Jesus was referring to was probably “tares” or “cheat weed”. The modern biological name is called the “bearded darnel.”

As you can see, they look like wheat, especially when they are growing so it is difficult to tell them apart from wheat. While these weeds look like wheat, they can be poisonous and their roots surround the roots of the other plants around them, sucking up all the water and nutrients. They may look the same as wheat, with all the right form, but their motivation is to dominate for themselves, and have no value to anyone else.

Jesus likens this to those that follow the evil one – the religious leaders of the time that oppress the people, the ones that are motivated to maintain their power and privilege over the people. But instead of immediately reacting to identify which are the weeds and eradicate them, Jesus encourages them to be patient, to exercise wisdom and discernment and not spend their energy trying to identify and eradicate them, but to focus on what they can control – to being carriers of the kindom of God, to be witnesses of love, light and life.

And just like the sower in the parable of the sower, it was not their job to determine who’s in and who’s out – who is wheat and who is weed, who is within and who is beyond God’s attention. Their job is to be love, light and life to all.

Instead of fighting, flighting or freezing, would you “focus” on being the love, light and life generously all around you?

3/ It is a Word to inspire hope that God will both bring justice and redeem the world.

This picture of this mixture of weeds and wheat growing until harvest is also a call for the disciples to stay in the now to do what they are called to do to bring love, light and life, and hold on to the hope that it is not in vain – that there will be future judgment and redemption at the fulfilment of shalom – the restoration of all things to the way they are intended.

Matthew 13:39b-41

“The harvest is the end of the world, while the harvesters are the angels. Just as weeds are collected and burned, so it will be at the end of the age. The Chosen One will send the angels who will weed out the kindom of everything that causes sin and all who act lawlessly.”

When we continue to look at the brokenness and the process of “becoming” to the fullness of shalom, it is so easy to allow our hearts to get hard, or give up because of the challenge, or have our priorities distracted.

But God says – keep at it, don’t give up. Keep being love, light and life. Keep nurturing your soil and keep nurturing the soil of for those around us, let the wheat and the weeds grow because I will take care of the weeds at the end of time.

Instead of fighting, flighting or freezing, would you have “faith” that I will take care of the final outcome at the fulfilment of all things?

CLOSING

Just as Jesus sows love, life, and light extravagantly in to the world regardless of the soil, Jesus commissions His disciples then and all of us today to do the same.

And as we do this, we become more and more in the likeness of God, and Jesus encourages us on our journey of becoming to –

1/ be comforted and encouraged in the “face” of persecution and setbacks – the rocky ground.

2/ have wisdom and restraint and “focus” on the mission – the thorny ground.

3/ have “faith” that God will both bring justice and redeem the world – the hard ground.

Good wants us to be aware of how we are nurturing the soil of our hearts that it becomes good ground for the kin-dom. Is the ground that we are dealing with in this season hard ground where we are closed to the Word of the kin-dom, is it rocky ground experiencing a lot of resistance, is it thorny ground being choked with other priorities, or is it good ground where love, life and light is flourishing, and bearing a good harvest?

Will you take a moment and reflect what is the state of your ground today?

While you are sharing your responses, I want to share with you that the past 18 months has been a season of the languishing. It has been a rocky season because of setbacks because people close to me who have been ministry partners for me have left me or no longer want to work together with me on projects such as Amplify, which is a missions initiative to empower the development of inclusive churches that stand and act for equity, inclusivity and diversity. The travel restrictions brought on by the pandemic has not allowed me to travel for ministry – whether it is ministering at the churches or spending time being with other leaders who have gone before me and inspire me. It has also been a season of a hard ground. And with the changes we need to make as a result of the pandemic, my fear response was to work even harder so that the business doesn’t lose out and I don’t lose my job – the thorny ground.

But God is reminding me that in the coming season I need to tend and nurture my own ground, and move from my fear-based response of “fight-flight-freeze” to one that intentional to “face-focus-faith” in every situation.

What about you? What is your story of struggle and gratitude? I hope that you reflect where you are and you will share your story of where you are presently in the upcoming advent season where we will “Let our Life Speak”.

And if you are in a season where you have nurtured good ground for yourself, would you nurture the ground for others and create a space to listen to others with care and compassion, and hold space for their stories and their growth?

As we close, let me share this wonderful encouragement from theologian Patrick J. Willson who said –

“Jesus did not say that the kindom was like a rock, fixed and solid and firm and unchanging. Jesus did not say that the kindom was like a giant machine, that you put some things in and you get some things out. Jesus said it was like an enormous tree that grows out of a tiny seed. A tree so enormous that all the birds of the air can come and find shelter in its branches, even strange little ducks like you and me. He said that God was like a housewife who puts a smidgen of yeast in the three measures of flour and that yeast yields its life into the whole batch of dough. That is the way that the kindom is, growing from the very beginning into all that God has intended. From the foundation of the world, the very first moment of creation, it is the kindom that has been on God’s mind, and God is infinitely patient as it grows.”

Let us pray.

God we thank you that the Word of the kindom is good news. It is the gospel. You are love, life and light. You created us in love, You have given us the promise of abundant life, and You are the light the guides our path.  You are with us, You are for us and You go before us. We thank you that this Word has gone forth and been given to everyone who has ears to hear it and a heart to receive it that every one of us is created in Your divine image.

God we are all going through different seasons – help us to be aware when we are allowing our fear rule our hearts. Help us to realize that what is going on around us is not caused by the work of a devil but when humanity allows fear to rule our hearts and live out our lives and the impact that has on others.

God in this season we ask that you help illuminate the places in our lives where we have not allowed the word of the kindom to take root and flourish. God we pray that Your Spirit in us will lead us and guide us into all truth so that we can be not just be aware of the ground of our hearts but how we can nurture it. God we ask for your wisdom to become the disciples that carry Your good seed of the Word of the kindom into the relationships, community and the world you have planted us in. Give us your strength and wisdom when we “face” persecution, to “focus” on the things that we can do, and have “faith” that You see all things and that all things will work for good and Your purposes in the world to restore all things.

In Jesus name we pray, amen.