Sermons 23rd July

Readings Matthew  13, 24-39, 36-43,  Isaiah 44, 6-8


Being somewhat isolated from any ministry colleagues here in Sark, I join in quite a few discussion groups and Christian social media groups to hear other Christian and clergy  colleagues views, to listen to debate on theological points, to learn and discern and encourage my own thinking.

Sometimes it’s really frustrating when someone’s reading of a particular passage allows only a very narrow interpretation, sometimes against the majority of other contributors, and they just can’t, or won’t see any different understanding. Of course, there are some very conservative evangelicals in the conversations who read particular passages in the bible very literally, often excluding other passages that might not agree with their interpretation, and then there are those on the complete opposite side who seem to assign virtually any meaning to any passage, diluting the words to almost seem  meaningless, and, of course, those contributors who join in who are atheists or at best agnostics. It makes for lively, stimulating discussion. In between, there are a lot of people I enjoy engaging with, who ae willing to listen to each other and sometimes change their minds or views as they hear differing views.


The passages today are ones that might stimulate some of that sort of vigorous debate. I’d mentioned the Isaiah passage comes between the first of the ten commandments and Jesus’s first commandment. And it’s a significant passage. Because although the first of the ten commandments says “you should have no other gods before me”, Isaiah says there is only one God- a subtle distinction with the biblical understanding perhaps moving from seeing God as the best, superior God to the other god’s worshipped by the tribes surrounding Israel, to a recognition that there is only one God. Theoretically. Jesus’ first commandment is then different again- “Hear O Israel, you should love the Lord God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength”, The commandment moves from a forbidding, to a bidding, from a denial of  any engagement with other gods, through Isaiah’s statement of there being  only one God.


But in then moves to perhaps that realism that practically what we should do is put all our other worldly God’s aside, wealth, power, lust, or whatever and love God fully, completely, utterly, so much so that those other worldly god’s become unimportant.


And then we had the parable of the wheat and the weeds. A useful hint to help us understand this parable  is that the Greek Matthew uses for weed is zizania a wild type of invasive rice grass . common in Israel, that would have looked very similar to wheat when growing- a bit like the two very similar seeds I showed you earlier- you couldn’t tell which would yield a blue or pink flower until they bloom- it’s only when the full ears  of wheat have formed that the difference is seen. The full ears of wheat being heavy and thus drooping, the less full lighter ears of the weeds remaining upright. So the parable used things familiar to Jesus’ listeners as he always did.


But the understanding- well it’s one of those areas that promotes some vigorous discussion from time to time in the groups I follow. Do we take things literally and see that there are evil and good people, and plainly a weed can’t turn into wheat, so eventually the evil ones will be damned. Or is it a parable about the slaves planting the seeds perhaps? Disciples who are all to eager to pullup the weeds, criticise or condemn those they think wrong, but in the process disturb the roots of the whet, the good people. Something many of my colleagues noted even within their churches, where those thinking, with the best intention, that they were doing good rooting out the bad, ending up disrupting the whole crop or congregation leading to division and breakdown of church life.


Jesus’ explanation of the parable helps a little as he explains that the angels will reap at the end of the age. It’s not for us to judge others, to find fault or seek out evil and uproot it, let God judge, Jesus says. It’s tricky to say whether what’s being said could extend from speaking about individuals instead perhaps about us as individuals- the wrong things in our lives which we all have, those other worldly gods we spoke of earlier. Because that seems to fit in more with the message of forgiveness in the New Testament- surely all can be redeemed, we might say- surely there are not those who can never change, never be redeemed. Jesus died for sinners, we say in our services week in week out, and we all know we’re sinners in some way.


So what do we end up understanding when we read this passage. Do we take it quite literally, or do we see it as part of the complete teaching of Jesus? An episode, that along with all the other parables and teachings leads us to a greater understanding- especially if we grapple with the different interpretations which we have just touched on the surface of today. That’s the way I tend to see it, even though, with my colleagues, I continue to think about the complexities of theology and faith that arise, much like the difference in understanding that come from reading Exodus and the ten commandments, our Isaiah passage and Jesus two great commandments.


At the end of it all, for me, it comes down to a practical theology. Who am I to judge my fellow humans, whether they have faith or not, it’s not my place to root out those I think might be weeds, whether believers or non-believers, whether they worship other Gods, or the God I know and love, before I can see whether they are wheat or weeds- or with my seeds whether they will produce yellow, red or pink flowers.

Jesus first command was to love God- totally, and his second was to love others, as you love yourself.


Others- good or bad, wheat or weed, red or yellow flower- if we truly love then perhaps they’ll get to know and recognise that love too and the source of all love, God. Let God do the harvesting, the judging, the separating of the wheat from the weeds in God’s own time. It’s not our job. Our job is simply to love. And as Jesus said, and I really hope he intended the pun in his parable about wheat,  let those who have ears hear.