Service for Sunday 17 July 2011
Year A. Pentecost 10. Genesis 28:10-19a; Psalm 130:1-12, 23-24; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43. Green
Call to worship (Based on Ps 139)
God, you know me
You know everything I do
and what I'm going to do
You know what I say
and what I'm going to say
You know me better than I know myself.
In life or in death – you still know me
Wherever I go, whatever I do
You will still be with me.
There's nothing I can hide from you
even it I wanted to.
God, you know me,
you know the good and the bad.
Guide me as I go through my life
so I will have nothing I would want to hide.
Hymn Together in Song 105 Let all the world in every corner sing
Prayers of Adoration and Confession
we are awed and full of wonder
at how well you know us.
We are amazed at love so great
you would even count the hairs on our heads.
Love so great
you would listen to our thoughts,
and our deepest needs,
before we can form them into words.
Love so great
that before we can ask,
or even understand our deepest need-
you have already rushed to met it,
by giving your own Son as a way
for us to come into relationship with you.
we are not always
quick to invite you
to search our hearts and minds
There are times when
we are ashamed, or embarrassed,
by what we know you will find there.
In all of our lives,
there are things we would rather were not there.
We confess the things we know are wrong
and ask that you would help us to change,
that you would lead us in the way everlasting,
In Jesus' name. Amen.
Declaration of Forgiveness
Kids' time (Leave bear in back pew before service.)
Hey guys, do you want to see my bear? He's a special one. My sister brought him for me last time she visited Australia. He's from England. He's got a blue ribbon around his neck saying “Cheshire Constabulary 150th Anniversary.” My sister works for the Cheshire Constabulary – that's the police force in the part of England where she lives.
Bear's just here – or he was. I'm sure I left him just here. You guys didn't take my bear away did you? He's not a live bear, he can't just walk away by himself. He's got to be here – I'm sure this is where I left him.
Bear, Bear, where are you? Come back. Help me find my bear.
What's he doing way back there? Oh, wait a second. I remember now. I put him on the seat there when I turned on the lights! How silly of me. I forgot that. I thought I left him right here. I made a mistake!
Do you ever make mistakes? What kinds of mistakes have you made?
Grown-ups, have you ever made mistakes?
Do you know someone who never makes a mistake? God never, ever, ever makes mistakes.
Anyway, we've got a story from the Bible this morning, a story Jesus told about making choices. He was talking about plants – it was a parable. You know what parables are. (Not two boy cows that's a pair-a-bulls.) Parables are stories that make us think about things.
Jesus talked about sorting out weeds from good plants – but what he wanted us to think about was that people can sometimes make mistakes sorting things out, and sometimes, when things are really important, we should wait for God make the choices.
Hymn Together in Song 216 Rejoice, the Lord is King.
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Gardening can be a very frustrating business, especially for people who are new to it.
I can remember, as a child, my first-ever foray into the world of gardening. I was trying to grow a bed of carrots. You might think that's a very safe thing to begin. You'd be wrong.
I planted seeds and watered. Eventually lots of little green things came up. A lot of different-looking green things came up. I realised that since I'd only planted carrots, the un-carrots had to be weeds. But which was which?
There was one stringy, weedy-lookiing thing in the the bed, which was the only plant of its type. Since I'd planted dozens of carrots, this was definitely a weed – there was only one plant that looked anything like that. So I pulled it out, pulling up a very very tiny carrot – the only one in the whole bed! I would have been better off leaving the weeds and plants, or plant, grow together and sorting later – at least I'd have had one carrot.
The parable of the weeds is a strange story. And it raises a number of questions. Why would the owner of the field go and do the sowing himself, when his servants appear to be doing nothing? Why would an enemy bother gathering seeds from weeds and sneaking around at night to sow them – especially as weeds grew wild in the crops anyway? And why just leave the crops and weeds together? And why bring in someone else, other than the servants to gather the harvest?
In last week's parable of the sower, the seed was God's word, spread throughout many people's lives, and many kinds of people's lives.
This week, the seed is human beings: good seed, planted by Jesus himself, and weed seeds planted by an enemy. In the parable of the sower, what happened after the seeds were planted, was strictly between the seeds, the soil and God, the sower didn't get involved.... Here, when it is people's lives which are being planted, what is happening, is between the sower and the seed – no-one else can bring a human being into relationship with God, but Jesus Christ. The servants do take an interest in the crop, but it's clearly not their crop. Theoretically, if he's scattered good seed, the crop should have a few weeds, but not too many.
But an intrepid enemy has gone to the trouble of gathering weed seeds, and sowing them during the night. This seems strange behaviour, but there was actually a Roman law against sowing darnell – a weed which looked almost exactly like wheat – in someone else's field. Some people had gone to this extreme to ruin another's crop – if they hadn't there'd never have been a law made about the situation. So it's not just the weeds the enemy has sown in the field, but probably weeds which look remarkably like the crop itself.
The plot thickens – what do you do if you can't tell the weeds from the crop? Well, if you're like me you might go out and pull up anything that looks suspicious: and if you're like me, you might pull up the wrong thing.
The servants come to their master, wanting to know: What do we do? Can we just go out and pull up the weeds now? But how are they going to know which is which? How do we know, meeting someone at a point in their life's journey, all that they will be when the journey is ended?
So what can they do? The enemy has been extremely clever. The can't do anything! It must be very frustrating for the servants, who want to rush out and fix the problem. But the master sees that it can wait, in fact it must wait. Treat the whole field as if it has a good crop in it. Look after the bad along with the good.
It must have annoyed the servants, to know that half of what they were caring for was weeds. It's like Jesus' followers being told to love their enemies, along with their friends. Pray for those who persecute them, not just those who care for them.
It seems like playing into the enemy's hand … But really, it's the only way to defeat the enemy in the end. If they tried to do something, anything, to get rid of the weeds too soon, they could make a mistake and pull out the wrong plants. If they tramped through the fields, they could step on the precious, growing crop.
They had to wait until harvest time – when they could see what each mature plant produced – and it would become obvious which was wheat and which was darnell.
The reformation theologian John Calvin had a theory of two churches: the visible, and the invisible. The visible church was the people we can see worshipping God, who say we are Christian, who appear to be Christian. The invisible church is made up of all the people, of all times and places, who truly are a part of God's dominion. The visible and invisible churches will have some people in common, but they are not made up completely of the same people. We might be surprised who turned out to be where.
In the visible church, and in the wider world, the wheat and the weeds grow side by side. The problem with trying to weed them out, either in the church or in the wider world, is that we can't tell which is which.
Even when it comes to harvest time, in the parable, the servants aren't sent out to bring in the harvest. Expert reapers are brought in. They are to sort out the good from the bad, and deal with it accordingly. Although the crop is matured, and it should be clear which is wheat and which is weeds, the landowner isn't going to take the risk of his servants making a mistake – not one precious grain out of this harvest is going to be lost.
There is a simple, strong message in this story for us. It is that God doesn't see people the same way we see them. (Didn't Samuel hear that about Jesse's sons – it's not really a new message.)
We can't know another person's relationship with God, what it is now, or what it will be in the future. People change. Jacob, the cheat and liar, encountered God, and received a promise that God would be with him. If he lived in our community, would we have considered him to be a stalk of wheat or a weed?
That means we can't give up on people or write them off just because we don't see any sign of growth in them. (No matter how frustrating it is to put work into, for example RE and Sunday School, and then see people leave the church after our work.)
It also means that we can't ever give up on our own spiritual growth, our own relationship with God. (Because whether we are wheat or weeds won't be known until it becomes obvious what fruits we've produced, at harvest time.)
Hymn Together in Song 689 Lord, hear my praying, listen to me
Prayers of the People
God of the harvest
We pray for your harvest in this world.
For the wheat and the weeds,
growing together, unknowing,
for lives that are changing and will be changed,
For those who prosper unjustly,
believing that you will never call them to account,
For those who suffer unjustly,
wondering if you will ever come to their help,
For those who are faithless,
believing they have all the time in the world.
For those who are faithful,
making the most of the time you have given them.
Gracious God, we pray for your harvest in this world.
(Prayer points from newsletter.)
The Lord's Prayer
Hymn Together in Song 690 Beauty for brokenness