Sunday, July 17, 2005

Ninth Sunday of Pentecost
Isaiah 44:6-8 or Wisdom 12:13, 16-19
Psalm 86:11-17
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Oh turn unto me, and have mercy upon me; Give thy strength unto thy servant, And save the son of thy handmaid.

Our first home was in California. We moved into the house in late summer, early fall and by the time we had the inside settled it was too late to consider the landscaping. We walked around the property early in the springtime to discuss what we wanted to do. There were several beds that needed plants and we wanted to add a birdbath with some flowers in one part of the yard. As we walked around the property, we noticed a single branch growing out of the ground. There were no buds on the branch and it looked dead. We thought about pulling the branch, but instead decided to give it a chance to grow. It took some time, but we eventually realized what a gem we had it was a white lilac bush, rather rare in our area. Over the years this single branch spread into a most beautiful bush and we were able to share clippings with many of our friends. If we had cut that branch, we never would have had the bush to enjoy over the years.

I'm not a great gardener. I love to plan the landscaping and I even enjoy getting my hands dirty planting the flowers. I'm not so good at going back to do the weeding or upkeep of the flower beds. As a matter of fact, we found a cool sign that says, "Mother's flowers, Father's weeds" because poor Bruce ends up doing much of the weeding once the garden is established.

Sometimes it is difficult to know what to do with a plant, particularly here in Texas. There are so many beautiful wildflowers that I would hate to remove something that would enhance the garden even though it would be considered a weed. I find it ironic that we will drive an hour to a meadow to enjoy the wildflowers in bloom, but we are likely to cut down those very same flowers when they pop up in our manicured lawns. They say weeds are just plants that are growing in the wrong place, and this is very often true.

Our Gospel lesson last week was a parable about planting seeds. The farmer in the story used a technique for planting that was not always reliable. Scattering the seeds often meant they would land on the wrong places on the path, in the rocks or in the weeds. Those seeds did not last because they were taken by the birds, withered under the sun or were strangled by the weeds.

In this week's story, Jesus tells of another farmer. This week, however, the weeds end up in the field where the seed is planted in the good soil. This is natural. Birds often drop seeds into fields or they are blown with the wind. If you look closely in the corn fields of Pennsylvania, you might find Queen Anne's Lace in between the rows. Other wild flowers are found in the midst of fields all over the country. These flowers do little to disturb the growth of the crop.

In the parable, the landowner's servants saw that there were weeds popping up in the field. I think it is interesting that they ask the landowner, "Didn't you plant good seed in the field?" It almost sounds as if they are asking him if he purposely put the weeds in the field. In answer to the question of where the weeds came from, the landowner answers, "An enemy did this." The landowner's servants wanted to weed the field. It seems almost as if the field must have had many of these weeds, so many that it might have done damage to the crop. Too many weeds could take the nourishment and water needed by the good seed and could choke the plants.

The landowner said "No" because in the process of removing the weeds they might harm the good plants. The roots under the surface are intertwined. To pull one plant will uproot anything close by. It is better to leave the weed until the field is ripe. Then everything will be uprooted anyway and the wheat has time to develop. Sometimes the weeds are even beneficial to the fields in which they are found growing.

In another sort of field the weeds, or wildflowers, actually serve to give character to the fruit. Vineyards produce grapes that take on the identity of the plants that are in the ground around them. If you taste carefully, you may be able to identify those flavors in the wine taken from the grapes. Some crops actually become stronger because they will send their roots deeper into the soil seeking water and nourishment. The landowner knows the risk of weeding is greater than the benefit so he tells his servants to leave the weeds. In the end, the weeds will be burned and then the crop can be harvested.

Later, Jesus explained to His disciples that He was the one who planted good seed and the evil one is the one who planted the weeds. The field is the world in which we live. We learn through this parable that the sons of God will be living side by side with the sons of evil. We may want do to some weeding ourselves, just like the servants of the landowner in the parable. However, we are reminded that we might not recognize the weeds from the good plants. Like that branch in our yard in California, we might remove something that has value to the kingdom of God.

It is amazing how we, when faced with difficult situations, can find the strength and courage through our Lord Jesus Christ to get through. Sometimes those difficult situations even make us stronger. In today's Psalm, David cries out to God in prayer. "O God, the proud are risen up against me, And a company of violent men have sought after my soul, And have not set thee before them." He was facing a time of difficulty. However, he knew to whom he could turn. He looks to God to teach the right path, to give him an undivided heart. He offers to praise God, but only as God gives him the grace to do so. To David, the Lord is a kind and compassionate God. He does not see salvation as something he can achieve, but as a gift from God as He turns to His people and grants them the mercy to go forth in faith. "Show me a token for good, That they who hate me may see it, and be put to shame, Because thou, Jehovah, hast helped me, and comforted me." Our help comes from God and God alone.

The passage from Isaiah goes a step further. For those living in the days of Isaiah, including the Israelites who were living in the world and with the world, it was natural to turn to the gods for comfort and aid. They had a god for everything. There was a god for the rain and a god for the sun. There was a god for fields and a god for the womb. If the weather turned bad or a woman was barren, the people sought to appease the gods. When things went well, it meant that the gods were happy and were blessing the earth.

Today's Old Testament lesson is a message from God to His people about the gods from whom they sought comfort. "I am the first, and I am the last; and besides me there is no God." This is most certainly true. There is no god but our God. However, there are lots of false gods. For the Israelites and the other nations in the days of Isaiah, there were gods for every aspect of life. But these gods could do nothing. They have no power. God asks these 'gods', "And who, as I, shall call, and shall declare it, and set it in order for me, since I established the ancient people? and the things that are coming, and that shall come to pass, let them declare." Did the gods create the world or establish God's people? Can they see the future? Of course not.

We may not worship the local and home gods that were represented by stone or wood statues in Isaiah's day, but we have our own gods today. We look to ourselves, our own power, our own abilities. Our jobs, our relationships, our homes, our churches and even our selves are like gods to us. We make them our priority and we forget to worship the LORD. Yet, can our jobs or our families create something out of nothing or predict tomorrow? No. We treat these things as gods, but there is no God but God. We won't find comfort in the things of this world. That's why we look to the Rock for all we need.

The problem of living in the world was not just a problem for the people in the Old Testament. Paul's letter addresses the same sort of difficulty. The people, though they know the grace of God, still thought they could find comfort in the ways of the world. We are sons of God and as such we are called to live by the Spirit, not by our flesh. We have been adopted by God and He is our Father.

It may not seem that way sometimes, especially when we are out there in the world facing the actions of those weeds that have been placed in the field by the evil one. We want salvation to be complete today and the evil to be gone for eternity. However, it is not yet time for the field to be harvested. There is still work to be done. There is still growth to be made among the people of God and people to be saved by His Word. It is hard sometimes. We face difficulties; we suffer at the hands of evil men. However, those sufferings make us stronger. By God's grace, our roots grow deeper and our stalks grow thicker. The fruit that is produced becomes more and more abundant. We may suffer, but in doing so we identify with the One who has brought us into the Kingdom, our Lord Jesus Christ.

We live in hope while we live in this world, and that hope is not just some wish or dream. Hope in the promise of God is worth waiting for, waiting patiently because God is faithful. The day will come when the weeds will be destroyed. Until that day, we can learn to live side by side with the world because we live in the Spirit of God. He will bring us through because none of those gods that seek to harm us have any power against Him.

We might want to destroy the weeds, and at times we do go out and try. However, when we do this we risk destroying the good wheat because we do not always recognize the plants put in the field by God. For now, we look forward in hope and without fear, because the One True God has adopted us as sons and daughters for eternity. Thanks be to God.

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