Judgment Anyone?

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5th Sunday After Pentecost; Year A
Isaiah 44.6-8; Psalm 86.11-17; Romans 8.12-25; Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson

Christians can forget that our ultimate hope is not to go to heaven when we die…it is the hope we confess together in the Creed: “We believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.”

 

Grace and peace to you from the patient One, who will both judge and redeem the world, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I was gone from my home for roughly three weeks in June. Before I left I spent many late nights with a head lamp tiling the soil of my garden and planting vegetable seeds and plants. There was a part of me that wondered if all of my late nights were worth it because it was very probable in leaving for three weeks that I would come back to a dead garden. I planted anyway, hoping it would rain enough to keep the plants alive until I returned.

When I got back I hesitantly made my way to the garden, anticipating at least ½ the plants to be dead. I could never have expected what I found in the middle of North Dakota…a jungle!! My garden was full. Full of thriving large tomato, pepper, cucumber, and squash plants that I had left when they were only wee little ones. My problem was that the weeds in the garden did equally well. So well in fact, that I could hardly tell what were weeds and what were vegetable plants. In many cases, the weeds were larger than what I planted. I’m no rocket scientist, but I think it’s safe to say, “There are weeds in the world and they tend to grow exactly where we don’t want them.”

In our Gospel reading today Jesus shares a parable about wheat and weeds. Parable is a fancy word for story. Jesus uses stories in his teaching so that we can have a better understanding of hard things to comprehend, like the Kingdom of Heaven. Often times parables can be confusing and Jesus doesn’t usually come right out and explain the meaning of them, but last week and today he does.

The story starts out with a farmer, a field, and wheat seeds. Then comes an enemy who sows weeds among the wheat, and the weeds and wheat grow up together. The servant of the farmer notices and naturally wants to rid the field of the weeds, but is told to let them both grow until the time of the harvest. They must be left to grow together because in uprooting the weeds, the wheat would also be uprooted.

There are some weeds we know right away are weeds, but there are others, like the bearded darnel weed that is nearly impossible to recognize as a weed (see- http://ztnewstoday.com/2010/05/23/bearded-darnel/ ). Above ground, darnel looks identical to wheat, especially in its early stages. While one cannot tell the difference between the two until they bear seed and are ready for harvest, the darnel weed wraps its roots around the wheat plant making it unfeasible to uproot without damaging the wheat. The farmer is forced to let the two grow side by side.

In my own garden, I accidentally did damage to some of the roots of my tomato and pepper plants when I tried to pull out the weeds that were wrapped around my plants. It would have been better if I would have just left some of the weeds grow along side the plants. The plants were actually doing just fine and growing anyway; it was my own need to try and rid my garden of weeds that ultimately caused damage to what was good and desired.

So what are we to think of Jesus’ explanation of the parable and command to let the wheat and the weeds grow together? It all seems so black and white and polar opposite: The Son of Man sows the good seed on the field, which is the world. The good seed are the children of the kingdom. The weeds are children of the evil one, which are sowed by the devil.

Good and evil. Black and white. Wheat and weeds. One or the other. If this is so, then I ask you this morning, “Which one are you?” Are you wheat or are you a weed? Or better yet, which one is your neighbor? Wheat or weed? If you have your answer, how can you tell?

The danger with the interpretation of this text and the explanation of the parable is to think we know what and who is good or evil. We label people and ourselves as good or bad.

Many of you sitting in the pews have stood before a judge who has ordered you to spend time at YCC. What is it like to stand before a judge? I would imagine it’s a bit scary and that usually judgment has a negative connotation to it. At the end of the explanation of the parable Jesus talks about the harvest that will happen at the end of the age. It is about judgment. Sin and evil is done away with through burning. There is even mention of “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” which is up for debate concerning what it actually means. A normal response to this phrase is fear or automatically thinking about hell. This might come as a surprise to you, but there is no mention of hell in this parable or in its explanation.

There is the popular belief that if you are good you’ll go to heaven and if you’re bad you’ll go to hell. Well, who or what defines “good” or “bad?”

Christians can forget that our ultimate hope is not to go to heaven when we die…it is the hope we confess together in the Creed: “We believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.”

Every last one of us will face judgment. You and I will stand before God and will be judged. How many of you would believe me if I said this is a good thing and that I’m actually looking forward to it? I am looking forward to it because I know that whatever is not good in me, the weeds, will be burned up and what is good will remain.

This reality in Scripture is called “the refiners fire.” Fire has the potential to refine or purify and also to wipe out completely. Like pottery that is fired or a sword that undergoes heat repeatedly, going through fire is what makes these objects good and fit for what they are made to do.

Rather than wondering whether we are the wheat or the weeds, let’s think about ourselves as having qualities of both. It’s always a little bit scary to do a self-inventory because we learn we are capable of both good and bad. It’s not that we’re only good or only bad, but we hold the two in tension within us. When God created human beings, God saw everything God had made, and indeed it was very good says Genesis 1.31, yet all of us have and will continue to make mistakes and hurt others, intentionally or unintentionally. At the same time, we still have life ahead of us to produce good things that can be harvested at the end of our lives.

It is true that we get swallowed up in the cares of the world and we miss the joy of God and the growth God offers us. What this parable does is reveal our need for Jesus, for a God who loves us and is and will set things right. Judgment is the way God will wipe out what is not good within us, and will refine what is good in us. It is God’s way of making us fit to inherit eternal life with God and with one another in the Kingdom of Heaven.

God is still working on and in all of us. The beauty about life is that we’re not finished yet. God lets it all grow together in and around us. What is absolutely clear in the parable is that God has power over evil and eventually the world and our lives will be rid of it. The weeds can try their hardest to choke out life, but God has the last say and God is going to win. We know this because the evil that killed Jesus was defeated when the Spirit of God raised Jesus from the dead.

Know that your judge is Jesus, the one who died for you, knows everything about you, who loves you. When you are tempted to think you have nothing good to offer with your life, remember that God made you, gave you purpose, and declared you good. When you are riding a bit on your high horse and are tempted to judge others, remember that you too have made mistakes.

What I have learned through gardening is that despite all my efforts one way or another, stuff grows. I eventually found my original plants among the weeds because I knew where I planted them. Here’s the thing, God knows where you are planted. You are not going to be lost among the weeds. You will have healthy growth in your life beca
use God is and will make it happen. This doesn’t mean we kick back and let God do all the work, but rather recognize that it is not in our power to judge anyone else good or bad, or even ourselves.

You and I are to give the good wheat seeds that are planted in us time to grow and produce things that are good for us and for those around us. Some years might be better than others, and in this life sometimes we need to live with the junk, but we do so trusting that God is in the middle of all of it and intimately present in each of our lives.

Theologian, Martin Luther, had much to say about living with good and evil, both within himself and in the world. This is what he has to say about it: “This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness, not health, but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.” (Sundays and Seasons Year A 2011, Augsburg Fortress, 2010, p. 38).

Rest assured that there is a day in which you will shine like the sun in the kingdom of God. This is not your own doing, but the work of God who loves you. Until then, dear brothers and sisters, we live together in hope and anticipation, with both the weeds and the wheat.