No Way To Run A Farm

Matthew 13.24-30

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

What is the Bible really about?

That’s a worthy question. And, plenty of people have tried their best to summarize the Holy Scriptures nicely so that it can fit onto a bumper sticker or in a Tweet.

“God is Love.”

“God provides.”

“God is whoever raised Jesus from the dead having first raised Israel out of Egypt.”

That sort of stuff.

They’re all fine and they’re all true.

But compartmentalizing the Bible into a fragment is always and forever a fool’s errand. It is a fool’s errand because whenever we lift it up, we are beckoned and transported to the strange new world of the Bible. 

We with Abraham in Haran. We hear a call that commands him to go.

We are with Moses in the wilderness. For forty years he has been living among the sheep, doing penance for his crime in Egypt. When suddenly there comes a call from a burning bush: “Moses! Moses!”

And we are there with the crowds, lifted on tiptoe struggling to hear what we can from this Messiah man, the one who has come to save the world. And what does he say?

“Listen: the kingdom is like a farmer who sowed only the best seeds in his field. And one night, the farmer’s enemy came and scattered weeds among all the good seeds. So much so that when the plants came up and bore grain, the weeds were all over the place. The servants of the farmer come and say to him, “Where the H-E-double hockey sticks did all these weeds come from?” And the farmer says, “They are from my enemy.” So the servants, dedicated as they are, they ask if they should go out into the fields to remove all the weeds. A no doubt practical response to the dilemma at hand. But the farmer says, “No; for in gathering up all the weeds you’ll destroy all my wheat. Let both of them grow until the harvest. And then we’ll figure it out.”

So, standing among the crowds, peaking over one another’s shoulders we think to ourselves, “Well dang o dang, that guy really is the Messiah! He speaks so clearly and elegantly about what his kingdom is all about. Let’s follow him.”

But before we have a chance to leave it all behind, someone nearby leans toward us and says, “Hey, I’d think twice before following that so-called Messiah. Did you really hear what he just said? ‘Let the weeds grow with the wheat’ thats the worst farming advice I’ve ever heard. What kind of king can this Jesus be if he doesn’t even know how to manage a garden?”

And, we realize, this stranger in the crowd has a point. The practice of not pulling out the weeds until the harvest is no way to run a farm. Such a lackadaisical approach to the agricultural conundrum only guarantees the choking out of all the good plants in addition to creating a bumper crop of unwanted weed seeds that will plague the field for generations.

Are we sure this is the Lord we want to worship?

Perhaps Jesus was just not as good of a farmer as he was a carpenter. After all, his advice about not building a house on sand is spot on. But his ideas about running a farm leave a lot to be desired.

In any case, this is one of the story he told to his disciples about what the kingdom of heaven is like.

The good seeds sown all across the property, the ones that will one day grow to bear grain, are those whose lives are the flowering of what has been sown but the Son of Man. Think of someone who embodies everything about what it means to be a good person, to be a good Christian. Someone who always goes out of their way to check on the last, least, lost, little, and even the dead. Someone who is logged in for online worship every week. Someone who gives 10% of their income back to God.

All that stuff.

They are the good seeds scattered everywhere.

And up until this point, all is well. But, like all good stories, well can turn to hell right quick.

The farmer’s enemy shows up in the middle of the night, while everyone is asleep, and sows weeds among the wheat.

Notice two things: First, everyone is in bed. They’ve already done their job as far as the crop is concerned. The work of the good seed is not threatened, but only inconvenienced, by the arrival of the enemy’s weeds. 

Which leads to the second thing: If the enemy really wanted to mess things up for the farmer, why not do something a little more effective, a little more dramatic? The enemy could’ve lit the field on fire, or flooded it with water, or dug up all the good seeds to plant them in the enemy’s own field.

Instead, the enemy merely tosses in the seeds of weeds to make the job of the farmer a little harder.

Sadly, whenever we read this story or hear about it in church, we do so in such a way that it results in people like us making claims about how certain people need to be destroyed, removed, and obliterated, in order to shore up the kingdom. 

Which is to say, we believe we have to use every tool at our disposal to stop the devil from showing up and dropping weeds into all the perfect things we have going on in our lives.

But, that’s not what Jesus does with this parable.

As I already noted, the weeds will not interfere with the growth of the wheat. The weeds are not a danger to the good seeds development but rather an inconvenience to the farmer and his servants.

And that’s what the parable is really all about.

The servants, those working for the farmer, the ones entrusted with the work in the field, the ones who wear things like this on Sunday mornings, are the ones who have the bright idea to take some immediate action against the undesirables in the field.

“Come on Jesus, I know you keep talking about the grand scope of your kingdom, but have you really thought about what might happen if you let all the riffraff in? Why don’t you let us go out in the world and get rid of all those weeds that keep ruining things for the rest of us?

The farmer, though, seems to have a radically different strategy: Let it be.

“That’s irresponsible!” We think to ourselves or have the gall to mention aloud. “Let it be? That’s a hippy Beatles driven response to the world! Surely Jesus would give us something better to do!”

And yet, throughout history, it’s precisely when we’ve taken those kind of actions into our hands, that the very worst of humanity has come to the surface.

Or, let me put it another way: The seeds sown here in the parable (ZIZANIA in Greek) is an annual grass weed that look an awful lot like wheat when it grows. Which is to say, it’s very difficult to tell them apart, let alone take one out without taking out the other.

The end of the parable, the farmer’s insistence that the servants cannot take out the weeds without damaging the wheat is a profound and challenging word for those of us convinced that we are responsible for fixing the world’s problems, that we can truly make the world a better place.

The desire for making the world a better place almost always makes the world worse.

For, all of our programs (and at time pogroms) designed to get rid of evil are doomed to do exactly what the farmer suggests will happen.

Because the servants, whoever they might be, are either too busy or confused or self righteous to recognize any real difference between good and evil and all they will ever accomplish is tearing out the wheat with the weeds.

What we good and well-meaning folk often forget, as good and as well-meaning as we think we are, is that there is no one who is categorically good just as there is no one who is categorically evil.

In a very real way we are all pretty messed up.

Or, to use Paul’s words, “For I know nothing good dwells within me, I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”

I remember helping a church reinvent itself a number of years ago when I was in college. We wanted to create a list of beliefs and expectations for those who would join us. And, at first, it was simple stuff like, “We believe in the triune God” and “We confess Jesus as Lord.” But then it quickly turned to things like, “No hatred allowed” and “liars will be asked to leave” and “members must be present at least 3/4 of the Sundays in a year.”

Which, by the end, meant that no one was worthy of the church.

To connect it back to the parable, the only result of a truly dedicated campaign to rid the world of evil will be the abolition of literally everybody.

Does that mean we should just kick back, and let the world fall to pieces? The parable doesn’t imply that resistance to evil is wrong, only that its not effective in terms of salvation. We can introduce all sorts of programs to solve all the problems on earth. We can advocate for just wars, and capital punishment, and bigger and fuller jails of dirty rotten scoundrels. 

But, as Christians, we can’t assume that any of those thing will “make the world a better place.” 

We can take up the sword all we want, but we cannot forget that those who live by the sword die by the sword. 

Just as with the parable of the Sower, the kingdom comes along automatically, despite the presence of weeds among the wheat. The weeds may not be real wheat, but if the servants go to the trouble of removing the less desirables, a truly horrific scene can unfold.

It was a new nation of so-called good people that brutally tortured, enslaved, and murdered entire generations of people all in the name of manifest destiny.

It was a democratically elected leader of the most advanced nation in the world, at the time, who ultimately brought about the execution of 6 million Jews.

I could go on and on.

And yet, behind the servants’ question is the question we all wrestle with, “What are we supposed to do?”

Looking out at the tragedies of the world we can’t help but wonder what we could possibly ever do to change anything in a meaningful way.

We can help ourselves from wondering, in spite of all the evidence of the past, that maybe the world would be better if we got rid of all the weeds.

“No,” Jesus says through the farmer, “Pull up evil and you’ll pull up goodness right along with it.”

And then comes the most remarkable and bewildering word in the whole parable: APHETE them to grow together. In our English translations it says, “Let both of them grow” but  in Greek the word is APHETE and its the same word for forgiveness. It’s in the Lord’s Prayer we say every week. APHES us our trespasses as we APHEMEN those who trespass against us. 

It is here, in the light of the farmer’s strange and divine forgiveness that the parable truly hits home: the malice, the evil, the badness that is manifest in the real world and in the real lives of real people is not to be dealt with by abolishing the things or persons in whom it dwells. 

It can only be dealt with, with forgiveness – a recognition that even the best of us aren’t as great as we think we are. 

But what if people keep screwing things up?

What is the enemy comes back the next year and sows even more weeds among the wheat?

Well, at least according to the farmer in Jesus’ parable, the enemy is free to come back and drop his weeds. And, on the basis of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, God has announced the exact same thing. 

No enemy, not the devil, not you, not me, and not anybody else, is outside the realm of God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ.

If that sounds unbelievably radical, it is!

But remember, Jesus on the cross, in the moments immediately prior to his death, he doesn’t threaten his enemies, he forgives them.

APHES one more time.

That might not sit well with those of us suffering under the weight of the world, or those of us troubled by what we see on TV every night, but according to the mystery that is God’s kingdom, it is already here, sown, sprouting, and bearing fruit. And all the weeds of this world can’t do a thing about it.

We are hooked, downright addicted, to assuming that its all up to us. Give us just a small taste of the power that comes with making decisions about what is good and right and true and we’ll never be able to kick the habit. We delight in believing that we are the ones who get to settle scores here and now and yet, in the end, none of us could possibly make it in Jesus’ kingdom unless forgiveness reigns supreme.

Forgiveness, APHES, it’s no way to run a farm, but it’s the only way to run the kingdom. Amen.

God’s Garden – Sermon on Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43

Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to come one who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned with fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!


The best sermons reflect their scripture. If you preach on a Psalm then the sermon should be poetic and prayerful. If you preach on a genealogy then sermon should be historic and cover the breadth and trajectory of time. If you preach on a narrative, then the sermon should contain stories to help enlighten the scriptural narrative. And if you preach on a parable, then the sermon should leave people scratching their heads on their way out of church.

Jesus put before his disciples yet another parable: The kingdom of heaven is like a gardener who planted good seeds in his field. However, while others were sleeping someone else came and planted weeds among the wheat. So when the plants began to grow the weeds appeared with the wheat.

The workers of the garden were confused and worried, “Master, what kind of seeds did you plant? Where did all these weeds come from? Would you like us to go out and remove the weeds from the field?” But the gardener replied, “No; if you remove all of the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Instead, let both of them grow together until the harvest.

Parables are strange things. They are often found on the lips of Jesus, told in such a way that a point of a lesson can be illustrated from the narrative. For those of us familiar with Jesus’ parables we might think of the Prodigal Son or the Good Samaritan or The Mustard Seed. In the parables, Jesus uses a simple and memorable story to convey a deeper and important theological point. He refers to common and everyday things that can find connection with the crowds as he shares with them the beauty and mystery of God.

Though told with a simple style, parables often left the disciples scratching their heads while Jesus addressed the crowds. In our scripture today it was only when they retired to the house that the disciples were finally given the opportunity to ask Jesus what this parable was all about.

The gardener is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seeds are the children of God; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who planted them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.

The beauty of the parable, its mysterious quality, has been explained and presented to the disciples succinctly and clearly. 


This morning we are going to do things a little differently. Instead of just standing up here proclaiming the Word, instead of just sitting our there absorbing the Word, we are going to live it out in our worship. 

Let us pretend that this sanctuary is God’s Garden and all of us are the crops. At first we are planted by the Son of Man and are nurtured in this place to grow into disciples of Christ. Whereas a true garden needs sunlight and water, we are sustained through the Word of God and through the Bread and Wine of communion. As we make it through the weeks, months, and years we continue to grow into our faith and become the beautiful wheat of the field. So, as you are able, would you please demonstrate this growth by standing up.

As any good gardener I am now going to inspect our crops… It is clear that we have some incredible wheat this morning!

Leah Pack! I see your growth and am reminded of your dedication to our lectionary bible study, feeding those who are in need at the free clinic, and your willingness to visit those from our church community.

Marshall Kirby! I see your stature and it is definitely clear that you are strong in your faith! I am reminded of your willingness to serve the needs of our church through your leadership with the men’s club, your stupendous diction while reading the scriptures for worship, and your chiseled muscles from years of Christmas tree sales.

Grace Daughtrey! Though still young and maturing into a wonderful wheat it is clear that you are full of faith. I see you standing and I am reminded of your challenging questions during confirmation, your desire to serve our church by carrying in the light of Christ for worship, and the future of our church as you blossom into a remarkable Christian.

Brothers and sisters we have a garden full of God’s wheat, full of faith and trust! To God be the glory! (You may be seated)

But you know, the more I think about it, maybe I wasn’t looking at God’s crops close enough…

Leah Pack, for as strong as your faith looks on the outside I know that you become frustrated with others in the community who do not live out the tough calls of our faith, I know that sometimes you wish you could ignore certain parts of the bible. Leah I’m sorry to say this, but when I look closer it seems that you appear more like a weed than a wheat (Remove Leah from the pew and bring her to the front).

Marshall Kirby, who could argue with your faith? But I know that sometimes you listen to the voices of the world more than the voice of God and you might be too weedy for our garden. (Remove Marshall and bring him to the front)

And Grace, sweet sweet Grace, still so young in your faith, I know that there are times when you would rather sleep than come to church. I’m not sure we can let you stay in our garden (remove Grace and bring her to the front).

I quickly see two things for us to learn from the pruning of God’s Garden:

Before too long I’m sure that we would be able to find a sin in every person sitting in the pews this morning, and eventually we would have to remove all of the weeds. We might have good days, even months, or perhaps years where we can fully live into our discipleship of Jesus Christ, loving God and neighbor, serving the needs of the community, but all of us eventually fall short of His glory. We look at someone and we lust for what they have, we lie to protect ourselves, we love our possessions more than God; whatever the sin is we quickly move from being one of God’s wheat to one of God’s weeds.

God’s Garden is imperfect. Even with all of the proper nurturing, good preaching, splendid teaching, and holy eating, it will never be enough to prevent us from sinning. We can have mountaintop experiences here at church but before long we are tempted to fall back into the familiar rhythms of evil. On the outside we want to look like God’s perfect crop of wheat, fully matured, and ready to be harvested for the kingdom, but in reality, when we look inwardly, we see that all of us at some point or another appear more like one of the weeds in God’s Garden.

The other element of this Garden that strikes at our hearts this morning is that we are not the ones who are called to judge. Lets pretend for just a moment, if we can, that Leah, Marshall, and Grace truly were weeds within this community of faith. Can you imagine what would happen to us if we uprooted them? 

Leah has taught so many over the years about the way God has interacted with God’s creation. If we removed Leah, all of her students in the ways of faith, myself included, would begin to wonder what this thing called faith was all about. At some point many of the people connected to Leah’s life would stop coming to church at all when they realized that she was the one who embodied the love of God for them and their lives. Without Leah being here, they would miss getting to experience God’s grace.

Marshall lives out his discipleship everyday. He it absolutely committed to following Christ here at St. John’s and in the community. Even with his big and tough exterior, he is one of the sweetest men I have ever met. If we removed Marshall, our community would suffer. All of us that have been encouraged by Marshall over the years would lose our sense of identity when he is no longer able to affirm our worth. Without Marshall being here, many of us would miss getting to witness God’s grace.

Grace sees the world the way that God wants us to see one another. Without judgments, without preconceptions, without fear, Grace loves the people around her with a pure heart. Even though Grace is very much a part of the church right now, she also embodies for many of us the hope of the church in the future. If we removed Grace, our vision would suffer. All of us that have been touched by her singing, or her discipleship, or even just her smiles, would no longer see the joy of worship and faith. Grace gives us the hope for committing ourselves to the ways of God. Without Grace being here, we would fail to enjoy God’s grace.


I’m sure that God’s Garden would suffer if any of them were removed, and I am sure that God’s Garden would wither and disappear if any of us were removed. We are not the gardener, that role can only belong to the triune God. When we look out on the abundance of produce in this church we are called to see one another the way God sees us, as the great grains of discipleship.

In Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds there is a tremendous emphasis on patience: let them both grow together until the harvest. Our church is made up of sinners and saints, weeds and wheat, and God has called us to grow in faith with one another. As we make our way through the years of communal living, we must be patient with one another.

On the surface level, Jesus’ parable can sound frightening and even disconcerting. The idea of the weeds being gathered at the harvest to be thrown in the fire scares me. But when I look out on God’s Garden here in our church, I am reminded that this is a story all about grace. In the strange world of the parable, in the strange world of being a Christian today, God prohibits our separation and calls us to live in love.

In the strange world of faith it may even be possible for weeds to become wheat.

Thanks be to God that Jesus Christ is the risen Lord who sows the good seed that becomes the church. Thanks be to God that we are nurtured and fed by the Word and the Spirit growing everyday in our fruitfulness for the kingdom and one another. Thanks be to God that we have been raised in faith, surrounded by such a wonderful community of witnesses, and rooted in the deep and rich soil of God’s grace.

Be patient with one another. Do not judge by outward appearance, or inward behavior. Look around at God’s Garden this morning and see the good seed that is growing, see the wheat of faith, see your fellow disciples that will one day shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father!