A sermon preached by David Barton on the Sixth Sunday after Trinity – 19 July 2020
For the second week running we have a farming parable! Last week the sower, this time healthy plants and pernicious weeds! Something every gardener will understand! At first it seems a little uncomfortable with those sharp distinctions between good and bad and their consequences. But when you look at the detail it’s more subtle. The Greek text tells us what the weed is – darnel. Darnel looks quite like wheat in its early stages. You can’t easily tell the difference. So notice the wise farmer: “Let’s see,” he says. “Give it time. Let them grow together”.
And this is a parable of the kingdom, Jesus’ Kingdom. In that kingdom all are welcome – the sick, the outcasts of society, people who had exploited others like the tax collectors of the day, even the convicted thief on the cross. Jesus forgiveness and compassion draws everyone in. And people are changed by his love. All of that’s built into the parable. But still, that ending, with its separating out: “The harvest is the end of the world and the reapers are the angels.”
The underlying theme of both today’s readings is growth – our growth. How will you and I deepen our Christian lives? Paul’s purpose, here and in all his letters, is that we should become more fully human, growing into the fullness of the humanity he saw in Jesus. So he urges us to dig down, below our usual self concern (that’s more or less what Paul means by “flesh”). Instead, reaching into God’s generous gifts of Grace.
And he points to those moments, at heart of our life as Christians, where we come face to face with God’s mystery: Abba, Father. In those moments, before a bible, or silently putting ourselves into God’s presence, we discover that we are, each one of us, a cherished, loved child of God, gifted with this extraordinary, wonderful world as our inheritance. In that love we are changed, healed and forgiven. The mess, the weeds of our lives are, bit by bit, transformed to something infinitely better and valuable.
But this is not just you and I reaping the harvest of life, it’s also about the way we look at the world and take our responsibilities in it. Things were never easy for Paul in his ministry. As we try to reshape our future after lockdown, we have considerable difficulties to face. But it is still God’s world, and it is shot through with God’s glory and power to change – that’s the point Paul is making here. Its as if Paul sees all creation waiting for us to wake up to that, and to draw out of it God’s power to heal. As if something better is almost within our grasp. Paul is clear: it would be a costly path. But the glory far outweighs the cost.
This is Paul, sketching out a vision that all Christians should carry in their minds. And that’s the quality of the parable we started with – a prophetic vision
Some years ago Roger Wagner painted this parable of the Wheat and the Tares in a picture he called: “The harvest is the end of the world, and the reapers are the angels.”
It’s a beautiful scene, everything shimmers with an inner light. The vast field stretches to the horizon. The shadows lengthen towards evening. The angels still wear their hats as they have been doing all day against the heat of the sun. Their wiry bodies still scythe the corn and bind it into neat bundles. Notice the wild flowers – at the edge of the field. And then the harvest: pure grain. No tares. Every stalk abundant, fruitful. God’s power to change. But look carefully. The shadow of the cross lies over this harvest. There is bruised, damaged grain. That too is part of the glory. Glory is not achieved without cost.
Two readings to ponder as we enter a rapidly changing world.