The Gospel: Matthew 13:24-30,36-43
Jesus put before the crowd 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.’”
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 up with fire, so will it 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!”
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that you have inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation, and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: So, as we begin our journey through the Scriptures, set for today, can I say that I believe that the keyword for the morning is discernment? Now discernment comes in many forms and I want to, for the purpose of this morning's message, focus on spiritual discernment. I believe that is vitally important in our world to know that we have that gift. We are being called upon to recognize that we have been given the ability to exercise spiritual discernment.
A short definition of Christian discernment is: "perception in the absence of judgment with a view to obtaining spiritual guidance and understanding." So, when it comes to reading Scripture, we have the ability, to obtain spiritual guidance and understanding.
We can read scripture and we can discern, i.e. exercise discernment, through that reading, on how to reach conclusions. When we do practice spiritual discernment we will often receive inspiration and life-forming or life-shaping information on which to base decisions.
I thought that it was interesting in the definition above it said: "perception in the absence of judgment." This absence of judgment can be applied in a couple of different ways.
We may go to someone and ask them to help us with our discernment of a situation. We may have several options and we need help deciding which option we should follow through on. We depend on the person we are talking to not to judge us and to provide some impartial advice.
Another way we can apply an absence of judgment is when we are working alongside others in society or the community. Even when we come together to work in the church. As we seek to exercise discernment in planning and carrying out plans or programs we need to be willing o sometimes suspend our judgments of others if we are going to achieve our ultimate goal.
Then, another way that we can apply the absence of judgment is when I have to say that we need to exercise that discipline of "the absence of judgment" when we come to our reading of Scripture.
When we read Scripture we can gain insight, but we have to exercise our discernment. We have to be prepared to come to the text without preconceived attitudes or opinions. Now, I know that is not an easy thing to do, but I want to encourage us this morning to consider how our insights into scripture, our reflection on the characters or stories in scripture, and ultimately our faith journey may be affected by our own judgments.
To help us understand what I talking about this morning I would like to suggest that we spend some time considering the word disgruntled. Now this is not a word we use a lot in general conversation. Sure, it comes up once in a while, but in the world, we live in we are more likely to say we are mad, or angry. To me disgruntled has a broader and more all-encompassing sense about it. It is not just one emotion we are dealing with, but several emotions and they are interconnected and entwined and relate to circumstances.
My online dictionary defines it this way: "If you are disgruntled, you are angry and dissatisfied because things have not happened the way that you wanted them to happen." The last part of the definition is the key to understanding what I am suggesting this morning: "....things have not happened the way that you wanted them to happen." There is the judgment part of the situation. I/we have made a judgment call, about how things should work out, and when they don't work the way we think they should we become disgruntled.
Our scriptures for this morning offer us fertile ground for considering how we might exercise discernment. We are following the life of Jacob in our Genesis readings.
We are only given glimpses and snatches of his life when we come together and hear the Scriptures on a Sunday morning. It would be easy to develop a picture of Jacob's character based on the things we hear about him on Sunday morning.
To get a full picture we need to read the whole story. Jacob is presented as a complicated and complex character. He manipulates his father and his brother and he steals his brother's birth rite. He then runs away to avoid facing the consequences of his actions.
Yet, despite all that, God's hand is upon him. We get a glimpse of what God has in store for him in the reading this morning. Before this reading, it would be easy to count Jacob out of consideration for any leadership role. We have to set aside our own judgments and we must exercise spiritual discernment to truly understand what God is doing in and through the life of Jacob.
Why, despite all that we can so easily see about Jacob, does God exercise patience and extend grace to this obviously flawed person?
Then when we come to the reading from Romans we have a great opportunity to exercise discernment. By all normal and obvious measurements, we have absolutely no reason to believe that we have any chance of any hope. We know as Paul says over and over again, how we have failed. We know what we deserve in any kind of righteous evaluation of our lives and our ability to be or act righteously.
Yet Paul says: " When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ..."
We are free from the bondage of sin and death. Not only that but we are heirs. alongside Christ. of all that he will inherit. How about that for an absence of judgment?
Of course, we also have to exercise discernment when it comes to the evidence of our right standing with God. Because the evidence is suffering. Wait what? Why do I say that? Well, the paragraph that I just read about us being heirs ends this way: "... if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him."
Paul goes on to say: "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us." Then later he says: " ...but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies." It takes discernment to grasp and understand all of that. Sometimes it also takes time and patience.
Now I haven't left much time to look at the Gospel this morning, but I am hoping that you will be intrigued by this concept and you might have some impetus to sit down with the reading from Matthew and exercise some spiritual discernment.
Let me just say that I believe that Jesus is challenging those he was speaking to, those who heard this story later, and us, to exercise spiritual discernment about our hearing and thinking about this story.
The question I would like you to consider when you sit down with that cup of coffee, a pen, and the reading from Matthew is: "Who are we in this story?" This story is often called the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares. Tares, meaning weeds, or bad things, which have grown up among the wheat.
For me, this is a little bit like in those old cowboy movies where you could always tell the good guys from the bad guys. You know how right? The good guys always wore white hats, and the bad guys always wore black ones.
I know that I am always generous with myself when I read or hear, these parables. I generally see myself wearing a white hat. I automatically make myself the good guy in the story.
So, when I first heard this parable I thought why doesn't Jesus just tell them to pull up the weeds and get rid of them? Obviously, we can tell the difference and they need to be removed and discarded. But Jesus is calling for the opportunity for spiritual discernment. He is calling for taking time and exercising patience.
He is asking us to exercise spiritual discernment and to allow him, the one who planted the seeds, to discern what - or who - are the wheat and what - or who - who are the tares.
Let us all hear Jesus' final words in this parable: " Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!"
Bishops & Father Mike