Growing in Gardening
This long season of the Church Year called Pentecost is a time to grow. So this sermon is about growing in gardening, but we're not the gardeners, our Lord Jesus is. "The One who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man," says the text. We need to grow in our understanding and appreciation of His gardening because He gardens like in a way that at first seems strange.
Who lets weeds grow in their garden? Don't those of you who have a garden or flowerbed have an almost visceral reaction when you see even a single weed pop up among your vegetables or flowers? Can you even stand the thought of weeds sharing equal space with your good crops or pretty flowers? How many times has one of you said, "I've got to get outside and do some weeding."
So what kind of a gardener lets weeds grow? I'll tell you what kind: the gardener who doesn't care. He does all the work of tilling the soil, rowing it up, and planting, but when the garden starts to sprout, he looses interest. Other things command or demand his attention. He cares more for summer baseball, outings with the family, or even yard work than he does for his garden. This has happened to me. In the spring a garden seemed like a good idea. It was even fun to plant, but I just didn't care enough to weed it.
So what kind of gardener lets weeds grow? I'll tell you what kind: not just the kind who ends up not caring enough about his garden, but also the gardener who can't pull the weeds. That happens too you know. A gardener gets sick, weak, down and is not physically capable of pulling the weeds. O he wants to be out there doing it; he can't stand the sight of those weeds, but he's just too weak to pull them.
Here you see the problem our Lord's way of gardening presents to us. Unbelievers see it too, and they trumpet and crow as they smugly point it out. They see what you see in the world (And the garden we're talking about is the world not the Church. Jesus plainly says, "The field is the world."). They see that evil, worthless, hateful people are all over the world. You can pick up the newspaper everyday and find something or someone to shudder about. "So just where is your all powerful Lord? Just where is your all loving Lord," the bright unbeliever asks? "Look at all the weeds that your Lord lets grow," he points out. "Either you Lord is not all powerful to pull them or He is and just doesn't care enough to do it. You must choose one or the other. Either your Lord Jesus isn't strong enough to pull the weeds, or He doesn't care enough to do it. You can't say He is both all powerful and all loving," concludes the unbeliever.
We feel backed against a wall. We can't get our heads or our hearts around such a strange gardener as Jesus. Like the servants in the parable all we can do is ask incredulously, "Surely, Lord you must have sown only good seed in Your field? How then does it have weeds?" Our heads cannot fathom why He didn't stop the enemy from sowing the weeds in the first place. Sure the devil did it at night, but as we sing and Scripture says, "Day and night are both alike to Thee."
Our heads are bothered by the fact that Jesus didn't stop the devil from sowing the weeds who are the sons of the evil one who cause sin and do evil, but our hearts are bothered by the fact He doesn't instantly root them up. The weeds of the world shake their tiny fists in the face of the Almighty God with impunity. They say, "God doesn't see; God doesn't care. Look what we're able to do and nothing happens to us. The Church preaches judgment on sin, but what happens to us? His weak followers cower because of their sins and sinfulness while we revel in our's but nothing happens. They preach God's judgment on unbelief, taking the Lord's name in vain, not hearing the Word, and on hating, lying, and sexual sins. But nothing happens to us."
And you know what? Their blasphemies strike a chord in us, or at least in me. I find myself thinking and praying like a weed, like an unbelieving son of the evil one. All my puny little heart and head can think is: "Lord's garden good; weeds bad. He must pull the weeds now." Demanding the Lord pull those weeds now needs to be repented of. That's speaking as a weed. It's the sons of the evil one who demanded things from Jesus. They demanded more signs then the miracles He did, and they stood at the foot of the holy cross and demanded Jesus come down from there.
We neither want to speak as weeds nor think like weeds. Weeds think God's patience is weakness or worse forgiveness. Patience can look like weakness. God let the Amorites go 600 years before bringing His just judgment down upon them. He let the evil sons of Egypt oppress his people for a 100 years. He let the Jewish nation that had rejected Him, crucified Him and mocked Him to death go 40 more years in their sins before He totally destroyed them.
Worse still is when sons of the evil one think patience is forgiveness. It can indeed look like that. When the Son of Man answers the request of His servants to pull up the weeds instantly, He replies, "Let both grow." The Greek word translated "let" in this context certainly means that, but it is the same Greek word translated other places as "forgive." Yes, sons of the evil one not only mistake God's patience for weakness, they can also mistake it as forgiveness. Because their sins are not instantly punished, because the hand of God does not plunge from heaven and pull up their miserable sinful life instantly, they can think God is forgiving them. Repent of thinking like a weed. The fact that God lets men go on in their sinfulness is no more an indication that He forgives them than it is of His being weak.
If we are to grow in our appreciation of how our Lord gardens, we have to return to a basic gardening principle. Endings are more important than beginnings. You've seen that with vegetables or flowers, haven't you? A plant has a poor beginning only to have a very fruitful ending or it has a very prosperous beginning only to disappoint you in the end. Ending are more important than beginnings.
Jesus says that in the end we servants of His will see and appreciate how His garden has grown all along. Jesus shows us the end of His gardening in the end of this parable which is the end of the world which we reach in every Communion service. The parable ends with the coming of Jesus to judge the living and the dead. Our Communion service celebrates and anticipates this coming. "Come Lord Jesus" which you recognize as our common table prayer is the prayer the last Book in the Bible ends with, and "Come Lord Jesus" is how the prayer of the early Church before Communion ended.
Only at the end will we see what has really been going on during this time when our Lord Jesus looked so weak or heartless. And by faith we see this ending now as we celebrate His Supper. Here, in His Supper our Jesus returns to earth bodily in Bread and Wine. Here He comes in forgiveness for sons and daughters of the kingdom but in judgment for sons and daughters of the evil one. In the Holy Communion, Jesus makes a distinction between those who are His and those who are not, forgiving the one and judging the other.
Ah, but here too Jesus appears weak, doesn't He? No bright lights flash in the Communion service, no trumpets sound. Even if a son or daughter of the evil one dares to approach the Lord, he or she doesn't drop dead; they're not plucked up instantly and thrown into the fire, though they certainly deserve to be. God operates in weakness in this fallen world. He came not in terrors as the King of kings when He came the first time. He came in flesh and blood through a Virgin's womb. Rather than making people pay for their sins, He paid for them in their place. Rather than demanding they fulfill the Law, He fulfilled the Law in their place. Rather than laughing at His enemies as the Psalms say God does from heaven, God the Son on earth allowed His enemies to laugh at Him. Rather than making His enemies suffer, bleed and die as they will on the Last Day to all eternity, Jesus suffered, bled and died for them.
What would cause the all powerful God to come in such weaknesses? What could cause the all powerful God to do what sinners were suppose to do and die the death they deserved? It's love. Likewise, Jesus leaves the weeds in His garden not for the love of the weeds but the for the love of the wheat. Jesus tells the servants who want to root up the weeds not that they may root up the wheat but that they will, no doubt about it, root it up. So the all powerful Jesus doesn't root up the weeds instantly not because He doesn't love us enough, but because He loves us too much. Sure, it's too much. The all-powerful, all-loving God would rather appear weak and unloving than uproot one of us from the faith.
So this picture we often have of us just barely hanging on to our salvation couldn't be further from the truth. We've been planted by the Lord Jesus in His field. Though we see evil weeds all around us threatening to choke us, to blot out the light, trying to make us despair of the love and power of our Lord, they will not harm us. But this we know only by faith now. It won't be till the Last Day that we will see our Lord separating weeds from the wheat as easily, as surely, as completely as we weed a garden or flower bed now.
Jesus appears to garden in a funny way to this fallen world, but you who garden have done likewise. You've let a weed that appeared in the midst of your tomato or flower keep on growing knowing that if you pulled it up the roots of your beloved plant would come too. I'm sure a passerby thought "Here must be a gardener who doesn't care or one who is too weak to pull weeds," but the truth is here is a gardener who loves his plant so much he is willing to look like a careless, weak gardener for its sake. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost IX (20050717); Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43