Blessings, Weeds, and Suffering
July 19, 2020*
By Pastor John Partridge
Genesis 28:10-19a Romans 8:12-25 Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
If we can’t have church, how can we be the church?
If I am a member of the church, is there something that I should be doing for the church?
Can my faith in Jesus help me to understand, or even just to cope, with the craziness and suffering that is going on because of the Coronavirus (or anything else)?
In the middle of the chaos caused by the Coronavirus, some of the questions that gets kicked around revolve around the church. What should the church be doing? What should its members be doing? Does our faith in Jesus Christ make any difference in how we ought to respond to the world, to the news, or to our leadership? And, while I certainly don’t have all the answers, and we surely won’t have time to talk about all of the possibilities, or all of the relevant scriptures, today’s lectionary passages are enough to give us plenty to think about. We begin in Genesis 28:10-19a, where Jacob has an encounter with the God of his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham and in which God reiterates a blessing that he had promised to Abraham, and by doing so reemphasizes that the promise had not only been passed down to him, but that it would continue pass through his descendants.
10 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. 11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”
18 Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel.
God meets Jacob and he promises that he will give the land, upon which he sleeps, to Jacob and to his descendants. But more than that, God promises that those descendants would multiply, spread out in all directions, and become so numerous that God’s blessing would flow through them and into the entire world. Of course, as Christians, we believe that not only has this prophecy been fulfilled by the growth and expansion of the Jewish nation, but also specifically through Jacob’s descendant Jesus. And therefore, from our perspective, the blessing of God flows through Jacob, down to Jesus, and through Jesus, flows into the world of today… through us.
But so, what? Why does that matter? What difference does it make if we are numbered among the descendants of God’s blessing to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? It matters, and it makes a difference, because the world is also full of weeds. What do I mean by weeds? Listen to what Jesus had to say in the parable found in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43:
24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time, I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.
Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven, in other words, the world in which we live, is like a field that has been planted. The good seed is the people of the kingdom of God and that seed was planted by Jesus. The weeds are the people who are controlled, or manipulated, or deceived, by the evil one, the enemy of God. In the fields, and in the world, and even in the church, it can be almost impossible to tell the difference between the weeds and the wheat. But as the plants mature, it becomes obvious what kind of fruit they will bear. This is a story about God’s judgement at the end of time. Jesus says that the angels will know which people are bearing good fruit and which are weeds and that the weeds will be pulled out, sorted, and separated from the good fruit, and burned in the fire. As we have seen in other passages, when we become mature, we will be known, and judged, by what kind of fruit we produce.
But what does that have to do with being the descendants of Jacob, and the followers of Jesus?
The “So what” question is answered by Paul in Romans 8 and there he also explains what our faith matters in times when life is difficult, during pandemics, or worse. (Romans 8:12-25)
12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.
14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that[h] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
Paul says that, as the church, we do not have an obligation to live well or to pursue comfort and the satisfaction of our fleshly desires. But we do have an obligation to live according to the Spirit, to live as if our faith really mattered, to do the things that Jesus taught, be the kind of people that Jesus has called us to be, and to do the work that that Jesus has called us to do. Paul reminds us that we are God’s children. We are the adopted sons and daughters of the family of God. We are the heirs, the inheritors, of God’s blessing, and co-heirs with Jesus. But being heirs with Jesus means that we not only share in God’s riches and glory, but that we also share in the suffering of Jesus.
The present suffering of this world, our present suffering in this world, no matter how bad things get (and Paul was absolutely, intimately, familiar with just how bad things could get), simply do not compare to the glory that we will see as our reward and as our inheritance. But for the present, we live in a creation that is the frustrated, tangled, twisted, perverted, and corrupted reality of the creator’s perfect creation. Yes, we are enduring the chaos caused by the Coronavirus. Yes, our culture is in turmoil. Yes, our own denomination is tearing itself apart. Yes, there is unemployment, and suffering. Yes, our lives are chaotic, unsettled, and uncertain. But Paul, and the people of his time, and his world, knew chaos and suffering too. We live in this present, but like Paul and the church that he knew, we live with the hope that creation will one day be redeemed, rescued, and liberated from its bondage to decay. We look forward to the day when, not only the world, but we too will be redeemed and made perfect.
Through Jesus, we are the descendants of Jacob, and the inheritors of God’s blessing. And while we live in a world that is filled with weeds, enemies, frustrations, disasters, bad governments, and outright evil, we look forward to something so much better that we are able to look past the suffering of the present and into a future filled with glory and light. But while we are here, in this present time, we have an obligation to be and to do. We are called to live according to the Spirit of God, to be the kind of people that Jesus called us to be, to live the way that Jesus lived, and to do the work that Jesus did. We are called to live lives that look like Jesus, lives that reveal Jesus to the people around us, to love the people around us like Jesus did, and to do the work that Jesus did. Yes, the fields are full of weeds, but until the time comes for the harvesters to separate the weeds from the wheat, our calling is to nurture the seeds that have been scattered. Those seeds surround us in our families, in our community, in our places of employment, and everywhere we go. Many of those seeds can still be saved.
Although we aren’t meeting together in a church building, we have never stopped being the church. Every day, whenever, and wherever we can, we must look for opportunities to be Jesus to the world. We must do what we can to relieve the suffering that we see; and help the people around us who are struggling in any way that we can.
Despite the chaos that surrounds us, we must keep moving forward.
This week look for ways that you can help. Send a card, call, donate food, mow someone’s grass, buy groceries for an unemployed neighbor, maybe even pay somebody’s rent. In big ways or small ways, let us answer the call to show the love of Jesus to those around us.
And let us keep our eyes…
Have a great week everybody.
You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/Y8cHcw79Uuo
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online). These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.