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Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 • July 17, 2011
Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.
Bob Pettigrew in a reflection called, “The Good, the Bad, and the Indifferent” tells a story of a congregation who hires a new financial secretary. This new staff member grew up in this particular congregation and was thrilled to be returning home from the big city and leaving the fast paced ladder climbing business world behind. This was a fantastic opportunity to return to her hometown and work in her home church that she remembered and loved so fondly.
Shortly after she began working, the chair of the congregation’s stewardship board asked her to send out the quarterly financial giving statements to all members of the congregation, just as it had been done before. When she did this, the good people of the congregation that she loved so much turned into monsters. The phone calls, e-mails, and anonymous letters with complaints started pouring in almost immediately.
– Complaints about the music…it’s too loud…it’s too soft.
– The air conditioning…it’s too hot…it’s too cold.
– One complaint was even about the way people dressed and behaved in worship. She was asked by someone if she was as appalled as they were that some people in the congregation have the nerve to wear shorts in the sanctuary.
– Several complained about some of the pastors sermons. What was the pastor doing last weekend with that sermon? That was the worst example of preaching I have ever heard. Maybe next week, I’ll call ahead to see who’s preaching.
– Etc. etc. etc.
“Is this really the congregation I grew up in?” thought the new financial secretary to herself.
A little less than a year later, she handed her resignation letter over to the senior pastor and the congregation’s council president. “I can’t take it anymore,” she said,
“the backbiting, the complaining, the mean spiritedness of some of the members
of this congregation. It’s really gotten to me. Give me the business world any day!”
The senior pastor didn’t say a word. Instead he read her a story from the Bible. In it, Jesus shares a parable about a newly planted field of wheat.
I’ve had two texts from Matthew’s gospel flowing through me this week. The first is from a text that we heard in worship just a few weeks ago. In Matthew 11 Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” This was the gospel reading that was heard at a funeral this week that I was privileged to preside at.
The second text is what we just heard a few minutes ago. A parable from Jesus about wheat and weeds and pulling the weeds and separating them from the wheat and a furnace of fire and weeping and gnashing of teeth.
It would be very easy for me after this past week, walking with a family and the entire Bismarck police department through overwhelming grief following a tragic death, to offer a polarizing and political sermon. To stand before you and say that I have seen weeds lately and let me tell you about the difference between wheat and weeds.
So, I hope you can understand and will walk with me a little as we hear the good
news of Matthew’s gospel calling for rest and peace and a fiery furnace and judgment. Both texts reveal much about the recent experiences that you and I share as brothers and sisters in Christ living together in the community of Bismarck. We’ve experienced unexplainable and destructive flooding of friends and neighbors, here and in other parts of North Dakota, and in many cases, even in our own homes; and the shock and grief of an entire community following the tragic
killing of a Bismarck Police Officer while on duty.
It is easy for us to point to someone else and say, “look at them,” even though we may be the ones acting like the people that the financial secretary encountered. It is much more difficult to say “Look at me. I am part of those encounters.” Or another way to express it may be to say, “Which one are you? The wheat or the weeds?”
It’s important to see Jesus’ parables not necessarily as a pat on the back, but as a kick in the pants. They are not always comforting, but hopefully they challenge us and change us.
Now, I hope you know me well enough by now, to know that I do not feel called as one of your pastors to burden you with guilt that you will carry with you as you leave worship today. And I hope you know me well enough by now to know that I have experienced many times with more weeds in my heart and life of faith than wheat. The good news of the gospel for me, and for each of you, is that in times of heavy burden – when the weeds far outweigh the wheat; when we are weary and needing rest, we must always remember that we are not alone. Jesus is with each one of us along the way.
I think you and I have carried more burdens than usual lately – weeds, waters, wheat, tragic death. In the last week I have received literally hundreds of e-mails, phone calls, text messages, and visits from members in this congregation and around the community of Bismarck with words and prayers of encouragement and support. Thank you.
I hope and pray that as we experience wheat or weeds; burdens or weariness in our life, we always remember that as followers of the risen Jesus Christ, we are never alone.
I close today, simply. With words from a prayer first offered centuries ago by one of the church’s most significant and visionary figures. This prayer from Saint Francis of Assisi.
Let us pray,
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” Thanks be to God. Amen.