Eighth Sunday after Pentecost Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

We must be informed by the stories and parables that Jesus told. His wheat and weeds story gives us two fundamental facts.  First, the passage we just read is about God; and second, God is responsible for Creation.  This simple and non-scientific story tells that God created the world, and we do not have to know how, or what God was doing before he created the world.  All that is unimportant.

And think of the characters in the bible — pious and prayerful, willing workers, incorruptible prophets – plus murderers and adulterers – (King David takes first place there) — crooks and cheats, women who were available for a price. All of them have a place in God’s story. His garden was spoiled by our spiritual ancestors.  God called Abraham, Moses, and Isaiah to play out their parts.  God’s people were carried into captivity.  God is always the center of the story.

God may have a quarrel with his people, but it is a lover’s quarrel, and they remain his people. Their story is nothing unless it is his story.

God uses Isaiah to tell the trembling and helpless people in exile they have nothing to be afraid of. In fact, he put his reputation on the line by inviting comparison, even a contest, with other gods. God says to the people who think He has abandoned them, “Do not fear or be afraid.  You are my witnesses.”  God has declared himself to be their judge, but also their redeemer and their savior.

The kingdom of this world, of which we are part, is the stage upon which God tells his story. God will see that the enemy, the forces of evil, will not be allowed to triumph.   The weeds of this world will not win.  Whatever weeds grow in our lives will not overcome us.  God will see that his crop is harvested.

The second fundamental truth is this: God is in charge. Jesus had that idea in mind in the parable.  The disciples were discouraged after their visits to the villages around the countryside. After all, they went as sheep among wolves.  The wonder is that they were able to come back at all.  But in their discouragement, Jesus told the story of wheat and weeds.  He answers the question: Whose kingdom is it?

We reel and stagger from daily disasters, whether soldiers killing their own lovers or wives, or teen-age shootings or racist murders or border crossings ending in death in a truck — just plain meanness, or sudden catastrophic illness, not to mention political chaos at the highest levels. Jesus does not answer the question of evil in the world, or why God allows sin and destruction and terrorism, or why God doesn’t make my life happy and calm instead of one aching agonizing crisis after another.   Does anyone ask, “If God loves me, why doesn’t he protect me from harm?”

Jesus tells the story of wheat and weeds to show that God’s kingdom will triumph. God tells the owner of the farm to be patient.  There are weeds in every field, whether we speak of home life, or marriage partners, or employment, or friends or relatives, or heaven forbid, even congregational life. Perhaps there is no place and no time in life, no single decision in the heart or mind of anybody that is pure and clean and without some kind of blemish or hidden agenda.

A famous Methodist bishop said many a congregation has the idea that the right pastor can solve its problems. So if prevailing problems are not solved shortly after his or her arrival, some will say the bishop made a mistake and must send another pastor. People – whether pastors or lay people — who are well acquainted with a large number of pastors, already know there is no perfect pastor.

Or turn that around. Do some pastors believe that if they were pastor of a so-called good congregation, then their leadership would make wheat grow in abundance and all the weeds would just fade away?

Truth is, there are no perfect congregations or pastors. And heaven forbid to think there are many imperfections in our homes and families and among our closest friends. Some marriages and relationships may appear to be made in heaven, but behind closed doors?

And children, or grandchildren, who look so fresh from heaven when they are asleep, can become little monsters at least once in a while.

The beginning of wisdom is an acceptance of imperfection in situations and people. As Paul writes in Romans 3:3 – “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

These imperfections, shortcomings, or disastrous realities, whether in others or us can be dealt with because God is in charge. The world is his field, his world.  He will deal with the weeds in his fashion, and in his own good time.  He will reap where he has sown.  To say God is in charge does not give us the right to quit and wait for him to bring us pie out of the sky.

God will take care of his own in this life, but it is ridiculous to pray for long life and good health and then eat and drink all the wrong foods and not take appropriate exercise. Just as the farmer plows and plants, so we each must look to our personal responsibilities.

In the 1950s, I took two young lads to an old-fashioned orphanage inVirginia. We hoped life there would change them.  The attention of the older boy was directed to a banner that hung just over the stairs.  It read, “What I am to be, I am now becoming.”

The statement is true for us all. We never finish growing on this earth toward what we shall become in the world beyond. The seeds of faith are already at work in us here and now. The kingdom of God is both hidden and revealed, leading us toward what we shall become.

The parable says there is a continuum between planting and the reaping. If we expect to come to the day of reaping, we must take every step to see that the field is in the process of becoming what God has promised. According to God’s plan, these seeds are growing toward the day of harvest.  Since this is God’s story, the weeds are God’s concern, not ours.

That fact gives me another simple statement for faith and life: Salvation is God’s business. To say that salvation is God’s work is to be assured again of our adoption in our baptism, and that in the Body and Blood of our Lord, God forgives our sins.

God’s story and ours are intertwined. The church, and the point of faith as individuals, does not have private, individual self-centered salvation as their  goal. Nothing is more disastrous for personal faith than to be hung up on the question of whether God is saving me.  I am as persuaded as I know how that our business in the church is not our own salvation.

The business of the church is to pay attention to God. It is our business to pray, to worship, to rehearse and review and meditate on the goodness of God as He is present in the world. It is our business to be part of the community of faith that Jesus left behind.

As Luther wrote when he defined the faith for those who would be called Lutherans, “Creation is past and redemption is accomplished, but the Holy Spirit carries on his work unceasingly until the last day.

“For this purpose he has appointed a community of faith, through which he speaks and does all his work. For he has not yet gathered all his Christian people, nor has he completed the granting of forgiveness.

“Therefore we believe in him who daily brings us into this community through the Word, and imparts, increases, and strengthens faith through the same Word and the forgiveness of sins.

“Then when his work has been finished and we abide in it, having died to the world and all evil, he will finally make us perfectly and eternally holy. We now wait in faith for this to be accomplished through the Word,” he concludes.

We leave God’s business of salvation to him alone. The world is his field. He has already sent Jesus Christ who died as the Lamb of God, the scapegoat in our place, given over to sin, death, and evil in order to rise as conqueror of them all.

In God alone we find refuge, comfort, and strength for the future. It is our responsibility to remain faithful to God.  Life is God’s field.  He alone will call for the harvest because He is in charge.

The Bible tells God’s story. Our salvation is God’s business.   Therefore, do not fear. Do not be afraid.