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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Introduction to Parables of the Kingdom


The readings set for the next few weeks have Jesus talking about the Kingdom of Heaven/God using the following words to introduce a number of parables…..

Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like…..

I would hope that after 3 years of my preaching, you are aware of the fact that Jesus spoke more about the Kingdom of God than he did about anything else. His very first words in his public ministry were: 

The kingdom of God is near, repent and believe the good news (gospel).

What is the good news……. the good news is, plain and simply, that the kingdom of God is near!

This was really good news to the Jewish hearers of Jesus’ preaching,…. they had waited 1000 years for God's kingdom to come…… and now a man stands in their midst and says: the kingdom of God is near.
And so it is that Trevor Hudson in a recent book (Discovering Our Spiritual Identity) says that the Gospel, the good news, is  nothing other than the availability of the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God is available to you and to me!

Friends, the good news is not…. that you have been forgiven your sins and will go to heaven when you die. No….. the good news is, the Gospel is….. the prophesied kingdom of God is available to you and to me…..now!
So what is this kingdom that is so near that with one step of faith you can enter into it?.....Getting back to Trevor, he says: the kingdom is where ever the loving will of the Father effectively reigns.
Another writer on the subject of the kingdom of God, Scot McKnight, says this: “the kingdom of God is the society in which the will of God is done.”

What this all means is that………
when a father welcomes back a prodigal son…… God's Kingdom comes and God's will is done!.....
When you or I refuse to hate an enemy, but rather to love an enemy….. God's Kingdom comes and God's will is done!.....
When you or I stop to help someone beaten up and left for dead on the roadside…….. God's Kingdom comes and God's will is done!.....
Jesus said on one occasion, and these words became the job description of the early Methodists, when you feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give the thirsty something to drink, visit the sick, visit prisoners, welcome strangers,…. whenever you do these things, God's Kingdom comes and God's will is done!

The Jewish Christian, David Stern, in his Jewish NewTestament Commentary suggests that the kingdom of God is in fact the presence of the future, and I love that definition and since I first heard it, it has become my favourite definition of the kingdom of God.....the presence of the future
We know that a time is coming when there will be no hunger, no thirst, no poverty, no sickness, and so on and so on…….. so when we do something now to alleviate these things, the future becomes the present. The promises of God become reality for the recipients of God's grace in Christ. In Christ we can experience the future…. now. The kingdom of God is the presence of the future.

Because the kingdom of God is so important, Jesus told many parables about it, so that folk could understand it, count the cost of entering into it and living the kingdom way,…. it's a costly lifestyle Jesus warns,…. and then they can make a choice and say: “I'm in. I am going to live the kingdom way.”
And when they make that choice, they are required to repent, which means turnaround from the world's way of living, and start living the kingdom way of living.

And so Jesus would often say: the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God, is like ......... 

Pentecost 7: Revised Common Lectionary Readings

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
27 July 2014
Read my sermon here

15 Laban said to him, “Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be.”
16 Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 Leah had weak[a] eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful. 18 Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.”
19 Laban said, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.” 20 So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.
21 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her.”
22 So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. 23 But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her. 24 And Laban gave his servant Zilpah to his daughter as her attendant.
25 When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?”
26 Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. 27 Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.”
28 And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife.

Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
    make known among the nations what he has done.
2 Sing to him, sing praise to him;
    tell of all his wonderful acts.
3 Glory in his holy name;
    let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
4 Look to the Lord and his strength;
    seek his face always.
5 Remember the wonders he has done,
    his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced,
6 you his servants, the descendants of Abraham,
    his chosen ones, the children of Jacob.
7 He is the Lord our God;
    his judgments are in all the earth.
8 He remembers his covenant forever,
    the promise he made, for a thousand generations,
9 the covenant he made with Abraham,
    the oath he swore to Isaac.
10 He confirmed it to Jacob as a decree,
    to Israel as an everlasting covenant:
11 “To you I will give the land of Canaan
    as the portion you will inherit.”
Praise the Lord

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, whohave been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.


31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
47 “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore.

Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
51 “Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked.
“Yes,” they replied.
52 He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”
Gospel Theme:
J ourneying with Jesus

Friday, July 18, 2014

Pentecost 6: Wheat and Weeds TOGETHER

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 139:1–12, 23–24 & Matthew 13:24–30, 36–43

This Sunday finds us moving from our Old Testament focus since Pentecost to a focus on the Gospel readings set in the lectionary, under the loose theme of Journeying with Jesus. The readings set for the next few weeks have Jesus talking about the Kingdom of Heaven/God using the following words to introduce a number of parables…..

Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like…..

I would hope that after 3 years of my preaching, you are aware of the fact that Jesus spoke more about the Kingdom of God than he did about anything else. His very first words in his public ministry were: 

The kingdom of God is near, repent and believe the good news (gospel).

What is the good news……. the good news is, plain and simply, that the kingdom of God is near!

This was really good news to the Jewish hearers of Jesus’ preaching,…. they had waited 1000 years for God's kingdom to come…… and now a man stands in their midst and says: the kingdom of God is near.
And so it is that Trevor Hudson in a recent book (Discovering Our Spiritual Identity) says that the Gospel, the good news, is  nothing other than the availability of the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God is available to you and to me!

Friends, the good news is not…. that you have been forgiven your sins and will go to heaven when you die. No….. the good news is, the Gospel is….. the prophesied kingdom of God is available to you and to me…..now!
So what is this kingdom that is so near that with one step of faith you can enter into it?.....Getting back to Trevor, he says: the kingdom is where ever the loving will of the Father effectively reigns.
Another writer on the subject of the kingdom of God, Scot McKnight, says this: “the kingdom of God is the society in which the will of God is done.”

What this all means is that………
when a father welcomes back a prodigal son…… God's Kingdom comes and God's will is done!.....
When you or I go out and seek a lost sheep and bring him or her back into God's fold….. God's Kingdom comes and God's will is done!.....
When you or I stop to help someone beaten up and left for dead on the roadside…….. God's Kingdom comes and God's will is done!.....
Jesus said on one occasion, and these words became the job description of the early Methodists, when you feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give the thirsty something to drink, visit the sick, visit prisoners, welcome strangers,…. whenever you do these things, God's Kingdom comes and God's will is done!

The Jewish Christian, David Stern, in his Jewish NewTestament Commentary suggests that the kingdom of God is in fact the presence of the future, and I love that definition and since I first heard it, it has become my favourite definition of the kingdom of God.....the presence of the future
We know that a time is coming when there will be no hunger, no thirst, no poverty, no sickness, and so on and so on…….. so when we do something now to alleviate these things, the future becomes the present. The promises of God become reality for the recipients of God's grace in Christ. In Christ we can experience the future…. now. The kingdom of God is the presence of the future.

Because the kingdom of God is so important, Jesus told many parables about it, so that folk could understand it, count the cost of entering into it and living the kingdom way,…. it's a costly lifestyle Jesus warns,…. and then they can make a choice and say: “I'm in. I am going to live the kingdom way.”
And when they make that choice, they are required to repent, which means turnaround from the world's way of living, and start living the kingdom way of living.

And so Jesus would often say: the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God, is like ......... and today we have one such parable. The parable of the wheat and weeds is what it is called in newer translations; in older translations it is called the parable of the wheat and the tares, which is in fact a better translation. To understand this parable better it is helpful to realise that the weeds that our translation refers to, refer to a poisonous ryegrass which was common in Israel and which looks just like wheat right up until the heads appear. 
The word translated as weeds in our translation should better be translated false rye or false wheat, which is what the tares of the older translations actually means. False rye is only identified when true rye forms its heads of wheat. It is only then that you realise you've got “weeds” or false rye, and if you then start stomping through your field, you cause a great deal of damage, trying to work out which is wheat and which is weed, and even more damage if you try and pull up the false wheat.

When this parable is read in the context of a gathering of the people of God like this, Jesus is really telling us that in the church there will always be wheat and……. weeds. And it will be very difficult, before the fruit appears, to tell the difference. 
It’s only at fruit bearing or obedience calling time that the fruit of the Christian life manifests…or doesn’t.
It is only when the fruit appears that the difference between wheat and weed is obvious.
 So,….when does fruit appear (or not) in us? There are several answers to this:
              fruit/obedience appears (or not) in us when you meet a beggar at an intersection
              fruit/obedience appears in us when a stranger asks you for help
              fruit/obedience appears in us when disaster strikes, or hardship, or suffering, or disease
              fruit/obedience appears in us when we are hit on one cheek
fruit/obedience appears in us when the offertory basket arrives
etc, etc, etc

In all of the above and of course in many other examples, our response will either be a Jesus/wheat/fruit of the Spirit response……. or it will be a weed response. It is when fruit appears that you can tell the difference between wheat and false wheat.
 
Jesus says until the time of really bearing fruit, which leads to the harvest, you won't always tell the difference between Christians and those who only claim to be Christians….between the faithful and the not faithful. We cannot tell the difference here this morning, can we?
 
Because wheat and weeds grow together, Jesus is also really saying here that not everything done in the name of Christianity is in fact a product of Christianity. Wheat and weeds.
Not everything done by ‘Christians’ is Christian. And we all know this don't we? Wheat and weeds.

And we see this all the time. It's just puzzling that we are so surprised when it happens!
Whenever you hear someone begin to say: “you know, so-and-so calls himself a Christian, but…….” you're about to hear of someone who claims to be wheat but acts like a weed, or so they say.

Our subject today is wheat and weeds…… which are you?
Let's not bother with what the person next to us is, that is a fruitless exercise…..popular amongst fruitless weeds.

Let us ask ourselves: What am I…….. wheat….. or weed?

One of the doctrines of Methodism is our doctrine of assurance, we can know before judgement day, before the harvest, whether we are wheat or weeds. God does not keep us in the dark about this.

If you are wheat, praise God! Praise him for his grace and his strength and his redeeming power, all of which are the only reason that you or I are wheat in the first place.

If you are weed……… there is good news for weeds in the Kingdom of God.

As you all know, parables don't always tell the whole story of the gospel….they are told to illustrate a particular point about the Kingdom, but seldom the whole truth of the kingdom, hence there are so many parables. The truth about weeds in the fields is plain and simply that a weed remains a weed and can never become wheat.
However, in the kingdom of God, all things are possible, and especially the conversion from weed to wheat, from bad to good, from evil to redeemed, from condemned but repentant prisoner on a cross next to Jesus to citizen of heaven in eternity, from Saul to Paul and so on and so on. In the kingdom of God, weed can be converted to wheat right up to the very end. So this parable, like all parables, doesn't give us the whole the story of the gospel,…. but Jesus does, and one of the reasons he wants the weeds left is because they might become wheat. Each one of us is probably praying for a weed that we love to convert to wheat….. carry on praying, because the Lord is in no hurry to rip up the weed, and we shouldn't be either. Let the wheat and weed grow together, says Jesus.
So there is good news for the weeds in our midst today.

There is good news for those of us who are confused right now. We might be thinking: I’m……… wheat….. but if I'm honest there is weed in me as well. And this is not uncommon; many Bible greats show us how weed can be in the life of someone who is great wheat. Think of King David and learn from King David (and Peter, Judas, Paul, Barnabas, Mark etc). Confess, repent and let the God who has redeemed you continue His perfecting work in you.

Finally I think there is a challenge for all of us: how good are you at living with, worshiping amongst, the weeds that are always in our midst. Let both grow together says Jesus. And so I think he is saying, let both worship together, let both do Bible study together, let both serve in the church together, let both be involved in mission together. How good are you at a living with weeds.
The wheat might well want to pull itself up and move to the field next door, the one that looks as if it is full of good soil, one that seems to have no weeds, which usually means that they are weeds that look just like us……….. but……. Jesus says here and on many other occasions: we don't have that choice when we decide to live the kingdom way. Let's both grow together. We cannot choose to remove ourselves from those in the kingdom who we find it difficult to get along with….of course they might decide to remove us from their midst before we want to be removed from their midst, but that is a weed action and not a wheat action. Similarly, sometimes wheat has to in Jesus words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet, but not before saying “the kingdom of God has come close to you.”….but that is not what Jesus is talking about in this parable either.
This parable demands that we reflect on whether we are like the people who just want to remove the weeds, to move away from the weeds, people who want a weedless environment, a weedless church and a weedless kingdom…………………………………..or are we like Jesus, who chose to live among weeds and to love weeds, who sought to welcome weeds like you and me, but who also never forced himself on weeds.....in his hometown he was questioned and doubted and asked to leave by the weeds, so He left. Are we like the Jesus who actually went out of his way to find the weediest field and weediest people he could, to visit them, to eat with them, to reach out to them and to offer the kingdom of God to them? That is the way of the kingdom, that is what the kingdom is like…………………. do you like this kingdom and its ways?

So, there is good news (gospel) today:

There is good news for wheat today: you will survive among the weeds, in fact part of the mystery of the Kingdom is that the weeds are actually good for us and we are good for them;
there is good news for weeds: God is in no hurry to remove you, but stop abusing His grace…………... choose Him and His kingdom today....repent, and believe the good news;
and there is good news for the wheat that sometimes acts like weed: repent…. turn that part of your life towards the kingdom. 


Wheat and Weeds………………………….in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.