By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
July 19, 2020
Matthew 13:24–30 (ESV)
24 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’ ”
Matthew 13:36–43 (ESV)
36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
Last week we spoke about the parable of the soils. That parable is something that speaks to the very heart of my soul. The farm, no matter how long I live in the city, will always be home. There is something about that life that holds an attraction to me. To wake up in the morning, leave the house and make a living by providing the food and fiber for the world. The farmer goes out and tends to the soils. To a farmer the soil is the key to their success. A good farmer will care for their soil, they will do all they can to ensure the soil will continue to produce for several generations. They build terraces to prevent erosion, they will rotate crops to keep ensure that weeds will not get too established, and they will promote the health of the soil with nutrients in the form of fertilizers. As the world is focused on climate change and how to prevent further issues, they often forget that one of their greatest allies in the fight is the farmer.
The sower in last week’s parable, was a farmer that tended the soils. The farmer looks at their soils and they make every attempt to remove rocks, rid the soil of weeds, and to break up those hard places so that the seeds that they plant will grow well to produce much fruit. The farmer will work tirelessly attempting to provide as much quality produce as they possibly can, but there are always factors outside of their control. In today’s parable, Jesus again takes an agricultural approach.
“The Kingdom of haven may be compared,” Jesus begins. Often when we think of the kingdom, we get the idea that Jesus is speaking of that glorious time beyond the veil we call death. The kingdom is much greater that that. We think of kingdoms as being land or a nation, but it is more than that. A kingdom be a scope of influence. The kingdom of heaven is not just a place, but a way of life. This is what the majority of Jesus’ ministry focused on. He made it his custom to worship with the community in the synagogues, enjoying the celebrations and worship done in those places. He would even worship within the temple because we are told that he made the customary pilgrimages to Jerusalem at the appointed times. He would withdraw to isolated places to pray but would not remain in that isolated place He would go out into to community teaching, healing and at times feeding those around him. When Jesus taught, he would often challenge the contemporary understanding or interpretation of scripture. This threatened the influence of those within the seats of power, both within the civil and religious realms. He threatened their kingdom because the influence that they held over people began to change as people looked at the lifestyle Jesus showed.
The people that listened to Jesus, began to have their attentions turned from the kingdom or influence of the temple, or that of Rome and began to look at things from a different perspective. The perspective Jesus taught was one that was focused on heaven, the realm of God. Jesus compares this influence to a field. And we have a flash back to last week’s parable, and the sower is out in the field scattering good seed.
Last week we talked about the soil. The farmer was out tending the soil prior to scattering the seeds, to make the field fit for seed. There were things within the field that were causing problems, outside influences. Restrictions, worries, and birds that hinder the seed or influence of God from taking root in a life. This week Jesus looks at the seed.
The kingdom of heaven is compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While I was studying in college, I held a job at the Kansas State University Research Station, while there I assisted the research in many ways, but mainly I prepared samples for research. I would spend hours counting seed and removing contaminates, and I would also take samples of various dried plants and grind them into powders so that we could analyze the nutritional content. The care of the samples was important because the needed to know that each sampling was as similar as possible. When I prepared the seeds to plant the researcher needed to know that the seed was as uniform and good as possible so that the seed factor would not as much of a factor in the end result of the research.
Clean seed is one of the most important aspects of farming. When planting wheat you can save seed from the previous year’s crop, but there is a risk in doing this. When you save seed from your field you save along with it the seeds of weeds, and potentially fungus and other diseases, along with insect eggs. The farmer will inspect the fields and find the area that appears to have the least problems and save the grain from that area, but the risk remains. After the seed has been saved, they then must decide if the seed was clean enough, because by planting your own seed you run the risk of spreading weeds and disease throughout your entire farm. This is where a choice must be made, to plant seed you grew yourself is by far the least expensive route to go but has greater risk. To alleviate some of the risk you can pay someone to clean the seed. This is a process that moves the seed through a series of screens that have various opening sizes. Each plant has different sizes of seeds and they have different shapes and other features so as the seeds move along these screens some fall and others stay on top, and as the seeds are moved about they also use a fan to blow lighter weight particles out. At the end of the process you have a uniform batch of seed that is nearly weed free, but not does it account for potential diseases. If you are worried about disease that might affect the germination of the seed, you can add a fungicide to the seed that will provide some protection, but there is even risk to this. If you kept more seed than you needed you can always sell what is left, but if it has been treated with a fungicide the seed cannot be sold because poses a risk of poisoning. The final option regarding wheat seed is to buy certified seed from a dealer. This is seed that has been verified, treated, and guaranteed but this is the most expensive route to go and is usually only done when a farmer has a desire to plant a different variety of wheat.
We only think that farming is simple. I mention this because Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. Good seed takes time and a great deal of effort. It takes discipline. In last week’s parable one of the issues of the soil was weeds that choked out the seed, and Jesus explained that the seeds that were scattered among the weeds or thorns heard the word but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word and it proves unfruitful. This is where last week and this week come together.
If we want to be fruitful for the kingdom, it takes some effort. The truth of the gospel is that we are saved by grace through faith not by works. But scripture also challenges us to show our faith through our work. On the surface it might appear that scripture contradicts itself, but those two statements are speaking from different perspectives. We cannot save ourselves no matter how hard we try, but if we are saved the way we live will no longer be the same, so there will be a change in what we do. When I suggest that to be fruitful for the kingdom it takes effort, it means that we need to work with Christ as he works in us. If we want to have the scripture written on our hearts, we need to at least let the scripture in through our eyes or ears. If we want to have God answer our prayers, scripture tells us we need to pray even though we may not know what to say, and that God already knows what we need. We need to work with Christ to remove the weeds not only from the field but from the seed.
When I was around ten years old, my dad had an opportunity to sell some alfalfa seed. Alfalfa is a plant that is not like wheat, because alfalfa is a perennial meaning it will continue to grow for several years. The seed of alfalfa is extremely small, I think the mustard seeds we have here are larger than the seeds of alfalfa. We went to our shed every evening and we worked on cleaning this seed, and it was hard work. We put the screens in the machine and poured all the seed through and collected everything that came out in various containers. Then we would change the screen again and would repeat the process. After going through this for days on end, we eventually came out with a barrel full of alfalfa seed that was ready to sell. When my dad sold the seed, he gave each of some of the money. He took us to the bank, and we opened an account. It was more money than I knew existed at that time. And the first thing my dad told us was that God gave us that opportunity and we should thank God before anything else, and that is how my dad taught me to support the ministry of the church. Yes, I put in a lot of work, but it was God that provided the opportunity and we gave a tithe to God to thank him for that blessing. My dad then gave us another lesson, he asked us what we wanted to do when we got older and we all thought about it a great deal. And I told him that I wanted to go to college, but I could not decide if I wanted to be an astronaut or a jet pilot. He said you know you have time to decide, but if I wanted to go to college then we would have to plan. It was from the money I earned from cleaning alfalfa seed, that I bought my first cow, and that cow started the herd that would eventually pay for my education. And I did not become an astronaut or a jet pilot. But those seeds were really what began my journey of life. Those seeds, good seeds showed me the blessing God had given me and taught me how to prepare for the future.
Those seeds fell on the fields of my life, and I would have to say that they did grow, but that does not mean that there has not been hardship along the way. Weeds have entered the fields of my life. The cares of the world creep in, and at times I face financial hardships that are unavoidable or self-inflicted. At times I am not as fruitful as I could be.
Jesus said, “the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.” I want us to imagine this story. All the work that is done to prepare the field, all the work that is required to prepare and clean the seed. The sower of this story and those that help him are tired. They have labored for days to get everything right. The hot sun has beat down on their backs as they dig up rocks and till the soil to break up the hardened paths and to eliminate the weeds. They have tossed the seed up into the air to allow the wind to carry away the chaff, and they have shaken then gain through screens to remove as many weed seeds as possible. They have labored, and when the field is planted, they go to sleep, because they have earned it. And as the plants grow, they notice that along with the wheat is something else. All their labor seems to have failed. And they are discouraged.
While they were sleeping someone added weeds. While they were unaware the cares of the world made their way back into their lives. They were at one time pure seeds of the gospel, and now there is a mixture of wheat and weed. The servants cry out,” Master, did you not sow good seed? How then does it have weeds?” Notice they are blaming the master for the trouble. They are saying to God, like so often we do, “Why or how did you let this happen?”
When we are unaware, we can be deceived, while our attention is pulled away from what is most important our enemy, the devil, can start throwing lies and obstacles into our lives that will hinder our growth. The servants of this story heard that the enemy is the one that put weeds out in the field, so they boldly approach their master with a plan, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” Do you want us to go pull the weeds? It sounds great right. It sounds like an excellent way to rid our lives of the evil influences. Let us just go out into the world and pull the weeds. But that is not what Jesus tells us to do. He says, “No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.”
I want us to pause on that statement. “No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.” Jesus is literally telling his disciples to leave the weeds alone. They have already taken root and are growing right along side that that is desired. But if you pull the weed, you might kill the wheat.
Over the past few years, there has been a great deal of weeds scattered among the wheat. Some of these threaten to divide our very community. People that I grew up respecting have seemingly lost direction. Authors and bands that I followed, have left the church. Pastors I respected, now proclaim things I never thought I would ever hear them say. I wonder where is this all coming from? Weeds.
Jesus tells his servants not to worry about pulling the weeds, because if we go in ripping things up, we will kill the very thing we labored so hard for. Does this mean we need to just let the weeds grow? No, it means we must be careful, and we need to be more disciplined and aware. Weeds are the things of this world that distract us from God. But there is an interesting thing about weeds, sometimes the weeds are good in the right place. One of the most problematic weeds in wheat is rye. Rye is similar to wheat, it has a similar growth cycle, and is also an important crop, but it is not good in wheat. If we try to kill the rye that enters a wheat field everything, we do could potentially harm the wheat. But if we allow it to continue to grow it will continue to spread throughout the field. But at the proper time the two plants become distinguished, rye typically grows a bit taller than wheat so you can see it, but you cannot just go pulling it up because it is right there with the wheat. The only way to stop it is to go into the field and cut the rye out before it goes to seed, and to carry it out of the field so it can be destroyed without contaminating the field any more. Rye is not bad in the proper place, but we do have to be disciplined when handling the situation.
We have many weeds in our lives, at times those weeds are good, but at other times it can be a distraction. We could go out ripping the weeds up, but that might defeat the purpose, so we need to be disciplined. Jesus said that the enemy came while the servants were asleep and unaware. This is the answer. We need to be aware. We need to stay focused on what is most important: That is life with Christ. We need to remain in Him and his lifestyle of Worship, prayer, and service to others. We need to practice that holy rhythm until it become natural to us. And then as we see the weeds among us, we can handle those problems in a manner that will not cause harm.
Friends we are allowing weeds to have too much control of our lives, and often we see the weeds but do not see that of God growing right alongside. We have those around us struggling and we condemn their struggle without encouraging their growth. Encourage the growth and address the weeds when the time comes. And often if we encourage those around us to join us in the holy rhythm of Christ, we do not even have to worry about their struggles because God will take care of it himself. Instead of pulling weeds let us focus instead on loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others.
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
July 12, 2020
Matthew 13:1–9 (ESV)
1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears, let him hear.”
Matthew 13:18–23 (ESV)
18 “Hear then the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
The story of the sower is probably one of the most important stories in my Christian life. I grew up in a farming community, and that lifestyle is central to my soul. But many today do not identify with the sower, because the agrarian roots of our culture have become distant. We may know someone that owns a farm, that person might even be a relative, but to many if they are asked where the food, we eat originates those origins end at the store.
This is a serious issue. When people are unaware of the vast networks that are involved in feeding three billion people in this world, we begin to have trouble. When governments began to issue stay at home orders, they were quick to label the people that work at the grocery stores as essential workers, but that is not where the food chain begins. It begins out in the middle of nowhere, in places that most people call fly over country. The backbone of every society is not the urban centers where much of the financial wealth is found. The backbone of society is where the food is grown, and where the livestock is raised. When the crops fail, when those that raise the crops can no longer afford to keep their business going, the entire economy will collapse. The reason Jesus took the bread during the last meal he shared with his disciples before his arrest, was because that bread is the simplest meal. That bread is the most basic nutritional staple in our diet. And bread is basically flour and water mixed, and baked. The staples of human life begin with the grinding of grain, which is the fruit of one little seed.
What keeps us alive begins with one little seed. It might seem insignificant when compared to everything around us. We can walk into a grocery story and see aisle of various food, and it may not even occur to us that everything we see and buy to see began as one small seed. But if that one seed were not planted, imagine where we would all be.
The ancient world understood the importance of the seed. Even those that made their living doing something other than growing crops, depended on local farmers to bring their goods into market. When Jesus went out that day and sat by the sea to teach, they could see the fields in the distance. They may have even walked by or through one of the fields as they walked to the sea. And when Jesus began to teach, they could see the words being done all around them. The seeds were being scattered. Those seed would become the source of their daily bread for the next year.
Jesus focuses their attention to the sower. The sower is walking through the field carrying a bag of seed. As they walk, they reach into that bag and they pull out a handful of seeds, and they scatter that seed along the ground. It sounds like a simple process, but it takes skill and technique. I grew up on a farm and I have used my hands to spread many things, but scattering seed is not a skill that I developed. I have tried to scatter chicken feed in this manner only to attempt to keep chickens from pecking each other, but unfortunately, I tend leave most of the feed in one spot.
We often focus on the sower, but the parable focused on the soils. Jesus says that some of the seeds falls on the path, some fell on rocky ground, some fell among the weeds, and some seed fell on good soil. We might ask why this sower, if his livelihood is based on getting the seed in the ground, would be so wasteful? Remember sowing seed takes skill, but it is never precise.
A farmer will first prepare a seed bed. This means that they will go into the field with a plow of some sort, to open the soil. This tillage will cut the roots of the weeds so that those unwanted plants will die, leaving the field clear for the crop. The way and the tools that farmers have used to do this has changed over the years, but many of the tools we use today are like the tools that farmers have used since the stone age. Shapes and materials have changed over time, but the concept remains. As a farmer does this, either with a hand tool or a plow pulled by a beast of burden, the soil will be left with little ridges. It is these ridges that will allow the spacing of the seed. Once the seed bed has been prepared then sower will walk through and as the seeds are scattered, they will largely fall along the rows left by the tool used to prepare the soil.
That prepared field is the area that Jesus calls the good soil. But again, sowing seed is not precise. Along the edges of the field are areas that were not prepared. It is difficult to get the edges prepared to the same degree as the middle of the field. There are usually barriers of some sort that caused people to stop the field preparation where they do. Maybe a stream or river, a roadway, or rocks near the surface. Maybe the ground was too hard, or the weeds were just too thick to get the tools in deep enough. But that edge is unprepared. When the sower is out there tossing the seed, they cannot completely control where the seed will fall, and some of that seed will fall in areas that are unprepared.
Jesus tells us that some of the seed falls on the path where birds come and eat it. Some of the seeds fall among the weeds and they sprout and are choked out by the other plants. Some of the seed falls in stony soil where it sprouts quickly but it soon withers because there are no roots. And some of the seeds fall on the good soil. I love this story. I love it because of my heritage. My sweat is in this story, and this story is in my soul. I want us to really consider this story, but I want us to think of it in a way that we might not have before.
Imagine you have just moved into the area. You have obtained some land and it is untouched, and wild. What will you do? You have this land and you know that if you are going to keep the land you must use it in some way. You stand on your property line and you notice the slopes, and the trees. You can see areas that are open meadows and you can see some rocks. You like the shade of the trees but know that the shade it gives would not be beneficial to foster the growth of a crop. So, you begin to walk to the open areas. You begin to cut away the grasses and the weeds and find that you have a nice area that could make a good field. Then you dig. Hour after hour you cut through the roots of those untouched grasses. You labor for the entire day, you dig up rocks and chop out roots, and it looks as if you accomplished nothing. You rest and get back to work the next day. This goes on for a while and finally you have your field. You have prepared the bed and now you begin to sow the seed. And as the plants grow you remember the labor you put in, and what you found in the soil. You watch as the plants continue to grow, and you notice something, some areas are greener than others, and you remember that area.
The first year, you have a harvest and once that is in you begin to prepare for the next year. You go back to the areas that did not grow well, and you dig deeper and find that there was a large rock just a bit deeper than you dug the previous year, so you remove the rock and carry it to the edge of your field. You prepare the same field as you did the previous year, and this time it gets easier, and you decide to extend your field a bit more this year because you have some more time. The edges are moved out and more land is prepared, and again you sow the seed. You watch your field as the seasons change and you notice more areas that need attention. The pile of stones along the edge of the field begins to look like a wall as the stack get larger. Each year the soil is easier to work, and each year you can prepare more land until all the open space is being used.
Each year you prepare the soil. Each year you put in work. Even the good soil requires work. And each year there are improvements. Jesus speaks of good soil, but even good soil requires work. What would happen if you were to not work the soil for one year? It is a common practice to let land sit for a year without a crop, but while it sits the weeds return. And every year that the soil continues to return to it wild state. And within a few years the field you spent so much time preparing looks like an untouched meadow once again.
We often look at this story and we see it from a seasonal perspective. Jesus tells us that the seeds the sower scatters is the word about the kingdom, and we understand that at times the seeds fall in many places. We look at the fields as being the people around us, and we make a few judgements based on the interpretation Jesus gives us. What we often miss is that God is working the soil, and we are there to help.
If you were to read the writings of some of the first Quakers, you might see a concept called a day of visitation. This phrase was developed out of the observation that there is a moment where an individual is at a crossroad in life and they can turn one of two ways. One direction is toward God, and the other is to the world. Those first Friends would observe themselves and those around them during these moments and would say that God was visiting you on that day. I like the concept surrounding this. To be able to recognize that God is at work is amazing, but there is one aspect of this that I do not care too much about. Many times, those early Friends would regard this as a singular event, and if you did not turn toward God in that moment they would stop. To me this is like preparing the field once and expecting it to continue to yield fruit without any more management.
I do like the idea of multiple days of visitation though. There are moments within all our lives that we have trials, and in that moment, we can respond in multiple ways. Those trials are weeds growing in our soul, a worn path, or maybe hardening. God is visiting us in those areas. Are we tending the field?
We look at the world today, and we see young people leaving the church and we wonder why. Could it be that they have had so many people walking all over them, compacting the soil and wearing them out that they become hard? Jesus says that the seed cannot grow because they hear but do not understand and the evil one snatches the seeds of life away before it even has a chance. A path is developed over time. Constant traffic in one area slowly turns the soil hard. Constant traffic, but no understanding. No one is taking the time to encourage understanding. Sadly, the church has contributed to this. We often hear of the legalistic church. This expression is focused on performance over understanding and relationship. A generation is leaving the church, because they are being trampled, and they do know why, they hear the gospel but all they see is judgment and they have already been trampled enough so they leave.
We look out and might say there is not the commitment to the church in this generation as there was in previous ones. This is like the weeds choking out the seeds. When we consider the emerging generation what do we really expect? When those that graduate from college, have fifty to one hundred thousand dollars of debt that they are trying to pay off with a minimum wage job how are they going to survive? We can argue opinions in this matter, but the reality remains that our society pushed for college education, our companies require college education, and we are no longer willing to pay wages on par with previous generations with college degrees. The worries of the world are choking out the emerging generation, what are we doing to encourage them?
Then the stones. The response to the gospel but when trials come there is no root so the plant withers. I speak about the emerging generation, but I want us to remember that we are all fields. Each of us are within our own day of visitation every day of our lives. It does not matter if we have been a Christian for sixty years of two weeks, at any moment the word of God might visit us, and we may respond or reject the one we love. We might be worried, we might be worn and trampled, and we might have a rock under the surface restricting the growth of our roots. This stony problem is a plague in the American Church and culture. When we hear an opinion different than our own the relationship withers. When a decision is made within a church that we might not agree with instead of working through the issue, we leave and go to a different church, or start a new church.
Jesus is telling a story of a sower scattering seeds, but how is the field? We all go through seasons of life where we might not be open to the word of God, and seasons where those words will grow and bear fruit. Are we willing to listen to God? Are we willing to allow God to word in us so that we can encourage those around us?
Jesus took the bread and blessed it and said this is my body broken for you. Bread the most basic staple of our diet. Bread made from the flour and water. Flour derived from the grinding of grain, that came from one seed that fell in good soil to bear fruit. We can look at the world and see everything that is wrong with it, or we can look at it and see where we can help. As we enter this time of open worship and communion in the manner of friends, I encourage us all to examine the soils of our lives, and that of our church. Is the way we respond to the trials we face assisting others in their day of visitation or are we contributing to their destruction?
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
July 5, 2020
Matthew 11:16–19, 25-30 (ESV)
16 “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, 17 “ ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ 18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”
25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
But what shall I compare this generation? This is one of the oddest statements I feel Jesus spoke, yet it is a statement that sparks my imagination. It is as if Jesus is gathering all of history to this very moment and distilling all that occurred into one single sentence. Is that something that we could do? Could we even attempt do that with the minimal history of our nation? I say minimal because in the scope of history our nation is young. The two hundred and forty-four years of our nation pales to the history seen in Europe. There is a bar in Ireland that has been in continuous operation for over one thousand years. A bar, a single business has been open five times longer than our country has been in existence. Imagine all that we have seen and heard, every accomplishment and every disaster and describing it in one single sentence.
We try to do this when we think of statements to place on grave markers. We are asked questions by psychologist, wanting us to determine how we would like the world to remember us. I do not spend a great deal of time walking through cemeteries but when I was in school one of my jobs was to mow for the township, this mowing job included mowing the various roadsides as well as one of the cemeteries. I would go out one day and ride back and forth between the various markers, and then I would get out the weed eater and would trim the grass from around these stones. I would look at the names, I would read the statements and the dates. I would wonder what disease might have swept through a community when there were similar dates. I would be saddened by the stones of children and was surprised when some of those children were the children of people I knew, yet never knew of the child. Stone after stone, I got to be familiar with these stones, I would build stories of various adventure the people may have had. And remember this would have been in the 80’s and 90’s so most of the stories I imagined were based in the computer game the Oregon Trail, so most everyone there probably died of fever or dysentery. But there were words that could be found on most of the stones: Husband, wife, father, mother, grandmother, grandfather. All of history distilled into one single statement and that statement by in large revolves around our relationships.
As I thought about this week’s passage I thought about this cemetery. I do not really know why, probably because the memorial stone is the last statement, we make to those yet living. Jesus says, “How shall I compare this generation?” How would he describe the culmination of history to that point? He says, “it’s like children calling out to their playmates in the marketplace.” I want us to stop and consider this. “I played a flute and you did not dance, I sung a dirge and you did not mourn.”
Have you ever really considered what Jesus might be saying? Jesus spoke these words as the crowds were asking questions about the coming Messiah. A group of John the Baptist’s disciple approach and ask Jesus if he was for sure the one that John spoke about. This is one of the few times we can see John the Baptist as vulnerable, he boldly taught on the banks of the Jordan, but at this moment he is in Herod’s prison awaiting his execution. He is facing death because he prophetically spoke the truth of the kingdom, and now as the time draws near, he himself is wondering if he invested his life well.
It is ok to have questions and doubt. The world around us is changes rapidly and at times it does challenge our faith. We can live our entire lives thinking we understand God, and then in a moment something happens in our life that causes us to question the very existence of the one we believed. When terrorists flew airliners into the world trade center, it rattled my life. That event started me into a crisis of faith, and I began to question things. I thought that God would protect a Christian nation, I thought we were a Christian nation, and suddenly I had to question our Friend’s testimony of peace because some people that reject the God I know are attacking us. That event started a war, a war that has been raging for most of my oldest son’s life. And as it has continued, I have gone through other seasons of doubt. The thing about doubt in discipleship is there is a place to seek answers.
John’s disciples had whole heartedly followed their teacher. They loved their teacher and their teacher boldly preached. He was not afraid to challenge those that held power in the seats of government or religion. Yet even that bold teacher had seasons of doubt because each of us have ideas about God. Each of us have a box we like to put our understanding of God into, and when something happens outside those confines, we get nervous.
“What should we compare this generation to,” Jesus asks, “it is like children calling to their playmates saying we played the flute and you did not dance, and we played a dirge and you did not mourn.” What do we see when we read this passage? Usually I imagine kids playing in the playground, but this week as I reflected on this passage, they were not playing but arguing about what they wanted to play. I see two sets of kids dividing over what they want to play some want to dance and are upset that the others are joining them and the others I guess want to play funeral and are upset that the other kids are not being serious. This caused me to think.
In life we often think in linear patterns. Meaning that there is a line stretching from one accepted idea to another accepted idea, and we fall somewhere on that line. Nearly every aspect of life that we believe we have choice in has some linear formulation. Our politics has a linear construct, education is linear, success and wealth are often measured in a linear fashion. Sometimes we call the graduated, but it is still linear. And by in large our ethics and morality are contemplated in a binary linear fashion. There are two extremes in these thought processes, and everyone falls somewhere between them on that line. In Jesus’s example the linear construct is between dancing and mourning, or celebration and sorrow.
He says how can we describe what is going on in the generation of his day, and he says it is like children arguing on the playground. Some think we need to be celebrating and others think that the world around them should be in sorrowful. John, he said came to them, he skewed to the mourning side of the spectrum. He did not eat with the socialites; he refused to drink and was even commanded to refrain from fermented drinks by God himself. Yet this man that was sent by God, announced and conceived in a manner that should have been the celebration of Israel since it was similar to the family of Abraham, and they said he has a demon. Why? He did not fit completely on their line.
Jesus comes. Even John begins to wonder if he was right in his statement that Jesus was the lamb of God, and they look at Jesus and again he cannot be placed on the line. Jesus is different than John, Jesus came eating and drinking and they called him a drunkard and a glutton. They called him a friend of sinners. The world is caught in this linear frame of reference. You must be placed on the line and if you are on the wrong part of the line you are not acceptable. And when they finally put that linear label on you, you then become the enemy of everything they regard as honorable. All human history distilled in one statement. We are children arguing about a game of dancing or sorrow. The great achievements of a society, totally disregarded, all because of a linear focus.
Jesus concludes, “Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”
I like the personification of wisdom; her name is Sofia. I have this probably unholy attraction to the personifications of Liberty, Justice and Wisdom. All these personalities are represented as feminine which I find interesting, because they are also representations of the personality of the triune God. Father Justice, Liberty being the son, and wisdom as the Holy Spirit. Yet these concepts are often depicted in female form. Last night there were televised fireworks displays around, Lady Liberty. The courthouses across our nation have statue of Lady Justice, holding the scales and sporting a blindfold. But like the holy spirit Sophia, lady wisdom is difficult to grasp. I often wonder why these are always depicted from the feminine aspect of humanity, and I think it has to do with the great care required. You cannot force liberty; it must be nurtured. You can not gain wisdom by conquest it must be developed and reared over time. And justice must be balanced with mercy.
Wisdom is justified by her deeds. There is a difference between knowledge and wisdom. I have a degree in crop science. I have knowledge about plants, how they function, what to do to make the best environment for them to grow. I have the knowledge, but my grandfather, he graduated from high school. He does not have a college degree, because at that time they needed him to work on the farm to feed the soldiers fighting in Europe. My grandfather has wisdom. He has years of experience. His experience and wisdom provided for his family and continued to bless through the next generations. Wisdom is taking those things we know and putting them into action. When Jesus says wisdom is justified by her deeds, he is speaking not of a linear representation of applied knowledge. Often, we think of applying knowledge in ways that will provide some benefit, but Jesus says justified by her deeds. This alludes to something greater. Wisdom is applying knowledge in a manner that will benefit all involved.
Consider some of the linear problems of today. Many environmentalist desire that we completely abandon the use of fossil fuels, and if we are honest this is not a bad idea. We know the pollution that oil can cause. But there is more to this one issue. Wisdom show us that our dependence on fossil fuels is much deeper than the vehicles we drive. Oil is used in the processing of nearly every consumer item we have today, from the packaging on our food to the carpet under our feet. Wisdom say look deeper and broader. Find different answers and ask different questions. We cannot survive today without oil, yet we need to find cleaner products. It is not linear but multifaceted, yet by my saying we should find cleaner products will often put me on the same side of a line as climate change advocates, where my saying we need oil at the moment labels me as a climate change denier.
Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds. We want easy answers and clearly defined lines. We like labels and boxes. We like to know that we are right and those that have a different opinion are wrong, but Jesus does not allow for this to happen. Wisdom is justified by her deeds. How you live your life. Our words should be reflected in what we do, and our actions should resemble the testimonies we speak. Jesus calls the generation of his day squabbling school children because they were focused too much on being right instead of doing right or performing the proper action without having the proper motive.
Wisdom is justified by her deeds. Sophia is a woman of action within a community. Nurturing and encouraging growth and mutual profit and health. She lives and works all around her community, caring for those in need, and encouraging those around her to embrace a lifestyle that is not just celebration or mourning but one of hope. Being both and more. Have you tried doing this? The answer to that question is yes of course you have because we are a caring community. We do all that we can, but often we are like John. We get trapped in some linear lifestyle where our good intentions and desires get drown out by the cries of the masses. We get tossed back and forth labeled, and often ridiculed. We try to talk our way out, only to find ourselves deeper.
Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, father, for such was your gracious will.” The things that my parent’s generation struggled with are not the things that my generation struggle with. The things I struggle with are not the same that my sons’ will struggle with. There is hope, and yes, we might not be where we should be, but we are not where we were. And I pray that our children will have more of the gospel revealed to them than was even revealed to me. With each generation there is progress and growth. With each generation there is revival even within the church if we are open to the Spirit. But are we open?
Do we hold on to the past so tightly that we cut off the circulation? Are we so caught up in our success that we cannot see the afflictions others might be facing? These are the schoolyard arguments. And to be honest they are tiring. Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” We are caught in so many battles in our lives. Battle that history will probably look back on as being as ridiculous as kids arguing about what game to play. Jesus is calling us to something different, he is calling us out of that linear world of right and left wing. He is calling us to a different lifestyle. He calls us to his yoke or teaching. Which he showed us throughout his life. He calls us take up his yoke, to walk with him. Where he shares the burden and keeps us walking straight. What is this yoke? Worship, prayer, and service. Nothing else just do that. Encourage one another as we join in worship. Withdraw often to isolated places to pray. And allowing that time of pray to direct you into how to speak and act in the larger community. And as we worship, pray, and serve be willing to encourage others along the way.
I said when I began that it was as if Jesus was distilling all of history into one phrase in today’s passage. And I believe that to be true. Everything we attempt to accomplish in our life is just what he says, playground squabbles, unless we allow God to lead us in the building of the community. Are we focused in the right place and walking the proper path? And before we can attempt to answer for a collective, we, we must first focus on the singular you. Are you heavy laden?