By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
August 9, 2020
Matthew 14:22–33 (ESV)
22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
I want us to take a moment to remember last week. Last Sunday we met Jesus just after he had heard about the despicable demise of his cousin. I believe that this report affected Jesus greatly within his human nature. We can debate the omniscience of Jesus, or the all-knowing aspect of the divinity of Christ, but when we merely focus on the divinity of Christ, we miss something important. Yes, Jesus knew everything about the report prior to speaking with John’s disciples, but how did Jesus respond within his humanity?
All too often we neglect the humanity of Christ. We do this because we know the weakness of human nature, and how can an all-powerful God place himself within human weakness. This puts a barrier within our relationship with Christ. Jesus is God with us, but we see God only, not us or humanity. So, we place Christ above all, and we look to saintly humans to assist us to Christ, and in our contemporary era we find heroes to champion our battles. We miss the point of Emmanuel, God with us, Christ came to take on our humanity. He came to perfect our humanity for us in his vicarious life.
Jesus knows our emotions because he experienced them. Jesus knows what it feels like to be completely disgusted by the ruling class. He knows the feeling of injustice. He is aware of the emotional responses of being misunderstood. Jesus knows the heart wrenching pain of betrayal. Do we, in our imagination or understanding of Jesus, ever allow him to exhibit emotions? Jesus has emotions. He got in a boat in last Sunday’s passage to cross to the other side of the sea, so he could find a place away from the crowd. He did this because his human nature required him to process those emotions in a healthy way.
The crowd did not recognize Jesus’s sabbath. In all of their adherence to the legal demands of the Laws of Moses, the crowd did not recognize that the sabbath was a time to release the emotional baggage and spiritual we all carry so we can reengage the world with renewed passion. The crowd followed Jesus, they followed him for many potential reasons. Maybe they followed out of a desire for healing, maybe the followed because they wanted to hear what he would have to say about the death of the Baptist, it might even been out in that isolated place to challenge Jesus to a debate over the legality of John’s death. We do not know exactly why the crowd followed Jesus, all we really know is that it was a massive crowd, and that Jesus had compassion for them.
Jesus in an emotional state of mourning, looked out on the crowd and instead of feeling overwhelmed or exhausted he felt compassion. This compassion led him to action. He began to talk with those that gathered, he listened, and in some cases, he healed their diseases. He spent the entire day that he had set aside to rest and pray, ministering to an undisciplined mob. This group did not deserve Jesus’s grace, they did not earn his favor. If we were at that place with Jesus in the boat looking at the crowd, we would more likely be annoyed than compassionate. I say this because of human weakness. It takes great strength to live empathetic lives. To recognize where we might be wrong and adjust accordingly with compassion requires great emotional and spiritual strength. To expend the energy to consider life from a different perspective requires us to learn what life might be like on the other side or our known experiences. That struggle is at the heart of cultural struggle we are facing within our nation today. Have you considered the various perspectives?
The day drew on, and evening came and the disciples became concerned that the crowds would not be able to buy food, so they encouraged Jesus to send them away, but Jesus turned that around on them. The disciples saw a need, and they prayed, because taking our concerns to God is prayer and they took that concern to Jesus. They prayed Lord send these people to the surrounding villages so they can find food, but the answer to that prayer was, “you feed them.” And we all know the story, they gave Jesus five loaves and two fish and over 5000 people ate their fill, with twelve baskets of leftovers remaining.
This is where we pick up in today’s passage. Jesus has not yet fully allowed himself to embrace the spirit in prayer because the undisciplined crowd interrupted his plans. His compassion and empathy required him to act, but his human emotions remain. Jesus made the disciples get in the boat to cross the sea, while he dismissed the crowd. And Jesus remained in that isolated place completely alone. While Jesus was praying, the disciples sailed away. They had moved far into the sea, and the winds were blowing against them, so they were struggling. They are out on that water fighting the waves and the wind making every effort to get that boat safely to the other side.
We can understand the disciples, they are so much like us. Some of them speak before they speak, some are political ideologs, some once worked in a business other regard as despicable, and some are power seekers hoping to use their connections to curry influence and favor. They have a reputation and they work hard for what they have. These men have been sent out; they are sent out into this sea by what they perceive to be divine orders, so they are obedient. Yet, while they are faithfully following those orders, they face struggles. Sometimes while we do the right things, we face obstacles.
Now it is late at night. It says that it is the fourth watch of the night. In the Roman culture they break the night into basically three-hour parts, or watchers beginning from approximately 6 PM to 6 AM. The first watch would end around 9 PM, the end of the second watch would be midnight. If they left in the evening then they would have begun their journey somewhere in the first watch, and now it is the fourth watch somewhere between 3-6 AM. I have worked night shifts, and I know how it might feel to be struggling and working through the night. And if you had just finished dealing with a massive crowd just hours before the stress would only intensify.
They are fighting the wind and the waves for nine hours, and they were already tired when the started. And they look behind them and see something coming toward them. I used to laugh when I read the words of the disciples in this passage. They see something and these grown men cry out, “It’s a ghost!” And they are terrified. I do not laugh at them anymore, because I get it. These men are sleep deprived, and when our bodies do not have enough rest our mind can really play tricks on us. I personally have never seen a ghost, but after being up for twenty or so hours working with little rest a strange shadow can cause the adrenaline to begin pulsing through my body. Why do you think Matthew tells us these things? Why does one of the people on that boat admit that they were terrified and thought they saw a ghost in the middle of the sea? They want us to know that they were not perfect.
We get this idea in our minds that we must be perfect before we can be acceptable in the eyes of God. We often believe that we must do all the right things and act a certain way before God will love us. Matthew said to the early church by writing this, that he sat on a boat terrified of a ghost, that he a grown man cried out in fear clinging to an oar as the waves crashed around him. He cried in fear, yet we regard him as a saint. In fact, in ancient Christian art, Matthew is symbolized as a man with wings often holding a book. The book, which represents the gospel he wrote, is what distinguishes Matthew from the icons of angels. This man that we often see in art as this angelic witness of Christ, testified in the very book he holds in the artistic representations, that he was terrified.
How many times do we hear people say they cannot come to church because they do not have their life in order yet? How many times do we feel we need to do something to make ourselves feel acceptable at a meeting for worship? The fact of the matter is that we are often like Matthew and the other apostles of Christ, people around us see us as perfect saints that have every aspect of our lives in order, but in reality we are terrified.
Jesus, after spending nine hours in prayer walks across the water and he calls out to them, “take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” Again, I laugh while reading this. Every time I read this, the theme song from mighty mouse comes to mind. “Here I come to save the day!” (And, yes, I am old enough to know who mighty mouse is.) But I want us to take a step back, Jesus had just spent nine hours in prayer. Again, Jesus spent nine hours in prayer. The disciples are terrified, the storm is raging around them, waves are crashing, and the wind is against them. They look out over the water and they cry like children and say a ghost! And Jesus calmly walks across the water after spending nine hours in pray, calling out to them to take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.
For nine hours the Disciples struggled, while Jesus prayed. For nine hours the disciples allowed terror to build in their bodies as the outside world came crashing in on them, while Jesus prayed. For nine hours the disciples struggled in themselves, while Jesus rested in the spiritual arms of his Father. The disciples were crying, and Jesus encourages them take heart.
Then one of the disciples swallows hard and takes a deep breath and calls out to this specter on the water, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” I want us to sit with this for a moment. Did Peter know what he was saying? Did he consider what might happen if the perceived ghost spoke back to him? Again, I want us to recognize this for what it is. This is a prayer. When Peter is speaking to Jesus, he is talking to God with us. And Matthew by including this incident in the Gospel account, he is teaching us through their personal testimonies.
Just like Gideon of the Book of Judges in the ancient Hebrew scriptures, putting out a fleece, Peter is praying. “If this is really you God, command me to take the next step.” I am not an advocate of the whole putting out a fleece method of prayer, but I want us to understand that this is an evolving relationship. We are watching the disciples move from frightened men into the bold saints we now regard them as. Their lives and our own lives have similarities. When we face the unknowns of the world, we might appear to be bold women and men of faith, but the reality is that our hearts are racing, and our palms are sweating. Peter calls out to Christ, “We are terrified in this boat, we do not even know if we will make it to the other side, and you are freaking us out. But if it is really you just tell me.”
Jesus, I imagine is probably laughing at them a bit. He knows their hearts. He knows that at any moment they would be willing to do anything that he would ask, even though they are terrified to take the step. He knows this, but they do not. Twenty years ago, I was in a place just like this. I was a young dad, that had a son out of wed lock. I was part of a church that encouraged me even though they knew what my life was. And I had just filled out an application to be considered as a summer missionary in Ukraine. I said a prayer like Peter’s. I wrote letter asking for support, knowing that if I were to go on this journey, I would need to get a passport, and $5000 in less than three months. I remember sitting at the dinning room table with my mom, looking at stacks of envelopes, and listening to my mom telling me that we cannot do this ourselves so if God wants you to do this we have to trust that he will provide. We prayed and the next morning I took those letters to the post office. And I continued to go to school and work. A few days later, on of my bosses called me into his office and I saw one of my letters sitting on his desk. I knew that he was not of the same expression of faith as I, but he asked me to sit down and he asked me what I would be doing while I was over in Ukraine. So, I told him, I really do not know, but the plan is to teach English classes and share my faith in Jesus with student in Ukraine. And to my amazement he looked at me and said ok and he wrote a check and gave it to me. I left the office and each one of the men that I worked with did the same. Later that week I got letter after letter from my lawyer, dentist, doctor, former schoolteachers each giving support. When it came time to send the money in to purchase the tickets God had provided not only the $5000, I needed but $6000. And that summer a small-town farm boy was in a plane flying to the other side of the world to live for three months in the second largest city in Ukraine.
Peter prayed, “If it is you command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus replied, “Come.” And Peter was faced with a dilemma, what should he do now? The ghost just called his bluff. Eleven sets of eyes were looking at him, and now he had to remove the foot from his mouth and use it to walk. Imagine Peter walking to the side of the boat, which was lurching upon the waves. He pulled his legs over the side and with his eyes focused on the man walking in front of him, Peter took a step, and another. We do not know how many steps Peter took, but it was enough to claim that he walked. Just imagine that.
Imagine Peter laughing as he took another step. And then he looked back behind him, at the eleven sets of eyes he could feel looking at his back, and just as he took another step his foot sunk beneath the surface and he fell forward and into the water. Have you been there? I was on a plane flying to Ukraine, I felt empowered and on fire for Christ, but when we landed in Kiev, we were informed that we were the ones that were going to do the teaching. My footing faltered. Those that really know me, know that I am most comfortable in the background. I would rather encourage someone else and not speak myself. When they told us that we were going to do the teaching I felt sick. How would I be of any help when I barely spoke? I had enough faith to get on the plane, but did I have enough to speak?
This story that Matthew included in his gospel is a testimony of faith and prayer. Peter had faith enough to take the step even though he was terrified, but once he was out there and vulnerable, he sunk beneath the waves. And he gasps out, “Lord Save Me!” That summer twenty years ago, Jesus called me out onto the waves. I took the steps and fell beneath the water. Yet, that summer I began to talk. I taught English classes, I shared the story of my life (which I did not think was that impressive) and when an opportunity was given to lead a bible study for our group, I oddly volunteered. And for twenty years I have been on a journey that has led me here. I am a pastor that does not talk. I am a farm boy living in a city. I am a sinner changed by Christ. And I am often under the water.
Jesus spent nine hours in prayer, and after that he calmly walked across the storm raged waves to meet up with his friends. We again focus on the miraculous, but often forget the ordinary when we read this story. Jesus did this only after he prayed, just like when he fed the undisciplined crowd. Peter did what he did only after and because of prayer. But often the chaos of the world can distract us from what is most important, and we begin to turn our eyes away. We begin to look around us instead of focusing on the goal set before us, and we sink. We begin to cry out, “Why have you forsaken me?” And Jesus reaches out his hand and say, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
I want us to look at the image on the screen. I love this picture because it is so real. We are all like Peter, we boldly take a few steps and then we take a plunge. But I want us to look at the face of Christ. He is not looking at us in judgement, but he is smiling and reaching his hand out to us. He is not condemning us for our doubt but commending us for taking a few steps. And is encouraging us to stay focused. The world around us might be amid a storm, but where are our eyes? Are we focused on the raging storm or are we focused on Christ who walks above it? Jesus is calling us to join him on a journey, he is calling us to follow him, and to take on his life and lifestyle. He is calling us to participate in his holy rhythm or worship, prayer, and service to others.
Look again at that picture because that picture is often our story. But to others they might see you as the one reaching out the hand while they are struggling beneath the waves. So often those we meet do not see God with us, until we show God within us. As we enter this time of Holy expectancy, I pray that we will be able to take a step back from the raging storms around us, so that we can see Christ. Not just Christ with us, but Christ with those sitting next to us, and with the people we meet throughout this week.
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
August 2, 2020
Matthew 14:13–21 (ESV)
13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 15 Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
I often find myself in awe of the concept and reality of “God with us” or Emmanuel. We sing about this during the Christmas season, but how often do we reflect on the reality of God being with us every day? How often do we look at the gospels and recognize the things that God did with us while he walked in the dust of this earth, as being the things, that God wants us to do with him today?
I want us to think about this. There is a reason that God sent his son to live among us. There is a reason that God’s advent began as an infant and he lived a complete human life. The reason goes beyond providing substitutionary atonement for our sins, but he lived so that we can live through him. When Jesus said that he came that we might have life more abundantly, he showed us what that life would be in his life. And he calls to us as he did his disciples so long ago to follow him into that great adventure.
I want us to consider this life with Christ as we approach today’s passage. This is probably one of the greatest, or at least most recognized, miracles that Jesus performed. I think raising a few people from death to life, including himself, are a bit greater than feeding a few people. We remember the miraculous, but we often forget or overlook everything that is involved.
When we read this passage how many of us are aware of Jesus’s emotional state? The passage begins, “Now when Jesus heard this.” What did Jesus hear? Jesus had just heard about the death of his cousin John. We do not fully know how close the relationship between Jesus and John was, but there are some scholars that believe that they were close. They go as far as saying that John and Jesus may have been ministry partners. I am not sure how true this might be, but scripture does tell us that they could be found ministering in the same areas, and both encouraged the ministry of the other. Jesus said that there is no great man born of a woman than John, and John said that he must decrease so that Jesus may increase. Those words speak of mutual respect and cooperation. There is no competitive aspect in these words like we would often hear among people of the same professional industry today. We are in a political season yet again, how many of you have heard the candidates speak encouraging words about their opponent?
Jesus had just heard of John’s death. He knew that John was in prison, and John’s disciples came to Jesus after they had buried the body, telling him how John’s demise occurred. I do not know if we allow our minds to wrap around the perverse nature that lead to the death of John the Baptist. But the reason John was in prison was because he spoke out against the morality of the political leader of his day. This leader had an affair with his brother’s wife, which lead to a divorce and remarriage. Herodias was the daughter of Herod the Great’s son Aristobulus IV and Berenice, who was Herod the Great’s Sister’s daughter. Herodias’ father was executed by her grandfather and Herod the Great gave her to be married to her uncle. Herod had a few wives and sons, and his remaining eldest son was upset about this engagement and because of that Herod II or Phillip lost his place as heir. It is confusing but important, Herodias’ father was the son of Herod’s Hasmonean wife, and the Hasmoneans’ were the Jewish royal line that claimed the throne after the Maccabean revolts that lead to their independence from Greece. Herodias was the link that gave Herod the Great the right to be king of the Jewish people. But Herodias was not marred to Herod’s heir, because he was demoted and lost his position completely when Rome found out that his mother was involved with the plot to kill Herod the great which left the dynasty of Herod up to Rome. Rome divided the kingdom between the remaining family, but Herodias wanted to have a place among people, so she divorced her husband and married his brother Antipas who again is her uncle. John the Baptist was sickened by the perverse nature of this family and their quest for power and this led to his arrest. But that was not the worst of it. Herodias had a daughter with Phillip, and this daughter was sent in to dance for her uncle/stepfather Antipas as a birthday present. This is not a simple dance, this was a dance performed for the men of Herod Antipas’ court, Simone a child was performing an erotic dance for those in power and her step-father/uncle was enjoying it so much that he decided to give her whatever she would ask. John the Baptist called this family immoral because of their incestuous quest for power and this story only confirms it. Simone asked for her mother to silence the Baptist.
Those in the governmental courts did not care about anything other than Herodias’ linage she was the last surviving heir of the Hasmonean line and the Herodians wanted to preserve that line so that they could have their Jewish king. And these theocratical ideologs cared nothing about the faith, only power. Their queen was living in sin and pushing her own daughter into that same lifestyle and they overlooked it for the sake of preserving an idea. Jesus heard this and he got into a boat and went out to a desolate place to pray.
When we look at today’s world many of us are appalled by the amoral behaviors. How can we live for or with Christ in a place like this? Guess what, ancient Israel was not much better. And when Jesus heard about the extent of their depravity, he did not mount up a culture war, he withdrew to pray. Prayer is where we must begin, because it is in prayer that we listen and unite with God in his spirit. This is part of Jesus’s holy rhythm of life. And we cannot do anything if we do not pray.
But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. This week as I considered this, I wondered why the Gospel writer wrote the words in this way. I looked deeper at the words and let them soak in my mind. I thought about the word crowds and when you look at the usages of this word it is more than a simple group. It is an undisciplined thong. This group of people are an excited and nearly out of control mob. We do not know from what Jewish ideology they are involved with, and by all likelihood they are from every aspect of the religious spectrum, but they heard that Jesus left, and they are going after him. Maybe for an answer, maybe for an explanation, maybe they are going to finish the job Simone started. But then they went after Jesus on foot whereas Jesus crossed the sea by boat. This means that Jesus had time to pray. Jesus had time to let the human emotions of the situation be tamed by the divine spirit. And when he saw this undisciplined group, this crowd, he had compassion for them, and he healed their sick.
Jesus had compassion for them. Jesus withdrew from these people because of the great sorrow he had over the loss of his cousin in such a disgusting manner. This crowd, this undisciplined mob, let it happen. They were so focused on everything else that when John spoke about the sins of their own government, they listened they even agreed but they did not really care. They did not protest to Rome over the wrongful death of a prophet. They gathered on the shore and Jesus had compassion for them. They were not concerned about justice; they did not even care that Jesus might be having a bad day. They were an undisciplined mob that were trying to make sense of life. And Jesus had compassion and he healed their illnesses.
The first thing we learn from this passage is that Jesus withdraws to pray. When the world seems to be falling apart all around us the first thing, we as followers of Jesus should be doing is withdrawing from the unruly crowds to pray. As we pray, we need to allow the spirit to change our perspective of that unruly crowd, that undisciplined mob within the world so that we can like Jesus have compassion for them.
I stopped at this point and I thought about compassion. This word is empathy, or an emotional movement to the core of our being. Do we have that kind of concern for those around us? Do we even care? So many within the emerging generations look at the church in judgement, yet they long for Jesus. They love the idea of Jesus, but they look at the church not as the key to Christ but as the unruly mob. This concerns me and I hope it concerns you. Because when they speak of the church in that manner it means that somewhere along their pathway of life Jesus was not reflected through the church. Somewhere along their journey through life, we the church failed to reflect Christ. Jesus looked at the unruly crowd and he had compassion for them, and he ministered to them.
They were out there in that desolate place all day, they were talking to Jesus and listening to Jesus. Jesus spent the entire day listening to this crowd’s concerns and for many he brought healing into their lives. He did this all while he was still mourning the loss of his cousin. His compassion for others was greater than himself. He did not yell at them to give him space, he was moved in his soul to bring healing. How often do we step back from ourselves and our desires for the good of others? That is what Jesus does. He did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited but he humbled himself and he took on human form to live with us, in our neighborhoods, and he had compassion for us an unruly mob of selfish individuals.
The disciples looked at the crowd and the setting sun, and they pleaded with Jesus to tell the crowd to leave. They demanded God to tell the crowd to leave that place. Why? The disciple are practical people. They knew that this crowd was huge, and they also knew that many had not prepared to spend an extended amount of time in an isolated place. They knew that there would not be enough to eat and that if the crowd would leave now, they might be able to make it to the nearest towns to get what they needed to survive another day. Often, I am like the disciples. I really do not like crowds. I like smaller groups of people I can get to know. In those small groups I would bend over backwards to help in any way, but if the group gets too large, I just want them to go somewhere else. I do not take pride in admitting that, but I love my friends and I often lack compassion for the masses. But Jesus looks at his disciples and he tells them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”
There is an enormous crowd of people. This crowd could fill the Independence Event Center, where my family often goes to watch hockey games, to capacity. This crowd has been in one place for the entire day without anything to eat. It is like the entire crowd at the T-Bones stadium, in Kansas City Kansas, going at once to the concession stand between innings and no one knows where the hot dogs are. And Jesus tells the disciples you give them something to eat.
I said that I am not a fan of large crowds, but that does not mean I do not have any compassion. Much of my hesitancy for crowds is because I know my limitations. I know that I do not have enough. Yet Jesus is telling us to feed the multitude. Every social ailment that causes us to cringe, Jesus is telling us, do not send them away… help them. In 2019 it was estimated that Missouri had just over 6,000 homeless people. Jesus looks at that crowd and what do you think he is saying? In 2017 four thousand seven hundred and ten abortions were performed in Missouri. Just under five thousand women had to make an extremely difficult decision. I do not want us to get into a debate about the morality of that, I want us to consider that there were five thousand women that felt that that was their best or only option. And there are over thirteen thousand children in foster care in Missouri and of those fifteen hundred do not have a home to go to. Jesus is looking at that crowd and at us, and what is he saying? Are we feeding and providing shelter for the homeless? Are we providing encouragement and a home for women in need and their children? Are we showing the world that there is hope?
The disciples looked at Jesus. I imagine that they were in shock. “We have five loaves and two fish.” There are five thousand people in need, and they have a couple of tuna salad sandwiches. They take that meager offering to Jesus and I can almost feel the shame. When I see a homeless person on the sidewalk my heart aches because I do not have anything to offer. My heart aches when I hear many of the statistics concerning our society, and I feel like all I have to offer is a tuna fish sandwich.
Jesus looked at that crowd. That undisciplined unruly mob and he had compassion for them. He looked at his disciples who were also concerned for the crowd’s wellbeing, but at a loss as to how to help and he tells them to feed them. The disciples look at Jesus in shock and bring Jesus five loaves and two fish.
We can often get overwhelmed by the world around us and the problems we see. We can be overwhelmed by the corruption and immoral behavior of those that hold power within our lands. We can be overwhelmed by our own self pity and even our own selfishness. The world around us is a mess. But when Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he said, “Our Father in heaven hallowed be thy name. they kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus looks at the world and has compassion, he looks at us and says feed them, and we look at ourselves and say how?
Jesus took the bread, looked to heaven, and blessed it. He broke the bread and handed it to the disciples, and they handed the pieces to the crowd, and all ate and were satisfied. And they gathered twelve basketfuls of leftovers after over five thousand people ate.
Each of us struggle, and even Jesus struggled with the raw emotions of life. He watched as the undisciplined world killed his cousin in the pursuit of worldly power, and the crowd did not slow. We are often overwhelmed, but the world still needs us. The need us to reflect the compassion of Christ, they need us to bless them with the manna from heaven, they need us surprise them with hope. But what do we have to offer to a world filled with such need? We have Christ. We have his holy rhythm of worship, prayer, and service, and we have ourselves. So, let us pray. Let us look at the world with compassion and let us bring what we have and allow Jesus to multiply it. Let us bring our five loaves and two fish and see what God can do.
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.