Elements of this sermon featured in the BBC TV show ‘A Vicar’s Life‘ – (which you can watch here until 25th Feb 2018) – I quickly posted the full text on the evening it appeared. It was never intended to be published in this way and borrows a great deal from both William Barclay and from the writing of St Augustine.
Spelling and grammar warning: These are the typed notes for my sermon, they are quite possibly badly spelt and grammatically incorrect. Mea culpa.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Good morning everyone, first of all I just want to take a moment and say how wonderfully welcome you have all made me feel in my first few weeks. It has been a genuine pleasure – and adventure – to start to get to know you and to get to know these parishes. I hope that those of you that I have met have found me to be engaging and pleasant and that those of you who are yet to meet me… believe what I have just said…..!
It’s a treat to have for my first sermon in the team one of Jesus more straight forward parables. Indeed, probably his most easily understood. Themes of judgment, the devil and of judging each other.
Jesus speaks a great deal about seeds and uses a lot of farming analogies in his parables – mainly because these were the people he was talking to – farmers, people of the land – people who understood the complex ideas he was painting through simple pictures.
In this case we have the example of the good seed, the steadfast farmer who through no fault of his own discovers that bad seeds – weeds – have been sewn in his field.
The farmer? God.
The enemy sowing weeds? The devil.
The field? The world
The seeds? Humanity.
The harvest? Judgment.
This is no remote academic problem to debate and pull apart. Here we have a picture that any Palestinian farmer would recognise. Tares – a particular type of weed – were a real problem for farmers. They were a weed called bearded darnel. At first they are entirely indistinguishable from wheat – so similar in fact that one cannot tell the difference… until the roots are so tightly interwoven that to remove them would be death for the wheat – the good seed. Therefore both weed and wheat must be allowed to grow together – to seed and at the point of harvest to be separated.
The bad seed – the tares – can not be allowed to enter the food chain because they are poisonous – they have a narcotic effect and even in small amounts are bitter and spoil whatever the wheat is being used for.
The picture Jesus paints of a man deliberately sowing weeds in a farmers field is also a reality for the Palestinian farmer. To this day one of the gravest threats someone to make to anther farmer in India is to threaten to sow bad seed in their field. It was codified into Roman Law with serious punishment meted out to those who did it.
And so, what does it teach us?
There are three main points for us to take away.
1 – That the devil – active evil in the world is real.
2 – That is is almost impossible for us to distinguish between the good and the bad.
3 – That we should not be quick with our own judgments of others, there is only one who can judge.
Let’s take those in order.
Jesus tells us plainly that there is active evil in the world. That enemys will work against us, against God’s plan to sow a field of good seeds. Our own lives teach us that there are both good and bad influences on our lives and our ability to understand those as separate powers, to be on guard against that evil – even before it has produced fruit – it vital.
But the second point offers a balance… be careful…
It is almost impossible to see the difference between the good and the bad seed until it bears fruit. Some people may appear to be good, but will be bad – some bad, who will be good – we are far too quick to classify people within those categories without understanding all the facts – and we can never understand all the facts!
Let’s take a real example… right here in Hereford and in this parish. The lady who is currently camping on the roundabout not a stones throw from here. I’m sure we’ve all read the paper, I’m sure we’ve all made our own decisions about who this lady is, what her history is – if she is deserving or if she is underserving… if she is a good seed or a bad seed and because of that judgment how we will react to her. We will then sow own judgments in others fields when we gossip, when we share stories that we have heard second hand, when we embellish…
…when we take pleasure in sowing bad seeds we are doing the devils work – I’ll be damned if I’ll do his work for him.
What then is the balance for this? How can we keep ourselves in check?
St Augustine puts it beautifully:
Listen, dearest grains of Christ; listen, Christ’s precious ears of wheat; listen, Christ’s dearest corn. Take a look at yourselves, go back to your consciences, interrogate your faith, interrogate your love, stir up your consciences. And if you discover that you are good grain, let the thought occur to you, Whoever perseveres to the end will be saved. Any of you who on shaking up their consciences find themselves among the weeds must not be afraid to change. The command hasn’t yet been given to cut, it isn’t the harvest yet; don’t be today what you were yesterday, or at least don’t be tomorrow what you are today.
Which brings us to our final point… That there is only one who can judge…. Judgment does come in the end – it is not hasty, but it does come.
When the field is harvested, the seeds are laid out on mats and traditionally ladies, with many years experience, would sift out the bad seeds from the good – would find every last bad seed and consign it to the fire.
The good seeds went on to bear good fruit.
It may be hard for us to understand – given our tiny glimpse of the awesomeness of Gods plan that judgment will come, here, now we may see injustice and evil around us, we may see evil prosper – but judgment will come – and that judgment will be for eternity.
And so perhaps we are left with only two lessons.
That we should not judge others at all. And that judgment will come, and that judgment will last forever.