Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43
There was once a man named Jacob. On the run from his angry and murderous brother for stealing his family birthright and blessing, he was homeless and alone. Traveling along the road to his distant relatives’ home, he collapsed, exhausted, in the deepening gloom.
As he lay his head down that night, he started to see the stars coming out. One. Then another. Then another. Then…that’s all he saw. He was asleep like the rock he laid his head on.
In the night, he saw another bright light appear. Then another. Then another. But they were not stars, but angels. Ascending and descending from heaven, and then heard the very voice of God speaking to him.
“I am the Lord, and the land which you lay will one day belong to you and your descendents.” In that holy place, God promised Jacob a holy kingdom, in which God was sovereign, but he and his family would be adopted as heirs into the holy family, and given a holy land. But it wouldn’t happen quickly. “Be patient. I am with you. I will keep you. I will not leave you,” echoed the words of God, as Jacob blinked into the morning light.
And as the stars began to disappear in the dawning around him, Jacob knew that he had been surrounded by the holy. He named the place Bethel: House of God. And while it didn’t happen in Jacob’s lifetime. Or his daughters’ and sons’ lifetimes. Or their daughters’ and sons’ lifetimes. But it did happen. And the Kingdom of Jacob – also known as Israel – had as one of its primary worship centers the city of Bethel. And in those ancient walls, one could almost hear the words of God echoing…“Be patient…the Kingdom is coming.”
There was once a farmer who went out to sow seed. And he sowed some good seed. Proven seed. Healthy seed. He had cultivated his field and took care to do it right. But the farmer had an enemy, and the enemy was cunning and wise. And the enemy came in the night and sowed weeds among the good seed. And the weeds looked exactly like the wheat, but they were poison and destructive.
So the farmer’s servants came to him and asked if it would be alright to go through and root out the bad stuff – to yank it out by its roots. And as the farmer started to agree, he paused.
For the farmer was wise. Wiser than his enemy.
And he was cunning. More cunning than his enemy.
And he knew that if he yanked out the weeds by the roots, then he would yank out the good grain as well…which is exactly what his enemy wanted him to do.
So, this cunning and wise farmer waited. He knew that after the grain grew strong, it would be obvious which was weed and which was wheat. And the weeds could be identified and removed.
Sure, the weeds will weaken the wheat steal its nutrients, but they will not destroy the wheat.
Eventually, we will take them out and burn them.
And as the smoke from the useless weeds filled the air, the wise and cunning farmer harvested a bumper crop.
And Jesus told the story to those who had ears willing to hear. That in life, there is wheat and there are weeds. And sometimes we need to be patient with the weeds, for they will eventually be seen for what they are, and they will be removed and they will be burned.
But if we look at the world as though it were all weeds, then we will pull up a lot of good wheat in the process, and the enemy will win. Waiting is work. But it is good work.
We must be patient, Jesus said to those with ears willing to hear. For the Kingdom is coming.
There was once a man named Claudius. He was a Roman citizen through and through. IN fact, he was named after the Emperor Claudius, who had thrown all of the Jews out of Rome back when he was a baby, due to unrest and rioting. His parents had supported the move, always a little skeptical of those who practiced in the shadowy synagogues. Since their departure, Claudius and his family had become followers of The Way, pledging their allegiance to a man called Jesus and his calls for peace and love of neighbor. They gathered every week to sing songs of worship and talk about ways that they could together bring about the ushering in of the Kingdom of God. As young Claudius grew into manhood, he had become a believer himself, and had been baptized on the banks of the Tiber River. Everything was perfect.
That is, until the emperor died and the new Emperor had let the Jews back into Rome. And things that had been going so smoothly got decidedly rocky. Along with the return to the synagogue, many of the Jews returned home reporting that they, too, had become followers of The Way. They, too, had been preaching about Jesus Christ and the Kingdom about which he spoke. They had started coming to church in Rome and were becoming more outspoken about following some of the old ways – certain food restrictions, cultural traditions that Claudius and his family thought were unnecessary and silly. But these returning Jewish Christians insisted on them, and insisted that all the members of the church participate. It was not an easy transition. There were cultural differences. There were generational differences. There were lifestyle differences. And the result was anxiety and chaos.
After the divide had grown deeper and deeper over the last few years, Claudius was becoming a man and a leader in his own right, and had it in mind to come to church that day to propose a radical solution – remove the Jewish Christians from the community, so that they can start their own church and do their own thing. He had been up half the night thinking about how to say it, and was sure it was the right thing to do.
Until he got to church that morning and he sat down to hear the words of a letter. It was from the church leader Paul, who had not been to Rome personally, but had started many churches and was well respected among the non-Jewish Christians. In the letter, Paul referred to the chaos in the Roman church, to the disagreement of cultural and generational differences. In his words, Claudius found a new vision: “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.”
Instead of taking sides in the cultural and generational conflict, Paul simply stated that it just wasn’t that important. That Christians of all sorts can disagree on such cultural issues and still find unity under the cross of Christ. We are all adopted into the family! We are all heirs! Instead of being afraid of the differences, the way of Christ is to show the world that they could move past the disagreements. And it is worth patiently working through short-term disagreements and little differences because there is something bigger going on. There is something larger happening. Claudius found in his words a renewed trust of those who practiced the faith differently than he did, and upon turning back toward the congregation after the letter was read, saw them with new eyes and heard them with new ears. Instead of a spirit of fear, he felt a Spirit of family. And hope. And patience…for the Kingdom was coming!
There was once a church called the First Baptist Church of Lawrence.
And week in and week out, they did the work of God…as followers of The Way.
• But there were nights when they would lay down their heads down like Jacob and feel like they are alone and abandoned.
• There were days when they would look only at the weeds and think that that’s what the world is made of.
• There were days when they would fall back into a spirit of slavery to fear instead of a spirit of adoption.
• And there are days when we get frustrated that people don’t come to church like they used to.
• And there are days – after saying goodbye to our sixth full time staff person in seven years – when we grieve the past and fear the future.
• And there are days when we look at this dang concrete floor and wonder if we are ever going to get this building fixed!
And when those days come, the stories of Jacob and Jesus and Paul remind us loud and clear that waiting is work. But it is good work. And we are almost there!
And I don’t know about you, but I am willing to be patient – I’m not going anywhere.
And our leadership is willing to be patient – they are preparing now for what comes next and where we head from here.
And the wise saints of the church are willing to be patient – I don’t know how many 30-year members and 40-year members and 50-year members have come up to me in the last few months and told me that we are going to be just fine…that we’ve been through worse.
The people of God are willing to be patient because they know that the Kingdom is coming!
They know that this is holy ground. This is the House of God.
They know that a bumper crop waits for those who don’t panic at the sight of a few weeds.
They know that ours is not a spirit of fear, but of family!
The God who told Jacob 4000 years ago to wait because there would be a Kingdom coming
…the God who came in Christ and said to be patient as the Kingdom grows
…the God who spoke through Paul to be patient in our differences and in our suffering
…is still at work today!
And because we know the Kingdom is coming…
…we welcome, we worship, we work, we wonder…
…and we wait.
For waiting is hard work. But it is good work.
And good blessings reward those who wait.