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The Rev. Samuel Edwards: Sermon for Epiphany 5
Prydain ^ | 2/08/2006 | Will

Posted on 02/08/2006 12:41:42 PM PST by sionnsar

This sermon from the Rev. Samuel Edwards of the Anglican Church of the Holy Comforter in Alabama is something a little different from the usual sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany in its application of the parable of the wheat and the tares:

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (2006)

Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. [Colossians 3:12-13]

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

Inscribed on the foundation stone of Zion, says the prophet Isaiah, are these words: “He that believeth shall not make haste.” [Isaiah 28:16] This is really the point of both the Gospel and of the Epistle that we have heard this day.

The Gospel is the parable of the weeds among the wheat. It is one of several parables of the kingdom that Jesus tells in order to teach his disciples how to see things through God’s eyes and frame their actions accordingly.

The problem set forth in the parable is the presence of both good and bad plants in the householder’s field. He has sown it with wheat seed, but now, some time into the growing season, it is evident that, in addition to the wheat, there are weeds – specifically, tares, also known as darnel – growing in the same field. The servants know that their master has sown only good seed, and so they are at a loss to explain why these weeds are growing there too. The master is quite clear on the cause – this is malicious sabotage: “An enemy hath done this.” The servants rightly think that this is terrible, and so they ask him, “Shall we go pull up the weeds?” You can almost see them reaching for their hoes and heading for the door when the master gives them his startling answer: “No,” he says. “If you do that you will pull up a lot of the wheat with them. So wait until the harvest. Then you will be able clearly to distinguish and separate them. The wheat will go to the granary; the tares to the fire.”

The horticultural reality that lies behind this parable is this: It is a characteristic of tares, or darnel, that it looks very much like wheat during the first stage of its growth. Only a well-trained observer can tell the difference between the two plants. However, by the time they both begin to mature, almost anyone can tell the difference by looking at their fruit. The concern of the householder’s servants is understandable, for the weeds can rob the wheat of needed nourishment and slow its growth. It is natural enough that they want to do something about it right away. Natural, but not wise.

Their master sees further than they do. He knows that by the time the difference between the wheat and the tares has become evident, their roots are intertwined. This means that if one plant is pulled up, so will be the other. It is for this reason – for the sake of the wheat, and not because of any tender feelings toward the tares – that he tells his servants to wait until the harvest.

The servants are not wrong in their desire to get rid of the tares. After all, a wheat field is for wheat, not for tares. It can comprehend many different varieties of wheat, but in the end it cannot include weeds. The mistake of the servants is not in wanting to do something about the problem, but in wanting to do it at the wrong time. Had they been allowed to do the weeding when they wanted to do it, much that was good would have been lost, and people would go hungry because there wasn’t enough wheat. But the master knew the quality both of the soil and of the wheat; he knew that the soil was rich and the wheat hardy; he knew that there was more than enough in the soil to nourish the wheat, even with the weeds growing there too; he knew that it was safe to wait for the harvest. So he told the servants to wait until the time, and with it the crop, was ripe, and only then to act.

This is a parable that counsels patience, which is never an easy virtue to practice, and is especially hard for people with an activist attitude. It might help here to understand what patience is not, as well as what it is. Genuine patience is an active, not a passive virtue. The word is not a synonym for inactivity: The master in the parable does not forbid his servants to point out to others that there are weeds among the wheat. He does not forbid them from teaching others how to discern the difference.

Our English word “patience” comes from a Latin (passus) root that has to do with suffering. When we put that together with the New Testament Greek word (hypomone) which is translated as “patience,” but is also accurately rendered as “steadfastness” and “endurance,” we get the sense that patience in the Christian sense is far more than just putting up with, even ignoring, what displeases us (or God). If it involves suffering – and it does – it is suffering to a purpose. God puts up with a great deal that he doesn’t like, but it is always for the sake of the harvest, and when the harvest is accomplished and the wheat is gathered in, there will be a reckoning with the tares.

The godly patience to which faithful Christians are called always has a purpose and goal, and it is God’s own purpose and goal: It is patience for the sake of a fruitful harvest, for the sake of saving every good thing that can be saved. Not infrequently, this will require us, both as persons and a body of believers, to place ourselves in the path of some oncoming evil and infidelity and refuse to get out of its way. We may not stop it before it runs us down, but we may obstruct and weaken it so that it more easily may be overcome in the fullness of time. We may on occasion be called upon to be the spiritual equivalents of the defenders of the Alamo, whose resistance did not stop Santa Ana, but did ensure his defeat.

Christian patience is not biding our time, but biding God’s time in active hope, even unto death, after the pattern of Jesus himself, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the Cross, despising the shame.” But it is still a very difficult virtue to practice, and there are two major temptations which threaten it: One is the temptation of the servants in the parable, which is to do God’s work before he would have it done. Yield to this one, and we may end up destroying the harvest in our efforts to save it.

The other temptation is that of doing nothing at all. This is not patience, but sloth. The slothful man sits still, ignoring unpleasantness and hoping it will go away. His focus is on himself and his own comfort. The patient man, on the other hand, is actively involved in living a disciplined and self-sacrificial life. In the storm, he does not counsel dropping the anchor and going below decks to ride it out. Rather, he is on deck in the storm with the rest of the crew, his lifeline secured, struggling to keep the ship headed into and through the storm to the calm on the other side.

This is not, I repeat, an easy virtue to practice. It is not natural to us in our fallen condition. Paul recognizes as much in the Epistle reading when he says that it is something which we must “put on.” We did not come clothed with patience any more than we came clothed with compassion, kindness, humility, and forgiving hearts. All these we must be clothed with, and this happens to the extent that we are willing actually to conform to the way we describe ourselves in today’s collect, and to be those who “lean only upon the hope of [God’s] heavenly grace.” As we are willing to lean on him, he shall be strong in us; as we are willing to decrease, he shall increase among us; for in our weakness is his strength shown forth.
I have a tendency to think of this parable as applying to the Last Judgment, but Fr. Edwards here applies it--and aptly--to the fields of our own hearts. May we indeed cultivate these virtues of patience, compassion, kindness, humility and forgiving hearts that we might grow ever more like Jesus.

TOPICS: Mainline Protestant

1 posted on 02/08/2006 12:41:43 PM PST by sionnsar
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2 posted on 02/08/2006 12:42:17 PM PST by sionnsar (†† | Libs: Celebrate MY diversity! | Iran Azadi 2006 | Is it March yet?)
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