Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Sunday, July 23, in Two Ridges Presbyterian Church, Wintersville, Ohio. You can hear a podcast of the sermon on the Cove Presbyterian Podbean page. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.
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Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
He put to them another parable saying, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a person who sows good seeds in his field. While they were sleeping, the enemy came and sowed over darnel in the middle of the wheat and left. And when the grain sprouted and bore fruit, then the darnel also appeared. And the slaves of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Lord, you sowed good seed in the field, didn’t you? Now from where did the darnel come?’ And he replied to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Now do you want us to go out and gather them?’ And he replied, ‘No, lest in gathering the darnel, you might uproot at the same time the wheat. Allow them both to grow together until the harvest. And at the time of the harvest, I will say to the reapers, “Collect first the darnel and bind them in bundles in order to burn them up, but the wheat gather into my granary.”’”
Then after he’d left the crowds, he went in the house. And after his disciple came to him, they said, “Explain to us the parable of the darnel of the field.” And he answered saying, “The one who sows the good seed is the son of man. And the field is the world. And the good seed, these are the children of the kingdom. And the darnel are the children of the evil one. And the enemy who sowed is the Devil. And the harvest is at the completion of the age. And the reapers are the angels. Now just as the darnel is collected and in fire burned, thus it is at the completion of the age. The son of man sends his angels and they collect from his kingdom all the causes of stumbling and those who are lawless. And they will throw them into the furnace of fire. There is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine out like the sun in the kingdom of their father. The one who has ears, hear.”
When the Bathtub Leaks
Now, I’m aware that some of my sermon titles are a little off the wall, but you know, I really don’t think that’s the case this week, because the title relates to a situation I had to deal with, oh, about twenty years ago and I’ll tell you, it’s exactly like the kind of thing we have to face in the church from time to time. You see, back when I was working in Indianapolis, I bought a house. But one day I noticed a problem; I had a leaky bathtub. Now, it wasn’t all that bad, just a little bit around the facet. But still, it leaked. And since I am a man, I decided I had to fix it myself. Now, understand I had no idea what I was doing. And I’m kind of mechanically challenged anyway. But was that going to stop me? Of course not, my gosh, my bathtub was leaking. And so I took my little hammer and my little wrench and started wacking away. And by some incredible stroke of luck, the water stopped dripping: hallaleuah, praise the Lord and pass the ammunition. Problem solved.
Now, I’ve got to tell you, I felt pretty good, until the next morning, when I came downstairs to make myself some breakfast and noticed on the kitchen ceiling this spot, this big, wet spot. You see, I’d taken a shower, and the bathroom was right above the kitchen. And so now, thanks to my desire to fix it right away, not only did I have a leaky bathtub but a big spot on the kitchen ceiling. You see, I had a problem that I’d made worse by rushing in and not trusting someone smarter than me, in other words, someone who knew what he or she was doing.
And you know, it seems to me that sometimes we do the same kind of thing in the church, and I’m including the church universal and the denomination and our congregation. I mean, see if this rings any bells. There’s a problem in the church, usually centered around a person or group who’s maybe causing some kind of trouble, you know, stirring up stuff or maybe causing divisions or setting one Christian against another. You know, something like that. Anyway, another group, maybe even us, we see what’s happening, and we rush in to solve the problem, right: guns blazing, knocking heads together, telling folks that maybe they should find another place to worship God; all the while believing that they’re doing exactly what the master wants. The only problem is that things go from bad to horrible, and at the end of the day, they’re just praying that after it’s all over, somebody’s left standing. You see the relationship? Just like I did with the leaky tub, sometimes we see a problem that we make worse by rushing in and not trusting someone who knows what he’s doing.
And I’ll tell you, for that reason, when those times come up in the church, and I’ll guarantee they will, I think we need to pause and remember the passage we read this morning. Because you know, I believe Jesus nailed our situation pretty well and gave us three things to think about when the bathtub starts leaking around here.
And like gremlins, they cause all kinds of mischief in Christ’s body, but probably worst of all, because of them, the church’s productivity goes down. And that makes sense; all the foolishness they inspire diverts the church from what’s really most important, and I’m talking about loving God and loving neighbor. And I’ll tell you, sometimes dealing with them drains away so much energy, that a congregation may find it hard enough to stand much less follow. You see, just like weedy soil, they can cause good seed not to bear much fruit. And this is the tricky one, sometimes they’re hard to spot. I mean, it’s not like they all wear propeller caps or speak with Australian accents. And think about it, deceit and slander can sound like truth, ruthlessness like healthy competition, heartlessness like “tough love,” and if you word it right, gossip can actually sound like a prayer request. Sadly, there are some problem children in the church, because they’re also in the world, and that’s the first thing we need to remember.
And second, just like I learned with my bathtub, when faced with that kind of thing, we can actually cause even more damage if we just rush in and try to solve it in the way we think it should be solved. You know, it’s interesting, in the parable, when they saw the weeds, which when young looks exactly like wheat, “...the slaves said, ‘Now do you want us to go out and gather them?’” Of course, they were really fortunate that they had a master who had sense enough to say, “No, lest in gathering the darnel, you might uproot at the same time the wheat.” You see, if those well-meaning but impatient slaves had gone out and trumped through the field, pulling up everything that looked suspicious, that master wouldn’t have had to worry about limited production, because his crop would be pretty much gone. It’s like destroying a disease by killing the patient. And yet, that’s what we often do, when we rush in to pull a few weeds from the church. You see, no matter how well meaning we are, when we starting weeding, we’re going to stomp down or pluck up some potentially productive Christians
who’s only crime is looking like the folks we’ve labeled as trouble. And even when we pull out the right ones, how many good plants are also going to sacrificed because their roots are tangled? And you know, when we get to this weed pulling stage, well, to do it well, we may have to become, at the very least, crafty, heartless, and ruthless, probably worst. In other words, we can become as bad, frankly as unchristian, as the folks we’re judging and condemning. And when that’s our reputation, you tell me how we’re ever going to be productive. Our actions can actually make a bad situation worse, and that’s the second thing we need to remember.
Now, I think we need to remember this, and I’ll tell you why. There may be times and situations when we might need to confront a Christian brother or sister and maybe ask one to leave. Christ himself recognized that possibility and even offered some guidelines on how it should be done. No, I don’t want anyone to think that I’m suggesting that the church should either accept or ignore everything and anything that might sprout up. But you know, when we begin to deal with these issues, remembering that God is in charge which by the way means we’re not, well, that just might slow us down a little bit in our rush to judgement and execution. And it might help us deal with the very real problems we may face with humility and grace and patience, seeking always the guidance of the Master, something that those slaves did before their desire to act caused them to destroy the crop. Man, God is in charge, that’s the third thing we need to keep in mind.
Remember the story of the leaky bathtub I talked about a little while ago? Well, later that day I got a plumber, and after, about two hours and ten minutes, which meant I paid him for a full three hours, he fixed the leak, something he could have probably done in about an hour, but remember I fixed it first. And the next weekend, I painted the kitchen ceiling. And you know, when I moved out of the house about ten years later, you could still the faint outline of the spot. That’s what happened to me, and I’ll tell you, it can happen to us if we forget that even though there are some bad seeds, you know problem children, even within the church, we can cause more damage than they could on their worst day, if we rush in and try to weed them out ourselves instead of trusting that God is in control. You see, maybe that’s a lesson we can all apply the next time it happens, and of course I’m talking about the next time the bathtub leaks.