Wheat and Weeds: The Strange Patience of Christians

In our journey through Matthew`s Gospel we`ve been reflecting on several of the Parables which Jesus told. Last week you might recall we were presented with the Parable of the Sower. This morning we heard what`s sometimes called the Parable of the wheat and the weeds. (Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43)

My invitation to you last week was to think about the Parable of the Sower as a window onto what the Lord believed he was doing. The sowing of the seed; his announcement of the inbreaking of God`s Kingdom reign was something he did generously, persistently and without missing anyone out, no matter how impervious they might seem. And I suggested that these same characteristics should be the hallmark of what we do. So that we don`t lose heart as we participate in Christ`s mission, our calling is to be a persistent and generous Church. He wants us, I believe to join in the `announcing` with courtesy, clarity and conviction.

And as that parable illustrates, whereas it`s easy to be put off by the often negative response; the difficult terrain in which we live and work it`s equally possible to be put off by what a poor shape we seem to be in. And this is what we see in that Parable of the wheat and the weeds this morning.

A great hero of mine, Eugene Peterson tells of how he was once asked what he liked most about being a Minister. He says that without thinking he simply replied, “the mess”. And then he realised that actually, although he hadn`t thought about it, that was actually what he liked most about Church life. Not least because he is wise enough to know that we have no alternative anyway. The field in which we operate is far from tidy.

As a Church we have often taken solace in this parable because it reminds us that we are always a `work in progress`. No matter how much we might bemoan what we call the `state of the church` (and so often it seems we have little to be proud of!) we know that we must resist the impulse that we see in those slaves who wanted to gather in and remove all the weeds for sake of a tidy field. No, we have to resist pointing the finger at those who we believe make the place look so untidy and difficult. We have to learn to live with much that is provisional….. and certainly not think the grass is greener elsewhere. As it`s sometimes wittily said, “Don`t join the perfect Church because you`ll only spoil it!” No, bitter experience has taught us how foolhardy it is to attempt to weed out the `undesirables` and how immature `church hopping` can be. My point is that in this parable we`re confronted with the Lord who knows… and who shows incredible patience with us.

When I was a child I was forever being told, “Patience is a virtue” and hardly a day seemed to go by when I wasn`t told, “Wait and see”. I`m not sure it did me that much good… I`ve never like queueing and if truth be told behind the wheel of a car I can be quite as competitive as anyone else. I still have much to learn. But its only in recent times that I`ve come to realise how seriously the early Church took this matter of patience. Those who study the life of the very first Christians tell us that living in a world that was hostile to the faith they came to regard patience as a quality that was indispensable both to their survival and their growth.

Now one of the things we need to grasp about the first Christians is that they didn`t mess about. Back in the year 256 Bishop Cyprian of Carthage said, “We do not speak great things but we live them”. So, when it came to patience; since it is referred to as one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit he and the first Christians expected it to be clearly seen and demonstrated in their lives. The reason for this attitude is that the Christian faith; to their way of thinking wasn`t about what was going on between your ears it was a matter of action. In short the whole point about being a Christians was to reflect, reveal and make present the character of God… the God of patience. This, I want to suggest, is our way into this Parable. So, just as Christ announces the Kingdom reign of God, persistently and generously; he does so with patience. So, why might patience matter so much? How is it a reflection of the character of God?

Well, the early Christians would point firstly to the God who has worked patiently and inexorably across the centuries and who in the fullness of time revealed himself in Christ. The manner of Christ`s birth and ministry; its relative obscurity and his preparedness to work with some pretty unpromising characters gives us a picture of the God who takes up this patient posture; as one who `endures` us. In other words, here is the God who is not in a hurry; the God who knows what it is to live with incompleteness and waiting.

This patience is about resisting the temptation to control or force an outcome. This patience doesn`t press buttons, it plants seeds. And patience of course, has a different view of time. That`s why our setting these few moments aside this morning is so important.

That worship might be regarded with a take it or leave it ordinariness… another option in a busy schedule is nothing short of a blasphemy. Because what`s going on here, if you`ll understand me, is something akin to entering a totally different time zone. It`s here that we discover that our inner watches are set very differently. We put ourselves in touch with a totally different rhythm which, if we really imbibe it will leave us strangely at variance with our world of sharp elbows and the desire for everything instantaneously. This is what the calling to keep the sabbath is really all about.

I mean, in a week when Doctor Who got all the press attention we forget that it`s here that we`re dealing with the original `Time Lord`. In worship, we are lifted up and given a totally different perspective; which tells us that consequently, we have all the time in the world to be faithful. In worship, we are formed by his patience; his timeline. Again, this patience matters because it resists the temptation to control. Here we learn to temper our instinct to wield power over others… We learn to leave space for the often deeper and wiser processes of the Holy Spirit. This is the patience we learn as we bring to the Lord those people that matter to us… Those for whom we wait… those who have lost their way gone astray and it seems that there`s little we can do… but wait. In this sense patience is also therefore non-violent; it`s not coercive and it bears insult and injury entrusting the outcome to God.

And this is where the Parable leads us isn`t it? We would readily tidy things up; provide the Lord with a much better world; a far better administered Church. And like those slaves who would separate the wheat and the weeds; we would do so ignorant of the damage we would do when we ignore the overarching wisdom of God. Bishop Justin who died a martyr in the year 165, referred to what he called the “strange patience” of the Christians. He saw a body of people who had allowed their characters to be formed by the Holy Spirit; who made them patient. In their daily activities, they had come to embody the mind and attitude of Christ. So, for instance, they carried out their business dealings with patience….

They lived in a world hostile to their faith… they lived in a Church quite as mixed and problematic as our own. But each one and each gathering had become a window onto the character of God made known in Christ… because of this strange patience; this different way of being in the world.

So here`s something worth praying with this morning. Pray for the grace of patience in the little things as well as what we regard as the big things. Pray for a patience that others might regard as `strange`… that will speak of the patient God. Give thanks for the patience you have received from the Lord and from others…. And remember that it`s often the casual encounters where we refuse to rush or where we accept waiting just a little longer; it`s often in these times that we become bearers of the patient character of God. Go to it.

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