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The Waiting Game

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Welcome

Call to Worship

The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought.

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God.

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?

You, who did not withhold your own Son, will you not also give us all things through him?

*Praise                      # 565        “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come”

*Invocation (Lord’s Prayer)   We do not know how to pray, but as Christ intercedes on our behalf we are emboldened to come before your throne of grace./You make us mindful of your bountiful care as each morning we greet a new day./As we enter the sanctuary we behold your counte­nance in the eyes of sisters and brothers./As your Word is read and pro­claimed we hear how you have been faithful throughout the ages./Be pleased with our offerings of praise and thanksgiving as we respond to your goodness in thought, word, and deed. Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom and the power, and the glory, forever.  Amen

*Gloria Patri (Sung together)                                                                               

*Psalm for Today                                                              Psalm 105:1-11 (NRSV)

O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name, make known his deeds among the peoples.

Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wonderful works.

Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.

Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually.

Remember the wonderful works he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he has uttered,

O offspring of his servant Abraham, children of Jacob, his chosen ones.

He is the Lord our God; his judgments are in all the earth.

He is mindful of his covenant forever, of the word that he commanded, for a

thousand generations,

the covenant that he made with Abraham, his sworn promise to Isaac,

which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute, to Israel as an everlasting covenant,

saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan as your portion for an inheritance.”

Our Offering to God     Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.

*Doxology                                                                                                                         

*Prayer of Dedication   Treasures lose their luster, and riches are easily spent, but your king­dom endures forever. We approach you, 0 God, trusting your will for our lives. You give us assurance of your abiding presence. You provide us with confidence as we follow Christ's call. Accept the gifts that we offer, so that your truth may be known throughout the land.

Scripture Reading                                                                      Romans 8:26-39 (NRSV)

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

*Hymn of Prayer          # 252        “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”

Pastoral Prayer  We know you as the God who is and shall be, one who with might performs wonders and with graciousness bestows many blessings. You speak and the heavens thunder with the sound of your voice. You stretch forth your hand and even the sparrows find safe lodging. In Christ Jesus you chose to walk among your people, revealing in him your marvelous love. As your Holy Spirit breathes fresh upon us, we are filled with the sense of your presence everywhere. You choose not to leave us alone, but to guide us; for all your mercies we give you our thanks.  Your heavenly order conditions our decisions, determining the present and future course of our lives. Your commandments ordain how we should respect other people; your judgment controls us when we seek to rebel. We pray for a recurring sense of revelation, an intrusion of percep­tion that will enlighten our vision. We know the Christ, how he calls us to follow. We ask for direction in our quest to obey. He calls us to struggle on behalf of your righteousness; keep us from complacency that hinders response. When we wrestle with forces that would dehumanize our neigh­bors, help us to be specific on what needs to occur. Give us those extraor­dinary glimpses of your purpose, and grant us strength to obey your will. // Help us not to be unduly anxious, when the results of our actions are not readily known. Add to our need for security a level of your providence that you promise in Christ. Chasten our desires to control our own destiny, and give us the freedom to take risks for your sake. When we stumble, set us securely once again on your path. When we take detours, keep us safe until we regain our bearings. You know who we are and where we are going. With that assurance, we shall continue on.

*Hymn of Praise                  # 401        “It Is Well with my Soul”

Scripture Text                                                                Matthew 13:24-30 (NRSV)

24 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to

someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’ ”


Message                                    The Waiting Game

All of us who have tried to plant a garden or get a green lawn to grow have had the experience of putting out good plants or sowing quality seeds, only to discover that after a short time of neglect the weeds have taken over.

Did you ever wonder where the weeds come from? Our parable says they come from the enemy. While we are asleep, in the dead of night, he comes under the cover of darkness and sows weeds in our garden. //To the first century Jew this would seem like a very plausible answer, for in the Orient a common means of getting revenge on a disagreeable neighbor was to sow weeds in his field. In the explanation of the parable, (Matthew 13:36-43), the sower of the weeds is identified not as a vengeful neighbor, but as the evil one - the Devil himself.

How are we to react to the presence of evil in our world and in our own lives? / The simple and direct answer of the parable is that we are to wait - wait until the harvest, then the time of separation will come. //

The waiting game is certainly not the most popular sport; to wait for someone is perhaps one of the most exasperating things we have to do.

In this age of constant rushing we all become clock watchers. Waiting for the traffic light to change when we are late can irritate the most even-tempered. Waiting in a long line at the supermarket can ruin our whole day. Yet playing the "waiting game," our parable tells us, is a very vital part of being a member of the Kingdom of God.

Christians have long been told to "wait for the Lord," to hold back, endure, have patience and look to the future. But this biding our time and passively resigning ourselves to what is happening, particularly when what is happening is wrong, is never easy.

The Israelites played the "waiting game." They waited, not always with patience, for over fifty years of enduring exile, and homelessness. They plodded through one ordinary day after another in the wilderness. They waited for deliverance. They waited for the promised land. They waited for the Messiah. Yet it was undoubtedly this waiting on the Lord that built into the very fiber of the Jewish nation the faith to face the disappointments and persecutions which have been their continual lot in history.

The important thing is to discover the positive aspect of waiting - to see that waiting is not just holding back, biding time, or doing nothing, but can be a positive action. Waiting is positive when it is accompanied by a promise.  Waiting is positive when you know that there is something ahead worth waiting for.

This "waiting game" that God calls his people to play is not like that faced by Charlie Brown with Lucy and the football. Oh, we may, like Charlie, be foiled again and again. Like Charlie, our waiting may have its lumps and its bruises, but God is no Lucy who chides us. Rather, he comforts and encourages us. And more, he promises us that waiting is not all there is to life in His kingdom. Waiting is just the beginning.  

To wait is not easy, but when we have something worth waiting for, then it can be done with patience. Waiting can be a positive action when we catch the vision of what great things are in store for us. With such a vision we can, like little children, anxiously wait for the party or the picnic with excitement and joy. We know that what our Father promises he will fulfill. /

With this attitude let us turn to the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares and listen and learn its lesson.

We begin in the field. Jesus in explaining the parable to his disciples (Matthew 13:36-43), identifies the field as the world. 

The field represents those of us who have within ourselves both wheat and tares. Wherever God rules and wherever his will is done, there is the Kingdom. The field of the parable is not so much analogous to a place as it is to history - the history of the entire world, the church, and the individual. The field is pictured in the parable as a battle between the reign of God and the reign of evil.

The important issue of the parable thereby becomes not the distinction between a world of weeds and the church where only wheat grows. The issue is the conflict between God and the Evil One which rages in every area of life, in the church as well as in the world.

One of the assumptions of the parable is that our Lord believed in the Devil as a personal reality. He was not struggling against fate, or impersonal forces, or wrong ideas, or bad social conditions; he was fighting a personal will that was in deliberate rebellion against God.

This was not equally matched forces battling for supremacy. It was a revolution within God's Kingdom. Christ therefore saw his task as twofold: to free imprisoned humankind from the Devil, then meet the Evil One face to face and attack and defeat him for all time so that there could once more be peace and harmony within God's Kingdom. /////

When the average person mentions the Devil, it is generally in jest, such as Flip Wilson saying, "The Devil made me do it."

In the New Testament in general and in our parable in particular, just the opposite is true. The Evil One is not obvious and easily recognized. He is subtle and cunning and looks just about like everyone else.

One of the decisive points of the parable is that the wheat and tares look so much alike in the early stage that by the time the plants come to a head and it is easy to distinguish them, it is too late. The roots of the wheat and the tares are so intertwined that pulling up the tares will tear the wheat out with them. The Devil is deceptive. He is extremely clever. 

When the New Testament presents evil as a person, this is their way of expressing the flexibility and maneuverability of evil. It can react, adjust, and adapt to any and all situations that might arise. To enter the ring and challenge evil is not to box with shadows, but to face a skillful opponent who can duck and dodge and hit back when your guard is down.

The men of the New Testament were keenly aware of the cunningness and trickery they had experienced in their encounters with evil. And there was no better way to express this quality of evil than to personify it. The Bible advises us to deal with evil as if we were dealing with a person.

German theologians, when considering what happened in Germany under the reign of Hitler, have pointed out that the end result cannot be explained by simply adding up all the persons involved and combining their potential evil. 

In a concentration camp in a concrete-block building. there was one large room with faucet-like fixtures jutting out from the walls with strange marking on the wall about ten feet from the floor."  "That building was a gas chamber during the war. Each day hundreds of Jews were led naked into this room thinking that it was a shower. When the doors were closed and bolted, deadly gas hissed through those jets. When the people realized what was happening they panicked. Those markings cut deep into solid concrete were the marks of human fingernails made by those terrified people as they frantically tried to claw their way out."

Now such examples of man's inhumanity to man are ample evidence that the power of evil cannot be explained or accounted for, by adding up the sum total of potential evil of the German people. Evil is super-social. That is one of the things that the Bible is witnessing to when it personifies evil and presents the image of a personal Devil.

The flexibility, the adaptability, the cleverness, the cunningness of evil are vital and helpful insights concerning the nature of evil in our world. And we are foolish to close our ears to this profound insight into a people's experience of evil simply because we are turned off by the image of a personal Devil. ///

There is within the parable an assumption that the Devil chooses to work where God is most active. He does not fence off a section of the world for his own little acre. Rather, he deliberately plants his tares in the very field that God is cultivating.

There is a tendency for religious people in general and church people in particular to talk as if evil selects a certain prescribed territory in which to set up his business. We refer to "dens of iniquity," or a "dives," or  "brothels" as evil. To enter such places is to open ourselves up to temptation. The parable indicates, however, that there is no zone of security from the work of evil. The Devil works in the church as well as in the dimly lit dives down dark alleys. In fact, the Evil One prefers Holy Places - God's field - for there he can fully utilize his artful disguises and exercise his full bag of tricks. The faithful believer is not immune from the Devil; but is the Devil's prize objective.

The church is the Devil's parish as well as God's, and we labor not only for God but against the Devil. The parable says, don't be surprised to find tares among the wheat, ­expect them there. For weeds like and thrive on the same fertile ground as the good plants. Both wheat and weed grow together.

The issue is the problem of what, if anything, we should do with the evil that is among us. //  The answer is that we are "to wait." / we are not to "over-react." / "We must learn to live with imperfections."  

The answer the parable gives is that we are to wait because, "As you gather the weeds you might pull up some of the wheat along with them."

Consider what our actions will do to the whole body. We should punish evil within the bounds of good judgment and never thoughtlessly rush head-on into rash actions that might only result in our destroying each other.  

We should wait because God may use evil to our own advantage. God sometimes uses evil to mature and increase our faith. This does not mean that God desires to use evil for his work, or that God creates evil for his own advantage. But once evil does exist and is operative in creation because of man's rebellion, God can and does use it for good.

The cross, for example, was constructed by man to punish evildoers. But God takes this instrument of punishment and fashions out of it a means of redemption.

Rusken was spending the weekend at the home of a lady who had a very rare and valuable collection of handkerchiefs. One of the guests had brought a magnificent handkerchief to give her hostess as a thank-you gift. While she was writing the accompanying note, a large drop of ink fell from the pen into the very center of the handkerchief. The artist Ruskin; seeing her tearful disappointment, asked to borrow the handkerchief. He took his paints, and starting with the ink blot as the basic pattern, he fashioned a magnificent design in the center of the fabric. Today that ink-blotted handkerchief resides in a museum, the choice piece of a very distinguished collection. So God takes the ink blots of our lives and uses them as the basis for a creation of beauty. /////

Wait because weeding implies judgment and judgment is the exclusive right of God and God alone. We are not qualified to separate the good from the bad.

We cannot look into the heart of a person. We see outward manifestations of wickedness, but we cannot tell what is really happening. It may be that a decisive struggle is going on within a person. We see only the surface turmoil and fail to see that God is at work within the person bringing him to redemption.  

Wait, for there is no quick and easy solution to the problem of evil. It is God-size in its proportions. / Even though the tares obscure the wheat, they cannot damage the good crop.

There is no indication in the parable that the wheat suffers because of the

weeds. The weeds do not rob moisture or nutrition from the wheat. Therefore, let the weeds grow, for they do no harm to anything but themselves. For as the weeds grow, it becomes more and more apparent what they are. ///

God sets decisive limits on evil. He permits it a certain degree of success, for only in this way will evil really reveal itself for what it is. When God thinks evil is ripe, he will destroy it. Therefore, trust God, for the Kingdom of God exists where people trust God and know that evil will ultimately fail.

The problem of evil is not what people do, but what they are. We can no more rid the world of evil by our own efforts than we can change people. You must get to the roots of the weeds and destroy them. And only God can do that.

So evil as a force and power in our world cannot be destroyed by our efforts no matter how much immediate success our reforms may enjoy. Only a cross on a lonely hill, and an empty tomb in a garden, and the coming of Jesus in glory can accomplish the gigantic job of rooting out and destroying evil. *******

This parable does not prohibit us from correcting wrongs in our world and

working against evil forces. / God alone can eliminate evil, but we have a duty to combat the effects of evil in our world. When we do this we are not destroying evil so much as we are witnessing to the ultimate work of God who will, when the time is right, rid the field of the weeds and gather the wheat.

Perhaps the key to understanding what we cannot do when we come up

against evil in our world is the phrase, "Pull up the weeds," which literally

means destroy, eliminate, kill. This we cannot do. But we can combat evil and take our stand against it.

When Sherman marched to the sea, a little old lady refused to leave her home in Georgia. She stood on her front porch and watched the fields and the homes of her neighbors burning across the valley. As the army of Sherman came closer and closer and finally started down the road to her farm, she could restrain herself no longer. She grabbed her broom and stood defiantly in the road. The advancing soldiers stopped and the captain cried out to her, "Old lady, do you expect to win the war with a broom?" "No," came the quick reply, "but at least I'll show the world which side I'm on."

So we combat the effects of evil in our world not because we are deluded into thinking that we can ever rid the world of evil. We know that we can't. Only God can do that.·But as we stand up against evil with our little brooms, we show the world which side we're on. We stand with God who possesses the power to overcome the Evil One.

This leads us to how we are to wait. We have pointed out that this parable does not imply non-resistance to the effects of evil in our world. We are to wait, but we are to actively wait. / We are to resist evil not by forceful action, judgment, or uprooting, but by the strength of faith, prayer, obedience and loyalty to God. "The only way to really do battle against evil within this world is to constantly remember that we belong to God. " 

We are to resist evil not with force but with faith. We oppose evil by our trust in Christ. Evil does not fear us or our efforts. Evil fears only Christ. So we are to wait positively and patiently. We are to actively wait in true faith, clinging to the promise and the cross of Christ. //Remember that one greater than evil has hold of us and he will never let us go.

This parable speaks to the temptation in all of us to take matters into our own hands. It warns us that God is sovereign, and we should avoid taking over God's business.

Each step of the story clearly places the full weight of the plot on the owner of the field. At best the servants play a supportive role. Even the enemy is not identified in the story itself. It is as if everything is designed by the storyteller to place exclusive attention on the owner of the field. He sows, he instructs the servants, he tells the harvest workers, he gathers into his barns.

As a story the parable has but one conclusion. It says to the listener, "Hands off, don't interfere. The weeds are the owner's business."

A secondary implication of the story is that the servants will do more harm to the wheat than the enemy if they interfere, trying to correct the situation. The enemy only sowed weeds among wheat which causes extra work and effort at harvest time, but it does not harm the wheat. On the other hand, if the servants try to undo what the enemy has done, they will actually harm and destroy the wheat. The implication here is that well-meaning servants can do more harm by trying to help than the enemy did in the first place by sowing the weeds.

The first lesson drawn from such an implication would be a warning to us that when we attempt to interfere in the activities that exclusively belong to God we are God's worst enemies. There is a familiar saying, "with friends like this who needs enemies?"

Don't take matters into your own hands. Don't serve without directives and orders, or you will in most cases be working against God rather than for him.

When we judge and condemn others, when we set up our own standards of what it means to be saved, when we claim absolute knowledge of God's will and of his Scriptures, we take over God's role and attempt to run his business.

This parable makes it quite clear who is boss. God is.

The second lesson this parable teaches concerns salvation. Our salvation and the salvation of the world is the work of God and God alone.

Both we and our world will be saved by grace and by grace alone. When we attempt to interfere and do something to save ourselves, we only frustrate the work of grace in us.

As when a person is drowning and the lifeguard comes to his aid, any effort on the part of the drowning person to save himself only works against the efforts of the one who is in the process of attempting to save him. The parable states in bold, broad statements that God is sovereign in all things. He and he alone is the one who shall rid the world of evil. And he and he alone shall save us.

Salvation is by grace and by grace alone. We are not saved by our strong faith, or our obedient servanthood. We are saved only when we stand back and let God do it.

*Hymn of Response          # 277  “Now I Belong to Jesus”

*Sending forth  

*Postlude

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