If I were Jesus, I’d stop there and say, “Let anyone with ears listen!” (Matthew 13:9).
Unfortunately for you, I am not Jesus, so I am not going to leave it there. But before saying more about my parable, we need to look at our Gospel reading for this morning.
Our reading comes from the very end of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus has finished his public teaching and service. He has finished the Last Supper. He has finished his parting instructions to his disciples about what will happen in the next few hours. All that remains for Jesus to do before his betrayal and arrest is to pray. That is what he is doing in our reading.
What strikes me in this climatic prayer is Jesus’ claim that Christians do not belong to the world. Jesus says, we do not belong to the world, just as he does not belong to the world. In case we miss it the first time, Jesus repeats it word for word. Clearly this is a big deal. But what does Jesus mean?
Jesus actually says three things about our relationship to the “world.”
First, the world is us. Apart from Christ, we are defined by the world. The world was created by God and declared very good. But the world has become mired in sin and darkness. And apart from Christ, that is who we are too.
But, second, God has taken us from the world and given us to Christ. That is in the first line of Jesus’ prayer, and it is the reason Jesus can say that we do not belong to the world. As Christian people, we are not defined by our relationship to the world around us, but by our relationship with the God we know in Jesus Christ.
In baptism we are “sealed by the Holy Spirit… and marked as Christ’s own forever.” We have been touched in a special way by the grace of God. We have been, in some mysterious way, set free from the world of sin and death. That is what Jesus means when he says that we do not belong to the world, but to God.
But it is hard to wrap our minds around that good news. So, back to my parable. The kingdom of heaven is like my front yard.
As many of you know, I left town after Church two weeks ago. I went to New Hampshire for three days, then to North Carolina for the weekend. When I left, there was not a lot of action in our front yard.
After I returned I had other things to be doing, so I didn’t pay attention to our yard. Carrie will tell you, I can be remarkably inattentive. When I finally got around to looking at our yard on Thursday, I was shocked. Without my noticing it, the whole thing had exploded into life.
That may sound like a good thing. It was NOT a good thing. Last summer, we planted lots of little delicate things. They were what I hoped to see. But our front yard was covered in Maple seedlings. There were hundreds of them. There may have been thousands. Our delicate flowers were totally invisible under all those tiny Maples, and it looked terrible. Worse, every yard around us looked great.
So, I got to work pulling up Maple seedlings one at a time. Whenever a neighbor wandered by, I just looked down. I was afraid they would say something like, “we were wondering when you would get to your yard.”
After what felt like 14 hours of work but was in fact less than two, I had finished half our yard. Sadly, that is where it stands even now. Long-suffering Carrie invited her eighty-year-old father to come down today to help her finish the job.
All right. What might my yard illustrate about the kingdom of heaven and the Christian life, about belonging to God and not to the world?
First, God has planted seeds in us, seeds of faith, hope, and love, seeds of mercy and compassion, seeds of life, and strength, and joy. God has planted those seeds, and God is ready to help them grow.
But other seeds have gotten in us too, seeds that we don’t want, seeds that grow fast and threaten to choke the good seeds God has planted. That is us, trapped in the world of sin and darkness.
Christ is our gardener. Christ plucks up all those invasive seedlings, everything that comes to us from the world. And Christ nourishes all those good seeds, the ones that come to us from God. Thanks to Christ, who sets us free from the world, we get to be part of the garden tour. That is because we belong to God.
But—this is where it gets complicated—not quite yet. We do not belong to the world. But we are not entirely free of the world either. Most of us really are like my yard—partly weeded, but still very much a work in progress.
I say again, Christ is the real gardener, and thank God for that! Christ redeems us. Christ continues to work on us. That is how we know that we do not belong to the world, that we do have eternal life.
But as long as there are weeds in our lives, there is work to do. We are like Christ’s assistant gardeners charged with doing what we can to pluck up all those invasive worldly weeds that have gotten into our lives.
But weeding out sin is hard, and the progress is slow, and it is easy to get discouraged.
That is why we need the good news of this passage. We are not defined by where we were—trapped in the world of sin and darkness. We are not defined by what we are—a weedy garden with a neglectful assistant gardener. We are defined by what we are in the process of becoming, with God’s help—a beautiful garden fit for the garden tour. We belong, not to the world, but to God.
And what is true of us as individuals is true of the world itself.
Christ is not just at work in us. Christ is also at work in the world. Christ is at work in the world because God the Father sends Christ into the world. Christ is at work in the world rooting out sin, overcoming death, planting and tending and ultimately harvesting life and love and joy.
And Christ calls us to join him in that work too. Jesus prays, “As you [God] have sent me into the world, so I have sent them [that’s us!] into the world.” We, too, are called to till and tend God’s world as well as our souls.
Here is the point. Christ is working on us, removing us from the world of sin and darkness so that God’s seeds can grow in us. At the same time Christ is working in the world itself, transforming it from the nightmare it is for some into the dream God has for it.
And we are called to help. We are called to weed out the sin in our own lives. And at the same time, following the example of our Lord, we are called to be seeds of grace and love in the world around us.
Our world needs the good news. And our world needs us to be agents of that good news. My prayer is that we can be. In Christ’s name. Amen.