Two weeks ago I was preaching from Matthew chapter 11 where Jesus spoke about being yoked and a yoke is a wooden crosspiece that is fastened over the necks of two animals and attached to the plough or cart that they are to pull.
Isn’t that interesting? – a wooden crosspiece. The disciple is to ‘take up his cross and follow Jesus’. But not that ‘cross to bear’ that we so often say our lot in life is. Oh – the pain – it’s my cross to bear – oh – the heartache – it’s my cross to bear. NO – the cross we are to carry is the cross of Christ. (The German pastor) Dietrich Bonhoeffer – said that ‘when God calls someone -– he calls them to take up the cross and die’.
You are to lift his cross for all to see. And whatever YOU have to bear – your yoke – Jesus says there in Matthew chapter 11 - in comparison – it is easy and light.
If you are yoked, then you are a little bit like the two oxen yoked together – one wants to pull this way and one wants to pull the other way, and it’s a battle between the two - which one will lead? The old Adam or the New Adam – the flesh or the Spirit – the old me or the new me – the enemy or God?
And preaching two weeks ago from Romans chapter 7, we see Paul – that great Apostle of Christ – had a conflict within.
FF Bruce in his commentary on Romans says this:
‘Paul’s poignant description in chapter 7 is of someone who loves the Law of God and longs to do it but is forced by a stronger power than himself to do things which he detests. He knows what it means to be torn this way and that by the law of his mind which approves the will of God, and the law of sin and death, which pulls the other way. The Christian lives in 2 worlds – two kingdoms - simultaneously, and so long as this is so, he lives in a state of tension.’
Are you pulled this way and that? The Apostle Paul was – and THIS Paul who is speaking to you today certainly is. And we WILL be, whilst we are here – because we live in THIS world, but we are citizens of another.
And, so to today’s passages from Matthew chapter 13 and Romans chapter 8.
At the beginning of Matthew chapter 13 Jesus tells his listeners the Parable of the Sower and then later, in our reading, the Parable of the Weeds. In the footnotes of my Bible the commentator says this:
‘Weeds (unbelievers) and wheat (believers) must live side by side in this world…at the Harvest the weeds will be uprooted and thrown away. We are to make ourselves ready by making sure that our faith is sincere.’
I cannot help but think that the young weeds and the young blades of wheat – should NOT look the same, but I guess they can. Perhaps you should look – or at least – BE different – from those you live with and share your life with, in THIS Kingdom here on earth.
But the tension is there isn’t it – we, like Paul, who struggled with doing what he knew he should do AND not do those things he knew he shouldn’t do – is what it’s like for all of us sharing our lives here with those who do not believe and who expect us to do things we should not do as Christians - and SOMETIMES we go along with them.
And when you think about the weeds and the wheat looking the same – then remind yourself that before you became a believer you not only looked the same but you WERE the same! YOU were lost as they are. You were without hope as they are.
There surely must, therefore, be something that sets you apart AND something you can do to help them see – or, as Jesus put it at the end of this and many other parables – ‘He who has ears, let them hear.’ And that is probably what you have to do – speak clearly by word and deed that you ARE different – lift high the cross of Christ - and that when the harvest comes – the Wheat, rather like the sheep in another parable of Jesus, will be saved.
It’s interesting that in this parable, just like that more famous one about the sheep and goats later in chapter 25, Jesus does not speak about those who are like the wheat, or the sheep, going TO heaven, but that the weeds will be weeded out of his kingdom and dealt with, and then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their father. And Jesus said elsewhere - the Kingdom of God is near.
IF heaven or the Kingdom of Heaven is elsewhere – it may not to be too far away but near. Just a breath away.
In our reading today from Romans chapter 8, Paul who was struggling to live in the two worlds – and to do the right thing and not the wrong thing – wrote this:
‘If you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.
14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.’
Paul reminds us, as he reminds himself, who we really are. No longer slaves but sons of God. We are free – but not free to do anything. Free to do as the Spirit leads us. Free to be children of God. And children make mistakes – but children put their faith and hope in their parents. YOU are to put your faith and hope in God who is your father, even your daddy – as he uses the word Abba, the word that Jesus used when speaking to God his father - when in Mark 14 he was in the garden of Gethsemane and he said, ‘Abba, Father – if it is your will, please take this cup from me.’
It is not a word to be used lightly – but as a son or daughter of God – your relationship with God is, or can be an intimate one, and children ought to remember that without their father and mother they are but a dream or a hope.
I have been marking some GCSE Religious Studies exams of late – and one of the questions was about the role of children in the family – and there have been, as you can imagine, some interesting answers – let’s remember that they are only 15 and 16 year olds – but the expected answers to the question were that children should honour and respect their mothers and fathers – but a few have said – their role is to BE Children.
Martin Luther said this - ‘Abba is but a little word, and yet not withstanding it comprehends all things. The mouth speaks not, but the affection of the heart speaks after this manner. Although I be oppressed with anguish and terror on every side – THERE is someone else, who found it difficult to be in the world but not of the world – yet am I your child and you are my father, I am beloved because of The Beloved.’
So, when you are struggling to live by the Spirit instead of by the flesh –remember who you are and who you believe in – you are a child of your heavenly father – loved so much that He, himself, came and lived and died for you. And IF your father died for you - what can you do for Him? You can live with the tension of living in two worlds, with the hope of one to come AND to do so lifting high the cross of Christ for others to see AND remember always Who you are – special as you are a child of your heavenly father, Abba, your daddy.
- IF you find it easy to live in the world, then who are you kidding? AND IF you find it hard to live in the world – whose cross are you bearing – is it your ‘cross to bear’ OR ‘the cross of Christ’?
- Do you know that you ARE special and a child of God? IF you do, then how often do you live as - and be - a child of - and with God? Grown-ups still need to spend time with their parents……. don’t YOU?