‘In the fields of charity and sin’ – 19th July 2020 – 6th Sunday after Trinity

The Readings

Genesis 28. 10-19a

Jacob left Beer-sheba and went towards Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, ‘I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’ Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’ And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’

So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called that place Bethel; but the name of the city was Luz at the first.

Matthew 13. 24-30 and 36-43

Jesus put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 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?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 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.” ’

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’ He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!


Scripture quotations are from The New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

The Sermon

By Canon Dr Alan Billings, a former vicar of St. Mary's

If you have to explain a joke, you might as well not have bothered. The whole point of a joke is that it works instantly. Almost before you have time to think, you are smiling. Just think of the stand-up comics.

The same is true of the very short stories, the parables, that Jesus tells. As you hear the story, you are drawn in, it affects you and you respond. There is a flash of insight, or you suddenly feel uncomfortable or inspired …. Jesus tells the stories for many reasons and they trigger a variety of responses. But you react immediately. It may, it will, make you thoughtful; but you don’t have to take it away and try to figure it all out. Jokes and parables provoke in an instant.

Which is why today’s gospel reading is a bit odd.

We first have a parable. (Matthew 13.24-30) It is not difficult to understand. We react to it. But then in the next verses (34-43) we have the disciples coming along and saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field’. The equivalent of saying, ‘I don’t get the joke. Can you explain.’

My own reaction to this whole passage is to say, ‘I get the parable, but I am not sure the explanation adds much. If anything, it takes from the parable the power to provoke.’

I am left wondering, therefore, whether we should set the explanation to one side and let the parable do the talking. Because, like a joke, if you have to explain it, you might as well not have bothered.

So let me turn to the parable.

It makes for uncomfortable reading. It says two things to me – though remember it's a parable designed to illustrate what the kingdom of heaven is like.

First, it’s an answer to the question: How do we experience the kingdom in the here and now? Jesus says it’s like a farmer who plants his wheat but as it grows, it does so alongside other seeds that the farmer did not plant – weeds. And there is no way of rooting out the weeds without disturbing the wheat; they are rooted in the same spoil and are quite intertwined. In other words, the reality of life is that there will be good experiences – glimpses of the kingdom of heaven – but they will always be amid and among and intertwined with the bad. Life is always this inseparable mix of good and bad, charity and sin.

We know this only too well. Think of how we sometimes do a good deed, but for a mix of motives. Altruism, yes. But also we like to think of ourself as a good person. Or we want to impress. Or – unconsciously perhaps – we like to feel in control, or have others beholden to us. I suspect that many of the weeds in our life are unconsciously sown and are all mixed up with good things.

And the reason the good and the bad are entwined is because we live this side of the kingdom which has not yet come in all its fullness. The poet Edwin Muir captured this so well when he wrote in his poem ‘One foot in Eden’ that we were like people who, down the generations since we roamed in the botanical paradise of Eden’s garden, had planted in the fields of our lives crops of love and hate.

“One Foot in Eden” / Muir

Muir suggests that ‘the enemy who has done this’ - the one who has spread weeds among the wheat - is actually us, whether consciously or not.

Then the second thing that the parable suggests to me is that this world, where good and bad are entwined, is not outside of God’s design, even though that is sometimes hard to understand. And the reason for that is that there is some good which comes about as a result of that which challenges goodness. Without the challenge, we wouldn’t have or know that good.

Quite a lot of what we admire in others and want to emulate for ourselves is goodness that is the result of such challenge. We can all think of what I mean: lives that are hard or difficult that bring out extraordinary qualities in us. Think of the single mother who successfully brings to adulthood her three children; the husband who cares for his wife with dementia; the carer who volunteers to stay with the elderly people in the home during the coronavirus crisis; and so on. Goodness that is not called from us in Eden – paradise – but is called from us in these fields of charity and sin.

Again, Edwin Muir captured it. He speaks of the ‘famished field and blackened tree’ that produce flowers that are unknown in the Garden of Eden. Eden knows nothing of anxiety or death or any of the other experiences in this life of mixed fortunes, that evoke in us feelings of pity or hope or even love. Love is most keenly felt when the object of our love is threatened in some way.

These are, as the poet says, strange blessings that in paradise never fell from our beclouded skies.
We live our lives in fields of wheat and weeds. And that can be very challenging at times. But the very challenges call forth from us goodness we might otherwise never know.

The Prayers
prepared by Kath

God, our Father, hear us when we pray to you in faith

We give you thanks for this day and your many gifts to us.

We pray for your church throughout the world as it faces the additional challenges caused by the COVID 19 pandemic. We pray for our leaders, both lay and ordained who are working so tirelessly to devise and sustain new ways of worshipping and working towards the safe re-opening of your churches. Especially we pray for our bishops, Pete and Sophie, our mission partnership churches, St Mark’s, St John’s and our own team at St Mary’s. We pray for our congregations who have so much missed being able to gather at church for worship and to spend time in each other’s company as we have always done. We give thanks for the ways in which we have managed to do these things and to support each other but we hold in our prayers those who do not find some of these ways easy or possible to access. Father help them to know that they are not forgotten.
Lord hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.

We pray for our world and again give you thanks for this wonderful gift which, as many of us are aware, has done so much to sustain us through our recent troubles. Help us to take the time and open our eyes and minds to appreciate every day all that you have created and to take care of it.

We pray for all your people, especially those who are struggling with the reality or fears of unemployment, financial problems, loneliness or fears for their personal safety and security, all of which have been heightened by the effects of the pandemic. May we all be sensitive to each other’s concerns and needs and do what we can to help. We give thanks for all who have worked so hard and selflessly to keep our societies going in healthcare, provision of food and other necessities, services and keeping us as safe as possible. We continue to pray for them in their work and for those in positions of leadership which is particularly demanding at this time. Lord give them vision, courage, compassion and humility in their roles and help them to not feel overwhelmed by the tasks they face.

We pray for the work of the Disasters Emergency Committee and all other groups and charities working to relieve the
suffering of refugees in the war torn areas of the world as again their work is made so much harder by the effects of the pandemic.
Lord hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us

We pray for our loved ones, families, friends and neighbours giving thanks for all that we share with them, even when we are forced to remain apart from each other. Especially we pray for all who are ill or struggling or distressed and we name in our hearts those known to us who are in need at this time and we pray and give thanks for those who are alongside them to care and support them.
Let us also remember to pray for ourselves and our needs.
Lord hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us

We remember those who have died and pray for their families and friends, especially those who have been unable to be with their loved ones as they died or to say their goodbyes at funeral services as they would have wished.
We pray for all who continue to struggle with feelings of loss and grief, may they find comfort and hope for the future in the knowledge that you are with them in their sadness.
Lord hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.

Merciful Father,
accept these prayers
for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ,


Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England, material from which is included in these prayers, is copyright (c) The Archbishops' Council 2000.