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It might not look like it now, but the good work God has started in Jesus will come to fruition. It might not look like it now. By all appearances it might seem like this world is out of God’s control, random and chaotic; it might seem like God’s plans in Jesus have been scrapped or put on hold or forgotten all together. It might not look like it now, but God is in control. And even though this life often seems out of control, and even to be fighting against God’s purposes, God is in control. And the good work he has begun in Jesus will blossom and bloom and spring forth.
That is the promise our Scripture readings make us this morning. It might seem like life is out of God’s control, and as if he’s forgotten his plans. But God hasn’t. Even though it’s hard to see, even though it’s hidden in and among weakness and suffering, failure and sin, God is at work even now to bring about his kingdom—his rule and reign. That is the promise God gives us this morning.
And it begins with Jesus. Even when Jesus walked the earth, it didn’t always seem like God was in control. At first Jesus came in great power and might. He announced that the reign and rule of God is at hand. Then he cast out demons, he healed the sick, the lame and the blind, he raised the dead, and he forgave the sins of the downtrodden and the poor in spirit. And everywhere Jesus went, they brought to him the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he had compassion on them and healed them all.
But it didn’t take long before the kingdom Jesus brought was rejected and misunderstood and seemed small and weak and insignificant. John the Baptist was the prophet God sent to prepare the way for Jesus. But rather than listen to John, Herod arrested him and put him in prison. So even John had his doubts about Jesus. Sitting in prison, he sent messengers to Jesus to ask, Are you really the one or are we to look for another? Sure, you do these wonderful miracles, but the world goes on just as before. The powers that oppose God, the powers of this present evil age have been untouched by your work. Look at Herod! His father tried to kill you before and now his son has locked me in prison.
And if John’s doubt wasn’t enough, the support Jesus got from the people began to erode. The Pharisees began to attack Jesus and to undermine his authority. He does these great things, they said, not by the power of God but by the power of Satan. He’s a deceiver and he’s misleading the people, they claimed. Even the kingdom of God that Jesus brought seemed small and weak and insignificant compared to the rest of the world.
So Jesus told this parable about the kingdom. The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the house came and said to him, Master did you not sow good seed in your field? What’s happened? He said, An enemy has done this. So they said, Do you want us to go and gather them. And he said, No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let them both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.
What does this parable mean? The kingdom might seem small and insignificant. The kingdom might seem to be hidden in weakness and suffering and failure and sin. But don’t be discouraged. None of this is out of God’s control. God is patient and long-suffering. He hasn’t abandoned his good plans for the wheat—the children of his kingdom. So even though the kingdom suffers rejection and violence, even though the powers that oppose God go on just as before, don’t worry. God is patiently working. And on the last day he will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers and throw them into the fiery furnace. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.
It might seem as if God has abandoned his plans. But he hasn’t. Even though it’s hard to see, even though it’s hidden in weakness and suffering, failure and sin, God is at work. And the good work he has begun in Jesus will blossom and bloom and spring forth.
Even during Jesus’ ministry, it didn’t always look like God was in control. If that was true for Jesus, how true it is for us too.
In our epistle reading Paul says that the whole creation groans together in labor pains, and we ourselves groan with it. You know what it’s like to groan—it’s the expression we make when we know that life isn’t the way it should be, but we can’t do anything about it. It’s an expression of exhaustion, mixed with confusion, frustration and pain. Think about all the things we groan over: our poor health, our chronic aches and pains, the struggles we have paying the bills and making ends meet, the challenge of raising our children, or caring for our parents, or caring for our husbands and wives, the death of people we love, the sin that has broken a relationship, our own sin and guilt that plagues us and highlights our failure. The list can go on and on. The whole creation groans together and we groan with it.
But notice what Paul says about that groaning. He doesn’t say that we groan because life is hopeless and out of control. He doesn’t say that we groan because all hope is lost. He says that we groan in the hope and expectation of labor.
“For I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subject to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
In other words, all creation groans not because it’s falling apart and hopeless. All creation groans because it’s in labor. God hasn’t abandoned us—even in our deepest groaning. Even in the midst of our suffering, God is working to bring about a new birth—freedom from the futility of this old evil age and the redemption of our bodies in Christ Jesus. And the sufferings of this present time, Paul says, are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. In the midst of our suffering, it might seem as if God has abandoned his plans. But he hasn’t. He’s given us a promise in Jesus Christ, and the sufferings of this time are the birth pangs that will deliver and bear forth the glory God has given us in Christ. What God did for Jesus—raising him from the dead and making him a new creation—God will do for you and for the whole creation.
In that sense, our lives aren’t a whole lot different than Jesus’ life. The kingdom of God is hidden now in weakness and suffering, in sin and failure, and in death and decay. We might be awash in the groaning of creation, we might experience sin and failure, confusion, frustration and exhaustion, death and decay; but we belong to God in Jesus. And while the world might be awash in these things we have a sure and certain hope that God will not abandon us. That’s what the Lord’s Supper is. It’s God pledging himself to you and for you in and through the body and blood of Jesus. It’s God giving you a sure and certain promise that the death Jesus died, he died for you, and that his resurrection will one day be your resurrection. And that makes this meal a foretaste of what’s to come, a down payment on your future in the present time, so that even now in the body and blood of Jesus, you taste and eat God’s goodness—his promise that what he did for Jesus, he will do for you.
Sure, it’s hard to see and sometimes even hard to believe. Often times when we look at our lives we see only the confusion, the frustration, and the groaning. But, as Paul says, “who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Brothers and sisters in Christ, even in the midst of creation’s groaning—even in the midst of your groanings–, take heart. You belong to God in Christ Jesus. And he who has begun a good work in you will bring it to completion on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43
24 [Jesus] put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”
36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.