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The Limit Does Not Exist

When Joel and I were deciding who would preach on which Sundays during this series on the parables, he told me that the parables chosen for the later half of the series each had their own trouble spots and might require a bit of speaking “against the text.”  So, since the reading ends at a bit of a cringe-worthy point and that’s probably freshest in your minds, let me start off by saying that it’s important to keep in mind the difference between a parable and an allegory.  

Parables are NOT meant to be a word-by-word, character-by-character parallel where each piece of the story directly reveals or represents something else.  The King may indeed be meant to represent God, but we do not need to treat every action of the character as if it reveals an undeniable truth about the nature of God.  

So while the King gets a little...torture-y at the end of the story, I do not believe we need to assume a direct parallel about Divine torture is meant when Jesus finishes by saying, “So my heavenly Father will also do to every one...



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The tallest trees in the world, the California redwoods, have tiny seeds.  Each seed is about 1/8” wide.  The tallest of these living trees currently measures about 377 feet tall.  That’s longer than a vertical football field, including the end zones, one goal post hovering 360 feet above the other on the ground, and still more tree above that.  That’s a very tall tree.  Once one of those tiny seeds takes root, the tree can live for possibly 2000 years.

Which means the oldest of these trees could have been sprouting right around the time Jesus was telling these parables about the kingdom of heaven, including the parable of the mustard seed.

It’s an enticing thought to think of Jesus, the Middle Eastern Jew, blowing the minds of his listeners by saying that the kingdom of heaven is like a tiny seed on the other side of the world, now just a sprout, that will one day, millennia from now, grow to be the largest tree in the world. 

Jesus did have the famous cedars of Lebanon as next door neighbors.  The prophet Ezekiel had used these trees to illustrate how Israel would regrow after being...

Sermon Text: Wheat and weeds 

OK, so let’s get this out of the way, right away.  For the second week in a row, the second parable in a row, we have a parable, followed by the disciples coming to Jesus, asking for an explanation, to which Jesus gives a precise decoding of the symbolism within the parable.  For all the reasons Mark mentioned last week with the Parable of the Sower and its explanation, this is bothersome.  Parables are supposed to provoke our spiritual imagination, right?  Not serve as a formula where each part equals something else.  Couldn’t this have been one of those times Jesus responded to their question with something like: “I don’t know, what do you think it means?”

What’s doubly bothersome about this Parable of the weeds among the wheat is that the explanation seems to give a clear division of the world into two kinds of people.  The good seed, sown by the Divine Representative, the Human One, the wheat; and bad seed, sown by the evil one, the weeds.  The bad seed, the children of the evil one, are harvested by the angels and destined for the fire.  And the good seed are destined, as...

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Tending the Soil

I’m fairly certain that I am on record somewhere that this is not one of my favorite passages of scripture.  Let me explain why:

Last week Joel began our worship series on the parables by talking about how Jesus’ use of parables as a teaching method was perhaps meant to help people understand just how much they didn’t understand.  He told us that parables help us move from hearing to truly listening.  They invite us to see our lives and our world reflected--or perhaps more accurately, refracted--in the world of the parable.  One day we catch a glimpse of ourselves in the older son, the next we recognize our own longing in the father character.  Some days we might even feel like the unnamed mother, the thorny weed, the upset laborer, or the sheep who has wandered away.  

Parables leave us scratching our heads a little bit as they resist being nailed down into conclusions that are too tidy or meanings that let us walk away feeling like we’ve adequately digested the story.  

There’s a lot of overlap between parables and poetry in this way. ...

Sermon | Speaking in parables | Joel Miller 

Text: Matthew 13:10-17

My memories of what happened in the college classroom are fuzzy at best, but here’s something I haven’t forgotten.   

During my first year at Hesston College – that’s a little Mennonite liberal arts college in Kansas - During my first year, I was in a New Testament class with some second career folks who were training to be pastors.  One of their assignments was to write their own parable, and then share it with the class.  And, after all these years, I still remember one of them. 

Here it is, more or less:

Some city dwellers wanted to know what it was like to be a farmer, so they decided to visit three different farmers to see what they could learn.  “What’s the secret to good farming?” they asked.  The first farmer took them out to the fields where people were picking.  “The secret to farming,” said farmer #1, “is good old fashioned hard work.”  The second farmer took them into her office where there were stacks of paper and multiple computer screens.  “This is the secret to farming,” said farmer #2. “Keeping good records, communications, and management.” ...