Today's message is based on Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43
You know what’s nice about going to a buffet?
You get to chose only what you like and skip what you don’t like.
I went to a fabulous buffet at a Mets game at Citi Field recently and it was great.
You get seconds and thirds of the foods you love and as many desserts as you want.
And the stuff that doesn’t appeal to you so much,….you just overlook them.

Its not like when you go over to someone’s house for dinner and, to be polite, you have to really try to eat whatever they put before you.
Or when you were a kid and your parents made you clean your plate….everything on it!

Well, the bible can sometimes be thought of as like food that God puts before us.
There are things in there that we just love and can’t get enough of.
Like when Jesus tells us that God loves us and is always with us through his Spirit.
Or when we’re told that Jesus’ death on the cross grants us forgiveness for anything.
Or when Jesus says God will take care of us, during life, and especially after this life.

But then there are those things we’d rather not bother with and would like to pass on.
Like at a buffet, where we’d just as soon skip the stuff we’d rather not bother with.
Things like that God wants and expects us to behave certain ways.
Things like God saying we’re sinners and in need of forgiveness all the time.
Or, like today’s Gospel where Jesus tells us about people going to hell.

That’s what he’s referring to when he tells about the wheat and the weeds (tares).
If you didn’t get the parable in the first place, like with his disciples, he explains it to us.
He lays it out to say those who believe in and follow him are “children of the kingdom”.
Then he says that those not of the kingdom are considered “children of the evil one”.
And just like the farmer separates the weeds from the wheat at harvest time and tosses the weeds into the fire to burn….so will God and his angels do so with people.

Now, there are some Christians who seem obsessed about the fact that they have ultimate faith and confidence in the fact that they will be among the wheat.
That their souls will be saved often seems to matter at the exclusion of everything else.
And, truth be told, that is square one and the foundation of the Jesus story with us.

I think that we all pretty much share that assurance of salvation.
If you check my sermons, I speak to that or mention it in just about every message.
However,…for those of us who also care about others (as Jesus says we are to do)….
where does this passage leave a good number of other people?

What about other faiths who see Jesus as just a good man or prophet who died an unfortunate and unjust death?
What about the atheist or agnostic who has no use for the idea of God?
What about those who outright reject the Christian message and faith?
I’ll bet that all of us know people in at least one of those categories.
And this isn’t the only time throughout his ministry that Jesus talked like this.
So what do we do with passages like this and the many others like it in the bible?

Well….ignoring it, like an unpleasant dish at the buffet is not what I’d recommend.
It’s what an awful lot of us end up doing, but that cheapens our faith and practice of it.
You often hear the disparaging tag put on “Cafeteria Catholics” who opt to believe or follow some church doctrines but not those that they disagree with.
Protestants do the same kinds of things sometimes, including with things like this.
But I’m guessing God would say ‘sorry, folks, my word is not a cafeteria or buffet line’.

Sure, the bible is full of talk of God’s mercy, but it also often speaks of God’s justice.
Jesus talked about it and he talked about punishment almost as much as forgiveness.
The God of the bible is a God of justice so that wrongs are punished or made right.
Repentance can yield the forgiveness of Christ, but otherwise there is punishment.

And, there is evil in the world as the bible describes evil.
People do terrible things every day, in our local communities and throughout the world.
Hardened criminals do,….public officials and government leaders do,….clergy do so.
If they are never sorry and repent, then I think it becomes their choice to tempt fate.
If they burn up and are gone for good in the end,…then part of me is OK with that!
Good bye Hitler, Stalin, Osama bin Laden,…etc.

Jesus refers to “evil doers” as those who are the weeds who will be burned.
But Jesus also told us that we are to love everyone, even those who do bad things.
If we and God love them, its hard to think God will just write them off to hell.
When we read the bible, we combine all it says, like a stew - not as separate dishes.

We could just say, like universalists, that God wants everyone to go to heaven and that Jesus just died for everyone - regardless.
But if we try to just put everyone in heaven regardless, it cheapens Jesus Christ.
It means his sacrificial death was not really needed and a waste of his time.
If it doesn’t matter that people ignore or reject Jesus, then why did he come here?
If God is just a super-forgiving old grandmother, than no Jesus was really needed.

Finally, and this is the most important note with these kinds of bible passages….. 
we never really know (and only God does) what is in people’s hearts.
The most ardent atheist may have a secret spark of faith within their heart.
People of other faiths may also quietly harbor some trust in Jesus in their life’s journey.
And maybe the most ardent advocate of Jesus is really a total hypocrite in real life.

So we can’t, in good faith, just pass on these passages or dump them in the garbage.
For they are all part of that word of God from Jesus Christ that is fed to us.
Some we may need to chew on a bit more or season a little to make them palatable.
In the end, it is not our job to play judge and decide who is in or out of heaven.
Better to simply say that we trust in a God of love and mercy…. as Jesus tells us.

Amen.