Ordinary 16A — July 20, 2014

Learning to Love The Weeds.  

Or At Least Learning to Live With Them.

We opened our time together with members of the congregation telling us the parables they saw around them over the past week.  We heard at least a half dozen stories that supported the notion that we are living in a “Parable Universe” and can see glimpses of the Kingdom of Heaven.

(Much of this sermon was improvised, but this is the basic outline). 

Matthew 13:24-30, 36 – 43

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27And 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?’ 28He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30Let 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.’”

36Then 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.” 37He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

You know what a weed is, right?  A weed is a plant that you don’t like.  Because the “bad weed” crowds out the plants you do like.  So we have to admit right off the bat that weeds are not inherently bad, just bothersome. 

The biblical scholar Karoline Lewis has said that the parable of the wheat and the weeds is not told for the sake of action – to send us out to weedy fields and begin pulling at noxious plants for all we’re worth.  No, this parable is told by Jesus for the sake of honesty about the different kinds of plants that keep springing up in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Specifically, we are told by Jesus to leave the weeds alone because we might just hurt the wheat while we’re poking around.  Not because it’s a good thing to let the weeds grow.  But because we are human beings and honestly, we can’t tell the difference between what is a weed and what isn’t.  As in many things in life, what looks like evil and what looks like goodness seems to determined by where you’re standing and what kind of plants you’re trying to grow.  And the sower in this story doesn’t seem very much interested at all in a pure crop.  We have a sower who seems willing to risk a few big weeds for the sake of some big wheat.

We just can’t resist trying to be good servants so we have a hard time putting down our rotary tillers.  We love battling the weeds.   Christians have a long history of trying to figure out where the weeds are and what to do about them.  We poison our gatherings with finger-pointing at people we think do not measure up, despite Jesus’ warning in this parable that we risk losing lots of good wheat in the process.  Nobody expects the church to be a perfect weed-free field, but a lot of people avoid the church because they simply can’t stand the smell of Round Up.  The poisonous atmosphere sometimes generated by our weed-wacking ways is wilting the faith of too many people, especially young people who are just beginning to grow.  I suspect that is at least part of the reason the church is having a lot of trouble feeding itself.  We’ve become so focused on pulling out the weeds that we’re well on our way to killing the field altogether.

Can you tell who is a weed and who is wheat?  Is our calling as disciples to seek out and purge sin and evil? That doesn’t seem to be the point of the parable Jesus is telling us here.  If you think you know the difference between people worth saving and people who can never be redeemed, I think you’re on some very shaky ground with this parable.  And, frankly, I don’t want that job.  I don’t trust myself.   Because weeds and wheat look an awful lot a like, at least in the early stages of growth.  It’s only later on that you can tell something may have gone wrong and even then – you can’t pull the weeks without harming the wheat.  I don’t trust myself for a moment to be able to make that judgment. 

The possibility exists, my dear ones, that weed doesn’t just grow outside us.  The weed may indeed be inside us.  Growing right along side the wheat, in fact, completely intertwined so much so that cutting out the weed seems a completely impossible task.  How do you even begin?

So I’m not sure I trust you to figure out who or what is good and who or what is evil, and I sure do not I do trust myself to make that call.  But I do trust God.   And it could be this parable is telling us that our work in the world as Christians is not to figure out who is good and who is evil – or even wonder why God allows weeds at all — but to spend all our energy in beingthe good in the world.  To live the Gospel. To be the light. To be the salt.  This should be good news. This parable calls us simply to be. To be the good in the world with the full awareness of that there is also evil inside us and all around us. To be light when darkness will surely try to snuff us out. To be salt when blandness is always the easier and safer path.

That is why this parable is such a gift to us.  It forces us to look at the weediness of our own souls.  And most of us have enough personal garden work to last us a lifetime.  So let me ask you this:

1.  What are the biggest weeds in you life?  What weeds threaten the good wheat you want to produce in your life’s field?  Stress?  Illness?  Money issues?  Fear?  Anger?  What chokes off the good that you want to be and do? (5 minutes)  

My big weed is impatience.  I have always fought the impulse to believe it’s just easier and quicker to do things myself than rely on someone else who will probably move less quickly than I want to move or not do something the way that I think it should be done.  I’m much better than I was 20 years ago, thanks to having children around.  By their very nature, children – especially small children – slow you down.  They change your plans and thrown you off course.  I have discovered that it’s not such a tragedy if a project takes longer than I think it should.  I have discovered that dawdling can be a useful thing if it builds a better relationship between me and other people. 

2.  What are the weeds in your life teaching you that you cannot learn any other way?  In other words, why do you think God is telling us not to pull the weeds, but to leave them there until harvest?   Can something good come from weeds? (Assignment for next week!)
The hardest part of this parable for me is that sower must wait, living with both the wheat and the weeds until the day of harvest when they may be separated in due time.   In the meantime, it is hard to know what is the right thing to do sometimes.  We face a multitude of other difficult choices:
 like between getting a job to support the family or staying at home to spend more time with the family;
or between supporting someone who consistently struggles at work and pulls the quality of your team down or firing that person;
or between choosing the best school you’ve been accepted to or one that is more affordable;
or between two different treatment options in responding to a grave illness;
or between giving into peer pressure because it just plain sucks to be left out or choosing to stick to your values and risk isolation.

Dear Lord, our lives are colored by ambiguity and we don’t always know the right or best thing to do. But we do know that your love is guiding us and that you have called us to live as your people in the world. When we face hard choices, give us eyes to see the best path forward and the courage to follow it. When we make mistakes, forgive us. When we are hurt by our choices, comfort us. When we hurt others, help us to reach out to them in love. And above and beyond all these decisions, remind us that you still love us and call us back to this place that we may be forgiven, renewed, called, and sent forth once more as your beloved children. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.