Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sermon, Proper 11A, Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

We are in the middle of the Farmer Jesus parables -- a set of three parables focused on agriculture. Sowing, growing and reaping are the overall themes here. If Jesus had been born in the Ruby Valley, maybe he would have talked about calving, herding and market; but he didn't and we are left with these images from long ago.

Last week's parable and sermon were about ... what? It was the parable of the sower and the scattered seeds. And today we hear about the weeds and wheat. A farmer sows grain and while everyone is sleeping, the enemy sneaks in and sows weeds. When the plants matured, it became obvious that the wheat was mixed with weeds.

As the parable goes, it is not the slaves responsibility to separate the two; that job is left for the reapers. As reality goes, it is not our job to separate weeds from wheat; that job is left to the angels. It is our job to water and nourish both weeds and wheat so that both are fed and both grow. It is not our job to judge between the two.

And you may protest, saying, "But what about the person who . . ." or, "But what about the people who believe . . ." or, "But what about . . ." And I would tell you to forget about it. It is not our job to ensure total uniformity in the world or in the church. It is our job, like we talked about last week, to ensure that this place is fertile soil so that all can come and be fed and grow.

So here's a question: What is a weed? What is the definition of a weed? A weed is any plant that grows where it is not wanted. A blackberry or rose bush in the wrong spot is a weed. Grass in the wrong spot is a weed. A weed is something growing where we don't want it.

And right here, I'm going to detour back to Genesis for a minute. And on the third day, God said, "Let the earth put forth vegetation . . . And God saw that is was good."

And on the sixth day, God said, "See, I have given you every plant yielding seed . . . and you shall have them for food . . ." And God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.

If God has deemed every plant good, and has given them to us for food, and deems every thing he made as very good, who then are we to try and eliminate what we claim are weeds? Now, I'm not talking about allowing knapweed to take over our fields and infest your hay or alfalfa crop, but I am talking about recognizing the value or worth of those people we deem to be weeds.

Take dandelions for instance. In our yards, they are a weed, but they do have a use; such as dandelion wine or salad. I was reading an article the other day that stated some "weeds" have more nutritional value than lettuce. A weed, then, may have some beneficial uses, and we are shortchanging ourselves if we simply decide to eliminate them.

St. Augustine had this to say about weeds and wheat: "There is this difference between people and real grain and real weeds, for grain is grain and weeds are weeds. But in the Lord's field, at times what was grain turns into weeds and what were weeds turn into grain; and no one knows what they will be tomorrow."

What Augustine is saying, and what we touched on last week, is that people have the ability to change and grow in the fertile soil of the church. People we thought were weeds can now be seen as having value and being useful for the kingdom of God -- IF we aren't so quick to judge. God created all plants, all people, and declared them very good. It is not our job to segregate and judge who is wheat and who are weeds. But it is our job to nourish both, allow both to grow to fruition and look for the good in all.

We seem to be having this problem in our wider church community right now. There are people, servants of the master, who have taken it upon themselves to usurp the master's authority. They have unilaterally decided who are the wheat and who are the weeds, and they have rushed to judgment and decreed that all of the weeds be pulled up and burned. What they fail to recognize, however, is the damage they are doing to the overall crop.

People who they might classify as wheat are torn up with the so-called weeds and may never return. People who they classify as weeds are not allowed to experience God's grace in the church and change to wheat. Or, more to the point, they refuse to see the value of a person, a weed, because that is a person they don't want messing up their perfectly uniform idea of a church crop. And when you can't see the value of a person, or don't want your uniformity challenged, the other person becomes a weed, something not wanted, and something to be pulled up, discarded and burned.

All plants have value, weeds and wheat. We just need to be willing to find it.

All people have value -- black and white, gay and straight, male and female, Democrat and Republican, old and young. We just need to be willing to find it.

The parable of the wheat and weeds isn't about identifying the weeds and gloating over the fact that they get burned up. The parable of the wheat and weeds is about our willingness to live with the ambiguity of which is which, our willingness to find the value in the weeds, and about avoiding a rush to judgment in our desire for uniformity.

No on knows what they will be tomorrow. That's why the growing season is so long and the harvest so far off.


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