SERMON 7/17/11 Pentecost 5A
My parents own a farm and every year while I was growing up, we planted a garden and honestly, I have picked and shucked more corn than I want to think about. Agriculture is firmly “planted,” in my life experience (no pun intended). Not all of us have had that “green thumb” experience. I have some friends that say they have a “brown” thumb because they unintentionally kill every plant they try to raise. Jesus used parables about planting and harvesting because his ministry was immersed among an Agrarian culture. Jesus spoke to the people about everyday things. If today, Jesus was sitting with us in the local coffee shop having a latte, he might teach us, “The Kingdom of heaven is like Facebook, or the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to reality TV. No? Ok, maybe not, but you get my point. Jesus talked about God’s reign using symbols and metaphors with which people could relate.
So today, we have the well-known parable of the wheat and the weeds (sometimes called tares). The weeds Jesus mentioned could have been a plant called “Darnel” (Lolium temulentum to be precise), which is a ryegrass that looks much like wheat in its early stages of growth. The parable leaves a lot to the imagination and leaves us with some questions. For instance, we have this enemy who sowed weeds in the night and then left. Nothing much more is said about who the enemy was, why he/she planted weeds, nor was it revealed the intent of this dastardly act. All we know is that the field was planted with good seed, and in the midst of the crop, weeds sprung up.
I’m sure we all have had those days when no matter what we try, nothing seems to work out as we expected. We go to the restaurant for your favorite meal, and they are all out of your favorite dish. You get ready for a trip with friends and you notice the tire on your car is flat or your battery is dead. Little things, everyday things, little disappointments is what life is like. We have in the midst of the good, weeds. That’s what life in God’s kingdom is like. Maybe Jesus is telling us is that no matter how well we lay out our plans, we need to be aware that there are weeds. Just when we think we have things all locked up, when our plans are well underway, something happens or something springs up we don’t expect.
Jesus is also teaching us that life is not about an ongoing pursuit of comfort and that life is about seeking bliss. Jesus is reminding us that life under God’s reign is filled with ups and downs. Sometimes there are negative byproducts even with good intentions. Take the automobile for example. We have available to us luxurious, techno-savvy transportation that not only gets us from point A to point B, but we can be transported in environmental comfort, with amenities only dreamed of a few years ago. Sounds like prime wheat to me, but that great transportation comes at a cost. Consider the effects of auto emissions on the environment and you come to realize even the car, as great an invention as it is, comes with weeds. Life in the Kingdom is mingled with good and with evil, ups and downs, wheat and weeds.
The parable has some other nice twists and nuances. Remember those anxious servants who suspected the weeds were growing in the field with the wheat, and upon that discovery they wanted to go and pull them. The problem was that in the early stages of growth, the wheat and the weeds were indistinguishable; they looked alike. Had the workers gone and tried to pull the weeds early, chances are they would have damaged the wheat in the process. The master of the house told to servants to wait. Jesus is teaching us that life under God’s reign requires patience. Faith communities have been known to anxiously take action to rid the flock of those who don’t fit in; those so-called weeds among us. Some groups too often dismiss others from fellowship because of mistakes or past hurts inflicted by them. Maybe the Church needs to learn patience with others as they grow in their faith and as God works in their lives. It seems that Jesus is telling us to be patient with others and to give a little space for grace, for growth, for maturation. Maybe Jesus is also saying that it’s not our job to be the reapers of the weeds, the ones to judge the value of others. Remember, the master of the house tells the servants that he will send the reapers to sort out the wheat from the weeds. Judging, sorting, categorizing … all that seems to be God’s job and not ours.
So, what happens to those alleged nasty weeds that are to be bundled up? According to the parable they are thrown into the furnace of fire where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Some of us hear this and the notion of eternal punishment flashes in our minds, but there may be an alternative explanation. Back in first century Palestine, when wheat was ripe and harvested, it was ground up, made into dough and the placed in a brick oven (furnace) and converted into the sustenance of life; bread. These ovens required fuel to burn and many times, it was darnel (rye grass), which became the fuel to keep the ovens lit. Everything has its use and purpose, nothing is wasted; not even weeds. Taking a step back for a moment, by using a story about everyday things like a wheat field, Jesus is saying something about us. The consummate purpose of the wheat field is to create an end product, namely bread. This product becomes food with which, the servants and the householder sustained life. It takes wheat of good quality, and it even takes weeds to make bread. It also takes planters, tenders of the crop and reapers.
Church is like this. It takes a variety of folks at different stages of spiritual growth, with assorted gifts, with diverse backgrounds, ideas, and purposes to make a community of faith. Some of us may seem to appear to walk the unblemished faith journey, but that’s not reality. We all miss the mark, and that is the beauty of living under God’s reign in the Body of Christ in which, God is the final decider, the final judge, the final reaper. This fact is not something to fear, but something in which to find comfort. God is the God of grace. With God’s nature as lover of creation, of sustainer of life, and redeemer of the broken, we can be assured that God’s grace and purpose will be worked in and through each of us. God promises to make all things new.
In Christ, we are a new people, we are city on a hill, and we are a light that cannot be hidden under a bushel basket. We are fed, taught, and brought together, so that we can go and be a beacon of sustenance for the world. We are a lighthouse of God’s grace in the world, not merely a clubhouse. We are a mixed bag of wheat and weeds, but by God’s grace, we live together and transform beautifully into a life-giving community of love. The community of love is one that embraces patience when those among us fail, it is a community that remains steadfast in the face of trials and uncertainty, it is a community that prayerfully discerns God’s calling on their mission. It is a community that goes into the world and proclaims the Good News of God in Christ. That’s us God’s field of dreams; weeds and all.