While on sabbatical for three months, I worshipped at a different church every Sunday – 13 churches of a variety of denominations, sizes, and spiritualities. I learned so much from this experience and was so blessed by it, and I’ll be offering reflections and learnings on that experience at the next vestry meeting (please come!). But today, I want to share just one important take away from my travels: I am so thankful for this parish.
You are living as a community the wisdom of today’s gospel. You are being faithful to the way of Christ and the teaching of this particular Word, and I am so nourished by your example.
So what’s the point of today’s gospel? Let’s take a look:
We have a parable. Jesus offers a story about a guy who sows seeds in his field. In the dark of night, an enemy sows weeds in this field, so the grain and the weeds grow up together. That’s the story in the first paragraph. But then there’s a second paragraph, in which Jesus explains the meaning of the parable to his disciples.
If we take the explanation at face value, then the point of the parable is judgment: Someday, God’s going to separate the wheat from the weeds, and the weeds will get tossed into the fiery furnace forever. There will be gnashing of teeth, of course, because whenever things get scary in scripture, there is gnashing of teeth.
So that’s what the parable seems to mean. But I don’t buy it. I don’t think that’s the reason Jesus told this story.
Parables are meant to shake us up: they take familiar images and put them in a surprising plot. Parables are meant to jolt us into seeing and acting differently.
Jesus generally doesn’t explain their meaning. He puts them out there and lets them work, let’s people get uncomfortable, let’s people wonder and debate and be unsettled by them, rather than explaining them.
This story is part of a group parables, all short, running throughout Chapter 13 that use images to paint a picture of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is like a sower scattering seed on different kinds of soil. It’s like a mustard seed planted in the ground. It’s like yeast slowly rising in bread, a treasure hidden in a field, a pearl of great price, a net cast into the sea that brings up a crazy assortment of fish. This parable we have today is the only one with an explanation tacked on, and the explanation doesn’t even follow directly in the text.
It’s like someone got nervous just letting this story be on it’s own, and was compelled to neaten it up a bit, rush to explain it. Indeed,that’s what a lot of scholars thinks happened. This paragraph of explanation, which focuses on judgement, tells us more about Matthew and his community than it does about Jesus and his invitation to the kingdom of God.
So I invite you to fold your bulletin insert so you just see the first part of the Gospel!
My read on this parable is that the point of it is Jesus’s words to the servants, when they ask him, “Do you want us to pull the weeds up?” His answer is the place where Jesus pulls the rug up. “Let the weeds keep growing.” What? What garder does that? Weeds are evil. Everyone knows that. Billions of dollars are spent each year on herbicides; billions of containers of Aleve and asprin are spent by gardeners who strained their backs anxiously weeding. But here the advice is: Leave the weeds there. Trust me to figure out what to harvest later.
Be patient in growing a life, in growing a family, in growing a faith community, in working with others. Maybe you don’t know as much about weeds as you think you do. Maybe you could spend less time worrying about what and who is a weed, and more time letting God’s love water your fields.
Three years ago, at CGS we discovered that a “weed” called purslane is actually a nutritious salad green. Carol Roberts led us in harvesting it and enjoying purslane salad. When I lived In Kenya, I spent an afternoon pulling up what I thought was a weed in front of my house so that I could plant marigolds, while my neighbors looked on in amusement. Later, I discovered that this “weed” called sikuma wiki was a wild form of kale that was keeping many people alive all over East Africa.
I find that many people, myself included, are quick to judge themselves to be weeds. We are our worst critics, and we rarely think we measure up morally, vocationally, physically. This fear of being a weed or of the weeds within us paralyzes us, keeping us from embracing the freedom we have in the Spirit, which Paul talks about in the reading from Romans. Our world trains us to judge ourselves and others, to label this a weed and this a crop. The constant barrage of judgmentalism, labeling, dismissal of people as worthless or losers or alien coming from Washington right now does not help at all. But Jesus offers another way.
Be patient. Trust. Be curious rather than anxious about what is emerging and know that God can used it all for good.
Over the past seven years, this congregation has been planting seeds for growing in numbers and mission. We have been gardeners in the kingdom of God. I am so thankful for your capacity to do this work patiently, to trust God the giver of seed and source of soil and rain. Being away made me even more cognizant of all the ways you have let one another slowly but surely become the beautiful, unique people you are created to be. You have built relationships across ages, cultures, sexual identities, and theologies. You have been patient with one another’s foibles, uniquenesses, and growing edges. This is holy work and so important. You have hoped in things unseen, both within yourselves — by trying on leadership and ministries when you weren’t sure you had what it takes, and within the world — working for peace, feeding the homeless, supporting seminarians.
So what’s next?
This year I hope we will reach out to new generation of families and to the many people moving into Watertown looking for Christian community. They are as tempted by anxiety, judgment, and despair as anyone. And we have something here that would be a great blessing for them.
In our life together, let’s pray about how to deepen our capacity to make space for hearing stories, feelings, and joys and fears – to recognize the unique truth each person holds; to honor especially the journeys of those who have been judged different or not good enough in our society, and to cultivate hope and curiosity about what God has in store for us together.
All of this happens through time, not overnight As Stanley Hauerwas writes, “There is a kind of madness commensurate with being a disciple of Jesus.” To understand the kingdom of heaven “requires a people who refuse to be hurried.” So let us be filled with the madness of patience and trust God to guide, to judge, to nourish, and to heal.