July 19, 2020

Pentecost 7A

Seeds and Weeds

 

GOSPEL

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

Then 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.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!” Matthew 13:24-30,36-43

 

SERMON

Why does God let bad things happen to good people? Have we not all wondered this from time to time?  I have heard it from people who have found themselves flailing about in search of a life preserver when they feared they were drowning or felt as though they were clutching at straws having reached their end of their rope. 

It is interesting to note that the expression clutching at straws was first used by Sir Thomas More, a lawyer in the court of Henry VIII, as he stood in his integrity prior to the king’s having him beheaded.

We have all encountered people who have come to this place of desperation.  Maybe we have found ourselves, at one time or another, hanging on by the barest of threads.   In such a moment we may wonder why the universe is out to get me?  Or we may ask, “How can a good God let this happen?”  Or possibly, “What have I done to deserve this?”

If our relationship with God were simply a matter of reward and punishment, as primitive religious impulses would have us believe, then it would be clear that, as none of us are without sin, in such an ordering of reality, all of us would probably deserve far worse than we get out of life.  

But our Christian faith always invites us to be cautious when it comes to judgement either of ourselves or others and to live rather from a place of indomitable hope, grounded in an unwavering faith, that God has spoken His final Word in Jesus and that the Word made flesh will prevail.   On the cross the battle was won, and the final victory indeed belongs to God and to His Christ.  The victory belongs to self-giving love – to cruciform love.

The people who gathered on that beach to hear Jesus tell them stories weren’t much different from the rest of us. They had experienced oppression from Rome. Even among their own people, they had watched the rich get richer while the poor grew poorer. Life wasn’t fair. How could God allow his people to continue to suffer, while evil seemed to flourish around them? When would the promised Messiah appear and deliver them from this miserable existence, and bring judgment to Israel’s oppressors?

Yet here was Jesus, looking and sounding very much like he might just be the One, telling them stories about farming of all things! Who cares about weed control, when your world is falling down around you? 

“Let anyone with ears listen,” Jesus says, and we are reminded that these parables are more than entertaining stories.

These farming stories are stories that read us. How we hear them depends on the condition of our hearts and minds. Wherever we may be in our journey of faith, these stories speak directly to us in our current circumstance.

There are many ways to interpret the parable of the weeds. At its most basic level, this story might be about how difficult it is to tell weeds from wheat. The weed to which Jesus makes reference is something called Bearded Darnel.  It is a weed that looks very much like wheat, especially before maturity, and can carry a poisonous fungus. If it is harvested and ground together with wheat, the resulting flour is spoiled.

As the grain matures, it’s easy to tell the slender heads of bearded darnel from the fuller heads of wheat, but by then, it’s too late to uproot one without damaging the other. If we are part of the crowd, we simply hear that pulling weeds can cause more harm than good, destroying the very crops we want to harvest. But this story is probably more than just a farming tip for weed control.

The disciples ask for an explanation, once they are alone with Jesus, and he spells out the metaphors that matter, identifying the main characters in this story. We might get side-tracked by the things Jesus doesn’t say.

He doesn’t identify the servants of the landowner, for example. They must have been taking care of the field, or they wouldn’t have noticed the weeds popping up. But the enemy who sowed the weeds just leaves, and Jesus doesn’t explain this either.

We probably shouldn’t concern ourselves too much with what Jesus doesn’t say, but I think it might be good to remember that the field is God’s, and God will continue to nurture and care for his kingdom, while the evil enemy does nothing to support or care for the seeds that he has sown. In the present hour it seems the evil one has left the weed-in-chief out to implode since the dawn of the pandemic.

Jesus says that the field is “the world” and that the Kingdom has been sown, is taking root and is growing within the field that is the world.

So what about those troubling weeds? Why shouldn’t we pull them, if we see evil choking out the good around it? Why does Jesus say, “leave them be until the harvest”? Depending on how this parable reads us, we might find some pretty good reasons to leave weeds alone.

Sometimes, weeds are too big to be pulled – their roots have intertwined with the roots of the good plants and pulling up one will also uproot the other.

Sometimes, what you thought was a weed, is actually a good plant, and what you thought was a good plant is actually a weed. They aren’t always easy to distinguish from one another.

At times we aren’t  all that good at judging between wheat and weeds – that’s God’s job anyway. And that brings us back to that first question: why doesn’t God do something now about the evil we see everywhere? Where is judgment when you need it?

This parable also teaches us about judgment. Judgment will come, and evil will be destroyed – but not yet.

This is the “already-not yet” reality of Christ’s kingdom. The kingdom has already broken into our world in the person of Jesus Christ and is already at work among us through the Holy Spirit. But the kingdom has not yet reached its completion. The kingdom is becoming – like seed planted in a field.

We might wonder, “How can this be the kingdom of God, if evil is still present?” And that might raise even more questions: “Why do we still see racial inequality? Why is there still poverty? Why does disease still claim so many lives? Why have fascist political leaders been springing up in so many places in the world? Where is God in the suffering? Why isn’t judgment happening? Why do people reject Jesus and resist His reign?”

As Christians, we should not be surprised that evil is still active, even while God’s reign is already present. “The kingdom comes with limitless grace in the midst of an evil world. … The issue is … one of identity. … If we take our identity from the kingdom of limitless grace, how will that identity be lived out?” 

How does this parable read you? Are you centered in Christ, so that nothing can uproot you? Is your identity grounded in God’s limitless grace, and are you willing to extend that grace to others? Can anyone tell whether you are wheat or weeds, by the way you live your life? 

Like those workers in the field, we may think it’s our job to pull the weeds, to judge who is worthy to flourish in God’s kingdom and who should be rooted out. But that is not our job. Judgment is God’s job. God will take care of removing evil in God’s own good time.

We live in the meantime, in the already-not yet. The kingdom is becoming … and we are part of that kingdom. The kingdom comes with limitless grace in the midst of an evil world. Our job is to offer that grace – to offer Christ – with the same kind of abundant generosity God has offered to us.  

In the face of evil the offer of grace comes in the form of active, put your life on the line resistance, bathed in an unbridled offer of love, and forgiveness. In the words of John Lewis, “Do not get lost in a sea of despair.  Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year.  It is the struggle of a lifetime.  Never, ever be afraid to make some noise.”  

So take a moment to examine your own heart right now. Who have you already decided is a ‘weed’ to be uprooted? Who have you nurtured so that their roots in faith are strong? Who has nurtured your own faith, and helped you to grow in Christ? How can your life – this week – show others that God’s kingdom is alive in you?

The Rev. Frank J. Alagna                                                                                                   July 19, 2020