Posted by: Renee | July 21, 2011

When to Weed

Thanks to Bruce Case for letting me post his sermon from this past Sunday:

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. . . –Matthew 13:27-30a

The parable of the mixed field is found only in Matthew. And, boy, does it go against every thing we thought we knew we wanted out of life. We want a pure field. Who wants to deal with the weeds in life? Who enjoys it when we face darkness and doubt, hidden agenda’s, and bad blood in the garden of life? Why can’t at least our homes be places where nothing but wheat is grown? Can’t we find a self-help book for that? What about our churches? Can’t the gospel produce a nice, clean crop? God, can’t you draw just a few nice, neat lines in the sand?

But the mixed crop is not really the problem in this parable. A mixed crop is the reality of our lives lived “East of Eden.” Weeds are going to find a way into your home, your church, your community. Weeds will also find a way into your heart. Here’s a bit about “agronomy 101” in first century Palestine:

The Tare, or Weed Jesus is talking about in his parable is the dreaded “Bearded Darnell”. It’s a tricky weed because early on, it looks exactly like a wheat stalk. You have to wait until all the plants mature and produce a seed before you can really know wheat from weed. When wheat produces its seed, the stalk begins to bow down. The thin stalk bends because of the weight of the seed. The Bearded Darnell produces something so useless and light that its stalk never bends. But—and here’s the tricky part—even if you could tell the difference you’d have problems weeding. The roots of these plants are so intertwined that pulling up a weed means yanking up precious wheat, as well.

Ok, so what is the problem in Jesus’ parable? It’s the servants who think they are wiser than they really are. They think they can recognize the good stuff from the bad stuff. They want to put on their gloves and start yanking it out. But the wise landowner says—“hey, let’s wait. Let it all grow up together. We’ll sort it out later.”

Who was doing this sort of thing in Jesus’ day? It was the religious leaders! They were the ones who had their work gloves on, ready to sort it all out. They thought they knew.

We, too, can look a lot like Jesus’ opponents in our day. We get impatient. We think we know. We’ve got this person or that situation figured out! Sometimes we even think we have ourselves figured out! “I’m a weed. I’m hopeless. I’ll never get through this.” And God’s response? “Why don’t we wait a bit.” Have you noticed that God is good at waiting?

Early this morning (Sunday morning), I’m doing what thousands of preachers are doing. At 3:30am, going over my notes, praying that I will make sense in a few hours, and trying to find a good children’s moment object lesson, I notice car headlights flood my dark room. I hear music. Who in the world is in my driveway at 3:30am? My first thought? Weed!!!! Some drunk on Saturday night who’s confused and lost his way!

And then….and then I hear a thud on my front porch. It’s the morning paper. Lord, forgive me. It’s convicting and quite humbling that as I’m praying, pouring over Scripture—even in that state, I’m quick to think: “I know this is a weed.” And how much worse am I at this from Monday to Saturday?

We pull, we tug, we separate, and before you know it, we’ve done tremendous harm.

It’s been said: “Choose your enemies carefully, because you become just like them.” I am intolerant of people who are intolerant. I write off folks who write off folks. I get angry at people who are angry. I am bigoted against bigots. I become a perfect mirror when attempting to do away with weeds.

John Wesley said: “Do no harm.” That’s the first rule of his simple three rules. Bishop Meaders explained that the order is important. Sometimes we do a tremendous amount of harm when we feel our cause is “right.” This first admonition challenges us to make sure we are not creating more and more casualties simply because we feel we are justified.

Then, and only then, can we have any hope of living into the second rule of the Methodist Societies: “Do all the good you can, in all the ways you can, by any means you can, as long as you ever can.”

And then the third, “Attend to the ordinances of God.”

“Do you really want God to eradicate evil?” asks one writer. “Let’s say God eradicated evil at midnight tonight; how many of us would be standing at 12:01? None of us!” (Thank you, Textweek “Nuggets”, for this quote!)

If any of this feels like bad news, let me shed light on why delaying our weeding is perhaps the best news ever! It’s simply this: Where we see weeds—God sees wheat. We find it all over Scripture—God seems to really enjoy using the most impractical and weedy characters to move God’s will along. I received this e-mail list about a week ago:

Noah was a drunk.

Abraham was too old.

Isaac was a daydreamer.

Jacob was a liar.

Leah was an eyesore.

Joseph was abused.

Moses stuttered.

Gideon was afraid.

Rahab was a prostitute.

Elijah was delusional.

Isaiah preached naked (wonder how quickly the Staff/Parish or Personnel committee met after that Sunday?)

Jonah ran from God.

Naomi was a widow.

Job went bankrupt.

John the Baptist ate bugs.

Peter denied Christ.

Jeremiah and Timothy were too young.

David was an adulterer and murderer.

Martha worried about everything.

The Samaritan woman was divorced five times.

Zaccheus was too small.

Paul was too religious.

And Lazerus was dead!

Could this be a reminder that we all might be “Bearded Darnell’s” Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “A weed is but a flower that someone decided didn’t belong in the garden.” I might add: And Someone decided to let it stay in the garden. “Let’s just wait and see what it will turn out to be.”

Where we see weed, God sees wheat.

Over 80 years ago, a young nurse showed up to the asylum, ready for work. She noticed a young girl in the basement who was listless, non-communicative, and unresponsive. Her mother had given up on her and her brother. The doctors had separated her from the other patients they had more hope for. But it bothered the nurse that no one was treating her. The nurse tried everything she knew to get through—but to no avail. One night, she left a plate full of brownies by the slot in the door. The next morning, the plate was empty. This energized the nurse to continue to work with the young girl anytime she could. And because the nurse refused to give in or give up, improvements were made—little by little, until the girl made it to the “regular” rooms in the ward. Doctors were in awe of the progress this girl made, and all because someone refused to see a weed, but wheat.

And then, it was time for this girl to re-enter the world. But the girl didn’t want to leave. She wanted to stay and help treat others who were afflicted with some limiting physical or mental dis-order. The young girl’s name? Annie Sullivan.

Annie went on to help Helen Keller grow from a weed into one of the most inspirational people our nation has ever produced. But nobody remembers the name of the nurse whom God used to start it all. The nurse who refused to put weeding gloves on. That’s what the Kingdom of heaven is like.

God can make a pretty good garden out of weeds. Isn’t this ultimately about salvation, redemption, and healing? Like growing a good garden, this miracle takes more time than we think we have. But there’s no short-cut to the Kingdom. Wendell Barry, a farmer and theologian, said: “The Kingdom will not get here by bulldozers.” So, put up your gloves, you followers of Jesus! It’s not about “Weeding!” It is about a “Wedding”—the joining together of God and God’s beloved “Bearded Darnells”! And rejoice that it’s not the weeders and bulldozers who get the last word, but God alone. And God turns out to be the most patient gardener of all.

Lord, be as patient with me as I am with others. Scratch that. Let me strive to be as patient with others as you are with me. Thank you for letting me put my weeding gloves down. I hate gloves. Amen.


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