Living with Weeds
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 7/20/2014
Based on Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
In this morning’s parable Jesus says, “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.” I cannot help but think that on this second anniversary of the Aurora Theater shootings and along with the two major news headlines of this week, Israel’s invasion of the Gaza strip and the murder of 292 people on Malaysian Airline MH17, as it was shot out of the sky over the Ukraine, as amplified examples of “weeds” in the world.
As I struggle to understand such violence in our world there is a certain reality to this parable about the evil one sowing bad seeds alongside the good seed. Yet, one of the more troubling parts of this morning’s parable comes in the very first sentence: the kingdom of heaven may be compared to… Jesus often preached that the kingdom of God is among us, here and now. Heaven is the place we think of as where God dwells; and dwells for “eons”, meaning past, present, and future. Heaven over the centuries has developed in the minds of many people as something that can only be experienced after one dies. As I have shared in the past, Jesus’ understanding of heaven is it exists both in the present and in the future. So if the kingdom of heaven is what I presently am living in, is there any hope for peace in the midst of so much violence, hatred, and fear? And is the heaven of the future going to be any different?
Rev Kathryn Huey shares: This week’s sower presumably uses good ground, but gets mixed results because of the actions of an enemy. There’s tension and conflict in this week’s story, active not passive resistance to the work of God the sower. Perhaps those early Christians (who Matthew was addressing) had a stronger sense of their own powerlessness, feeling small and vulnerable in opposition to the powerful but (clearly) wicked forces around them.UCC Sermon Seeds 7/15/2014
Do we not experience these same feelings of powerlessness as we constantly learn of massive acts of evil going on throughout the world? Young boys being kidnapped and taught to become killing machines, young girls being kidnapped and sold into slavery and sex trafficing, never ending killings between Palestinians and Israelis’, senseless attacks on civilians either on the ground or in the air, mass shootings of school children or in public places, and the list just goes on and on; how can we not feel powerless and at times lose our hope for a better world? When will God’s kingdom actually come to fruition?
Matthew’s story could be speaking about the world at large but he might also be addressing what was being experienced in a rapidly growing church. As a church that was young and gaining new members, the community of faith was struggling with the reality that not everyone who had joined them had the same goals or understood the teachings of Jesus in the same way. In other words there was internal struggle; weeds sown in their garden.
The church struggles today with the same issue of not being unified, both as local congregations and as Christian Churches worldwide, usually around theological understanding. So much so, we within the larger church family have divided ourselves with labels such as “liberal”, or “conservative”, or more sever “fundamentalist”, we have set up a situation that creates division and disunity by creating an “us” verses “them” attitude. It is because of the adversarial atmosphere within and between churches and church related organizations, that non-churched folk’s question, “Why would I want to belong to something where so much fighting going on?” Weeds planted in God’s garden!
In the summer of 2011, the New York Times ran an article about the battles over abortion. “Taking Fight Back to Wichita, Doctor Seeks Abortion Clinic”. Listen to some of the article: Not long ago, Dr. Mila Means, the physician trying to open an abortion clinic in this city, received a letter advising her to check under her car each morning – because maybe today is the day someone places an explosive under it.” There was reason for concern: the last doctor to provide abortions here was shot to death (at his United Methodist church where he was worshipping, by a Christian from Kansas City), because of his work. I recall reading on face book comments made by some fundamentalist Christians, praising the actions of the murderer – as doing God’s will in order to prevent the killing of unborn children. I wonder if this might be an example of weeds being pulled out among the wheat?
I bring this article up as an example because it holds two sides of theological reflection within the church, those who believe in “prolife” and those who believe in “prochoice”. Depending on which side of the issue you find yourself, the odds are that you have set up a “them” vs. “us” stance and know full well that God is on your side. The reality of an attitude of “us” vs. “them” creates a road block to discuss an issue and prevents finding possible solutions that would benefit all.
Here in Matthew, we can see where the evil doers will be judged, but by who? Not by the church, and not by humanity, but rather, will be collected at the end of time by the angles and judged by God. In the Wisdom of Solomon, it is written, “Although you [God] are sovereign in strength, you judge with mildness; and with great forbearance you govern us. Through such works you have taught your people that the righteous must be kind, and you have filled your children with good hope, because you give repentance for sins.”
Boy this is a true blow to those of us who feel we need to take “righteous” actions towards those that we perceive to be doing evil. Barbara Brown Taylor describes the frustration of “good” church members who recognize “weeds” in the midst of the church that ought to be a refuge from the tainted world saying: ‘If God really is in charge, then why isn’t the world a beautiful sea of waving grain? Or at least the church – couldn’t the church, at least, be a neat field of superior wheat?’
Then as now, “however the weeds get there, most of us have got them – not only in our yards but also in our lives: thorny people who were not part of the plan, who are not welcome, sucking up sunlight and water that were meant for good plants, not weeds”. Doesn’t this kind of attitude set up an either/or, Us and Them situation, where some of us are “wheat” and others are “weeds”? Who can tell the difference, and who can presume to pull the weeds without harming the tender wheat?
Kermit the Frog may claim that “It’s not easy being green,” but Barbara Taylor again observes that it’s not easy being wheat, either, having to compete with the weeds for fertile soil. How many people have thought they were doing the right thing, even if they use “hostile means” to rid the church of troublesome weeds, when they’re really doing the same thing as those they are fighting against? (I think of how the Nazis treated the German Jews and how Israel is now treating the Palestinians.) Is it possible that the mystery of the parable has something to do with God’s timing, and our inability to judge or, for that matter, our unwillingness to trust in God’s own judgment? God’s judgment, of course, is always better for someone else than it is for us. Still, there is evil and wrongdoing, and surely we’re supposed to do something.
Last month we initiated the Take 5 program. We are working toward becoming an actively planting church; planting an awareness of love, peace, and mercy as an alternative to fear, hatred, and violence. I wonder if any of you can share with us this morning what you have experienced by picking up these brochures and leaving them in places where others might pick them up and read? As active planters, we are opening ourselves up to having people come visit us who might not do things the way we do them, they might not think the way we think, we might have to make changes in how we do things, but we are sowers of God’s love.
Taylor says that “what God seems to know is that the best and only real solution to evil is to bear good fruit. Our job, in a mixed field, is not to give ourselves to the enemy by devoting all our energy to the destruction of the weeds, but to mind our own business, so to speak – our business being the reconciliation of the world through the practice of unshielded love. If we will give ourselves to that, God will take care of the rest…”
Let us be reminded that God sends both sun and rain on the righteous and the unrighteous alike. If God shows such generosity of spirit, can [we] do any less? It’s hard to be a faithful follower of Christ, yet we must remember that Jesus told us to love our enemies. Sermon Seeds UCC, 7/15/2014 If we can work at doing this, we will be helping to stop the division that comes with the Us verse Them, and will allow us to place our energy on cultivating the “good” seed that God has placed within each human being. Amen