Sunday’s Sermon: Pulling Weeds

  • A few weeks ago, we read the story of Moses banishing Hagar and Ishmael to the wilderness, and I talked a little bit then about some of the passages from Scripture that are really difficult to deal with – stories that require some serious wrestling. Today’s reading from the gospel of Matthew is another passage like that.
    • Passage that might make us feel uncomfortable
    • Certainly a passage to struggle with
      • May ask why choose such passages to preach from → Passages like this are the reason I preach from the lectionary so often. Preaching from the lectionary forces me as a pastor and us as a congregation to encounter some of those passages that we wouldn’t normally choose to tackle.
        • Grow as individuals
        • Grow as community of faith
    • So this is our text for this morning … let’s wrestle with it together.
      • [read text]
  • Okay, what are the parts of this text that are a struggle for us?
    • Whole idea of evil – “children of the evil one” = seeds sowed by the devil[1] → certainly don’t like to think about evil, yet can’t deny it exists
      • Basic definition = anything harmful or injurious that causes suffering
      • Philosophical distinctions[2]
        • Moral evil (willful acts of human beings) vs. natural evil (natural disasters)
        • Physical evil (bodily pain/mental anguish) vs. metaphysical evil (imperfection and chance)
        • Basically, whether we call it evil or not, bad things happen in the world, and sometimes these bad things – intentionally or unintentionally – are committed by people.
    • Also, strictly black-and-white nature of Jesus’ interpretation doesn’t sit well with us → wheat = good, weeds = evil, nothing in between
      • This makes us uncomfortable because we know that the world seldom works this way. Things often fall somewhere along a spectrum instead of into one definite box or another, and what we have inside of each of us is no different.
        • Lives of disciples themselves = great e.g. → The people that Jesus explains this parable to are the same ones who fought over which of them was the greatest, who thought their teacher was too important to waste time on children, who wanted to punish those who were doing things in Jesus’ name (healing, casting out demons, etc.) because the disciples didn’t think they “belonged.” And these are also the same devoted friends who dropped everything to follow Jesus, who ate with Jesus in that upper room, who wept at the foot of his cross and rejoiced over his empty tomb.
        • Muddy distinctions abound in the world around us, in ourselves, even in our Scriptures → So how can this parable distill it all down into such a drastically simplistic dichotomy?
    • Related to this = our discomfort with whole idea of judgment – text:“[the angels] will collect out of [God’s] 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.”[3]
      • When you go pull weeds in a garden, it’s usually a pretty straight forward endeavor. Hopefully, you quickly spot the plants that don’t belong and yank ‘em out. Done and done! It’s exactly this abruptness and finality that (hopefully) makes weeding so easy and also that makes this parable so difficult. We don’t want to think of the world this way. We don’t want to think of people this way. And we certainly don’t feel comfortable being the ones doing the pulling.
        • Don’t want to be the ones differentiating between weeds and wheat, good and bad, “in” and “out”
          • Not the kind of people we want to be
          • Not the kind of church we want to be
        • Absolutely right to feel uncomfortable about this → pulling weeds = more difficult task that we can even see on surface of the text – Jesus is not just talking about any generic weed here
          • Gr. “weed” = darnel (specific type of weed)
          • Scholar: The bearded darnel is a devil of a weed. … Its roots surround the roots of good plants, sucking up precious nutrients and scarce water, making it impossible to root it out without damaging the good crop. Above ground, the darnel looks identical to wheat, until it bears seed. Those seeds can cause everything from hallucinations to death.[4] → These aren’t obvious weeds. And they aren’t harmless weeds. These are weeds that are both camouflaged and deadly. And they’re insidious.
            • Don’t want to even think about trying to figure this out → who are the “good seeds” and who are the weeds
              • Daunting task
              • Intimidating task
              • To us, feel like a disparaging task
  • I have to say, though, I feel like I have some understanding about where the servants in Jesus’ parable are coming from. → walking beans as a kid
    • Dad and Alan’s fields – known for being “clean” → How do you think they got that way?
    • Describe process – spent days targeting the weeds and taking them out one whack of the hoe at a time
    • Even though the servants of the landowner already know that they’re dealing with this horrible, insidious weed, they are still prepared to go in and root these evil things out. They worked hard to plant that field, and they don’t want to see it go to heck because of these bearded darnel.
  • Ahh, but you see, here’s the interesting this about this parable. According to our Scripture reading this morning, that daunting task of pulling weeds isn’t actually our job. Through this parable, Jesus isn’t telling us to sharpen our vision and our pruning shears so we can go out and do battle with those insidious and evil weeds. We are not called to determine who’s a weed and who’s a stalk of wheat.
    • Text: The [servants] of the householder came and said to him, “Master … where, then, did these weeds come from?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The [servants] said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No.”[5] → The servants said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No.” No. It’s not your task … it’s not your responsibility … it’s not your burden to go and pull the weeds.
      • Whose job is it then? – text again: The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers[6] → “The Son of Man will send his angels” … that’s not us. So as we continue to wrestle with this text this morning, let us first lay that aside. Yes, this Scripture talks about judgment, but friends, it is not a judgment that is ours to parcel out as we see fit. It is a judgment for a God far greater, far stronger, and far more compassionate than we could ever hope to be.
        • Perspective from Lindsey: When God’s judgment comes into the world to mend what is broken and reconcile us to a way we cannot begin to conceive, there will be plenty of weedy chaff in all of us that needs burning away.
  • So then what is our job? What task is Jesus laying out for us in this parable? → scholar: On such a journey as this, it is … our job to imagine everyone as belonging to this God, and therefore, with all that we can muster, to endeavor to embrace, through Jesus Christ our Lord, God’s holy and purposeful ambiguity.[7]
    • We are called to continue to grow as a plant of the field and to let God be God.
      • Remember the response of the landowner in the text: The [servants] said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather [the weeds]?” 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.”[8] → Let. Them. Both. Grow. Focus on the strength. Focus on nurturing and supporting and growth. It’s not for us to make the decision who’s in or out. It’s not for us to try to root out the bad weeds. It’s our job to continue to grow in the love and grace of God through Jesus Christ.
        • Find hope among the weeds here → Scholar: At this level, the text points us to a God who does not merely tolerate endlessly a world that is a mixture of good and evil, faith and faithlessness, triumph and tragedy, but who finally, in God’s own good time, acts both to judge and to redeem the world. … [God’s] realm is thriving in us, around us, and even, miraculously, sometimes through us; and God is pleased to let all of it “grow together until the harvest.”[9]
          • Sort of reminds me of Jesus’ mandate to Peter in John’s gospel: Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”[10]
            • Doesn’t say evaluate my lambs
            • Doesn’t say separate my flock
            • Feed my lambs – care for them, nurture them, help them grow
    • Also reminded that we are not alone
      • Parable – wheat grows together in the field, servants tend to it
      • Walking beans – always more bearable (even fun!) when it was me and my cousins
        • Worst day of walking beans – having to tackle thick, stubborn patches of weeds all alone
  • And make no mistake, my friends, just because we are not called to detect and pull the weeds ourselves doesn’t mean that this is a passive call. As the wheat in the parable grew among the menace of the weeds, we live among injustices every single day – evils that are being played out in the lives of our family, our friends, our neighbors, and our fellow human beings.
    • Scholar captures it: What are the weeds that threaten a harvest of abundant life in our world? Systematic evils such as racism, sexism, and prejudices of all kinds are weeds that entangle the roots of every human institution.[11] → We are still called to grow and to flourish in the face of the evil but also to act – do what we can to make sure that in the end, the wheat is stronger than the weeds, that there is more good in this world than evil. It may not be our job to pull the weeds, but we also cannot let the weeds overwhelm the field.
      • Beautiful e.g. from “On the Road” with Steve Hartman (CBS Evening News segment)[12]
        • Elderly woman in Oklahoma grieving her husband (recently deceased) → mugged as she was leaving the cemetery after visiting grave → man caught, mug shot broadcast on TV → man’s semi-estranged son recognized mug shot → contacted widow to …
          • Apologize for his dad’s actions: “It needed to be done. She needed an apology from somebody. If I didn’t apologize, who would?”
          • Give her some money his father had given him in attempt to make restitution … money she promptly gave back to help pay for his band trip
  • Through this difficult parable, Jesus is reminding us that it is our job, not to be the judge and jury, not to ferret out who we think God has deemed worthy or unworthy, but instead to grow in love and grace. Amen.

 

[1] Mt 13:38b-39a.

[2] Philip A. Pecorino. “The Nature of Evil” in Philosophy of Religion: Online Textbook. http://www.qcc.cuny.edu/socialSciences/ppecorino/PHIL_of_RELIGION_TEXT/CHAPTER_6_PROBLEM_of_EVIL/Nature_of_Evil.htm. © 2001, accessed 19 July 2014.

[3] Mt 13:41-21.

[4] Talitha J. Arnold. “Proper 11 (Sunday between July 17 and July 23 inclusive) – Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43: Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 260.

[5] Mt 13:27-29.

[6] Mt 13:41.

[7] Theodore J. Wardlaw. “Proper 11 (Sunday between July 17 and July 23 inclusive) – Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43: Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 265.

[8] Mt 13:28-30.

[9] Wardlaw, 263, 265.

[10] Jn 21:15.

[11] Joni S. Sancken. “Proper 11 – Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43” in Preaching God’s Transforming Justice: A Lectionary Commentary – Year A. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 330.

[12] Steve Hartman. “Okla. Teen acts to right his father’s wrong.” CBS Evening News, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/okla-teen-acts-to-right-his-fathers-wrong/. Aired 4 Oct. 2013, accessed 19 July 2014.

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