Sunday, July 20, 2014

Lingering Amongst the Weeds

A sermon preached by the Rev. Canon Anne E. Kitch
at St. Brigid's Church, Nazareth, PA
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, July 20, 2014

Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19; Romans 8:12-25;   Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

The interlopers had been bothering me for days. Weeds.  Or at least plants that did not belong. After all, that is the definition of a weed: a plant in the wrong place. Or, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”

Whenever I see some plant that does not belong, that has invaded some other plant’s territory, I have this urge to pull it out. I have this fantasy about cleaning out all the hedges I see as I drive along the road, I often imagine that I could have some special mower attachment to my car that would reach out and pull out all the offending vegetative trespassers from every passing hedge or artistic landscaping. Now mind you, I don’t actually do much weeding or gardening. One look at my backyard and you will see that I do not follow through. But I did weed the plot in front of Diocesan House this past week. On my way into work one morning I stopped in my path, dropped by bag, and without any preparation pulled out the offenders…and I paid for it with poison.

I am extremely allergic to poison ivy, and so I am very careful about it. I always garden with gloves, watch what I touch, and wash up afterwards. Except this time I didn’t. I didn’t see any poison ivy in there, but nevertheless…. This is the problem with wanting to fix things, or weed out what seems out of place, or set right what is obviously wrong—it isn’t always the right choice and can have unpleasant consequences.

I like to fix things. I am good at fixing things. I especially enjoy small home repair projects.  But my small skill of fixing also opens me up to a rather large temptation.  I can be seduced into trying to fix things that are not mine to fix. Experience has taught me some questions I ought to ask before I get in over my head. These include: is this mine to fix—do I have the skills and the needed tools—do I need assistance—might I do harm—is it worth the cost. I can get into a lot of trouble trying to fix things, especially if I am led astray into thinking I can fix people or situations.

And so how appropriate that today we are gifted with Jesus’ parable about the wheat and the weeds. What do you make of it? Take a minute to look at the passage again quietly, and see what you see…

This is what I noticed:

  • the kingdom of heaven is like the someone who sowed, in other words, like the sower
  • there is an enemy. Satan is real, and at work
  • the weeds are entangled with the wheat. In fact, the Greek word is zizanion, a plant that looks a lot like wheat.
  • the sower does not want the weeds pulled now, in case any of the good wheat be harmed. There is no harm in letting them grow side by side. It is more important for the sower to nourish and protect the wheat, than to eradicate the weeds right away.
  • there is a time for sorting the good and the bad, and it is at the harvest.
  • there is a person in charge of the harvest.  It is the sower, not the workers, or the wheat, or any of us.
  • then there is the part left out of this passage in the reading this morning (did you notice missing verses?). Jesus give them two other parables. The kingdom of heaven is like mustard seed and the kingdom of heaven is like leaven.
  • the scripture says that Jesus “placed these parables before them.” I love that image, “placed before them.”like something precious. We are also told he “only spoke to them in parables,” so parables must be important. And one thing that is true about parables is that they are not clear cut. They rely on metaphor and imagination. They tell us what something “is like.”

So the kingdom of heaven is like…a sower who knows when and how to root out evil, a tiny seed that grows into a large plant, a substance that makes more of what it touches. And Jesus leaves the people with that. I wonder what they made of it?

The disciples, it seems, did not want to spend too much time contemplating these parables, particularly the one about the wheat and the weeds. Because as soon as they get Jesus away from the crowds, they want an explanation.  So Jesus gives them one: the sower is the Son of Man, who sows good seed. The enemy is the devil. And at the harvest, the end of the age, it is the job of the angels to collect all causes of sin and all evil doers. In other words, not our job.

This has led me to contemplate what are the weeds and wheat in my own life and what kind of trouble do I get into when I think I know the difference and mistakenly take it upon myself to fix what is not within my purview. I know I am too prone to take things into my own hands, to take credit for God’s work, and to forget that I am the created.  So what would it look like if I lingered among what I take to be the weeds? What might happen if I spent some time in contemplation rather than action, and looked for God’s presence?

Artist and minister Jan Richardson talks about the blessing to be found by spending time amongst the weeds:

blessing does not live in the wheat alone, but in the process of sifting and sorting through what’s present in the landscape of our days, and in finding—amidst whatever seeks to distract or disturb or damage us—the sustenance that is always there. A blessing that requires movement on our part, and giving ourselves to the kind of growth that happens as we seek clarity and purpose in the presence of challenges and resistance and complications. [ The Painted Prayerbook]

Part of the blessing for me in a face full of poison ivy was the need to stay home and focus on healing. There was work I had to set aside. I had to acknowledge my vulnerability, and pray that I would be well enough to be with you today.  But I was also able to use the tome to sit, pray, reflect, and attend to items that take more thoughtfulness than I can always accomplish in a busy office. I also had time to think about other things I uproot without thought. As Jesus reminds us, the action of uprooting can actually cause more harm than leaving the weeds be.  I have had to ask myself in the past few days what make me so certain that I know the difference. As William Loader, minister and theologian from the Uniting Church in Australia, writes: "Never uproot people in your mind or attitude by treating them as no longer of any worth!"       []

God’s creation, God’s kingdom, the world in which we live everyday, and all who occupy it deserve a healthy respect from us. We need to remember that we are God’s creatures. God is the fountain of all wisdom. God has compassion on our weaknesses. God love us at our best and at our worst.

What would it look like, what might we discover, what of God’s outrageous love might be revealed to us if we took the time to stop and smell the weeds.

photo credit: Anne E. Kitch