Sermon by Rev. Todd Weir
July 20, 2014
I learned more about weeds than I ever wanted to know growing up in Iowa. Walking through the soybean fields to rid it of weeds was my summer job from age 13. A wise farmer once taught me that all weeds were not the same and could not be destroyed in the same way. A cockle burr had shallow but widespread roots and had to be pulled out to get all the roots. If you hacked it off at the ground level with a hoe it would be back in a week. A milkweed had a very long tap root that could not be pulled out. If you did try to pull it up, three separate sprouts would be back in a week. Milkweeds had to be hacked off with a hoe and would “bleed” and die as the sap ran out. If you didn’t handle the weeds right, hours of backbreaking work in the sun would be completely wasted. So in the summer, I had dreams-nightmares! – about weeds-jack and the bean stock type weeds that you would have to climb to take out. Even television had commercials about weeds, so there was no escape.
I appreciate Jesus knowing his weeds well. Last weeks lesson on the Parable of the Sower acknowledged that if your seeds fall into the midst of the weeds, the dense tangle will choke out your crop yield. That’s what I had to deal with when I returned from vacation. My community garden plot was overrun with weeds, and it took a few days to clear the rows. The tomatoes were easy since they had a head start as transplants, and the radishes can hold their own with any weeds. The toughest part was the carrots. The feathery tops are so delicate, and I found I had to leave some weeds mixed in the rows, because the delicate roots would come right out with the weeds I pulled. Which brings us into Jesus metaphor in today’s passage.
The meaning of Jesus’ parable about the wheat and the weeds becomes clearer when we look at the specific kind of weed he talks about. Tares are:
“Bearded darnel, mentioned only in Matt. 13:25-30. It is the Lolium temulentum, a species of rye-grass, the seeds of which are a strong soporific poison. It bears the closest resemblance to wheat till the ear appears, and only then the difference is discovered. It grows plentifully in Syria and Palestine.” The problem with taking our hoe to the evil weeds of the world is that good and evil sometimes look so much alike. It only becomes clear later.
This parable invites us to wrestle with one of the basic human malfunctions that we re-enact over and again. Here is the cycle: 1) We identify a problem. It may be as large as Shite/Sunni conflict in the Middle East, 50,000 children to the Texas border or simply, the house is a mess. 2) I did not cause this problem, and it is not my fault because I am basically a decent, good and competent person. The same is true for my party, ideology or nation. We are not at fault because we are good. 3) It is therefore obviously someone else’s fault. They should fix it. Find a scapegoat. 4) If the problem persists, get rid of the people who are perceived as causing it. Fire them, ban them, divorce them, ostracize them, change the zoning laws, lock them in jail, or kill them. Then make bombs and kill even more them.
Some variation of this process is at the core of most human conflict: from marriage and families, to bad workplace environments, government, and wars of nations and peoples. If I were to make to construct a theology of original sin, this would be at the core. The human tendency to say I am right and you are wrong, we have the truth and you do not, we are the pure and you are impure, you are not us, you are our enemy, we will get rid of you, and then we can live in peace and our problems will be solved. This sinful process is actually not very original, most sin and conflict is distinctly unoriginal. Maybe Cain murdering Abel was an original story, and then came Abraham and Sarah throwing out Hagar and Ishmael, Egyptians enslaving Hebrews, Hebrews conquering the ‘promised” land of Canaan, Rome conquering Israel, crucifying Jesus, Christendom rising, claiming Rome as its capital and then crushing other religions. This process of blame, scapegoating, labeling people as “the other” and then eliminating them is very unoriginal.
Here is something that would be original-figuring out how to live together. That would involve things like listening, dialog, soul searching, forgiveness, confession and reconciliation, trust-building, affirmation of differences and diversity, and the realization that we often do participate in some measure to the problem. I know-that sounds like a lot of hard work, and self-examination makes all of us uncomfortable. It is not nearly as satisfying as finding someone else to blame, however there is a great cost reduction when we start to disarm, and I mean not just disarming the military-industrial complex, but to disarm our hearts. Weeding out our enemies will not solve our problems. Any gardener knows this is a fantasy, because you can never really eliminate weeds. They always come back next year
Let me be a gardener again for a moment. I am not comfortable letting weeds take over my garden. I still spend a great deal of time pulling weeds. Jesus noted in the previous parable that weeds can choke out the seeds we want to grow. So I want room for the good, what is going to grow and feed me in the Fall. I’m not sacrificing my tomatoes for button weeds and crab grass. In the world, I do not want evil and injustice to take over. I do not want the weeds of envy, or resentment, or lack of appreciation to overgrow my marriage or the life of the church choked by petty squabbles or theological/political quarrels rather than respectful dialog and honest searching for God.
This parable of the wheat and weeds causes me to think before I start ripping stuff out the ground to save what I think is important. Underneath the ground, in a place we cannot see, the roots are all grown together. If I pull too quickly, there goes my carrots. Our human roots are perhaps even more interconnected under the surface of the daily news and ordinary life than my carrots and beets are with the weeds. The message is to think and assess before you pull that weed, stop before you blame, don’t go down that long road that cycles into conflict and even violence.
Remember that to someone else, we may be seen as the weed. Weeds are in the eye of the beholder. One of my gardening neighbors has a plot covered in various grasses and wild flowers that looks like complete disorder to me. I thought they had abandoned the plot and wondered if I could handle another one. Think of all the tomatoes I could plant! However, I was informed that the gardener uses many of the wildflowers and grasses in herbal remedies and teas, and that the weeds were the harvest. Now, that is not a garden I am interested in growing, but maybe someday I will benefit from a medication that someone discovered in a garden of weeds and wildflowers. So his weed patch is a living parable to me. I think Jesus would have made it into a parable that we should reflect and discover before we dismiss our neighbor.
Start with imagining that you are getting ready to garden., remember it as you last saw it, a fresh new garden, things are just coming up in rows, the first buds of some things may just be visible but not open, and green shoots are coming out of the ground. Take a moment to see where your garden is, its shape and size…
Now imagine that you are coming out to your garden put on some gloves and old shoes and head out to your garden. As you arrive has changed, it is now filled with weeds and crowding your favorite plants. Take a moment and register your first reaction…what would you like to do…leave, quit or pull weeds? Start in one corner and pull some of the large, obvious weeds near some of your stronger plants, from around your tomatoes for example. Pull the weeds and clear a section. How does it feel to pull the weeds away from the tomatoes? Now try a row of feathery topped carrots that are just three or four inches high. It is hard to separate them out and find them. Sometimes when you pull the weed, the a carrot accidently pulls out as well. Register your thoughts and feelings as try to separate out these weeds and carrots. Is this satisfying? Are you patient with trying to do this work?
Lets think about our own lives, the garden of our daily existence. Think for a moment about what you most want to flourish and grow in your life. What is important to you that you want to protect and water? Take a moment to commit yourself to focusing on these things in the coming week.
What are the obvious weeds that get in your way? Think of things that you could eliminate and pull without harming anything else in your life? Take a moment commit to eliminating the nonessentials in your life.
Where are things tangled in your life? What is less clear? Where are your goals and problems tangled together, there roots grown together so they can’t be easily separated. Take a moment to ask God for patience and wisdom to deal with these entanglements.
Think of areas of the world or other life issues where the good and bad are entangled. Where are people trying to eliminate one another rather than live together? Pray for peace and reconciliation for these areas.
Let us pray for those on our prayer list…As I read the names slowly, focus on each name with loving-kindness and send that to them, even if you do not know them. Send them love and lift them up to God who can do far better for them than we can pray for: