Again this week we are talking about Jesus’s parables. In today’s parable God has sown good seed & during the night Satan has come along & sown some bad weeds amongst the wheat. Our initial inclination, (just like the householder’s servants) is to want to rush out & tear out the weeds. The problem though is very complex, because the weeds look just like the wheat, & the roots of the wheat & the weeds have co-mingled & grown together so that in ripping out the weeds we tear out the wheat as well. What can we learn from this parable? How can it help us understand each other better, our world better, give us a place to reflect on how to minister better to our neighbors, and to discern what our prophetic voice is for our society?
If the past is any indication, we tend to be judgmental & at times want to rid our precious church of those weeds or thoughts that don’t belong (it never fails to astonish me that if this desire were answered, there would be no one left in the Church given how judgmental we tend to be!). Now I know that none of you would ever think think this way. After all, we are enlightened, fair minded & open to new experiences & people. However, we know those people who don’t fit, those who are not like us, who have suspect notions about who & what the church should cater-to, & support. If you doubt that, think of your own inner turmoil when the new BAS superseded our long time precious BCP standard, or your churning emotions about same gender marriages or women being ordained; or reverse that, those damn BCP lovers, those exclusionary conservatives, those women haters.
I suppose our behavior grows out of a sense that changes threaten our survival & wanting our church to be pure & embody everything that was good & positive. We are continuously vigilant about how broadly or how narrowly we should draw the boundaries of the contemporary church. Who we can let in, & who we don’t think should be let in because we think we know who is accepted by God, & why, & who is not accepted by God, & why not? After all how wide should our specifications of welcome be, if we are still to be the Anglican church & not some watered down denomination, like those other people?
In our impatient wisdom, (& I’m as guilty as anyone), we want to bring matters to a head with simple black & white answers to very complex issues. In our scientific way we try to break down these issues to the smallest common denominators. These are very real issues & they are complex & there are no easy solutions. I’m sure some of you have lived that phenomena right here or at your former parishes over the years - sometimes we’ve been right, sometimes we’ve been wrong. Sometimes it’s been subtle. Sometimes it’s been cruel. And about many things, we still have no clarity.
Then along came Covid 19 & all our church concerns dropped to the bottom of the list as everything we thought & fought for has truly been set aside as we seek simply to survive personally, and then as a church with buildings, administrators, and clergy to pay for. Well that what our parable is all about. The inability to separate the wheat’s roots from the weeds’ roots symbolizes the very complex problems we are facing today. We as a human race crave for answers to our Covid Crisis & when answers aren’t forthcoming we fall back into the age old habit of looking for someone to blame.
Again if we look to our parable today, the Master offers this alternate wisdom, “let them grow together [until the harvest], because one cannot always discern the wheat from the weeds until then.” God models for us an infinite patience, that frees us to get on with our lives & the crucial business of proclaiming the gospel; making disciples; & loving or at least living with one another. This picture of a blessed mixture of weeds & wheat growing together until the harvest is a glimpse of how we can survive when we are at a loss for answers & feel powerlessly out of control. It’s also a glimpse into the future judgment at the end of time as we know it. This parable lets us glimpse a time when God will not tolerate endlessly, a world that is a: mixture of good & evil, faith & faithlessness coexisting side by side. We are pointed to a time when God, in his time, acts to judge & redeem the world. How else can Jesus claim that the kingdom is like an enormous tree that grows from a tiny seed? A tree that grows so enormous that all the birds of the air can come & find shelter in its branches, even those strange birds like you & me?
For the disciples both today & those of ancient times who face all kinds of persecution, & daily struggles, this parable comes as a huge comfort. They & we should be overjoyed to learn that flaws were not due to the deficits in Christ’s message, but due to the work of the devil himself. This parable contains an amazing insight that our church & our lives are a mixed bag. It contains both, healthy wheat, & unhealthy weeds, and both of these often manifesting in the same person at different times in one’s life.
As difficult & as strange as this world is right now to live in, we are called not to decide who is within & who is beyond God’s attention. It’s our job, to imagine everyone as belonging to this God, & therefore endeavoring to overcome our own weaknesses to embrace through Jesus Christ, God’s holy & purposeful ambiguity.
Our gospel message highlights the challenge of distinguishing: good from bad; wheat from weeds; loyal opposition from heresy; healthy conflict from destructive antagonism; & an alternate way of living with this evil virus from succumbing to fear, anxiety & giving up.
If it were easy, we as a human race would not have made all the mistakes we’ve made through the ages. Having the patience called for in this passage however, is not an excuse for inaction or conflict avoidance, for Jesus knows the consequences of a failure to deal with evil because failure allows evil to spread & infest other fields. This leaving the sorting to God on the day of judgment does not preclude our ongoing job within the church, to proclaim the Good News to the ends of the earth.
Today we need to be on guard. Satan continues in our midst, & works to confuse & hinder our ministries. We have to double up & be in touch with those people God has placed on our hearts to contact, because Satan is working each & every day & night to do the opposite. To make you feel listless, out of control, anxious about the future & worried about where all this is going to end. So God is saying to us, “Live in the present moment, don’t worry about the future, wear your masks, wash your hands, self distance, have patience with yourself & others & by all means work at staying in touch with people you know you are called to reach out to.” There is still work to be done here and now; concrete work; work that is adapted to a changed world as has been the case for all living things for all time.
I know & appreciate that. It’s impossible to maintain absolute outward holiness in all our actions all the time, or that an unholy action by a member does not preclude the possibility of future holiness. In my experience we have mixed motivations, the noble & the base in each of us. Each of us is a mixture of wheat & weed, holy & unholy, potentially fruitful & potentially destructive.
Our challenge then is to learn as much as we can about our enemy and how he manifests in our own thoughts, words and actions about ourselves and about others. And moreover, to find hope to sustain in doing that hard and painful work of opening up and allowing God to whittle away our caving to the enemy within, we need to learn as much as we can about our friend, Jesus. Scripture is a good place to start. We must learn & inwardly digest the differences between the two, & come together (in community) to explore & proclaim what we have discovered about that which, increases the potential for holiness.
No one person has all the answers & it takes patience & perseverance to continue the quest. Unfortunately, sometimes I feel too challenged by all that is going on in my life to focus on these heady aspects of my life. I’m too tired, too worn out, too worried, too sore, too confused, & too unsure to trust my own abilities & talents. I don’t know if you feel this way, but from my experience, I bet there are times when you feel this way too.
It’s at times like this that I remember that Satan may be at work in my life causing these evils to exist, but I also remember that at anytime, I have the option of resting in the arms of Jesus knowing “his yoke is easy & his burden is light” because it’s not all up to me. Isn’t it comforting to know we have fought the good fight (to the best of our ability) & that in the end it’s not all up to us. God will sort out the wheat from the weeds.
Sometimes we need to let go, & make room for Jesus in our existence. Sure, we must make the effort along with our other seekers to know God. Sure, we are called to tend the seeds so they might grow & flourish, but in the end, growth is up to God, & we can take great comfort in the end at harvest time, that God will separate the wheat from the weeds & ease our minds, & take us to himself.
A colleague of mine says that in a world colored as ours is by Covid ambiguity, the only absolute is to be found in the absolution. I think those are powerful words, & supply one of the main reasons I long to be back in church. I want to be able to join with others & acknowledge that life is hard, sometimes really hard, & the choices in front of us are not always clear or easy. But not only do we have the support of the community in making these difficult choices, but no matter how they turn out we can rest in the knowledge & hear again words of absolution, forgiveness, grace, & commissioning as we are sent once again into the world to make difficult choices as we try to be the people God has called us to be.
My Great Aunt Dorothy used to have a favorite saying, “It’s a great life if you don’t weaken”. Only now, am I beginning to understand what this simple woman meant. God is still in charge, & he gives us the gift of freedom to participate in witnessing to him on this earth, to experience his joy, & we can take comfort in the knowledge that the one who created us, who sustains us, and who will draw all things to their final end, will be the only one to make the final decision as to “who is in” & “who is out.” This is not up to us. Imagine if you & the people you are reaching out to came to see church as a place where they could confess the confusion & ambiguity of their lives & find counsel, comfort, & hope as they seek to be the people God has called them to be. As Jesus concludes “Let anyone with ears listen.” And in he end, God will sort things out. In the end, there is hope. The weeds do not destroy the wheat. Amen