First Congregational Church
July 20, 2014
6th Sunday after Pentecost
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
“Patience, Growing and Being”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
So Ole was having dinner one evening and his son, Einar came in and said, “”Hey Pop, I just discovered something. I just did a survey of the farm today, and it’s not in Minnesota. It’s in Wisconsin. Ole said, “Oh that’s a huge relief. I couldn’t take another Minnesota Vinter.”
It seems that there is a parable pattern being revealed in the morning lectionary passages - with a little, tiny obscure link to the weather. Last week it was the parable about the four different soils - the hard ground, the gravel or rocky dirt, the weedy places and the good soil. It’s interesting that this week’s passages follow last weeks, seeing as how this week’s sort of focuses on one of the four soil types.
Like last week, the gospel writer, Matthew, inserted a pericope, fancy for a number of passages that make a complete thought. Last week it was a section about a fulfillment of an Old Testament Prophecy in the middle of the parable and this week it is two other little parables that contribute to the larger subject of “The Kingdom of Heaven is like….” But for today….
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 NIV
24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.
Thank you, Judy. Like last week, there is a plethora of obvious questions about this story. How is the farmer so quick to make the accusation about the enemy sowers - did he have someone in mind? Farmers back then were generally people of means, which translates that they had slaves or hired help that would do the planting. So why is this farmer planting? Is Jesus - or Matthew - assuming details that the listeners would understand - even linguistically? Jesus tells about the “end of the age,” but he doesn’t say when it’s to come, so would that be called cruelty or is it not so important to the plot? And why does he give the disciples the explanation, but leaves the crowd, still strewn all over the hill, in the dark? I’m guessing that the more we all think about it, the more questions we could find. But here’s what struck me this week.
Anglican priest, professor, theologian, preacher and author Barbara Brown Taylor points us a different direction for our questions. She “reads parables not as direct answers to direct questions that we all have and want answered (clearly and specifically). Instead, she says, they deliver "their meaning in images that talk more to our hearts than to our heads. Parables are mysterious....Left alone, they teach us something different every time we hear them, speaking across great distances of time and place and understanding”” She also says, “As soon as we "know" what a parable means, we're probably mistaken. But if we're made uncomfortable by the challenge of a parable, we're probably getting a little closer to the heart of its meaning.”
In all honesty, I don’t know about anyone else, but before Jesus even explained, I “get” that these passages present ripe opportunities for delineating the “us” from the “them.” That course, however, requires a judgment, and I don’t know about you, but every last time I think I can get on my “higher than thou” horse, it seems that I find myself being reminded - in rather uncomplimentary ways - that my horse is more like a muskrat or a warty toad.
Besides, having to cast judgment requires a great deal of responsibility, and frankly, some days, I’m rather happy to let God do that part. Other days, when my righteous indignation flares, God help me from publicly revealing how small I can sometimes be.
Insert transferred memory of one of my seminary professors, the one I most respected, Dr. David Clark. He said, “It is rarely ever “either/or;” it is nearly always “both/and.”” Add that idea to the fact that Jesus had just talked about God’s crazy sowing of the Good News on to all the types of soils, maybe the point, at least for today, is less about “who is what seed? and more about “how is my field?”
Yes, there are places in the Bible that let us know that dialoguing with one another - in love - has a definite place in the life of the church. But - even in this passage, God’s timing and our patience are important aspects of relationship tone-setting. In fact, I think one of the points about this parable is that it gives us an idea that God has a purpose even for the weeds - to be used as fire tinder. Sometimes, tho, we aren’t so willing to trust God’s judgement and/or timing, because we can do a much better job, thank you, very much.
Regardless of what we think or don’t think, God gives us this life to live, and you know, despite all we do to keep it free of weeds, sometimes they descend on us like a plague. At other times, it can feel like we are in a field of weeds, rather than a field of good seed. Either way, in our mixed field, our job is not about weeding as much as it is about minding our own business, so to speak, our business being the reconciliation of the world through the practice of unshielded love. Yeah, so it was Barbara Brown Taylor’s line, but it’s so good: “our job, in a mixed field, is not to give ourselves over to the energy of the destruction of the weeds, but to be about the reconciliation of the world through the practice of unshielded love.”
Practically, loving our enemies, practicing unshielded love, those are hard things. Funny how sometimes what seems to be hard is only so in appearance, because the easy things may end up being much more work. Maybe it’s easier to accomplish unshielded loving of enemies when we remember 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 is interesting that the directions are to leave the weeds be - until the harvest. In other words, be patient. God is working behind the scene, doing the growing, so let the plants be. Changing people's hearts is a quiet and gracious business more than a noisy and forceful affair. So don’t get all anxious or worried about just “being.”
Maybe worry and concern is wired into our dna. It’s so easy to get caught up in the future - and the past - for that fact. Those are much easier places to dwell than on our present lives, and maybe that sort of focus requires more patience.
If we are holy folks, then whenever we see something we think is less-than-holy, it’s easy to think we should attack it. We can get easily turned around, thinking that total purity is about the here and now, rather than the future. So we get anxious to pour some theological Ortho Weed-B-Gone on all that feels wrong with the world. But maybe we have more to learn from the weeds in our midst. Maybe we need to do some praying for what we deem to be weeds. There is a small bunch of pansies in the front garden of the church that came up again this spring - that would normally have been pulled up last fall. But perhaps the early winter allowed for a sermon illustration that I couldn’t have made up any other way. Those pansies needed patience, and to be left alone, so that their beauty could shine for us this spring. It’s hard to leave weary pansies alone when we yearn for a picture perfect garden.
There are times when there is a need for speed and quick action, like when you’ve got a lunker walleye on the line, you need to grab the net quick. And now that the good weather is finally here, when it’s not raining or there is threat of frost, we want to squeeze every drop of delight out of da light.
Be patient - with yourself, with others, with God. Grow. Flourish. It doesn’t matter who or what is growing around you. Just grow. And be. Don’t add the adverb after the word “be.” Just be. Breath. Allow the Holy Spirit to wash the dust off your soul and water the field you call your heart. Admire the beauty of the fields around you - in all their varying patterns that happen as the Holy Spirit blows over them. Do your job. God will do God’s job. So let us begin by doing what we can, in this moment, together.
God of all creation, we thank you for the beauty of the growth we see around us. It’s hard sometimes, especially in the winter months, to remember that you are the Master Gardener, with patience for even those times - events and people - that look like nothing is happening. When we have questions about our own growing, encourage us to ask for the experience of others, that we not look on those times as weakness, but of strength and the desire to do well at harvest time. Let us see the lessons of this parable for this coming week - all of them - even the ones that have been left unspoken. Grow us, in your holy patience, into the wheat that can feed your people - physically, mentally, spiritually, as all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.