Monday, July 18, 2011

Wheat and the Weeds

I preached this Sunday a sermon on the Wheat and the Weeds. And it was the culmination of my week at General Assembly.

By the time the Assembly ended I really felt energized for ministry. Between hearing a sermon reminding me that people do not come to church just to hear "Joel Osteen" and conversations about immigration, and learning about LGBTI people being welcomed and accepted into the church, I felt inspired and ready to come back to Karl Road Christian Church to preach, to pastor and to lead.

Here is the sermon I preached on Sunday which speaks to some of my experiences of the week and the way that I believe that God is leading us. To become people of "Radical hospitality and love"

Matthew 13:24-30
24He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field;
25but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away.
26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’
28He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’
29But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.
30Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’

This is a parable. A parable by definition is open to interpretation. It does not have one meaning, but it can speak to us in many ways.
It all depends on what you hear
Like the story of the three little old ladies walking down the street
One turns to the other and says: It’s windy, isn’t it?
The second one said - No, It’s Thursday
And the third one said - “So, am I, lets stop for some tea.”

It all depends on what you hear.
This morning I will share three statements that I hear that I believe to be true- but in the midst of this there is a lot of mystery and questions for us to reflect on.

The first statement: The wheat and the weeds grow together. And I want to follow this with: GET OVER IT.
We like to wonder why that is –There is an explanation in the text that is no explanation really - “an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat” Who is the enemy? How are they sown? Don’t know
There is another mystery within this truth. - what is the field ?
Is it the church- which welcomes the outsider - but continues to be nationwide the most segregated hour in the country. The church which can be a place of unconditional love and also long held resentments.
The church - wheat and weeds
Is is the world or our country – with a history of freedom for all people except the people who were already living here, or the slaves that were brought here,
Our nation which cares about people in need through a variety of welfare programs and support for those on disability but a nation where 1 in 6 children live in poverty
Is it a person- Jim Tressel? Barak Obama? Arnold Schwartzenegger ? Margot Connor?- you look deeply within and you will find wheat and weeds
The combination of generosity in some areas and greed in others
The ways in which we reach out and love some and have prejudice and judgment for others.
Paul writes eloquently that I do the thing that I don’t want to do and don’t do the thing I want. That is US and the wheat and the weeds within

The Greek word for weeds is “zizania” which is a very particular type of weed that looks just like wheat as it is growing up. You can hardly tell the difference.
Today it is called “darnel” wheat. It looks like wheat, it appears like wheat but it is not wheat – and don’t know the difference until it is grown
The wheat and the weeds grow together - and the questions - the mystery - which is which.

I have just returned from the General Assembly of our church and an interesting discussion about immigration – which loaded and complicated issue!
We had a process in which each person entering the assembly hall was given a different role to play.
• I was a poorly educated and unemployed family man whose resented people who came into this country and took jobs

• Someone else was a woman in El Salvador who was separate from her husband who was living in America and sending home money
• Another person was a young man wanting to go to college, having been brought into our country as a child from Mexico.
And you think - I think - is this the wheat or the weeds. We live in that mystery all the time. What is the wheat and what is the weeds?

Second statement I hear in this text: we really want to weed the field. And some of that may be our perfectionism . our need to action .our impatience.

This image is meaningful on so many levels. however, it is helpful to look at the text and see that the audience for Jesus was the Pharisees..
who in their holiness pounced on the unholy in their ranks and developed strict boundaries with which to define holiness - insiders and outsider. They weeded out the unholy people.

We all know that there are some churches that are overtly in the business of weeding today. There are churches weed out women in leaders, gays and lesbians, people who are divorced. We have other ways of weeding that are not obvious but effective

And still today - we may be doing the same thing and not know it. First thing I hear when I invite people to church is this question: what should I wear? Will I look like a wheat or a weed?

I spent time in Chautauqua last week with my friend Mary Wood, a Baptist and Disciple pastor who has done a lot of trips to Thailand working with Burmese refugees who are now emigrating to American These faithful Christians, the Karen people, are either starting their own churches or joining others. The only problem is that their cultural expectation of children’s behavior is so different from ours. The children move around throughout the service. They are not sent to children’s church or the nursery as we do. They are not “seen but not heard.” Maybe we kind of like to weed out the children on Sunday!

And maybe this is talking about the sin of weeding - when we don’t even know what is a weed and what is not .

And the third truth of this text: God is God and we are not - God is in control

There is a word here about Judgment - our judgment.
One of the phrases that has stuck with me for years as a pastor is this:
We are in the loving business and it is God who is in the changing business It is love that is our call to one another - nothing else

Last year at Chautauqua I went to a workshop on shame and learned about how many of us live in shame –(self hatred at ME)
Modern nemesis
Learned Can start in the womb and comes roaring back after 60 –
Shame happens because the external world has given us the message that we have been a disappointment (we are the weeds!)
,Shame because we were unwanted, shame because we were not perfect,
Shame because we make mistakes
Shame because we are too old, or too young, or too poor
And the antidote to shame – is love – simple as that, hard as that
So, for us as church and as Christians, our task is not to judge, is not to weed, is not to presume that we are God. It is to love trusting that God will do whatever weeding needs to be done

I saw an old friend, Linda Mervine, who was in seminary with me, She now pastors an open and affirming church in Las Cruces NM
She told me about a woman coming to her church for the first time - and experiencing the love and openness and grace of her church and she heard words of invitation at the table that included her.After the service she just stayed in the sanctuary..

Finally Linda went over to her - and learned that she was a new Christian.
She was also a lesbian and a boxer.
And her coach had told her essentially that she was a sinner because of her lifestyle and was not worthy.
Linda told me that she said to her
I am going to say this to you three times so that maybe you will hear me
You are a precious child of God and loved just as you are
You are a precious child of God and loved just as you are
You are a precious child of God and loved just as you are
And your sexuality is a gift to you and will be a gift to our church.

Linda and that church love her as God loves her. We are not in the weeding business - but the loving business.This parable is a word of judgment about judgment

And it is a word of consolation - at least it is for me. Because I live in so much confusion about myself, about the church and the world. And the confusion is that I don’t know what is a weed and what is the wheat …..often

Whether we are talking about issues like immigration or just the daily challenge of living with the complexity of walking in my own skin.

There is consolation here - that I am not in charge and don’t have to be. And that this ambiguity, this mystery, this holy living is about trusting in God
I have always love the prayer by Merton - which begins like this

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.

I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you and I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing

As well as the prayer by Bonhoeffer (“Who am I?”)that ends like this (written a month before his execution)

Who am I? This or the other? Am I one person today, and tomorrow another? Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others, and before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling? Or is something within me still like a beaten army, fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine.

There is consolation in knowing God is the creator, sustainer, the seed planter and the weed remover and I can trust God

And finally it is a word of challenge. To people who are well-meaning, who have the best of intentions, but want to be in control. That would include me. It has been my experience and I believe that it is a message from this parable, that God's worst enemies often assume that they are God's friends -- doing God's work
We need to remember that we are not the ones who will bring in the harvest. So we need to
to invest time in prayer and reflection – and wait . For God to do what God is going to do.
Looking back at 60 plus years of age do develop humility because we see now that what seemed to be a weed 20 years ago grew into wheat

What I have also learned is this - if I am not close to God - I find myself either weeding or wanting to weed…..To weed people and To weed parts of myself…
What I have learned is that I cannot fix you and I cannot fix me, but I have been called to be in a relationship with the Holy One who can do more than any of us can imagine….and we can trust his love, power, presence and purpose
In the message Eugene Peterson writes vs. 43
43"The picture of thistles pulled up and burned is a scene from the final act. The Son of Man will send his angels, weed out the thistles from his kingdom, pitch them in the trash, and be done with them. They are going to complain to high heaven, but nobody is going to listen. At the same time, ripe, holy lives will mature and adorn the kingdom of their Father.
"Are you listening to this? Really listening?

Here is the good news and the hard news - God is in control, god is God and we are not
We need to live ripe holy lives - focusing on our God as we do - and trust that God will do the weeding - within us, within our church and our world
That God’s holy people - open and loving to all people - will be part of the growth of the world

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