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What do we do with the weeds?

Matthew 13:24-30 (36-43)

Penetecost +13, Common Lectionary Year A

©Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones

Video link

Audio file – scripture

Audio file – sermon

(The first section here is the scripture, followed by the sermon lower down the page)
Today’s Scripture from our Gospeller Matthew picks up where we were last week, with Jesus the teacher in Galilee, but today’s story comes in two separate episodes.
The first episode involves Jesus and a crowd, and the second comes later, when just a few of Jesus’ closest disciples are with him, and they have questions….
And we’re going to copy Matthew and tell it that way to us too.

So, shall we?
Let us go with Matthew one more time, to the sea of Galilee, that Sabbath morning, when Jesus left the house where he was staying, and went down to the beach with some of his disciples.
Now, remember, Jesus and his followers have become the hot topic in the local news, not least because of the healing and feeding and teaching that Jesus is up to, seven days a week….! It’s not long before the news spreads on the 1st century social media network – word of mouth – (“Jesus is on the beach”) – and a crowd gathers, filling up rocky sand between the nets and the boats, and the lapping waves.
Jesus, who according to Matthew could never pass up on an opportunity to spin tales of the Kingdom – the Dream of God to all who would listen, looks around, nods at Peter and the sons of Zebedee, and they push out one of their boats into the water, and he climbs in, the crowd cranes and settles, ready to listen.
And Jesus’ voice echoes, bounces off the water, so that not only the disciples can hear, but so can everyone on the beach.
And Jesus throws out parable after parabola of the kingdom dream of God,– those seed-sized stories that stick like a bur, deceptively ordinary earthy little riddles we twiddle in our minds, tantalizing puzzling glimpses into the heart of God for the creatures of earth…. You remember the riddles we heard Jesus tell last week, seeds that grow impossibly large, the yeast hidden like a leaven-heaven secret sauce, the nets that catch every single fish of the sea…. oh and this one…..

“Riddle me this!” Jesus says….
The Kingdom – the Dream of God for the creatures of earth – is like…
this seed, good seed, wheat seed, that a farmer sowed into his field;
but while everything was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat!
The seeds sprouted, and grew, stalks of green, growing heavy with grain,
and right there among the wheat
Weeds! Tares! Cheat wheat!

The farm-hands came to the farmer, and said
“Sir, you did sow wheat in your field, didn’t you?”
“Sure, why?”
“Well, there’s a problem… the field is full of tares as well as wheat.”
The farmer said. “Well, an enemy has done this.”
So the farmhands, trying to be helpful asked,
“Do you want us to go and uproot the weeds from the outta there? Boss?”
“No,” said the farmer,
“If you try to pull out the weeds, you’ll uproot the wheat too, and that won’t do anyone any good. Just leave them be. Let both grow until it’s time for harvest. I’ll tell the reapers to sort, bundle, and burn the weeds then, and then they can gather the wheat into my barn.”

“Riddle me this!” said Jesus.
And immediately he threw out another riddle and another, and another,
all about the crazy, unsettling, amazing Dream of God.

Hmmm…. well then… What does that mean?
One way to imagine what it means is in this song we know, which we’ll sing together, and then our children will go and riddle that parable some more together.

Hymn Soil of God.

Sermon

What shall we do with the Weeds?

How many of you like to read mystery novels,
Or binge-watch Netflix Fr. Brown mysteries?
Guilty.. me too.
Many of us love a mystery….
we like to be teased over an hour or two of a movie,
or through a few 100 pages of a book well-written.
I have a good friend who rushes all the way through
to the last chapter of her chosen mystery novel, and then stops, either for a night, or sometimes for a few days, so that she can riddle the mystery this way and that, coming up with her own possible solutions, before what she calls the ‘let down’ as the novelist ties up the loose ends of the mystery in a tight, neat, bow.

So, why then, do we get so bothered
when in these Gospels, Jesus is the Riddler,
insisting on telling us of
the kingdom Dream of God for creatures of earth
by means almost exclusively,
of these deceptively simple little stories,
with their surprising reversals,
and ridiculous impossibilities,
that niggle, and startle and unsettle
our preconceived orderly notions
of a Sunday-best faith.
Because, believe me, this one sure does!

And we’re not the only ones to be bothered by them.
And here we come to the second episode
in today’s scripture.
The disciples, having watched Jesus
at his Ted Talk best with the crowd,
get him out of the boat and back to the house,
where they shut the door, sit him down and say
“What was that? Wheat and Tares?
That’s what the Dream of God is like?
You have to be kidding us! Tell us what you mean!”

Now before I tell you what Matthew writes next,
I need us to step outside a moment,
and remind you all, of something we should know about Matthew….
he has a chip on his shoulder the size
of a ruined Jerusalem Temple.
Matthew was writing his Gospel,
not like an embedded reporter on the scene,
but like an archivist quickly summarizing
a room full of oral and written artefacts
two generations old,
before hell breaks loose and those artefacts are lost.
Two generations of turning,
and turning, and turning again
these riddles of Jesus,
trying to figure out what on earth,
and what in heaven’s name
Jesus meant by them, then,
and to a fractured,
increasingly heterogonous Jesus community,
dispersed far away from the sunny waters of Galilee.

Matthew wanted the answer.
The one answer;
he wanted the neat conclusion,
the bow neatly tied,
tied tight enough to hold fast
under the strain of a world gone sideways.

So Matthew writes this:
“Jesus answered saying
‘The sower of the seed =
that’s God’s Anointed, the Son of Man.
The good seed =
citizens of the Kingdom Dream of God.
The bad seed =
those who do the deeds of the evil one.
The sower of the bad seed =
the Devil.
And the harvesting, when the tares are bundled and burned,=
that is God’s final judgment,
where those who do the deeds of evil
will be cast into the fiery furnace,
with much weeping and gnashing of teeth,
all while the virtuous will shine like the sun.
Happy now?”

Not really!
We want to laugh him – Matthew – to scorn,
ignore what he wrote, saying
“The Jesus I want to follow wouldn’t have said that,” or
“Surely Jesus’ life, death, and rising,
his “coming in flesh to reconcile and make new”
are all about God’s desire to save the lost,
to redeem all of creation,
not condemn some to a fiery furnace.”

Except,… well… look around,
never mind looking around,
look in here…
I’m guilty, this week in particular,
of standing in the full sun of my own
righteous liberal convictions,
I want the Anointed One’s permission
to uproot some particularly hateful, divisive,
ugly tares in the Christian soil, (*Nashville Statement)
and burn them to a crisp
with much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

I don’t think I’m alone in this tendency we have
to want to uproot immediately,
anything that looks like weeds,
that looks like it’s been sown by an enemy.
But here’s the thing…
who’s to say what’s wheat and what’s weed? (weeds!)
Both sides of every argument,
be it political, or religious, or familial,
can be thoroughly convinced of their rightness,
and of the other’s pernicious weediness.

And think what happens to this riddle when we apply it
to the secret spaces of our own selves:
we know we are mixed seed at best.
What –addictions, failures, bad habits, old sins –
that we want to uproot and burn from our lives NOW?

If truth be known,
we are those disciples,
we are Matthew,
wanting desperately
to tie up the loose ends
on this deeply unsettling riddle.

My own turning of this riddle may be just as unsatisfactory,
perturbing or disturbing,
but in seeking Gospel for us, in company with you today,
there are three facets I want to explore.

First; the most obvious, but worth noting;
always, the Dream of God is sown on this earth,
in all its tohu v’bohu muss and messiness.
The Kingdom of God is here and now,
not in pristine Round-Up weed-killed perfection,
but grows organically like wheat in a field
almost as full of weeds.

Second: those weeds and how they got there.
God does not will evil for us in any way shape or form.
Tragedy for any of God’s children
is never part of God’s plan.
It is not God who goes into the field in the night
to plant cheat wheat
to trap, choke ensnare, or test us.
“An enemy has done this” says the farmer.
Evil, however you name it,
is the source of ugliness, of division, of choking fearfulness,
of rank self-righteousness, of divisive certitude,
But, remember point one,
it is into such muddled ground that God plants good seed.

Third facet:
The farmer, Jesus, God, their patience,
their willingness to wait out the growing season,
to delay judgment (as we should)
is borne of a divine, cosmic confidence:
God knows – better than we ever can,
that the arc does indeed bend toward justice [1],
that life does defeat the crosses
of death and condemnatory injustice.
God’s good wheat sown
is always and ultimately stronger than
all the pernicious weeds evil has ever dreamt up.

[ I choose to leave aside the question of just how much will end up in the fiery furnace, for next time this comes up in the lectionary!]

So what do we do, then,
when we leave the room where Jesus has schooled us
with a riddle that won’t be tied down?
And what do we do with the weeds?
Nothing.
Because for us, while there’s growing to be done,
we get out there,
friends of Jesus, and followers of his Way,
and we choose to be sown as wheat
in the fields of the Lord.

We choose to live, being parables
of God’s kingdom Dream sown into the soil of Creation.
We choose, at every turn, to grow like wheat, not weeds.
Like this….
(screen roll of parables from last week)

[1] Reference to the phrase of Abolitionist Unitarian preacher,Theodore Parker, made famous by Martin Luther King Jr, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

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