To weed or not to weed, that is the question. I've never really been a weed puller. My mother is a weed puller by nature. She can't walk around the yard without bending down to pull a couple of weeds along the way. If you're sitting on the porch visiting with her, she has a hard time simply enjoying the moment, because she is looking around at all of the plants on the porch - she's looking at the ends of those little shoots to see if she can pick them off and make room for new growth. I think it's in her DNA.
I have always felt strongly about leaving the weeding to others, until one long weekend of re-sodding the yard for a second time. Now I pay attention to those weeds. I have turned into a weed puller of sorts. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between the weed and the newly planted grass, between the weed and the hopeful flower on the other end, or the weed and the wheat. Jesus' parable for today reminds me that I am not alone in my uncertainty.
Jesus is on an agricultural-allegorical story telling tear in the 13th chapter of Matthew. And he's got plenty to say and we, at least I, along with the disciples are in need of some explanation. He tells us about the farmer who plants the good seed, about the enemy who plants the weeds - or the bad seed. Darnell is the technical-contemporary term for this bad seed. It's a nightmarish kind of weed - as it grows up, it looks just like the wheat - the two grow together and it's hard to tell the difference between them.
And the farm hands are anxious to get rid of that weed, to save the crop, to take care of the wheat. But the farmer says, "no, no, not just yet. Wait - let it be - let it grow and when the time is right, we'll know which is what. Then we'll separate them and put the wheat in the barn and the weeds in the fire." And the farm hands listen and the disciples listen and the others listen, too. And they don't quite get it - or want to get it. And so, they ask Jesus to explain it. And still I wonder if they get it. I wonder if I do, if you do. And in Jesus' explanation in that second part of the scripture, it sounds like there's a lot of hellfire and judgment and right and wrong and who's in and who's out and gnashing of teeth, and I don't like it.
I'm one of those fairly progressive Christians and while I understand that gnashing of teeth is a real thing, I'd rather talk about love and grace and peace and kindness. And mostly, Jesus moves me right to that place, except when he doesn't, when he causes me great pause and pain even.
Out in the county, in the country where there's enough land for fields to produce, you can see it for miles and miles, swaying back and forth - back and forth - weeds and wheat - wheat and weeds. Yes, this is our field, our field of humanity, it always has been. Since the beginning we have struggled to understand why evil exists in our world. This question of theodicy, how can it be that there are so many weeds when God's creation can fill this world with so much wheat?
How can it be that in this country, with so many resources, so much ingenuity, so many good people, that there are over 1.5 million homeless people in the United States - 1.5 million hungry, homeless, lonely people in need?
How can it be, that we who love our world, care about God's good creation, at least say that we do, give in so easily when our natural resources and wonders are at stake, how can we continue to suck up the energy, the oil, that atmosphere, when we know our grandkids and our grandkids' grandkids will suffer?
How can it be that we would say, "Yes, Jesus, we will love one another as we have first been loved," and close our borders, and build walls? How can we say, "Yes, Jesus, I do love you," and then lock our doors and our minds to the reality of the many refugees who are in need right here, right now - in need of hospitality and hope in their lives?
How can it be that we good and faithful Christians know that Jesus made a way, broke down barriers, gave us everything and still we would find ways to exclude others - others from the table of grace and love.
Why is the world so filled with injustice and poverty and senseless violence and struggle for power and brokenness and evil? Why? How do we keep hanging on? How do we continue to be faithful? Life is hard, God. Why don't you just get rid of those weeds, so that I may grow and thrive and live among the wheat?
Maybe sometimes you think that way. I do. But I know the truth and you do, too. Humanity's field is full of weeds and wheat. It has been since the beginning and it will be until the end. There are a lot of wheat folks and there are a lot of weed folks. And Jesus says, leave them alone, hands off; your job is not to judge which is which or who is whom. That part belongs to the patient, present, persistent, Prince of Peace.
Jesus knows that we can't know, in all of our humanness, in all of our frailty - even in our hope - who the righteous are and who the wicked are. Or maybe Jesus knows even more so, as we do - as we should - that so often we are both - us, wheat and weed. Saint and Sinner. Sheep and Goat. Beautiful and Broken.
This is the truth of our reality, but it doesn't mean that we don't have something to say about it - a way to move in it - through it. To grow in spite of ourselves and others.
I know what it feels like to be a faithful sturdy stalk of wheat. It feels like meaningful relationships with my family and friends, it sounds like shared prayer and fellowship and good music, it tastes like sharing a meal on Soup Saturday at our church with our neighbors and friends who are hungry and in need, and it looks like - well, it looks like a gathering of people who don't look like each other or think like each other or speak like each other or even believe all together like each other, BUT LOVE EACH OTHER, care about each other's well-being.
I also know what it feels like to be a mask-wearing, slinky, sly weed. Yuck. It feels pretty lonely, and it sounds like a lot of complaining and a very little of being thankful. It tastes bitter and sour and it stays. And it looks selfish and the same - just more of the same.
My friends, we've all got some weeds in us and thankfully - thankfully, we've got some wheat in us, too; all intertwined and growing together - connected to one another, in the soil of God's heart - in the soil of God's love - in this world where, for now, we are planted.
Dr. King in his Commencement Address for Oberlin College entitled, Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution, speaks so clearly about our complete connectedness. He says, "All I'm saying is simply this: that all of humanity is tied together; all life is interrelated, and we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.
For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality."
Yes, it is, Dr. King. When we recognize and begin to appreciate the reality of our connectedness, it becomes more difficult to judge the person next to you, neighbor or stranger. When our hopes and dreams and hurts and pains become intertwined with those of our friends and enemies and co-workers and family members, we can begin to realize just how much we need each other and the God who holds us together in the good soil - in the faithful growth, that God can manage our needs - our fears - our shortcomings and our best days.
God's creation is for good. We are created in God's very own image - every one of us, beautiful and hopeful. And God's desire for us is to thrive, to live, to become, to be forgiven, to be redeemed, to be made whole, to grow and flourish in humanity's faithful field.
Our church, Kirkwood UCC or KUCC as we claim it, has been together for almost ten years. We held our first worship service in a coffee shop with eight to ten faithful people and we worshiped for the first time in our new sanctuary just a couple of weeks ago and it was packed. It's a pretty eclectic crowd - extraordinary really. I like to think that we are all wheat - all the time. Of course, I do. I love them deeply. But I know that's not true, altogether, because I'm a part of the community and I know first-hand what a weed I can be sometimes.
But here's the really remarkable thing. In this community, even in our tackiness, our neediness, our disconnects and dissonance, our love for each other and for "the other" and God's love for us can cover a multitude of weediness.
Oh, and that friends, is good news. I mean it is The Good News. Because there is redemption and life and transformation and grace upon grace in the one who reaps the final harvest, in the one who makes the final judgment - I believe for both the wheat and the weeds, because sometimes it's really hard to tell the difference between the two.
My friend, Sharon, has lived in and around the community of Kirkwood for the past 12-15 years. I got to know her at the coffee shop in town. Over the past ten years we have become good friends. Sometimes Sharon has a place to live, sometimes she doesn't. One time Sharon lived in a tent behind our storefront church for almost a year as we tried to find permanent housing. Eventually she did find a place, it was dry and fairly safe and she created her home there.
But these past couple of months have been tough for her. The owner of the house was ready to sell and Sharon had to get out in a hurry. She has a couple of kin-folks in the area. She's burned a lot of bridges over the years and there's not much they can do or want to do. She is a persistent soul, and often has more expectation of the people around her than she does of herself. Some would say that Sharon is a weed. I might say that sometimes. She ends up on our porch several times a week when she is really struggling. Mostly, she needs money for this or that. Or she needs me to drop whatever important task I am doing to take her somewhere. Most recently, it has been to an attorney's office in mid-town on Peachtree with no place to park and no easy way to get there.
When she knocked on the door last week, I was at my wits end. "What is it, Sharon?" I said in a snarly - growly kind of way as I opened the door. Pastor - that's what she always calls me. "Pastor, sit down," she said. "I've got something to give you." What in the world, I thought, has she picked up on the side of the road to give me. I sat down and waited, very impatiently. Judging every word that she said and every move that she made.
First, she handed me a piece of paper, typed out on a typewriter. It was an agreement from an old friend of hers, stating that she could rent a room in the house. She finally had a place to stay again, to sleep, to be safe. "Sharon, this is great news," I said, my heart and my voice lifted up. Sharon lifted up. And she said, "Pastor, because you have been so impatient and frustrated with me lately, I bought you a prayer book because I thought you need it." Sure enough, she handed me one of those prayer books from the book display at the Kroger, The Power of Positive Praying. I had been a weed! And then there was Sharon, right in front of me A Tall Stalk of Wheat, "Shining like the sun" in the middle of God's field, just as Jesus said.
To weed or not to weed, so often that is the question. Our place is not to judge. Our place, our call, our vocation, is to be patient, to forgive, to love one another, to go deep and keep growing.
Let those who have ears to hear, listen.
Let us pray.
God, we're so thankful that you are holy, that you are judge and jury, that you are mercy and love. We can be so weedy sometimes. Help us, God, instead to be A Tall Stalk of Wheat shining the sun. In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.