Monday, July 14, 2008

Weeds in the Wheat

Matthew 13:24-30

It was sort of like opening a Christmas present this spring as the snow finally melted. We were house-hunting here in Hudson last October, and, on someone’s recommendation somewhere I took a gazillion pictures of the houses we were considering. It was great having those as we got ready to moved, but the one thing I forgot to take pictures of was the outside of the house. Oops. It wasn’t a big deal or anything. Like I said it sort of made the spring resemble opening one big Christmas present. We had no idea what was in yard and around the garden.

We also didn’t know what our neighbors had going on, and I have to admit I was a little worried about that at first. I didn’t remember being worried about the house next door when we were here last fall, but when the snow melted and revealed an entire yard of dirt at the house next door, I was a little bit concerned. This couple had been here quite a while, and they still didn’t have any grass? We had a vacant home next to ours in Lincoln for some time, and the yard there was the neighborhood eyesore until the city was called to come take care of the noxious weeds in their yard. I was hopeful, but nervous that we might have to deal with something like that again.

Our new house has grass, sort of, or should I say mostly. It’s not the most luscious or consistent lawn of grass ever, but it is grass. It’s also a lot of dandelions, I guess. It’s hard to maintain pure grass with dandelions, and Karoline doesn’t help in that department.

She loves to pick and blow the “dandy flowers” she finds. She’ll gather hands full of them and blow them one by one while I’m working in the flower beds, on walks around the neighborhood, riding in the stroller, or while being pulled in the wagon. It doesn’t matter where she is or where she’s going it’s hard to pass up a perfectly tempting dandelion. I remember the fun of doing that as a kid, too, so I just haven’t had the heart to stop her.

I wonder some days now, though, if our neighbor has that same feeling. It turns out that their grassless yard is one of the most prolific, diverse gardens I have ever seen. I feel silly now for being worried earlier. The way the lots are divided on that part of the block left that couple with minimal room for yards or gardens, so instead of grassing the front yard, she has probably worked forever on her beautiful garden. There are roses and strawberries and daisies and lilies and more flowering plants than I can name!

And… surprise, surprise… she has a pretty steady fight with dandelions.

Ugh - - every time I see her out there weeding (which is just about every other day) I feel a little guilty. I mean, I know we didn’t single-handedly raise a crop of weeds in the middle of her garden, but I wonder if she just wants to curse us, the enemy in the form of a 3 year old and her mother who came while everybody was asleep and sowed weeds among her good seed.

Our neighbor, unlike the farmer in the parable, has what I would consider a normal reaction to the presence of weeds in her garden. She weeds them! Isn’t that what most of us do when the weeds start cropping up? It’s what I spent the GORGEOUS afternoon doing yesterday, and it’s what I anticipate doing next weekend again if it’s still pretty. Weeding is what keeps our gardens looking like gardens instead of masses of green mess! In the case of farming, weeding is what keeps the good crops growing strong instead of weak and under-nourished because the weeds stole all the resources.

Weeding is the understandable attempt to remove these encroaching nuisance plants that steal from the seeds we have gone to great lengths to sow. Weeding is what makes (or attempts to make) our gardens and crops pure. And if NOTHING else, weeding is what we DO while the garden is doing what it does – growing and maturing. It’s how we know to care for the plants, to tend to them, to help them along as they grow and bring us joy. Weeding is what gardeners DO to keep the garden going.

But in the parable, the householder, the farmer, doesn’t weed. I don’t really get it. Presumably he’s used his good resources, either the crop from the year before or money from the sale of it, to sow good seed, pure seed, seed that is guaranteed to bring him a good yield of wheat. Yet as the seed grows into a crop he discovers weeds growing alongside his wheat.

That’s not what is supposed to happen. The slaves come running to tell him the news, and really to wonder about this seed he found anyway. Is this really the good stuff? Did you waste your money on it, or, maybe, did you get what you paid for? Either way, there are weeds out the in the fields now, do you want us to go take care of it, they ask (not really expecting anything but an answer in the affirmative).

But what they expect isn’t the plan of the farmer. There’s that twist in the parable we should come to expect. Don’t gather the weeds, he says. Let them mix in my garden. Let the weeds grow next to the wheat, FOR NOW.

See, the good and the bad mix in this kingdom garden. And the question we KNOW the slaves go away asking (we know because we’ve asked it a million times ourselves), “Why doesn’t God DO something?” If God is all powerful, if the farmer is the master of his fields, why is the good forced to grow right alongside those pesky, annoying, competitive, and even threatening weeds?

Tragedies happen. Horrific accidents devastate lives and families. Planes fly into buildings. Bombs detonate in busy markets. Tyrants and bullies force their own plans on people and crush opposition. Cancer is discovered. Drunk drivers cause collisions. Fires burn. Flood waters rise. The innocent are caught in the crossfire. Rage controls minds and actions. The weeds grow among the wheat.

There are weeds and wheat co-mingling in the life and history of the church, too, aren’t there? Gossip doesn’t discriminate against God’s people. Prejudice is alive in the Christian garden. Missionary schools are tainted by sex abuse scandals. Conversion is a prerequisite for humanitarian aid. Wars of words are waged against those who think and believe differently. Schism is threatened. Legal battles are waged on brothers and sisters in Christ. Agenda are pushed. My will is put before God’s will. Bitterness hangs on and on and on…. Sure the weeds grow among this wheat, too.

It’s easy to read this parable and recognize that there is bad, even evil, in this world around us. It isn’t even too difficult to point it out in the church and Christian family of faith. But unfortunately, it’s also not too hard to turn this into a story about how all those weeds are growing and choking the wheat that is us.

But I don’t really think that’s the most faithful reading. The truth is there are weeds growing in our part of the kingdom, too. In each and every one of us there are weeds that grow right next to our wheat. Jealousy. Hatred. Bigotry. Arrogance. Pridefulness. Rudeness. Self-centeredness. Idolatry. Greed. There are weeds in my life, in my heart, in my faith, and I’m pretty sure, as members of the human race, they are in yours, too. That’s just how this gardener works. The weeds don’t all get pulled right away, and while that can be the most FRUSTRATING thing in the world, it seems to serve a purpose.

After those few hot, muggy, and even stormy days we had at the end of last week, my garden was definitely needing my attention yesterday afternoon. So, while the kids napped I tried diligently to get some inside work done on the computer, but the MINUTE Karoline woke up we were outside. We were not going to waste this beautiful afternoon inside. I grew up in Florida, and there was no such thing as a pleasant July afternoon in that climate.

So as soon as she was up, Karoline and I went out to experience the weeds. I figured with this week’s Scripture lesson at least it counted as sermon preparation. With my inexperience, I learned a few things about weeds in the kingdom while we were working.

1. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between the weeds and the “real” plants. Some of this goes back to the fact that we didn’t plant this particular garden. When I look in our flower beds and particularly up the hill at the wildflowers, I don’t always know what I’m looking at to know whether to save it or not. What if in discarding someone’s convictions that I don’t share, that sometimes in my arrogance I consider completely wrong and harmful, I end up discarding a word from God? Was the weeding worth it?

2. Sometimes when you pull up the weed, like the parable says, you really do pull up the good plant. Roots are intermingled. Vines are wrapped around the stems. A rushed and ambitious weeder, can sometimes ruin the plants that are growing. Tugging on the weed sometimes pulls the immature wheat that isn’t completely established in the soil yet. Some of us are still growing our systems of support and adding to our network that feeds us and makes us strong. Pulling up those weedy attitudes and habits that are still holding on strong might just destroy the good that God has just started to grow.

3. Even if it makes the garden look better, pulling weeds isn’t always fun. It doesn’t feel good the next day (my back is proof of this lesson today). And sometimes those little weeds just break between your fingers when you try to pull them too soon, leaving the roots there in the soil to sprout new plants. In the end it’s more efficient sometimes to pull them when they’re a little bigger. An added bonus - - maybe the wheat has a chance to grow a little a stronger, too, and can survive the trauma itself.

4. And lastly, if I weeded every time a new weed sprung up, I’d have no timed to tend to and enjoy the real plants in my garden. I can look at the garden and see the weeds are there. I search through the day lilies and hosta and petunias and coreopsis and begonias and rhubarb and tomatoes and a bunch of other stuff I can’t even identify and I see that there are things that don’t belong. I know what is there, and sometimes knowing is enough. Sometimes I need to just let that go a little while so that I can enjoy the beauty that is before me, the colors that dance when the wind blows, the fragrances that tickle my nose.

Sometimes it is enough to know that the gardener searches us and knows us. There will be weeding and pruning when the time is right. The wheat will be separated from the weeds in the world, in the church, in our very lives. But sometimes, sometimes it’s just time to let them grow together, allowing the wheat to get stronger, healthier, hardier in the presence of the weeds, so the master can delight in the field and fill the barns with a good harvest, when the time is right.

Boys blowing dandelions photo credit: Mrs. FireMom via photopin cc

Dandelion and daisy photo credit: jenny downing via photopin cc

Wheat field photo credit: Rosa Dik 009 -- On & Off via photopin cc

Harvesting photo credit: TumblingRun via photopin cc


Kim in KCK said...

Beautiful, She Rev. Nice work. I especially like the part about us not being able to tell the difference. I think that speaks a lot to our judgmental attitudes about people "not like us".

Ruth Whitehead said...

Thank you - I'm not preaching on this parable but I think you're spot on with the 'looking for the surprise' approach. I've just been to a large gathering for my denomination & have been forced to change my mind about some people. Some people I thought were pretty hopeless impressed me with their grace & strength. So the weeds in my heart bore a fruit of appreciation & the grace of God was found in us all.
Thanks be to God.

1-4 Grace said...

this is so beautiful. thanks for sharing and giving me some new isnight into weeds...stuu I truly have not considered.

Sally said...

I reallyt like this, thank you for posting a link.

revabi said...


We had that with our new house, lots of weeds. And I am using it in my sermon too.