Sermon Preached the Fifth Sunday of Pentecost + July 17, 2011
Last week we heard about the sower and the story of spreading seeds abundantly. One of the problems with growing seeds is that often seeds of other plants take root among your desired seeds, no matter how carefully planted, tended, or intended. The result is of course weeds, defined simply as a plant that springs up in a place where it isn’t wanted—or one for which we have yet to desire, or find a purpose for.
Which leads me to the sermon title: Dandelions, Tiger Lilies and Bear Grass, Oh my!
- Because for many bright yellow dandelions, often the first flowers we pick as children, are seen as weeds, enemies of our heavily manicured, picture perfect, golf course lawns.
- Because orange tiger lilies that spread along country roads and fields have pretty flowers, these day lilies are not sought out or valued by serious gardeners.
- Because bear grass, more commonly known as yucca is as hearty as it is odd looking in this part of the country. The pointy leaves and tall spikes covered in blooms make them look more like an odd desert plant.
What are the plants considered ‘weeds’ in your life that you see beauty in… or choose to let grow in the gardens of your life? What will people think about your… Dandelions, Tiger Lilies and Bear Grass, Oh my!
Jesus uses agricultural images in Matthew to describe the kingdom. From modest beginnings come unexpected results. These parables are about the reign of God and today’s emphasizes God’s power over evildoers and non-believers. It also points to God’s presence with us until the end of time.
This story connects to the story of the fall, the start of our sinful nature in Genesis…
- We humans were tempted by evil even though God created everything good and beautiful, and we know how we give in to temptation.
- We messed-up, we wanted more, we wanted total control, and we couldn’t leave well enough alone.
- Now good and evil are intertwined in all human communities and individuals.
This story is one of God urging patience and restraint…
- God knows we think we are god-like at times, trying to make the world in our image and serve our purposes.
- God warns and encourages patience so that we don’t judge or harm others in our attempts to control and make things good.
- God reminds that when we weed, we can destroy the good as well as the evil.
This story is a warning to listen to Jesus…
- That evil doers, the lawless, slackers, weak in faith, you and I, are to be patient with those who appear to us as weeds.
- That it is not for us to worry, judge or separate the weeds from the wheat, or slackers from the sincere.
- That it is for God to judge who will face the furnace of fire and those who are righteous will be in God’s kingdom.
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Nobel prize winner Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his book Gulag Archipelago helped raise global awareness of the Soviet Union’s Gulag forced labor camps. He writes:
I learned two great lessons from being in prison camps. I learned how a person becomes evil and how he becomes good. When I was young I thought I was infallible, and I was cruel to those under me. I was madly in love with power and, in exercising it, I was a murderer and an oppressor.
Yet in my most evil moments I thought I was doing good, and I had plenty of arguments with which to justify my deeds. It was only when things were reversed, when as a prisoner and I lay on rotten straw, that I began to feel within myself the first stirrings of good.
Gradually I came to realize that the line which separates good from evil passes not between states, or between classes, or between political parties—but right through every human heart. Even in hearts that are overwhelmed by evil one small bridgehead of good is retained. And in the best of all hearts, there remains an un-uprooted small corner of evil.
We too, as followers of Jesus are also a mixed bag, and will be until the end. Good and bad, looking very much alike, lives intertwined, and in fact we are both, saint and sinner, faithful and faithless, angelic and devilish. Every person is a mix of both as is every group and community, even communities of faith. No disciple or follower of Jesus can presume to know, or judge the difference between weeds and wheat.
- It is judgment for the end of time.
- It is judgment not for you or me to worry about.
- It is judgment for God who cares for both the weeds and wheat.
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Weeds, simply plants that spring up in places it isn’t wanted, or ones for which we haven’t yet found value or purpose, a lot like some of the people around us! How selfish we can be. How many people do we avoid because we have no use for them?
Twentieth century civil and human rights reformer, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said,
An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity. God takes care of both the weeds and wheat, and we are to leave the weeding to God because God wants us to grow together. Our roots are inexorably tangled in the fields of life and in the earthly kingdom.
Dr. King preached that connection and how whatever affects one of us (regardless of our categorizing as weed or wheat) directly affects us all. As King said, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
Who are the people considered ‘weeds’ in your life that you see beauty in… and choose to grow with in the gardens of your life? What will people think about your… Dandelions, Tiger Lilies and Bear Grass, Oh my!
We are called to grow together, in community, all people regardless of our labeling or perceiving them as weeds.
- God sees the fruit and value in the other.
- God has made wheat and weeds.
- And it is God who will send reapers and angels to separate and burn those judged as weeds.
Sixteenth century church and society reformer, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther said,
We are not to uproot nor destroy them. Here Jesus says publicly let both grow together. We have to do here with God’s Word alone; for in this matter he who errs today may find the truth tomorrow. Who knows when the Word of God may touch his heart?But if he be burned at the stake, or otherwise destroyed, it is thereby assured that he can never find the truth; and thus the Word of God is snatched from him, and he must be lost, who otherwise might have been saved. Hence the Lord says here, that the wheat also will be uprooted if we weed out the tares. That is something awful in the eyes of God and never to be justified…
Today’s Gospel also teaches by this parable that our free will amounts to nothing, since the good seed is sowed only by Christ, and Satan can sow nothing but evil Seed; as we also see that the field of itself yields nothing but tares, which the cattle eat, although the field receives them and they make the field green as if they were wheat.
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Our twenty-first century temptation is to weed. To at the least ignore, to exercise our free will to remove, and at our worst to kill, human compassion, relationship, and people we judge as cheats, evil ones, tares, weeds. Throughout history this has led to broken families, church schisms, the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem Witch Hunt and Trials, the decimation of Native Americans and the Holocaust.
This story is all about the field, the earthly kingdom. It is about where God plants us in our lives, where we grow together; it is all about our collective, combined, communal experience whether we are dandelions, tiger lilies, or bear grass.
- At the end, the weeding and burning is not ours to do.
- At the end, what is pleasing to God is taken into God’s care and keeping in the heavenly kingdom.
- At the end God will harvest each of us, the weeds in us are removed, and the wheat in us reaped and bound close to God.