Seventh Sunday after Pentecost: July 19, 2020
Year A, Proper 11: Psalm 139:1-11, 22-23; Genesis 28:10-19a; Romans 8:11-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
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The scene in today’s Gospel is the same as last week’s gospel. Jesus is still out on the boat, talking to the same people he was talking to on the beach about seeds. As the story continues, the field is planted, and inexplicably, there are all sorts of weeds growing among the grain.
The word for “weed” refers to something similar to what some farmers call “cheatgrass”. It resembles grain, except it’s inedible for people and gives little sustenance to livestock. But you can’t easily see the difference between it and grain until it starts to blossom and grow its seed. By then it has developed a root system that is much more extensive and stronger than wheat.
The servants see the problem—weeds! Invasive weeds, taking up the soil and nutrients and water! Bad thing, we must do something! Just like everybody else, they see a problem, get anxious about it, and jump to a solution. By the way, if there is anyone who dearly likes to weed, we’re having a weeding party, no not a wedding party, next Saturday morning, starting at 8:00 a.m. at Emmanuel.
Back to the Gospel weeds. The farmer, however, looks with the eye of experience. The weeds are going to reduce his yield, there is no doubt. But if these weeds are pulled up now, the grain will be removed at a greater rate than the weeds, and the yield will go down to zero. During this cycle, the number of weeds is the number of weeds, leaving them won’t result in more, so leave them. We will get the wheat that ripens—we will deal with the weeds when there is wheat to harvest. The fruit of the wheat field will nourish people, provide bread, be sold to supply the needs of the farmer’s household. A superabundance of weeds is only one of the ordinary calamities that typically face farmers; that make a situation that promises easy abundance into difficulty and privation. The farmer waits and judges the ripeness of the wheat. At the right time, the weeds are pulled out and separated from the nourishing crop. There is a big bonfire, getting rid of the nuisance and the waste. Then the remaining wheat is gathered—and there is food for all.
So why is this, as Jesus said, like the Kingdom of Heaven? It sure doesn’t sound like the Kingdom of Heaven any more than Jacob stealing Esau’s birthright sounds like the kingdom of heaven.
The first thing to note about it being the Kingdom of Heaven is this – it’s a real-world situation – we expect a beautiful, uniform field of wheat, growing perfectly, moving from green in the springtime, to golden at harvest—but what we get is disrupted by weeds and other occurrences that are just not ideal.
And we have the same real-world situations today. We live in a time when our country is in turmoil; a deadly disease is spreading more quickly rather than going away; many elected officials and leaders encourage anger and fear – they fan the flames of fascism and unwarranted dissension over public health for political expediency. We feel cut off from the future we anticipated. We are cut off from our normal routines – like being in our churches and receiving Eucharist.
Sometimes we feel as we are in the desert as Jacob was with a stone for a pillow. We feel as if we can’t go forward and we can’t go back. Our routines and old ways are gone. But the story doesn’t end there.
In this time, right now, while these weeds of turmoil are growing, we are living in the Kingdom of God. The antidote for despair is hope, and the antidote for what ails our country is hope. Hope is what rescued Jacob. The imperfect world we live in is where compassion and generosity matter the most, where the healing power of God can bring us together and move us toward health. I have known the Kingdom of God most when I’ve most needed compassion and healing and God’s people have been there for me. And this is a time when everyone is most in need of healing and compassion.
The Kingdom of God happens in the real world, a world with difficulties and disappointments. And indeed, some of those things that happen are evil or are the result of evil. So, we don’t just say that whatever happens is fine, or certainly not that it is the will of God. We must stand up to evil for the sake of the good of others. But we don’t go around weeding out imperfections as if every annoyance or imperfection was evil.
Those servants were very anxious about those weeds. That’s understandable—the weeds were going to reduce the yield and make them look like they weren’t doing their job properly. But acting on that anxiety could have been utter disaster, resulting in a long winter with little or no food available. In living with imperfection and disappointment the community grows and shares in God’s love. And when evil—that is to say those forces that hurt and destroy the children of God through selfishness, fear or hatred—when evil afflicts such a community, the love of that community gives it the courage and resilience to respond and repel the evil and to be a source of life for God’s children.
This story is not about punishment or destruction. It is about the challenge of life in the real world. Life in Christ is life in hope—a community that shares life and finds life in the mercy that God has for each of us, for all of God’s children.
Sooner or later all roads lead to this place. Even Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Part of the journey of life takes us to the desert. Jacob can’t go back to his old world and we can’t go back to ours. But here’s where we can go, indeed, where we are: we are God’s people, gathered here. Our hope is in the reality of a community gathered in diversity and imperfection, discovering God’s mercy together.
Congressman John Lewis died on Friday. People say that he was the last of the great heroes of the civil rights movement. But John Lewis was not about being a hero for people to put on a pedestal and look at. For him, it was everybody’s job to work for justice and take whatever consequences that might entail. There are many who like to honor people who boast about what they’ve done for others with the word hero.
That was not the kind of hero Congressman Lewis was. Congressman Lewis didn’t chair the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, have his skull broken on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, serve for decades as a leader in Congress fighting for voting rights and the rights of those who are marginalized, to let us ordinary people off the hook by calling him a hero and not changing our own lives. What we see in the courageous life of Congressman Lewis is that compassion that is real entails being willing to suffer for the sake of others, when necessary; to speak in anger when necessary; and to work quietly to build something that will bring a measure of justice even if compromises are necessary to bring it about. In an age when people look for heroes that are brash and self-promoting, John Lewis worked hard to get things done. He was a real human being who lived with compassion. We need more of those. We need more who will sift through the chaff to find the wheat.
My brothers and sisters – in the midst of all that confuses us and makes us anxious, even if we end up sitting on the couch, especially in this heat, binge-watching our favorite TV series for a time, be at peace. Know that God will use us to spread the Good News.
Before the Covid-19 caused us to cancel services inside our churches, the sermons were usually recorded at St. Andrew’s and uploaded by Kemp Miller, for whose ministry we are all grateful. To access the entire library of audio files for past sermons, CLICK HERE.