The weeds within (20 July 2014, Year A)

Matthew 13.24–30, 36–43


Last week we heard a parable about seed, the Parable of the Sower. The sower throws seed all over the place, like it’s going out of fashion. Some of it — only some, mind — lands on good soil, where it takes root and grows fruit.

Today, we’ve heard another parable about seed, the Parable of the Weeds and the Wheat. The “weeds” are most likely darnel. Darnel is a poisonous weed that looks just the same as wheat in the early stages of growth; it’s only when harvest comes that you see the difference. The head of grain of the wheat plant is quite different to that of darnel.

As I did last week, I’d like to tell another story as well as the parable. This one comes from the early centuries of the church, when men and women ran away from the cities to the bush to form monastic communities and live in prayer.

They did that because they thought the church had become too lax. Its standards had dropped too far. The church was letting anyone in! As you can imagine, some of them were pretty judgemental. Here’s the story:

A member of a monastic order once committed a fault. A council was called to determine the punishment, but when the monks assembled it was noticed that Father Joseph was not among them. The superior sent someone to say to him, “Come, for everyone is waiting for you.”

So Father Joseph got up and went. He took a leaking jug, filled it with water, and carried it with him. When the others saw this they asked, “What is this, father?”

The old man said to them, “My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the error of another?”

The old monk knew this: the desire for righteousness is wonderful, it’s God-given. But that only applies to the desire for righteousness to bloom and grow within me.

The desire for others to be righteous in our sight is quite a different thing. We often see other people wrongly. We get annoyed by seeing in others the very things that we have trouble with. For example, a preacher might rail against sexual sin and then end up committing adultery. But often it can be much simpler:

A young couple moves into a new area.

The next morning while they are eating breakfast, the young woman sees her neighbour hanging the washing outside.

“That laundry’s not very clean,” she says. “She doesn’t know how to wash properly. Perhaps she needs a better detergent.” Her husband looks on, but says not a word.

Every time her neighbour would hang her wash to dry, the young woman would make the same comments.

About a month later, the woman is surprised to see a nice clean wash on her neighbour’s line, so she says to her husband: “Look, she’s learned how to wash her clothes clean. I wonder who taught her?”

The husband says, “No one taught her. I got up early this morning and cleaned our windows.”

Dirty windows make it very difficult to see clearly. Or as Jesus put it in a humorous little story,

Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, “Let me take the speck out of your eye”, while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.

Jesus tells the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds to remind us that people are a mixed bunch. Wheat and weeds. And we can’t tell the difference between one and the other. Who are the wheat? Which ones are the weeds? And how much of me, how much of you, is a mixture of wheat and weeds that can’t be separated?

But people do try to separate them. All the time. In our churches. Someone comes to church who looks different. Or who is too liberal or too conservative. Someone who raises their hands in worship, or shouts Amen! when she agrees with something I say in my sermon.

Someone comes to church whose sexuality is different. I was told recently that a lesbian couple with a child were moving to Brisbane and looking for a church. I asked the elders what their feelings were, and they said we should welcome them in Christ’s name, as we would welcome anyone. I was and still am very pleased with them! In the end, the couple moved to another part of Brisbane, so we didn’t see them.

Very often, we are uncomfortable with diversity. So when we look at people who are different to us, we don’t see diversity. We see someone who disturbs us. We see trouble coming. And pretty soon, we feel like we are the “wheat” who is looking at a “weed”.

And from there, it’s only a short step to wondering if things would be better if they would just leave.

Or, maybe a person who doesn’t fit in, for any of the reasons we’ve mentioned, decides to leave because they feel like “wheat” in a church of “weeds”. They go looking for a perfect church, or at least a better church, where everyone is “wheat”.

Churches like that don’t exist.

There’s no such place.

Of course, wheat and weeds are symbols. In reality we are people with a bit of wheat and a bit of weed, and what we have in common is that we are bathed in the love and grace of God. Because the “weeds” and the “weedy” parts of me and you can be changed into wheat.

And we’re changed by love.

We baptised A last week. In the baptism service, I addressed these beautiful words to A:

for you Jesus Christ has come,
has lived, has suffered;
for you he endured the agony of Gethsemane
and the darkness of Calvary;
for you he uttered the cry, ‘It is accomplished!’
For you he triumphed over death;
for you he prays at God’s right hand;
for you,
long before you were born.

In baptism, the word of the apostle is confirmed:
‘We love, because God first loved us’.                                             1 John 4.19

We love because we discover that we are bathed in love, the love of parents, family and friends; but the root and source of this love is the love of God.

How can wheat win weeds over? By love, not judgement.

I heard about a Methodist preacher who lived in the 19th century in the USA. His name was Clovis Chappell; he said that everyone has a right to enter the kingdom of heaven, but no one has a right to shut anyone else out.

About fifteen or so years ago, I was spoken to by a woman who was a pillar of the congregation I was minister of back then. The Uniting Church was discussing whether gay and lesbian people could be ministers. Soon, we’ll have an opportunity to discuss whether our view of marriage might include same-gender couples. (That’s if and when it becomes law, of course; though a recent survey has found around 70% of Australians are in favour of “gay marriage”.)

This dear lady said to me that in the light of the discussion about gay and lesbian people and ministry, she felt there wasn’t enough “denouncing” (her word) from my pulpit. According to her, I should be denouncing gay people and their supporters.

I tried to explain to her that the pulpit wasn’t the place for denouncing. She was shocked. I tried to show her that the pulpit was the place to proclaim God’s grace and love and forgiveness. She walked away unconvinced. Sadly, she and her husband were soon worshipping at a different Uniting Church congregation, one which presumably had some denouncing from the pulpit.

As Clovis Chappell said, Everyone may enter the kingdom of heaven, but no one may shut anyone else out.

Let me remind you of what our baptism service says to each person, whether they are “wheaty” or “weedy” or a bit of both:

for you Jesus Christ has come,
has lived, has suffered;
for you he endured the agony of Gethsemane
and the darkness of Calvary;
for you he uttered the cry, ‘It is accomplished!’
For you he triumphed over death;
for you he prays at God’s right hand;
for you,
long before you were born.

In baptism, the word of the apostle is confirmed:
‘We love, because God first loved us’.                                            1 John 4.19

I say all this in the spirit of the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds. Don’t uproot the weeds before their time, you’ll only damage the wheat. And let’s not simply assume that we are wheat through and through. Let’s examine ourselves, and ask God to shine a light on the weeds within each one of us.


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Filed under church year, Desert Fathers and Mothers, RCL, sermon

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