Sunday, July 17, 2005

Pentecost 9 - Year A

After all the recent rain, the tiny weeds in our yard have grown into super-sized pests. The other day I went out with our weed puller and did my best to annihilate those wretches from the backyard. After a half hour I hardly put a dent in the weeds. There were too many of them. But I left dozens of small holes in the grass, so my backyard looks like pockmarked face with a bad beard-trim.

When I was a kid I pulled a lot of weeds. Weeds in the garden. Weeds in the driveway. Weeds in the flower bed. Sometimes my mom would come out of the house yelling, “Not those! Those are radishes!”

Weeds. No one likes them. The first impulse is to yank them out by their roots. To get rid of them before they cause more to grow. But while that may be good gardening advice, Jesus tells us to let them grow. To let them flourish. Because if we are too hasty in getting rid of the weeds we might take out some of the good plants as well.

But, if that’s true, the question is how to live with the weeds. Maybe what’s harder to take in this parable is that Jesus says we’re to let the weeds grow WITH the wheat – not just putting up with the weeds – no, Jesus is saying that we are to live with those we are totally convinced are weeds. Jesus isn’t suggesting a picture of a gardener unsure if those little green plants growing by the rose bushes are primroses he planted or another mysterious weed – but instead, it’s bold and brazen thistles growing in your prize cabbages.

In Halifax we had a guy who was obsessive about two things: finance and proper governance. He’d been at the church for over 50 years and held probably every position there is to be had in the church - except for pastor and ELW president.

He liked things done a certain way – his way. And if you didn’t do things his way, he got angry - VERY angry. When he was treasurer, if he didn’t like what the council decided to spend some money on, he would refuse to write the cheques. If he thought that the church wasn’t following proper procedure, as he understood it, he would stand up at the AGM and with all the sound and bluster worthy of Winston Churchill, would condemn the actions of an “incompetent council” and “ill-trained pastors.” He’d been known to chase people off of church council and out of the church over the smallest financial disagreement.

And then there were the memos. The year that Rebekah was on maternity leave with Sophie, and I was on my own at the church, I must have collected over 300 memos from this man, memos to church council, and every so often, to synod office. Memos on how I didn’t follow proper procedure when developing a new program or project. Memos detailing mistakes he thought the counters had made. He would send memos to the bishop, correcting episcopal mistakes. Memo upon memo upon memo.

This guy was a weed. I was amazed that the church hadn’t yanked him out years ago.

However, this is the same guy who spent his Sunday afternoons visiting shut-ins. This is the same guy who would greet church visitors with a wide smile and friendly handshake, making sure they received the best welcome the church could provide. This is the same guy who sat all night with a long time member who was slowly dying, because, he said, “No one deserves to die alone.”

It’s funny how weeds and wheat can look remarkably similar.

A year after I finished my internship there, a young woman appeared at Zion Lutheran Church in Sault Ste Marie, ON. She was professional, competent, enthusiastic, and willing to serve. So, the congregation did with her what good congregations do – they put her on church council. She said she had an accounting background so she was elected treasurer.

The next year, at the synod convention, Pr. Jim and the delegate were going through the financial statements and they noticed a problem: the number that was reported in Zion’s annual report on how much money they gave to the synod and the number the synod reported as having received were two VERY different numbers.

It turns out that this young woman, so professional, so competent, and so enthusiastic, embezzled thousands of dollars from the church.

A weed thriving among the wheat.

BBT says, “Sometimes it is mighty hard to tell the difference between a good plant and a bad one, especially when it can act both ways. I suppose we have all had the experience of uprooting the raspberries by mistake or protecting something interesting that turns out to be a thistle. I don’t know what makes us think we are any smarter about ourselves or about other people in our lives. We are so quick to judge, as if we were sure we knew the difference between wheat and weeds, good seed and bad, but that is seldom the case. Turn us loose with our machetes and there is no telling what we will chop down and what we will spare. Meaning to be good servants, we go out to do battle with the weeds and end up standing in a pile of wheat.

“Or else we do not, because we have the good sense to listen to the sower, whose orders sound foolhardy if not downright dangerous. Leave the weeds and the wheat alone; let them both grow together, he says, letting us know that he does not share our appetite for a pure crop, a neat field, and efficient operation, letting us know that growth interests him more than perfection and that he willing to risk fat weeds for fat wheat. When we try to help him out a little, to improve on his plan, he lets us know that our timing is off, not to mention our judgment, and that he does, after all, own the field.”

So, which are you? Weed or wheat? I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll know that we are both. None of us is pure weed and none of us is pure wheat, that we have within us the capacity for great kindness and great cruelty.

But God, the great gardener, who sows the wheat, tends the field, waters, lays down compost, looks forward eagerly to the harvest.

In others and within ourselves, weeds abound. But we hope for what we do not see – for somewhere beyond this mixed field of wheat and weeds stands a farmer, with weathered hands, cap over his squinting eyes, tending the field, and looking forward to the day when we will rest in his barns.



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