* a sermon preached at Chapel at the Lutheran Center on July 23, 2014 *
Sisters and brothers, grace, mercy, and peace be with you from God the source of all life and Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Welp…I guess that’s in then, huh? I guess Jesus has done all of the explicating for us. I guess my work is done for today. Is everyone here good with that? Yeah? Ok, I think we’re done here. On to communion, then.
No? That’s not how it works? I mean, we’ve been gifted with this pretty thorough explanation from Jesus, so I figured we could just save some time…
No. Of course that’s not how it works. We must go deeper with these biblical texts. We must dive in, examine them, ask them questions, and listen to them. Jesus hardly ever explained the parables he told, and that’s exactly the nature of parables. Parables are mysterious. They invite us in to their story and ask us to consider what God might be saying to us. And it’s never the same. And it’s certainly not the same for every person, so what do we do with that? How do we hold this idea that parables have many different facets, and many different entry points, and many different exit points, and many different interpretations; while at the same time holding on to this rare occurrence of Jesus’ explanation of a parable? It can drive us crazy trying to figure it out.
On the one hand, we’d love to take Jesus at his word; that the children of the kingdom are the wheat, and the children of the evil one are the weeds, and at the end of the age the evil ones get burned up and the good ones are collected by the caretaker. That the world is simply wheat and weeds, you’re either one or the other, and that’s that. That’s pretty cut and dry, and it’s fits nicely with my ideas about how the world should work. It fits nicely with my ideas about justice. How great it would be if all of Jesus’ teachings came with such a handy interpretive key and instruction manual, right? How wonderful it would be if all of life came with such a cut-and-dry instruction manual… Life would be so much…simpler…
We like to think that the world is simply weeds and wheat; that which is bad gets plucked up and burned, and that which is good is harvested and used to feed the world. But that’s not the nature of parables, nor is it the nature of the world we live in; it’s more complicated than that.
One of my chores when I was younger was to pull weeds in the flower bed at our house. True confession, I’m a terrible weed puller and a worse gardener. My dad would say, “Just grab at the base of the weed and pull straight up.” “Ok. What does a weed look like,” I’d reply. “You’ll know it when you see it.” “Ok, is this a weed?” “Nope.” “Oh, what about this one over here?” “Yep, that’s a weed.” “Oh ok. Well, this one looks the same as that last one; is this a weed?” “Nope.”
Really?!? You can see my frustration.
Weeds are supposed to look a certain way. Except when they don’t… And grass and plants all look a certain way. Except when they’re weeds…
Wheat or weeds? Weeds or wheat? It can drive us crazy trying to figure it out.
It’s been noted by more than a few pastors, theologians, and writers that 21st-century Christianity is little more than a “sin-management system.” That the teachings of Jesus have been reduced to a moral code designed to keep the good in and keep the bad out. We might even call it a weed-management system. The problem with this construction, however, is that it reduces God to an accountant and pits Christians against each other by making us feel like we have the power to decide what’s good and what’s bad. In this tit-for-tat, eye-for-an-eye version of Christianity, no one wins and everyone goes blind. We try so hard to keep our own weeds at bay, by calling out the weeds in our neighbors’ lives. We think we’re the ones who determine what’s a weed and what’s wheat, vociferously shaming others to get rid of the weeds in their lives, all the while ignorant to the fact that we’re becoming the very weed we’re protesting against.
But, what if, instead of focusing so much on the weeds, we take Jesus at his word on this one, and trust that God’s in charge the sorting. What if, instead of expending all of our energy screaming about everyone else’s weeds, or our own weeds, we focus that much more fully on our “wheatiness.” What if we actually lived as if we believe that God can even transform weeds into wheat? Might we live that much more fully as wheat, in order to be bread for the world? I think so. God’s not in the sin-accounting business, God’s much more agrarian than that. God’s in the planting, and harvesting, and gathering, and loving, and bread making business.
Growing stalks of wheat are being choked out all across the world this week. We read news stories and Twitter updates, and throw up our hands, and through painful sobs we manage a muffled “Why, God…?” And yet, in the midst of our mourning and brokenness, there are glimpses of the inbreaking of the Christ in the most desperate of situations. And we, the church, the ELCA, are present to that inbreaking.
Dr. Joep Longe (Yohp Lon-guh) was a brilliant scientist, at the forefront of HIV/AIDS research and advocacy for over 30 years; and he was murdered as the plane he was traveling on was shot down over Ukraine as he was making his way to Melbourne to speak at the International AIDS Conference. We grieve for the tremendous loss of life, and we also remember the contingency of young adults from the ELCA, including our very own churchwide staff member, Manager for Young Adults in Global Mission, Stephanie Berkas, that arrived safely in Melbourne last week, to bear witness to and advocate for a faithful response to HIV/AIDS. A small crop of wheat shooting up in the midst of so many weeds.
Mohammed, Ahed, Zakaria, and Mohammed were lively, growing children playing soccer on a beach in the Gaza Strip; and they were killed when the beach they were on became the target of an Israeli missile strike. We mourn the senseless acts of violence happening all across that region, and we also remember the call for peace and solidarity, written and sent by our own Bishop Eaton to Bishop Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. A stalk of wheat taking root in the midst of so many weeds.
Brenda Vasquez and her daughter, Mariana came to McAllen, Texas from El Salvador, seeking refuge from the wave of violence that has overrun their home country. Many children, both accompanied and unaccompanied, die on the journey before ever making it to the border. Some refugees make it across the border, but then are sent on buses to California and elsewhere where they find their way blocked by protesters screaming “We don’t want you!” and “Return to sender.” We lament both the circumstances that led to these journeys and the humiliating reception that awaits so many refugees here in the U.S., and we also remember the group of ELCA leaders, including our own Stephen Bouman and Rafael Malpica-Padilla, that traveled to La Frontera last week to learn how we, as a church, can accompany those in that community. Full heads of wheat peeking through the midst of so many weeds.
We yearn for the harvest, for that day when all of God’s beautiful, perfect, tender grains of wheat will be gathered lovingly into God’s arms; when all of the weeds of greed, and power, and violence, and divisiveness will be stripped away and will be no more. We pray for God to hasten the harvest, to overcome our inability to do it on our own, and to finally and fully reconcile the world to God’s loving self. But until then, in the meantime, we wait…we pray…we come to the table, arms and hands outstretched, to cradle just a taste of God’s promised future of love and grace breaking into our present…and we work to do what we can, to be wheat in the midst of weeds, to bring just a small measure of bread to this famished world.
Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.