The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
The Rev. Bingham Powell
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
We have a relatively strong social service system here in Lane County, but there are some cracks that people fall in when they don’t quite meet certain criteria to receive the needed funds. And sometimes, due to some generous gifts by parishioners and community members, I am able to work with the social service agencies, provide the funds, and help these folks out. A while ago, I was able to help a young woman who was escaping from a situation of domestic violence. Her parents were happy to welcome her home, but they lived halfway across the country and she needed help getting transportation there. Working with another agency, we were able to provide money to get the ticket she needed. Before she headed out, she dropped off a thank you note. In it, she enclosed a dandelion. She said that she didn’t really have anything to give back, but she picked her favorite flower to give as a gift.
A dandelion. Now, to most of us, a dandelion is a weed; to her, it is the most beautiful flower. Knowing the distinction between a weed to pull and a flower to enjoy can be tricky. A dandelion may be a weed to me that I will pull out of my garden without a second thought, but like many Oregonians, I love wild blackberries. I was an adult when I learned that they are often considered a weed - growing where they aren’t wanted, choking out the native flora. And in theory, I get it, but there is this one patch of blackberries in our neighborhood that I really hope the property owners never decide to pull, because I, along with a lot of the neighbors, love to go pick the blackberries there. Knowing the distinction between a weed to pull and a berry to eat can be tricky.
In our Gospel today, Jesus tells us the parable of the wheat and the weeds, or you may remember it as the wheat and the tares. “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat.” The workers wanted to go pull up the weeds lest they choke out the wheat, but the master of the house said no. Knowing the distinction between a weed to pull and the wheat to keep can be tricky. The servants would likely have uprooted the wheat with the weeds if they tried. There is a type of weed that looks just like wheat: the bearded darnel. You can tell at harvest time which is which, but when young, it's hard, at best, to know the difference. This is likely the weed that Jesus was referring to. Better to let the weeds and the wheat all grow together and it will be sorted out in the end.
Jesus, of course, is telling a parable, not giving farming advice. Jesus, in telling us this parable, is talking about the way we treat each other as his followers. Jesus doesn't want his disciples - neither those disciples two thousand years ago nor us today - to go try and weed the garden of our faith, as if the kingdom of heaven was a perfect weed-free piece of land. Knowing the distinction between a weed to pull and the wheat to keep can be tricky. Better to let the weeds and the wheat all grow together in this soil we call the church and it will be sorted out in the end.
The reality is, though, that we have done a rather poor job of heeding this parable. Throughout the ages, we have tried to weed the field. Uprooting heresy. Kicking out people we thought were egregious sinners. Or were disruptive. Or a bit of a thorn in our side. Or simply disagreed with us. And we are still trying to do it. There are over 20,000 denominations in this country. A good number of them exist for all kinds of legitimate and valid reasons having to do with history and culture, but a lot of them exist because simply people tried to weed the field. There are lawsuits in our own Episcopal Church for this very reason. But this is not the way of the kingdom. The kingdom of heaven is a garden full of wheat and weeds growing together.
Perhaps we have such difficulty discerning the difference because we don't have the full picture, so like the bearded darnel, we get the wheat and weeds mixed up early on. Or perhaps it is because God has a soft place in God's heart for the weeds. Perhaps God sees the dandelion also as a beautiful flower. And enjoys the taste of wild blackberries on a summer afternoon. Just look at Jacob, whose story we have been hearing the past few weeks. Last week, Jacob tricked his brother Esau out of Esau's birthright. The story we didn't hear was that he also tricked his father, whose eyesight was failing him, by dressing up like his brother Esau, and stealing the deathbed blessing that was meant for the oldest son. Now, next week, Jacob will feel the effects of the trickery against his father and brother when the tables are turned and his future father-in-law tricks him by making him marry the wrong daughter and making him work an extra seven years in order to marry the right daughter. The story of Jacob is quite clear that what Jacob did was wrong in tricking his brother and his father, but... but... look at the story today. Jacob the trickster, Jacob the one who did the wrong thing, Jacob the weed, is the one who receives the theophany, the encounter with the divine. Jacob has a vision of God and is blessed by God. "I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you." The weed of trickery and the wheat of divine blessing grow side-by-side in the field.
The truth is that in the field of faith, knowing the distinction between a weed to pull and the wheat to keep is too tricky. Most of us have both wheat and weeds in us. Like Jacob, we make mistakes, we screw up, we fall short of the mark, and yet we also are blessed by God and are a blessing to others. If we truly want to get a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven, we have to stop weeding the field. We have to let go and accept that weeds are going to be among us. That weeds are going to be in us.
I glimpse that kingdom of heaven all of the time here at St. Mary's when I look at the communion rail, and I see people of wildly different lifestyles, beliefs, theologies, politics all receiving the bread and the wine, the body and blood of Christ together. In some places, they would be trying to weed each other out. But here they are all seeking Christ together. That is the type of community we want to be; that is the type of community we are: a messy weed-ridden garden that also produces such amazing wheat. Because that is the Kingdom of heaven that Jesus invites us to recognize with this parable. A kingdom of grace and mercy and love for everyone. Amen.