Sunday, July 23, 2017

Being Wheat Amidst Weeds

July 23, 2017 – The 7th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 11A
© 2017 Evan D. Garner
Audio of this sermon is available here.
When you look around and take stock of your life, what do you see? Are there more blessings than you can count? Are the challenges beginning to stack up? Does the road ahead seem clear and bright? Are you confident in the future that awaits you? Or are things a little less rosy? Do the uncertainties of tomorrow cause you more anxiety than hope? Are the people in your life on stable footing? Are you surrounded by people who share your perspective, who share your goals and outlook on life? Or does it seem like the many of the people in your life are undermining everything you’re working toward? Are you besieged by people who seem to want to work against you at every turn? Or, to use Jesus’ image, how does the field of your life look? Is it full of wheat? Full of weeds? Almost certainly it’s a mix of the two, but what sort of mix? Are the weeds merely an afterthought, or are they beginning to choke out everything else?

I never played a round of golf at the Decatur Country Club, so I can’t say what it felt like to walk the grounds, but I do know how beautiful the eastern edge of the course looked to the people who drove by on their way in or out of town. I loved looking out of my window at golfers walking down a picturesque fairway or standing on a green overlooking the water. Now that the club has closed, I am shocked to drive by and see chest-high weeds growing in the middle of the fairway, the carefully bordered greens and tee boxes disappearing into the wild grass around them, and even the drainage ditches overrun with crabgrass. In a matter of weeks, that carefully manicured place has given way to the weeds that were always hiding in plain sight. That’s the thing about mowing the grass: if you mow it every day, no one notices the weeds as they drive by at thirty-five miles an hour, but, as soon as you stop working to put on a good front, the weeds pop up as visible as a stalk of corn in the middle of a cotton field. If you put your guard down and allowed yourself to take a good, careful, close look at what is growing up in your life, what sort of weeds would you find?

I don’t know anyone who is living a life that doesn’t have at least its fair share of weeds. We all deal with loss. There are struggles and frustrations. Bad news always seems to outpace the good news. If the doctor hasn’t given us a difficult diagnosis, then it’s someone we love who is facing that challenge. Our son can’t keep a job long enough to get out of debt. Our daughter’s children are more than she can manage. On the surface, our marriage seems ok, but what’s the conversation like when no one else is listening? Age catches up with all of us, but some of us have to deal with the ravages of decline more quickly and powerfully than we expected. All of us have to deal with weeds.

What do those weeds mean? Where did they come from? Are they our own doing, or did they just happen? Do they mean that we haven’t tried hard enough, that we didn’t work hard enough when we had the chance, that we didn’t make the right choices when the moment came? What about the person who did everything right but still has to face unbelievable challenges? Is God spreading weeds in her life to teach her a lesson? To punish her for some secret sin? To test her faith and see if she’s strong enough? Or maybe it means that God has forgotten you altogether or perhaps that God isn’t even real. Do those thoughts ever come to your mind? Does it ever feel like the weeds are growing up faster than you can keep up with them? Does it ever feel like the weeds might win?

Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared with a man who sowed good seed in his field, but, while everyone was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away.” By the time the weeds were recognized as such, they had grown up along with the wheat, and, when the field hands saw it, they came to their master and offered to help. “Do you want us to go and gather the weeds?” they asked. But the master gave them a strange response: “No, for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers to [separate them].” And, when Jesus said those words, the people who heard him looked at one another and said, “That sounds like the kind of farming advice you’d get from a carpenter’s son.”

That may seem like a good idea to us but only because we don’t know what we’re talking about. There was no reason to let the weeds grow with the wheat. Experts in first-century Palestinian farming (yes, they do exist) tell us that the roots don’t really entangle like that, and the weeds would have been poisonous if it any of them had been ground up with the flour. It’s so much easier to get rid of the weeds as soon as you see them. The farmhands know how to make this situation better. All you have to do is pull up the weeds. Why won’t the master let them? If he has the power to fix it, why won’t the master take care of the problem before it gets any worse? Why? Because this isn’t the kind of field that we’re used to seeing out our window when we drive through Lawrence County or on our way down I-565. The field that Jesus has in mind is the kingdom of God, and the only way that we’ll see it is if God gives us eyes to see and ears to hear and a heart and mind and spirit to understand what he’s talking about.

It is hard to believe in a loving God who has the power to make everything better and yet allows terrible things to happen to the people that God supposedly loves. It is hard to believe that a God who sits by while one tragedy befalls another will ever step in and make things right. It is hard to hope in God’s promise of salvation when the only thing we can see around us is weeds. But that’s how the kingdom of God works. That’s how God’s reign—his rule, his will, his plan—unfolds. It isn’t all at once. It takes a lifetime; it takes generations to see how God is working his purposes out. We spend our whole lives living amidst blessings and challenges, opportunities and setbacks. The person of faith is one who sees and trusts and believes that even when the weeds are growing up all around us God is still there.

Faith is learning that we cannot fix things on our own. Faith is trusting that in time God will fulfill his promises and bring us into the fullness of his kingdom. We cannot make that kingdom happen all at once. Instead, like the wheat in God’s field, our job is to keep growing, keep watching, keep waiting, and keep trusting that in time all things will be made right. We must ask God to give us the gift of faith in order to see the kingdom growing up as the wheat amidst the weeds. We must ask God to give us the gift of hope in order to believe that there is always light on the other side of darkness. The journey of Christ from the darkness of the cross through death and into the light of Easter must become our journey as well. The weeds will not win. In God’s kingdom, they never win. Ask God to help you see what no eyes can see: that promised field of the righteous shining like the sun in the kingdom of God when at last God makes all things new.

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