Thursday, July 20, 2017

Pesky Weeds

In the parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43), I love how the slaves who work in the field come to their master after noticing that weeds have sprung up and say, "Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?" There's a layer of quiet accusation in those words--like the way a parent might say to a child, "You did put your name on your homework before you turned it in, right?" When the field suddenly erupts with weeds, the people who are going to have to work to pull those weeds or separate them from the wheat at the harvest can't help but ask a question to which they already know the answer, "You did use the good seed, right?"

Growing up, "rolling someone's house" by putting toilet paper in their trees felt like a harmless way to prank someone. No crime is victimless, of course, and I am not advocating it. But those pranksters who wanted to cause greater damage would throw eggs or roll the trees with cassette tape instead of toilet paper. Although I never knew of anyone who did it, we also knew that salting someone's yard in order to kill their grass was a particularly terrible thing to do. After reading the parable of the wheat and weeds, I wonder why people don't buy sacks full of crabgrass seed and scatter it all through someone's lawn. Of course, I don't need anyone to do that. My stand of crabgrass propagates itself throughout the summer. But I know a few fastidious lawn keepers whose spouses and neighbors might ask after seeing crabgrass pop up everywhere, "You did use the right weed-and-feed, right?"

In the parable of the wheat and the weeds, the weeds come not from bad seed or poor farming techniques but from an enemy. To his slaves, the master replies, "An enemy has done this." That's silly. No one does that. At staff meeting, Seth Olson pointed out laughingly what it must have been like for the enemy to walk past the field every day with a smile on his face, waiting for the weeds to grow up. It's a comical context for this story, and maybe that's the point. When we call out to God in our moment of struggle and say, "Why did you do this to me? Why is this so hard?" God's reply is, "An enemy has done this."

Sometimes we get stuck focusing on the challenge in front of us, and sometimes we need to be reminded that we pray to the one who saves us not the one who has plagued us. The psalm appointed in morning prayer yesterday was Psalm 38. When I read it, it came as such a challenge. For 20 verses, the psalmist rehearses for God all the things that aren't going right--wounds that stink and fester, enemies that are waiting to take his life, iniquity that he can't seem to shake. Then, almost out of no where, in verse 21 the prayer shifts and takes on a new focus: "Do not forsake me, O Lord...make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation." The long confession ends with a prayer for help. As I read those words, it felt like the psalmist suddenly snapped out of his fog of trouble and saw that help was only as far away as a prayer.

Life is full of weeds. If this week's sermon prep has reminded me of anything it's that. And where do those weeds come from? Sometimes we create them with our own spiritual negligence. Often, however, they just spring up as if sown by the devil himself. There are struggles and hardships growing in the soil of our lives. God, why is that so? Because it just is. But our focus should be on God's solution. One day, all will be well. One day, we will be left to shine in the sun. One day, all the weeds will be gone. But until then we have to live with them and pray that God would give us strength to see the hope that waits at harvest time.

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