Sermon preached by the Reverend Cindy Stravers
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – July 17, 2011
The first part of today’s gospel lesson is one in a string of Kingdom parables – those stories that Jesus used to help his followers understand something more about the Kingdom he had come to inaugurate – the kingdom that had begun, the kingdom that was among them and in them and yet, this was a kingdom that was not fully established, not fully realized – an “already but not yet” spiritual reality.
Today’s parable is a story that proclaims something about a hidden truth, a story that busts apart our assumptions, a story that asks us to work while at the same time it asks us to wait.
There are two ideas – two different takes on this text that I would like to explore with you today. One is an external, relational take; the other is more internal and personal.
I spent a summer on a dairy farm in Iowa when I was in my early 20’s. My husband had been hired by one of his cousins to work as a summer laborer. He helped tend the herd of Guernseys and the newly acquired hogs. While he helped with the milking and did an unmentionable assortment of things at “pigging” time, the farmer’s wife thought that I should be kept busy too – it was one of those “2-for-the-price-of-one” gigs.
Most days I would tend to her children while she went to town or worked at her sewing machine. But every few days she would meet me with a hoe and send me to the garden – a large plot of land that, along with the chickens we butchered, was large enough to feed their family of seven for the winter.
So, I learned a new skill – I worked for hours each of these days in the hot sun – hoeing around the corn, beans, tomatoes, pickles, and the flowers that bordered all four sides of this piece of land. It didn’t take long for the garden to become “my” responsibility – a responsibility that I was, for the most part, happy to take on.
One early morning as we pulled into the yard to begin our chores, the farmer’s wife came out of the house with an angry look on her face. “What have you done to my radishes?” she demanded to know.
I thought for a moment. Frankly, I had no clue what she was talking about until we walked across the yard and she pointed at an area of the garden that was completely free of weeds – a part of the garden where I had done an exceptional job!
Do you know what radishes look like when they first begin to grow? I do. They look exactly like weeds. And I had been faithfully tearing them out – every last one of them – every time they raised their little green heads.
The weeds in today’s parable are called darnel, which is a plant that grows profusely in Palestine and looks identical to wheat when the plants are young.
There’s a warning here. Bad stuff can often look a lot like good stuff – and good stuff can often look a lot like the bad. So, besides the risk of destroying the roots of the good plants by ripping out the weeds, it is possible, maybe even likely, that the weed-puller may be mistaken when she or he decides what has to go and what gets to stay.
If we – or anyone, for that matter, gets on a judging-jag and begins uprooting what is perceived to be bad – we might be in for a little surprise when we are met by the farmer’s angry wife.
That’s the first take on this parable. The second is more personal – more internal.
Just like the field in the parable, our individual lives are in many ways a mixed bag of good and bad seed – weeds growing right along side of our prized wheat.
If we’re honest, the fields of our behavior, our thoughts and those deep places within our hearts that are often beyond our consciousness contain that which is good and helpful – life-giving and holy, and those things that are not. Like St. Paul’s description in his letter to the Romans, we too are part of the creation that is prone to fall into the slavery of fear, subject to futility, in bondage to decay.
Refusing to acknowledge those places of darkness in our hearts does not lead to health; being consumed by the dark places does not lead to health either.
Wallowing in fear or contempt, living as victims of disappointment or disillusionment is not the way citizens of God’s kingdom thrive.
So, here we are – children of God in a world of wheat and weeds – cropping up all around us as well as within us.
Is there any hope for the fields of our hearts, the fields of our communities, the field that encompasses all of creation?
The answer is “Yes!”
We have hope because God promises to bring the entire creation to its fulfillment – all things will, in the end, be exactly what God intended.
Yes, the Kingdom has come but the kingdom is coming still.
As citizens of God’s kingdom, we are invited today to wait with hope – keeping an eye on the weeds, certainly, but putting our energy into the good stuff of the kingdom – planting and tending the seeds of righteousness, justice, peace and love whenever and wherever we can – remembering that it is God, and God alone who ultimately knows the difference between weeds and wheat.
The harvest is in the hands of a loving and merciful God – and that is good news. Amen.