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Pentecost 7 July 23, 2017 - The Rev. Janet Campbell
PENTECOST 7  Proper 11  Year A
Isaiah 44:6-8; Psalm 86:11-17; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday, July 23, 2017
The Rev. Janet Campbell
“Let anyone with ears listen!”
Jesus taught in parables
          to make his listeners think . . .
Deceptively simple vignettes
of familiar, everyday life . . .
but there was always a little something
          that didn’t quite fit:
          “Wait . . . what did he say?”
He made you wonder,
so that in your wondering
you might be surprised
          by a sudden unexpected discovery.
Which was why
          he left interpretation
                   to his listeners.

But Matthew,
writing in a world hostile to followers of Jesus,
chose to explain
the parable of the Wheat and the Weeds
in a way that would speak directly
to his own community’s
          particular time and situation . . .
a private explanation for the disciples,
which Matthew attributes to Jesus.
The parable itself
is probably Matthew’s embellishment
of a much simpler parable from Mark’s gospel,
one more likely
to have come unchanged
          from Jesus himself.
You may recognize it:
“The kingdom of God is as if                              [Mk 4:26-29]
a man should scatter seed upon the ground.  
and should sleep and rise night and day,
and the seed should sprout and grow,
he knows not how.
The earth produces of itself,
first the blade, then the ear,
then the full grain in the ear.
But when the grain is ripe,
at once he puts in the sickle,
because the harvest has come.”
No weeds, no enemy,
no furnace of fire.
Any farmers or gardeners
hearing that parable would be
scratching their head:
knowing that, if you want a good yield,
you must tend the garden,
or weeds may deplete the soil,
choke back the good growth,
and insects, birds, rabbits and other pests
          will finish off the crop before
          it has time to mature.
You can’t just scatter the seed and go to bed.
You have to pay attention.
But Jesus wasn’t giving a lesson
in gardening practice;
it’s a parable, meant to evoke
the mysterious, hidden,
wondrous, inexorable activity
of the forces of creation and life,
signs to Jesus of the hidden activity of God
who made everything
          and is bringing it to perfection
                   in God’s kingdom.

Matthew has thrown an enemy
and a bunch of weeds
into that parable,
making it a battle between good and evil,
inclusion and exclusion.
In a time of pressure and persecution,
he wanted
to strengthen his community’s trust in
Jesus’ promises of the Kingdom
and God’s power to bring it into being.
He wanted to urge patience,
          the same patience shown by the householder
          as the wheat and the weeds grew together
                   to maturity.
Matthew was also concerned
with the nature and discipline
of his faith community,
and the problem of weeds:
opponents who sought
to undermine and destroy,
false prophets
          who came preaching their own gospel –
the so-called children of the evil one.

And so, in Matthew’s version,
after the good seed was planted,
an enemy slipped into the field by night
and sowed weeds.
I don’t know what the weeds were . . .
but there is an awful thing that
keeps sprouting up
in my backyard . . .
Tall, stalky,
covered with raspy leaves and sharp prickles,
it seems to grow  
and go to seed
and replicate itself tenfold
almost overnight.
When you see it invading,
never mind patience . . .
pull it up!
So, when weeds began to grow
along with the householder’s wheat,
the slaves wanted to pull them out.
But the householder
told them to let wheat and weeds
grow up together . . .
to be patient
until the time for harvest arrived.

Who among us would do that  –
let weeds grow right along
with our flowers or vegetables?
This is a terrible Mystery of the Kingdom:
all that seems wrong, cruel, uncaring,
must remain for a time
with all that seems right, kind, compassionate.
Why doesn’t God just yank out
the weeds in our lives,
spare everyone the anxiety, suffering,
sorrows and horrors of evil?
And if God won’t weed the garden now,
why can’t we do it
The parable might suggest
that we just don’t know enough.
When the plants
are in their earliest stage of growth
it’s hard to tell them apart.

Even after they begin
to reveal their distinct identities,
if the weeds are pulled too soon  
they might uproot the wheat growing next to them,
the good destroyed along with the bad.
Timing is everything – God’s timing.
Can weeds ever become wheat?
Can wheat be mistaken for weeds?
Might one person’s weeds
be another person’s wheat?
who gives things a chance
to develop and mature
before making any judgment
as to their value,
God is the one
who will separate
weed from wheat
          at the right time,
          the harvest time.

Our challenge:
to have the patience of God
with God’s inexplicable processes,
without becoming apathetic or cynical.
Our job:
to do patiently and stubbornly
whatever we can
to frustrate evil,
counter its attacks,
and care for those it wounds.
And in the face of the poverty, the violence,
the abuse of human by human,
nation by nation,
the despoiling of the creation,
never to lose sight of the kingdom,
never lose hope.
Listen again to Paul in his letter to the Romans:
“We know that the whole creation
has been groaning in labor pains until now;
and not only the creation, but we ourselves,
who have the first fruits of the Spirit,
groan inwardly while we wait for adoption,
the redemption of our bodies.
For in hope we were saved.
Now hope that is seen is not hope.
For who hopes for what is seen?
But if we hope for what we do not see,
we wait for it with patience.”

We do not see
from God’s perspective.
And so we must wait in hope with patience
until God’s vision is fulfilled.
It’s not up to us to decide
who is weed
and who is wheat,
who is a sower of weed
          and who is a sower of wheat,
who belongs in the field
and who doesn’t.
We won’t get it right.
How many times,
in hastily judging another’s
character, motivation, intentions,
have we been wrong?
We, the whole people of God,
We, the whole community of Christ Church,
We, each of us,
          a mix of wheat and weed
growing toward harvest,
awaiting God’s clarification –
so that the good that was sown in us
comes fully to fruition,
while the weeds die away,
          discarded, fit only for the fire.

I’m not particularly fond
of Matthew’s furnace of fire,
although I can understand why
he may fervently have wished
to see his community’s enemies in it.
But it doesn’t seem to fit
with the God we see in Jesus,
seeking to draw the whole world
into loving embrace,
to enfold us all
in infinite forgiveness
and mercy.
Is it a furnace of
punishment and destruction?
Or is it a furnace of
realization and repentance?
That furnace of fire makes me want to
try my own adaptation
of Matthew’s parable,
and so I will.
The Kingdom of Heaven
is like two neighbors
who had beautiful flower gardens.
Passersby often stopped
to admire them.

But one neighbor was jealous;
he wanted all the admiration
for himself.
In the dark of night
he crept secretly
over the fence that divided their yards
and sowed his neighbor’s garden
with that horrible weed
that keeps growing in
my backyard.
It wasn’t long before those weeds
were taking over her garden.
She said to herself:
“My jealous neighbor
has done this.”
That very night
she stole into her neighbor’s garden
and sprinkled it all over with salt.
When the jealous neighbor saw
his salty plants dried up and withered,
he could hardly wait for nightfall,
when he released
three big jars of slugs
in his neighbor’s garden.

In the morning,
that neighbor
posted an ad on Craig’s List.
It read,
“Re-landscaping my yard;
all flowers and shrubs to be dug up,
come and help yourself,”
and she gave the jealous neighbor’s address.
A third neighbor from across the street
watched the battle with sad amusement.
What to do?
She invited both gardeners
to lunch –
without telling them
the other was coming.
The two glared across the table
at each other
their hostess
chatted cheerfully away,
as she served them from
a generous banquet table of
soups, salads, little sandwiches,
chocolate cake, cookies, ice cream,
innocently inquiring
as to the fate of
their once-beautiful gardens.

The lunch was so lavish and delicious,
and their across-the-street neighbor
so friendly and charming and gracious,
that a gardening conversation among the three
just had to begin.
Before long the two enemies were
          amazed to discover
          how much they had in common
and devastated by
          how cruel and destructive they had been . . .
to each other and the small patches of paradise
          each had lovingly cultivated.
Burning with shame and embarrassment and sorrow,
they begged each other’s forgiveness. 
Then they began to make plans
to tear down their fence,
plow under their ruined gardens,
and create a heavenly, double-sized garden together.
The Kingdom of heaven is like
lunch in the fiery furnace
of God’s just and merciful love.
Let anyone with ears, listen!