This Week’s Sermon – Weeding Out the Church

SCRIPTURE – Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43

Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.

SERMON
Weeding Out the Church
Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43
July 17, 2011

I want to tell you about Claire. Claire was one of the first youth I met at a church I served during seminary. It was my first real church position, so I was eager to get in there and show the congregation what I could do, to convert all those heathen youth, to begin sowing some good seeds. I planned a great first gathering and had a deeply profound Bible study and some tasty refreshments ready to go. This was going to be a life-changing meeting!

Three people showed up. And one was Claire. I knew as soon as she walked in the room I was in trouble. Hair dyed black. Black clothes. A look on her face like someone just ran over her dog. I found out later that she was a terrible student in school, hung out with the bad crowd, and listened to loud, offensive music. Through the whole meeting she just sat there, looking depressed and dejected. She didn’t even take any refreshments! Inside, I was mad. This wasn’t how my ministry was supposed to begin. There was a weed in my wheat.

That’s why I relate to the servants in our parable today. When they see that weeds have begun to grow among their master’s wheat, their first response is, “Let’s pluck them up! Let’s barrel into the fields and begin yanking up anything that looks suspicious. That will show those pesky weeds!” But their patient master says, “No, boys, let’s wait. If you go uprooting all the weeds, you may damage the wheat, and then all is lost. Let’s wait until they mature, and then we’ll separate them.” The Bible stops the dialogue there, but I know what the servants say next. “What? Leave the weeds in there? How can we do that? They’re bad, the wheat is good. It’s as simple as that. We need to take a stand, we need to draw the line. We need to say, ‘Wheat, you stay, but Weed, you go!’”

That’s response we can cheer for, isn’t it? Because the world is full of weeds. There are weeds everywhere. Jesus defines the weeds as “the sons of the evil one.” I define the weeds as anyone who’s keeping me from loving God and living the life God called me to live. There are people out there who are just plain rude, nasty, and uncouth. They cut me off in traffic and don’t use their turn signals, they take 12 items into the 10-items-or-less line at the grocery store, they don’t push in their chairs at the mall food court. I know everyone in here can name a weed or two in your life.

Of course, there are more serious weeds we deal with. Child molesters. Murderers. Corporate con artists. These weeds do more than just look bad, they choke the life out of the wheat growing around them. They hog all the good soil for themselves, not sharing any with the other plants that are clinging to life. They gulp the water while the wheat shrivels from dehydration. Yes, there are weeds all around us and the deserve nothing more than to be plucked up and thrown away.

I hate to say this out loud, but there are even weeds in the church. Not our church, thank goodness; but I’ve been in other churches where the pristine field of wheat was littered with crabgrass and thistles. These people complained about everything, they gossiped and started rumors, and although they had much, they gave little. Ugly, nasty, repulsive weeds. How can we be the church with so many weeds around? Can you understand why the servants wanted to get the weeds out of the way? It’s hard to be good wheat with all those weeds around.

There’s been a lot of that down through the years, efforts to clarify who’s a weed and who’s wheat. Sometimes that’s even done in the name of God, as if God gave us the power to say who counts and who doesn’t, and the ones labeled weeds get rounded up and huddled into refugee settlements and concentration camps. Turn us loose with our machetes and there’s no telling what we’ll chop down and what we’ll spare.

But in our parable, the master has more patience and foresight. He tells his hasty servants to wait. Part of his reasoning is practical. Young wheat and young weeds can look very similar in appearance. It’s impossible to tell them apart. And by the time they both mature, their roots are so intertwined that you can’t pull up one without pulling up the other. To uproot the weeds now could bring about economic ruin, because the harvest of wheat would be destroyed, as well. The only solution then, was to wait, let them both grow and sort them out later.

That may not be soon enough for us stalks of wheat, but there’s wisdom in that line of thinking. As much as I’d like to think I know a weed when I see one, I don’t. Our house in Illinois had some beautiful flowers and landscaping, but during the time that the previous people moved out and we moved in, the yard became infested with weeds. Well, as a first-time homeowner, I was ready to go out into my yard and begin enforcing some agricultural justice on those renegade plants. Problem was, once I fired up the weed-whacker and set to work, I wasn’t sure what to kill and what to keep. I might be tempted to chop something down, only to find it in a vase on my kitchen table later that evening. We think we know the weeds in life, and if you catch us in the right mood we’ll even name names, but we don’t know. Only God truly knows.

Another reason we should wait before pulling up the weeds is that, if we look closely enough, we might find weeds in our own garden. A Far Side cartoon showed the inside of a refrigerator. The bottle of ketchup, a head of lettuce and a block of cheese were all huddled to one side of the fridge, their faces covered with fear and their hands in the air. On the other side of the fridge was a carton holding a gun. The caption read, “When sour cream goes bad.” We’ve all got some bad sour cream in our refrigerators, don’t we?

Our hearts are a mixture of good and evil; no one is purely one or the other. We all live with that constant tension in our hearts of trying to grow our wheat while fighting the weeds. But because of our imperfection, our humanness, our poor choices, we sow bad seeds along with the good, so we are all in need of mercy. Some folks may like to think that there are two kinds of people in the world – wheat and weeds. Wouldn’t life we easier if that were the case? In reality, everyone is a little bit of both.

If everyone is a little bit of both, then everyone has the potential to be transformed by God’s power and love. In the world of agriculture, weeds may contaminate wheat. But in God’s garden, wheat can transform weeds. I certainly forgot it when dealing with Claire. I judged her as weed right away, and that diagnosis colored how I dealt with her for a long time. But I watched as she came to know God, and I watched how God changed Claire, how God’s word took root in her heart. She became a vibrant member of the youth group. She’s matured into a beautiful young woman, full of dreams and aspirations, and with a solid faith in God. She just got married Do you know what happened? Where I only saw weeds, God saw wheat.

That’s what God can do if we give God the space to do it. God can take a person full of anger, of envy, of animosity, and turn them into a person full of love, grace and mercy. A person is not to be judged by a single act or stage of life, but by their whole life. It’s a difficult thing for us to look at someone who’s acting like weed and say, “You know, there’s wheat in that person somewhere.” But on our worst days, that’s what God does with us. In my backyard, I’ve never seen a dandelion turn into a rose, no matter how hard I pray. But in my ministry, given a little time and a lot of love and forgiveness, I’ve seen a weed of a person blossom into a flower.

So what do we do? How do the wheat survive if they have to live among the weeds? Do we spend all our time attacking the weeds or do we devote our time to being wheat? I’ve seen people who consider themselves wheat to get so riled up and defensive that they start sounded a lot like weeds. “That person calls themselves a Christian, and yet they say THAT? They do THAT?” This parable reminds us that it’s not our job to weed out the world; it’s our job to be wheat, even in a messy field, rooting ourselves in the One who planted us.

We are called to be the best wheat we can be, and to trust that God will work through us to bring nourishment and sunlight to those around us. In the ultimate end, we can’t control what’s going to happen to the weeds; we just have to make sure we aren’t one of them. As Annie Dillard says in The Writing Life, “There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by.” Our goal is to live good lives, honoring God and following Christ, proclaiming the gospel in how we live and treat others. The foot of the cross is surrounded by stalks of wheat. Are we there?

There are going to be weeds in our life, probably on a daily basis. We’re even going to find weeds in our families, maybe even in our church. And scariest of all, we may even discover weeds in our own hearts. Thankfully, we have a Master Gardener who’s slow to pluck up and burn. He’s patient with us, allowing us time to grow and mature and transform. We have been shown such tremendous mercy and forgiveness by our loving God. May we have the strength to live our lives as fully as possibly, and to let God do the sorting out in the end. Because you just never know what God is doing, do you? You just never know how God is turning weeds into wheat in this world…and within us.

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