Readings: 1 Corinthians 3:1-9, Matthew 13:24-30
Let us pray:
Open our hearts and minds O God for in your Word there is much that would speak to us today. May our understandings and our responses be held in the power of your Spirit so that we might live to your purpose. Amen.
There was a homeless woman who seemed to be in great distress sitting on the corner surrounded by her plastic bags, but she was known for her histrionics, her smell and her limpet like connection whenever someone talked to her. So the woman who was about to speak to a meeting at the Church round the corner on the need to feed the hungry and help the needy chose to carry on – too disruptive and no real chance she could fix it anyway. But the woman and her baby from the gang house up the road stopped to check – for she had been there and knew the value of a shared word, a hand of greeting.
It is no great exaggeration to say that, as a church and as Christians, our words of guidance and admonishment carry little weight with the world today - and it is only through our actions and our living choices that we are likely to be heard. Hypocrisy is probably one of the loudest most prolific accusation made against the church and its people throughout the ages – preaching one thing and acting in another way, pious on Sunday but uncaring the rest of the week. And so we have lost the trust of many in the world, not surprising really because our actions have often hugely contradicted Jesus message of love, justice and mercy for all, of his one commandment to love God, neighbour and self.
The church, we could say, is just like this field in the parable – full of weeds that need to be plucked, that are giving us a bad name. And we have many within our church who would sympathise with the servant who wanted to pluck out all that was obviously choking the growth of the wheat. Many who would say, we need to get on, figure out who is in or out, what the definitions are of good or evil and come down hard on them, show the world that we can practice what we preach, be morally, spiritually and behaviourally trustworthy. The only trouble with that rousing sentence is one little word – and that is the word ‘we!’ We must, we should, we can!
For Jesus tells us overwhelmingly in this reading that we, you and I, do not have all the answers, see all the truths and that we will do more harm than good if we try to play God by deciding we know what and who is unworthy. It doesn’t mean that we don’t speak out against what is wrong or unjust or hypocritical in the church but it does mean that there are possibilities that we cannot imagine, and hopes that are beyond our reckonings, that we are better to focus on growing tall and strong in that field that to spend our energy berating the weed that grows alongside.
Do you sometimes have periods of time where it seems that God is just throwing the same message at you again and again – through conversations, through reading and listening, through pastoral encounters and scriptural passages the same point is made repeatedly – until you have got it? It has been this way for me over the last few weeks as I have struggled with how to respond to words and actions within the church that have dismayed me, that have been, in my view at least, patently unchristian, lacking in grace, ‘Jesus wept’ moments. Do I chop out weeds or do I grow good wheat?
This gospel reading today (not the lectionary reading by the way but chosen as an appropriate reading for a Spring Service) is, for me, just the latest prod in a series of ‘rethinking moments’ about how to do daily life in a Christ like way.
Let me take you through some of them briefly.
First moment: my response to the manipulation of opinion on same-sex marriage within the church by certain people was to get angry and try to respond in type. A wise man said to me that, while understandable, it was not the way of Jesus to enter into debate to convince others but rather to do what is right – openly and sometimes outrageously.
Second one: feeling weighed down by the churches organisational strictures and the way they consumed our energies, resources and focus to the detriment of being Church another wise man mused over when it was that we became principally an organisational beast and stopped being a movement? Very good question followed by another - how to become a movement again, to be a people with a passion for Christ and living for others?
Third moment: met with a friend who had just returned from a Salvation Army conference (Just Action 2013) and was on fire for the injustices in the world – from human trafficking, slave labour, economic exploitation, people abuse in so many ways – she heard it all and was angry – and, instead of being overwhelmed by it all and shutting down, she chose to react by examining what it was that she was doing that in anyway supported these injustice and stopped doing it, found another way. What we consume, how we vote, when we speak up, what we choose to do.
There were other conversations and experiences too but the latest moment was reading the Gospel parable for today and realising that Jesus instruction to not try to root out the weeds until both are full grown was a pointer as well.
Our church is not perfect – and never will be. Our church is people and all of us have wheat and weed experiences, all of us have difficulty defining which is which at times because they can look remarkably similar, be entangled in a way we find hard to separate. But the particular point I would want to follow up on is that there is more power, more grace in living openly and determinedly as the people of God than in trying to identify and change those who we believe are not doing so. To resist the temptation to pull out/expunge what we think is wrong because God has more hope for our growth than we can ever imagine. So I need to shelve my desire to retaliate against those I believe to be wrong and instead live and choose as I believe Christ calls me to do – and trust God with the rest. For as Paul says:
“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
The God who is glimpsed in this parable of the weeds and the wheat models an infinite patience with our humanity, a desire to give us time and opportunity to make good choices and to forgive our mistakes, a belief in the power of love, grace and mercy over anger and judgement, and a holy and purposeful planting that is well beyond our capacity to understand or to fully anticipate.
So let us stop focussing on all that we think is wrong with our church, our lives and concentrate on being the best we can for Christ, make the often little choices that say to the world we do live as we believe, we won’t buy slave laboured goods, we will speak out when we believe the local dairy farm workers are being mistreated, we will carefully consider who we vote for, we will stop and make sure that the bag lady on the corner is ok. And that folks is where that little word ‘we’ comes in in all its power and grace, that is where we can make a difference that is beyond our capacity to know.
And for this we say – thanks be to God. Amen.