Romans 8:12-25,? Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

July 20, 2014 by Ken Dale

His name was Roland Coffin ? an elderly deacon and gentleman farmer in the first church I served.? He offered guidance as to where a good spot would be for my very first vegetable garden.? He even helped plant it ? some of it when I wasn?t even with him, though we did buy our own seeds.? The first thing that got planted were the peas.? In northern Maine they say a true farmer will go out and put his pea seed right on the snow so it gets planted ASAP!? Peas and salmon for the 4th being the goal.? I remember we had trouble with our peas.? The pods came on with no problem, but they took forever to fill out.? When they finally did the peas were so big and dry we couldn?t eat them.? As it turned out we had purchased those snap peas that you eat early pod and all.? When I told Roland about it he grinned and said, ?Well, I wasn?t going to say anything, but I was curious when I planted them because I had never seen pea seed that looked like that before.? Roland bought the pea seed for us every year after that.

With any garden come weeds.? How unusual to hear in this parable the offer that comes to this unfortunate gardener who had his garden sabotaged with weeds.? The weeds appear and the question is raised, ??did you not sow good seed in your field?? Where then did these weeds come from??? The answer to the question is ?an enemy? and speaking of those weeds the offer comes: ?Then do you want us to go and gather them??? I don?t recall many offers to help weed any garden ? except of course from Kathy.

If that question isn?t enough of a shock in the parable, perhaps the answer is equally striking:? ?No? ? for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them? Let both of them grow together until the harvest?? This landowner knows these weeds – perhaps the ultimate nasty weed.? These weeds are darnel, or in the KJV ?tares.?? The plant is related to wheat and actually looks like wheat and hides out in wheat.? Its roots surround the roots of good plants (wheat) and suck up the nutrients and scarce water and make it impossible to root it out without damaging the good crop.? So the landowner, in his wisdom, refuses that rare offer of people helping to weed the garden.? If you?re a gardener ? that?s a pretty challenging statement.

When I read this parable I couldn?t help but think of Barbara Brown Taylor?s most recent book, Learning to Walk in the Dark.? It is very thought provoking as she rethinks Christian teaching?s long tendency of? ?dividing reality into opposed pairs: good/evil, church/world, spirit/flesh, sacred/profane, light/dark.?? She also rightly states how easy it is to tell which half of each pair is higher and which is lower and adds the strong sense of purpose one can find in battles to engage in and how they divided people in two ? and how we had to choose between two minds, two natures, two sets of loyalties, two homes ? and of course only one of them was ?close to God.?? Today we have before us wheat and weeds ? good seed and bad seed.

In her book, Taylor offers a new perspective that I find well worth consideration.? She writes, If there is any truth to the teaching that spiritual reality is divided into halves, it is the truth that those pairs exist in balance, not opposition.? What can light possibly mean without dark?? Who knows spirit without also knowing flesh?? Is anyone altogether good or altogether evil?? Where is the church that exists outside the world?? And she concludes, People of faith who are committed to fullness of life have our work cut out for us, if only in changing the way we talk.

??????????? She speaks of learning to walk in the dark as a spiritual skill but reminds us even when you cannot see where you are going and no one answers when you call, this is not sufficient proof that you are alone.? There is a divine presence that transcends all your ideas about it? here is the testimony of faith: darkness is not dark to God; the night is as bright as the day.? We heard that affirmation in that wonderful 139th Psalm this morning.

In the parable?s explanation in verses 36 ? 43 Jesus points to the weeds as representation of evil.? For gardeners ? they would agree, weeds are evil!? And like the reality of evil in the world so is the reality of weeds in a garden ? most soil has weed seed in it that goes back hundreds of years.? Weeds are not easy to control ? and the reality of evil in this world is no different.? So ? ?what?s a gardener to do??? – ?what?s a non-evil person of faith to do???? Interestingly enough ? Jesus doesn?t really offer a grand plan for getting rid of weeds that plague the field of wheat ? nor overcome the reality of evil.

It is clear that pulling up the weeds is not ours to do.? Paul is hinting along the same lines in our lesson from Romans 8 ? another of my favorite passages of Scripture.? In today?s verses Paul points to the Christian?s responsibility to live by the Spirit and the point is clear that it may involve suffering.? But we are to live in faith, to trust in God and in the ways of God?s Spirit and so live in hope.? I love those closing two verses: For in hope we are 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.?

Speaking metaphorically ? I can hope for a weed free garden.? While I cannot create that weed free garden on my own, I can do what I can.? As with our being a blend of saint and sinner, are not also a mixture of wheat and weed?? I wonder, as Barbara Brown Taylor rethinks darkness as something that can teach us ? I wonder if that is also true of weeds?? In the parable knowing what he knows about the weeds, the gardener waits until both wheat and weeds need to come up.? His knowledge of tares teaches him to wait and not put his crop in jeopardy.? Knowing what we do of evil ? we need to be mindful of how we respond to the reality of evil ? and not respond with evil.

I think Jesus is saying in his parable, without coming right out and saying it, that we are not called to be the farmer ? rooting up the weeds is not our job.? That?s God?s worry and call.? But it is our job to be the wheat.? If we are to be the wheat we are to seek to live by the Spirit, to listen for the voice of God and God?s direction in our lives.? If we are to be the wheat we need to grow in the row in which we were planted and grow as tall and as strong as we can.? Because just as weeds can crowd out the wheat ? the wheat can also crowd out the weeds.? We can let our lives ? our influence ? our seeking to be faithful people of God and if you will, the body of Christ as the Church, deprive those weeds of the sunlight and water they need to survive.? But you can?t do it as a single stalk of wheat in a field all by yourself ? we need to grow tall and strong with others in community.?? In one of the first gardens I did at home I planted a single pot of bee balm and has a beautiful bright red blossom.? Right now where I planted that little pot there is a 20 foot circle of bright red in that garden and no ? it?s not weed free.

As I mentioned in this week?s Snippets it?s long been said that a weed is a plant growing in the wrong place.? My latest garden is along the back edge of my back yard.? And this year out of curiosity I let one weed grow.? It?s now about 5 feet tall and it has a beautiful yellow bloom on the top.? I found out that it is considered a weed but that it also has possible beneficial medicinal uses.? Is it a weed?? Is it a plant growing in the wrong place ? or maybe a plant growing in the right place?? Can a weed grow in the right place?? Is it all ?in the eyes of the beholder??

YES!?? And that?s the point!? God is the beholder of us all.? And just think of what God beholds ? what a messy garden!? People of faith ? and there are many varieties of that faith ? people of faith ? even Christians ? are not always in neat little rows and they do not look alike.? I think people of faith most likely have more in common than they differ on.? And there are weeds ? and there is wheat ? but like the darnel, sometimes it is hard to distinguish.? But if we?re understanding ourselves as wheat ? we wait for the harvest, and we hope for that which we do not see ? we live in faith ? and as Hebrews 11:1 tells us Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.?

I wonder ? do we have the sense to listen to that Sower.? Maybe that Sower isn?t as concerned about a pure crop and about a neat field as we think.? Maybe that Sower is more concerned about growth than perfection.? Maybe that Sower knows more ? more than the wheat, than the weeds, even them both combined.? Maybe it?s more about the Sower than the crop.