To Grow Together

Matthew 13:24-30

To Grow Together

July 23, 2017       Maple Grove UMC

 

          Last Sunday Jesus’ Parable of the Sower was meant to address questions like, If Jesus really is the Messiah, why doesn’t everyone believe in him? and Why don’t more people to come to church in his name? This week’s story, the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds, addresses a related question: Why are some of the people who do come to church such, well, trouble-makers? Why are there weeds in our church’s wheat?

          Jesus’ response to people rejecting him, small crowds in church and disappointing results was to say, You know, that’s just the way it is. You scatter the seeds out there and the birds eat some and some don’t grow very well and some get choked out by weeds.  And some of them grow, but not all of them, not all the time.  That’s just the way the kingdom of God is.

          And today Jesus’ response to why there are so many weeds in the wheat, why there’s people we don’t get along with mixed in with the ones we do, is this:  that’s just the way it is too.  That’s not the way God wants it to be.  Things will be different some day.  But for now, that’s just the way the kingdom of God is; it’s a mixed bag, good and bad, wheat and weeds.

          And we know that’s true, don’t we?  There are people in our world, in our communities, in our churches, who are just not wheat people.  They don’t contribute, they don’t help out, they don’t share, they’re negative all the time.  In fact, writes one preacher, I have a list of them right here.1 You might have your own list.  I may be on your list!

          So we all know there are weeds in the wheat.  The question is, what do we do about that?  In the parable, the Master’s servants know what they want to do about it.  They want to go and pull the weeds, get rid of them.  They think that will help.

          But Jesus says, No, no.  That would do more harm than good.  Because when you try to pull the weeds, you’d pull up the wheat along with them.  No, just let them grow up together, he says.  Just let them grow up together, the wheat and weeds, until harvest time.  It will all get sorted out then, he says.

          So what should we do about the fact that there’s good people and bad people, people we like and people we don’t like, wheat and weeds, all mixed up together?  Nothing, Jesus says.  That’s just the way it is.  Just let them all grow together.  That’s kind of a hard lesson, isn’t it?

 

          Now before moving on, I want to make sure you know this parable is not some kind of moral relativism.  Jesus is not saying that it doesn’t matter how you live, or that anything goes in the church.  He’s quite clear that there really is wheat and there really are weeds, and that some day we really will be sorted out.  Here and now just isn’t the time to do the sorting.  And in Matthew 18 Jesus teaches a process for dealing with unacceptable behavior in the church.  He knows that for the unity of the church, certain kinds of behavior have to be confronted and dealt with.  But just to go around pulling weeds, that’s another matter. 

 

          Weeding can be such a damaging process.  A pastor in Virginia told about a nearby church where there was a girl, about fifteen or sixteen, who was wild, out of control.  She engaged in all kinds of inappropriate behavior and everyone knew it.  Well, it was an embarrassment to that church, and so they weeded her over it.  They voted not to let her come to church there any more, not to sing or worship or take Communion there, for one year.  It tore the church up, this pastor said.  It tore up two or three families.  It tore up the town.2 Even though there really are weeds, weeding can be so damaging.

          In my home church back in a tiny town in Kansas, a man who has a church member but didn’t really come to church any more had an RV.  And he parked his RV on a vacant lot the church owned across the street.  They bought the lot for parking, but no one ever parked there.  Now I don’t know why he parked his RV there--maybe an agreement with the pastor or a previous chair of Trustees.  It wasn’t really hurting anything.  But the new chair of Trustees called and told him he couldn’t park his RV there any more.  He didn’t give any reason, just said he couldn’t do it.  It hurt the man’s feelings and he said he wasn’t sure he wanted to be part of a church that would treat someone that way.  The new chair of Trustees told him, “The church doesn’t need your kind anyway.”  It tore up two or three families.  It tore up the little town.  Even though sometimes there really are weeds, weeding can be so damaging. 

 

          And for that matter, what makes any of us think we’re up to doing the weeding?  When I was a brand new pastor, the leader of Vacation Bible School came to me complaining that the woman who had signed up to teach one of the classes had quit at the last minute.  Bible School was going to start on Monday, and on Sunday after church she told her she just couldn’t do it.  She couldn’t find anyone else on such short notice and had to put two classes together, and it was a real mess.  The leader, who was usually a kind and patient woman, sort of snapped under the pressure.  She chewed that woman out and good, telling her that if she wasn’t going to follow through, she shouldn’t have signed up, and that she’d never wanted to work with her again.  The next day we found out that woman’s husband had left her, gone to Maine with some other woman, leaving her alone with their two daughters.  What do we know about pulling weeds?

          When I was in high school a member of our church came to Bible study one evening and shared some ideas that kind of shocked everyone, including me.  He had different views from the rest of us about the authority of the Bible and certain moral rules in particular.  He was told by several people that he was simply wrong and that he shouldn’t say such things at church.  I didn’t say anything, but I agreed with them.  Looking back, I now agree with every single thing that man said.  What do we know about pulling weeds?  There is One who will sort out the weeds from the wheat come harvest time, but it isn’t you and it isn’t me.

          There was a pastor in Tennessee, a very successful minister, except his current church was full of problems.  There was stress and division and just a mean spirit.  He got so sick of it he told a colleague, “I‘m thinking of quitting.”

          “I hope it won’t come to that,” his friend said.

          “Well, I might.”

          “Well, I hope not.”

          “You know what I’m going to do?” he said.  “I’m going to buy a little piece of land over in Arkansas, and I’m going to build my own church.  It’ll be a study where I can do my work.  No sanctuary.  No Sunday school rooms.  No fellowship hall.  No members.  Just me and God.3 Once you start weeding, that’s what you wind up with—just you and God.  Maybe not even you, on a bad day.

         

          Weeding can be so damaging.  What makes any of us think that we’re the ones to do the weeding?  And there’s one more thing:  sometimes weeds turn into wheat.  Sometimes leopards change their spots.  I know, that sounds like a physical impossibility.  And maybe it is.  But with God all things are possible.  I admit that I have given up on people, and I see them years later, and they’re not the same person.  They’ve quit all that drinking, or they’ve been healed of their bitterness and anger, or they’ve stopped feeling sorry for themselves.  You wouldn’t have thought it was possible, but there it is.  I suspect there are people who have seen me at certain moments of my life, and they might have good reason to say, “Well, that one should never be a pastor,” or “I can’t see him being a kind and caring sort.”  But God wasn’t done with me yet on those certain days, and God still isn’t done with me.  And God isn’t done with you either.  And God isn’t done with the person you’re ready to write off.  You start weeding, and you can get in the way of God’s work of transforming lives.

 

          That’s just the way the kingdom of God is, Jesus says—it’s a mixed bag.  Good and bad, people you like and people you don’t like, wheat and weeds all mixed up together.  That’s pretty messy, isn’t it?  When we invite people to come to church, we’d like to be able to promise them a place where it’s all wheat, where no one would ever hurt their feelings, everyone would be kind and accepting all the time, where the preacher would never say some crazy wrong-headed thing.  But we can’t promise that, of course.  I suppose that’s because God is so terribly patient with us, that as much as sin and evil must break God’s heart, God wants to give everyone one of us every possible chance to shine like golden waves of grain. 

 

          Now, I’ve taken Jesus’ parable to be, more or less, about the church.  And it is, I’m sure.  But it also has some implications for our own internal lives.  When there are things about myself that I do not like—my anger, my pride, my self-doubt—I’d like to root those out of my personality, pull them out like weeds.  But my counselor tells me, “You can’t do that, Glenn.  Because if you rip out your anger, what else might you rip out with it?  And if you just pull out all your pride, what damage might that do?  No, no, she says, you’ve got to befriend your shadow side.  Let it all grow up together, and see if some of those weeds inside you can be transformed into wheat.

          And the parable also surely has a thing or two to say to our country at this point in time.  Depending on our political inclinations, we’re all ready to weed out someone--immigrants , or rich people, or Muslims, or Republicans or Democrats.  But weeding can be so damaging.  Just let them grow together, Jesus said.  Leave it to One wiser than ourselves to sort it all out.

 

          The kingdom of God, Jesus said, is a mixed bag—good and bad, people you like and people you don’t like, wheat and weeds all mixed together.  That’s just the way it is, for now.  We’ll all get sorted out some day.  In the meantime, the good news—and I do think it’s good news—is that we’re stuck with each other, wheat and weeds growing together in God’s kingdom.  Oh sure, I think I could decide pretty well which of us are weeds and which of us is wheat.  You might have your own list, quite different from mine.  The task we have been given, however, is not to sort out who’s weeds and who’s wheat.  The task we’ve been given is not to get rid of the weeds.  Our task is to learn to live together and love each other, mixed bag that we are.  And that, says Jesus, is what the kingdom of God is like.  That’s just the way it is. 

 

1 See Fred B. Craddock, Cherry Log Sermons (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 26.

2 Fred B. Craddock, Craddock Stories, ed. Mike Graves and Richard F. Ward (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2001), 106.

3 Craddock Stories, 106-7.

 

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