Sermon: Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

July 20, 2014

Isaiah 44:6–8
Psalm 86:11–17
Romans 8:12–25
Matthew 13:24–30, 36–43

One of the things I like best about being Lutheran is that we, as a denomination, embrace paradox. We don’t see things as simply black or white. We live in the grey. We make every effort to hold together contradictory truths—like that we are both sinners and saints at the same time. Or that we are perfectly free, servant to none, and perfectly slave, servant to all. Today’s Gospel offers us another chance to see ourselves through this kind of bifocal lens.

But we live in a world of genetically modified seeds. No longer do farmers employ teenagers to pull weeds in their fields, with firm instructions to leave any plant that they couldn’t identify for sure as a weed. Instead, seeds are now chemically treated to carry some kind of weed-killer within them. While that raises a whole plethora of ethical questions, for today, let’s just let it be an invitation to consider this parable in a way Jesus’ hearers never could have.

In keeping with our dual nature as simultaneously saints and sinners, let’s imagine that we are some sort of hybrid plant from a mutant seed. There are parts of us that are good grain, able to nourish and sustain those with whom we come in contact. But there are also parts of us that are destructive to the healthy, useful parts of us, that break the gifts of God, and that poison the communal field in which we grow.

In the parable, Jesus says that the wheat will be gathered into the barns, and the weeds will be burned up. What, then, will the angels do with us hybrids, then, when they come to reap the harvest? What about people who are simultaneously wheat and weed? But what do we do in the meantime? How do grow while we wait for the completed restoration of God’s good global garden?

At this point, I’d like to remind you about how my sister interpreted the parable we heard last week. She clearly demonstrated us that the parable was not called the Parable of the Soils, but of the The Sower. In a similar way, this parable is less about the wheat and weeds and more about the Gardener. Maybe when you heard Jesus’ parable about the wheat and the weeds in today’s Gospel reading, you figured that good people are wheat, and bad people are weeds. (And I won’t even ask which one you imagined you were).

This parable is another one that points to why we cling to the mercy of God. God is God, and we are not. As Isaiah points out in today’s OT reading, God is the ultimate, the most high, the complete and total means of salvation. We do not have to worry about the harvest. We can trust in the assurance that God longs to redeem all of creation, to bring it into God’s loving presence, and to bestow wholeness and blessing on the entire beautiful but corrupted mess. We hybrids wait, as Paul writes in his letter to the Roman Christians, with all of creation for that day when all will be restored, all wrongs are put right, all labor pains are over, and the final promises of God are fully revealed.

We cannot purify ourselves, eliminating the weedy parts of our natures and pulling forward the wholesome part. We must once again trust that God, the Good Gardener, is doing more than we can ask or imagine on our behalf.

What we CAN do, however, is what Jesus never stopped encouraging his followers to do: practice living lives of grace. We can cultivate within ourselves and our community all that is good and righteous and holy. Jesus did not collect perfect people around himself. He gathered some pretty obtuse and feckless followers, who never understood what he was talking about. But he urged them to pay attention to what he did and said, and to follow him. He said, “Seek first God’s way of doing and being, and the next steps will be apparent.” He urged them to do what is right, rather than just what is easy. He showed them that the most important thing his followers could do was to attend to the needs of people who felt forgotten or abused or worthless. He pointed out how seemingly little things like mustard seeds and prayers and children are really big things that can change the world. He said they’d learn a lot if they watched birds and wild flowers and children with special attention.

And Paul’s words to the Christians in Rome, too, were about God noticing and cherishing the apparently weak and fragile things in the world. Paul shows over and over how the Holy Spirit repeatedly lifts up to significance and honor the very people and projects that society thinks are unimportant. Paul observes that Christians are like adopted children, kids whose parents could not or would not care for them. And then along comes a family who desperately want a child to care for, praising God for providing exactly this person who can fill that space in their homes and hearts. That is how God relates to us. Though God knows the weedy parts of our natures, God longs to have us as close as possible, to include us in God’s family. Through baptism, God names and claims us as members of God’s household forever. And like children who inherit from their parents, God makes sure that we inherit all that God has to pass along—creativity, forgiveness, compassion, meaning, and hope.

We wheaty weeds, and weedy wheat, have been adopted as God’s kids. And we have been given the keys to the family house. We can come and go and bring our friends in, we can eat and sleep and talk and work as members of God’s household. We have been given God’s house rules, which are summed up well in the 10 Commandments, ways for us to be in relationship with God and with others. We don’t always abide by them, but we still get to eat at the family table. We do not get to choose our siblings. God does that. And sometimes we think there are weeds around us, but God says we are not responsible for tending other people’s inner lives. We are encouraged to let God be responsible for the harvest. We are simply called to cultivate values that match God’s alongside those God sends to be with us, reserving judgment for God.

In God’s household, we are given vitamins to build up the wheaty parts of us—the Word of God, as we sing and read and think about it, as we hear it preached, and as we interpret it together. We are given God’s own substance in our family meal, and told to remember what it cost God to provide it. We are given one another as companions for the journey. We have each other to nudge us toward generous and authentic living, toward sharing and caring for the whole wide world that God made and loves.

As free members of the household, not as slaves, we do not need to be fearful of messing up. God will never kick us out. We are children of God who belong to the family forever. Let’s wait and hope for the day when all of creation sings with joy at the biggest and best family reunion forever! And while we wait, let’s notice the wheat in and around us. In all our doings, let’s accentuate the positive, and eliminate the negative! Let’s surround each other with good nutrients and God’s promise of grace, so that growth in love and trust is part of our daily routine. Let’s highlight what is good in and among our little faith community, and what is good in the broader community.

Let’s celebrate how God’s Spirit moves up and down and around the Schenk Atwood neighborhood. How God’s Spirit has blown us new companions in caring for the families of this county.  Let’s not try to separate what we perceive to be wheat from what we perceive to be weeds. Let’s not segregate what is “ours” from what is “theirs.” God is sending angels for that. Instead, let’s make this particular house of God ring with the sound of happy laughter and healing tears. Let us grow up, wheat and weeds simultaneously, grateful and eager to share in God’s extravagant inheritance of mercy. Amen.

~Pastor Susan Schneider

About Trinity Lutheran Church

A congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) located in Madison, Wisconsin.
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