“Long Live the Weeds” – by Rev. Dr. Rod Kennedy

Sermon from July 23, 2017

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

In case you’ve not been paying attention, the sermon is an exercise in telling the truth about the way things really are and it is all right to laugh here and there. With those parameters, let’s turn our attention to the parable of Jesus about weeds.

Our story is about weeds found in the garden of God. To start our mental engagement with the story, let me offer you a few testimonials from poetry and Scripture.

To paraphrase Robert Frost:

“Before I PULLED A WEED from God’s garden I’d ask to know If what I was pulling was a weed or not, and if in pulling the weed I would damage the wheat. Something there is that doesn’t love a weed, that wants it up and gone, but before I pulled a weed from God’s garden I’d ask, “Lord do you want us to pull the weeds?”

From Gerhard Manley Hopkins, whom we should read and quote at every opportunity: What would be the world be, once bereft Of Wet and wildness?   Let them be left, O let them be left, wildness and wet, Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

Weed pullers make a theological mistake. They assume they are God’s judges. They assume they are in charge. As John Howard Yoder puts it weed pullers lay claim to the “handles of history” as well as the judgment seat of God. Weed pullers assume a power they don’t possess. They claim an authority that belongs only to God. They are painfully unaware of how “fragile” their claims and positions are and how deeply implicated they are in histories of violence.

It begins almost in innocence: “Master, do you want us to gather up the weeds in a pile and burn them?” It’s a natural impulse. Get rid of the weeds. Someone is always demanding that we get rid of the undesirables. A senator from Mississippi, back in the day, campaigned to send all African Americans back to Africa. “Put them on a boat and send them back.” Can you imagine such a movement? Senator McCarthy crusaded to rid the country of communists. He said, “I’m going to pull the weeds out of this country. All those pinkos. Communist sympathizers. All those people with communist leanings. They have to go.” Or what about those hate groups, the white nationalists who are armed to the hilt with high-powered weapons and are working to rid America of people who are not white? Or the KKK marching with their robes and crosses in our streets? Look at the groups who desire ethnic cleansing. There are always people ready to get rid of the undesirables.

New Testament scholar, Richard Hays tells us, “The parable of the wheat and the weeds and its interpretation suggest that there was an active debate in Matthew’s community concerning whether the church should seek to be a community of the pure or whether it should accept a more ambiguous status of a [mixture of saints and sinners] awaiting the final judgment” (Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament). What’s your take on the matter? Should we all be pure and righteous and exactly alike and see to it that we keep out the different, the sinful, the wicked, the perverse, the awful? Purity or a mixture of saints and sinners? This is the question that fuels all racism. This is how people start believing in a pure race of white people and why Americans join hate groups and become white nationalists.

The debate is still going on a generation later, when an editor of Matthew’s gospel changes the emphasis and spirit of the parable. These two interpretations exist side by side. One is filled with grace and patience as told by Jesus. Matthew’s editor is really fired up about Satan and hell. Something chilling happens to the church with she obsesses about Satan, hell, and evil. Hal Lindsey wrote a best-seller, Satan Is Alive and Well on Planet Earth. It’s an awful book, so depressing, so filled with misinformation. I suggested that a different book be written in dissent: God Is Alive and Well on Planet Earth. When Satan instead of God dominates the imaginations of Christians, there are beliefs to defend and opponents to defeat. Enemies appear everywhere. Paranoia and insecurity set it. A siege mentality ensues. No quarter is to be given. Lines are drawn in the sand. God’s people become grim judges.

Judging others and pulling weeds has a certain appeal and self-satisfaction. And so today, plenty of Christians are not willing to go with Matthew.

The same people who were here last week demanding a Congressional hearing on the wasteful farming practices of the sower broadcasting seed all over the place are back this week wanting us to get rid of the weeds. Some Christians are unable to breathe if they can’t be angry, bent out of shape, or all fired up about something or the other that has absolutely nothing to do with the gospel. Weed pullers even have a catch phrase, a verbal tell. “Preacher WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING about these people!

Weed pulling is an addictive habit. If you ever pull one, you won’t be able to stop. When there’s blood on your hands, when you feel the sensation of the power to lord it over other people, it’s hard to break the nasty habit. Once your nose it bent out of shape by righteous indignation, it will take more than plastic surgery to straighten it again. Any weed-pulling church, university, or organization is blasphemous because you are trying to be God, usurping the throne of grace, sitting on the seat of judgment.

What does Jesus say? Of all things, Jesus says, “Leave the weeds alone.” Did you miss that? LEAVE THE WEEDS ALONE. Some folks can’t believe it. Isn’t there such a thing as right and wrong, good and evil, true and false? We need to take a stand, draw the line, pull some weeds. But the boss says, “Leave the weeds alone.” But they are ugly, they are cluttering the garden. “Leave the weeds alone.”

This is not a one-shot deal by Jesus. It is consistent with his teaching in the gospels.

In the Sermon on the Mount, a sermon meant as our constitution as Christians, our manual for holy living, our instructions for how to live, Jesus says,

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.”

“For with the judgment you make you will be judged.”

“Do not condemn and you will not be condemned.”

“Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”

Then, of all things, Jesus, says that pulling weeds does more harm than good. Paul Grove was telling me that he received a call from a crop dusting pilot who was going to spray some soybeans that were close to Paul’s beehives. If there wasn’t any communication, killing the weeds in the soybeans would have killed Paul’s bees. Look, it’s dangerous to kill or pull weeds. You can do more harm than good.

Once I had a large flower bed in the back yard of my home. The bed was filled with yellow day lilies. One problem. There was a grass that insisted on growing amongst the day lilies and you couldn’t tell the grass stem from the lily stem. If you pulled the wrong stem you would pull up a lily with the bulb attached to the end. I developed a nasty hatred for that grass. I would come home from the church and see grass growing in the lilies and I would walk over, still wearing my suit, and start pulling grass. I would rip and tear and snort and pull with all my might. Grass, lilies, I just pulled and pulled. I did more harm than good and the lilies paid the price.

Instead of being a community of weed pullers, I recommend that First Baptist Church get busy getting the word around town that we practice radical hospitality and genuine humility. Let’s pray for God to send rain and not worry about the weeds. As Hopkins says in the same poem that we used at the beginning, “Send my roots rain.” Instead of pulling weeds, we should hunger and thirst for righteousness.

That will be a legacy that trumps all the weed-pulling violence in the world. AMEN