Gardening with God
Words for 6th Sunday after Trinity – 19 July 2020 – Parish of Felixstowe
A Cyber Sermon from the Vicarage
…the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” 28 He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” 29 But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn. (Matthew 13.27-30)
God give you peace my sisters and brothers.
Sister Monica Joan is my favourite Nonnatnun in Call the Midwife. She knows she has not got everything ‘together’, and occasionally has a gloomy turn, but essentially she is (as befits someone who is betrothed to Christ) a lover and calls out loveliness in others… even weeds.
Here is a transcript of her encounter with them
Sister Monica Jane: Pass me that plant, please. The yellow one. Hurry! There is much to do.
Patsy: (picking up a dandelion) I don’t think these are for planting, Sister I think these may be weeds that Fred’s already pulled up.
Sister Monica Jane: I do not believe in weeds. Look at that glorious colour! A weed is simply a flower that someone decides is in the wrong place. Why should the Taraxacum struggle in the cracks? It deserves an efficacious spot in which to flourish!
Of course, amongst those in the Religious care of every part of God’s Creation is, unlike in the un-cloistered world, a commonplace. Liberation Theologian Leonardo Boff begins his book about St Francis with the story of a friar friend who intentionally keeps a part of the friary garden for ‘Our brothers the weeds’.
The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares is one that needs careful harvesting. For we all, weeds or wheat, fruitful or just plain prickly, deserve an efficacious spot in which to flourish.
It would be easy, and many do, to jump to the conclusion that is another of Matthew’s ‘us’ and ‘them’ parables. The righteous wheat are saved and the sinful tares are condemned to the fire of hell. After all this must be the case because this view has been woven into the warp and weft of our hymnody.
For the Lord our God shall come,
And shall take the harvest home;
From His field shall in that day
All offences purge away,
Give His angels charge at last
In the fire the tares to cast;
But the fruitful ears to store
In the garner evermore.
Surely the wicked, or more correctly the unfruitful deserve condemnation and the fruitful an eternal reward? But let’s not be too hasty. I don’t know about you but too often I seem to be more weedy than wheat, a waste than fruitful, lost in sin instead of a beacon of righteousness. Sometimes wheat is very weedy, and weeds can be used for nourishment. Anyone for nettle soup?
The central point of this parable is not what happens at the end but how growth happens now.
The Kingdom of Heaven, God’s field, in contradiction to the beliefs of the Scribes and the Pharisees, is not the preserve of one people only but all peoples growing together. The Kingdom is not made for ‘special’ people alone but for all.
Occasionally the Church forgets this and she proclaims herself to be a Society of Saints rather than a Sanctuary for Sinners. Our language does not help mind you. The word we use for church (ecclesia) describes a people who are called out and separate but our Beloved did not go to live amongst the high and the holy but amongst the poor, the sinful and the outcast. He reminds us himself that the sick have no need of a physician and spends his life on the cross for the sake of those who were rejected, and in so doing calls the self-righteous to repentance.
Matthew, whom we first meet in the Bible as Levi the hated collaborator and tax collector, writes down the parable out of his own Jewish and now Greek experience. He knew first-hand the danger of a faith that is based on racial purity. Writing his gospel in Antioch, where the followers of the Way were first called Christian, he senses the possibility of a new way of gardening with God. Yet, he is well aware that not all the Gentile converts are being welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven by the Jewish Christians who, George Orwell like, seem to want to follow a faith where some types of wheat are more holy than others. That way lies the Judaizing controversy that runs through the New Testament from Acts to Galatians and sows seed for division instead of unity.
Occasionally in the Christian faith we are the ones who come while everyone else is asleep and sow weeds instead of wheat. When we do this we must repent and ask forgiveness of our sisters and brothers whom we have belittled. To borrow from the previous parable, if we think we are more loved by God than others we become the weeds that strangle and choke the good seed.
What happens then at the harvest? If I’m honest I do not know all. In this parable was Jesus describing his current critical audience of scribes and pharisees as those at risk of an eternal weeping and gnashing session if they refused to welcome everyone or is this a truth for all time?
Is the God of Love who died for us desperate to ‘Give his angels charge at last, In the fire the tares to cast? I think not, and we must never forget that the teaching of Jesus is always given in the shadow of the coming crucifixion and not with the hindsight of the resurrection.
I am content with the thought that the only thing I can change now is to try and be as fruitful as I can amidst the weedy parts of my life. I am committed to trying to live a life fruitful enough to encourage other people to not be quite soe weedy themselves. I am determined to look for a time of harvest home when ALL are safely gathered in and not just those with whom I agree or who agree with me.
I like the sign occasionally seen outside a church;
“Just love everyone – I’ll sort them out later”
Because I know for a certainty if I give up on loving everyone now I will become one of those who will need sorting out later…
[This blog ‘Gardening with God’ is copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2020 and may be reproduced without charge on condition that the source is acknowledged]