Saturday, July 16, 2011

Gardening with Jesus Proper 11 A

Welcome to “Gardening With Jesus!”
You know, last week, the gospel was talking about spreading seeds and how those seed would grow.  We had God spreading the seeds of his love EVERYWHERE, even in those places where most people would believe that love could not possibly grow.  And saw how God spreads those seeds of love, even where others may think it totally silly.  Contrary to what we my think, God is spreading love.
This week, we have the seeds growing, but we have a new problem; we have weeds growing along with the seed!  Can you believe it?  So what is a good gardener, I mean Christian, supposed to do?  What are we supposed to do with those pesky weeds?
The usual response would be that we are supposed to pull those weeds out!  Isn’t that what we have been taught all along?  Having no weeds around make the plants grow stronger, right?  And isn’t that exactly what the workers in the parable suggest?  Just get in there and yank out those weeds out!
But, of course, we are gardening with Jesus, here, and if we have learned anything as Christians, we should have learned that when Jesus enters the picture, what we expect to do and what we are told to do are often two totally different things.  The master of the workers, who we are told is the Son of Man, tells the workers to leave the weeds grow along with the wheat.  And when the plants have all grown, then the master will tell the reapers to collect the weeds to be burned and to gather the wheat into the barn.
Why not just pull up all the weeds?  Isn’t that what we hear all the time?  We need to get the weeds out of the way so that the good crops can grow?  But here we have Jesus instructing his followers to do just the opposite:  Leave the plants AND the weeds.  Just allow them all to grow.
We probably all have stories of things in our gardens that we thought were weeds but end up being the very plants we were trying to cultivate.  I moved into a new house ans saw all of these plants growing along the driveway.  There were growing at an incredible rate and were producing a ton of seeds.  I began to pull these plants out, thinking that they must surely be weeds.
Well, you guessed it: They weren’t weeds at all, they were day lilies!  Some of the poor things that escaped my savage yanking began to bloom!  They were beautiful flowers!  In my ignorance of plants, I almost yanked up the entire flowerbed!  Thankfully, I didn’t rip out all of the plants and these “so called” weeds managed to reestablish themselves and continued to bring beauty to my driveway.
But just think about it:  If we have this much trouble identifying which plant is a flower and which plant is a weed; then how much harder is it to make judgment about people?  People are so much MORE complex than plants.  How can we even begin to kid ourselves that we know which people are the wheat and which people are the weeds?  Jesus is pointing out the folly of thinking we can boil a whole, complex, person down to a simple title such as wheat or weed.  But yet, we, as people, as Americans, as Christians, as whatever, try to do just that.
We can just look through history to see where this has happened and see the results when people tried to place others into the categories of wheat and weeds.  Throughout history people have named groups of people as “weeds” and then tried to get rid of them.  We have had the Jews, the Blacks, Women, Gays, Italians, Protestants, Catholics, Communists, Socialists, the Mentally Challenged, the Physically Challenged, the Mexicans, Irish, the Poor, the Rich, the Indigenous Peoples of the area, the Christians, the Muslims, Chinese, Mormons, Japanese, the Smokers, the Left-handed, Republicans, Democrats, Tea Partiers, Hippies, Vegetarians, …and I am sure there are many more categories that I have not thought of.  But if you fit into ANY of these categories, as some point, YOU have been considered a weed and have been considered worthy of being yanked out by the roots.  Let that sink in for a moment:  At some time, someone wanted to yank YOU out by the roots.
So, as you can see, just about anything that one person could use to identify another person as “different” HAS been used to categorize others as “weeds.”  And what is even scarier is that in just about every one of these cases, the labeling of “weed” was said to be mandated by God.
The other interesting thing, when we look at the historical context of wheat and weeds, is that history often portrays the ones trying to do the weeding as the actual weeds, themselves.  Groups such as the KKK, The McCarthy Commission, and even the Pharisees have not fared well in the eyes of history.  Although I am sure these people believed what they were doing was for the good of society, and many cases, believed their actions were mandated by God, hopefully we can see that their actions were as evil if not more evil than the evil they were trying to eradicate.
Now, this is not saying that we should just ignore everything anybody does and carry an extreme “Live and Let Live” attitude, but it does call us to think about what is happening.  Crime is crime; murder is murder; abuse is abuse.  There are things that do, indeed, tear away at the fabric of society.  We need to be aware of what is happening in society and work to build up society as a whole.  But when people are placed into the “weed” category en masse, it is then, that we need to begin to wonder what is happening.  We need to question exactly what it is that makes that group a bunch of weeds.  Maybe we even need to ask, “Why am I not one of those weeds?  What have I done, or not done, that puts me in a different category?”  Are these people weeds just because they are different than you and me?  In trying to rid ourselves of the so called “weeds” are we being good stewards or are we being bullies?
So often, is seems the thing that causes one group of people to place another group of people into the category of “weed” is a lack of understanding by those who are either in the majority or those in power.  And since these OTHER people are different than those of us in the majority, there is a feeling of threat.  Now, most of us would agree that threat is not the most comfortable feeling and most of us would want to make that threat go away as soon as possible.  So, instead of learning why the power folks feel threatened and growing through the experience, the power folks turn those who are different into “weeds” and try to get rid of them.  So, to say it another way; the perception of who is a weed is based off of fear, ignorance and discomfort.  I feel uncomfortable so you need to change.
Unfortunately, right now there are various sections of our world calling each other weeds.  The Republicans are calling the Democrats weeds.  The parts of the Anglican Union are calling parts of the Episcopal Church, weeds.  Factions of the ELCA are calling other factions weeds.  These sections are trying to tear each other out by the roots.  But tearing each other out by the roots is NOT what Jesus is telling us to do.  Jesus is telling us that we are to grow together.  That has been a hallmark of both the Episcopal Church, and the Lutheran Church for hundreds of years.  That is a hallmark of what we claim to love about the United States!  We claim to work and grow together.  When we  are not so quick to yank those people we would consider weeds, we learn to grow together.  And as we grow, our fear, ignorance, and discomfort decreases.  It is in this way that we grow together and we grow into the reign of God.
It is not our job to select those who are worthy of God’s love and those who aren’t.  We are not to go around yanking people out by the roots just because WE think they are undesirable.  It is not our job to decide those who are part of the crowd and those who are the weeds.  If we were left to decide, eventually there would be no one left, except maybe me, ‘cause we all know that I never, EVER, do anything that would cause God to be disappointed!  Yeah, right!
Just like the lilies along my driveway, when we begin yanking weeds without really knowing what we are doing, we may just start yanking the flowers!  And some of those whom we have decided were weeds, if we had let them grow, may have grown to be wheat of flowers, but since we yanked them out, we will never know.  When the time for the harvest comes, God will do the deciding, but for now, our business is to help ALL to grow, regardless of whether we think they are wheat or weeds.
I do want to repeat that this does not give people free reign to do whatever they would like.  And it does not mean that we are to tolerate everything that anyone would care to do.  But it does mean that we are called to be inclusive, welcoming, and open to the alternatives the Holy Spirit might be sending in our directions.  Just consider that some people may come into our lives, not for us to change them, but that person may be a gift from God to change us.
The garden that Jesus would have us grow on Earth is one of diversity and delight.  Or maybe we need to think more along the lines of a meadow; Jesus would have us create a meadow filled with a variety of plants and animals.  This meadow is one that both sustains and dazzles us.  This meadow of diversity is found in those places where we would expect to find it, but also in those places where some may be shocked and scandalized.  The meadow that Jesus would spread across the world would be so much more than we could ever dream.   It is a place with all kinds of plants, all growing together.  Christ places this vision before us.  And Christ empowers us to help bring it to reality. 

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