Sunday, July 20, 2008

Weed Patch

"A weed is a flower where you don’t want it." Or so someone said. I don’t know who, but someone who knows these things. Not me. I don’t nuthin’ ‘bout no gardenin’! Which is a sentence that just drove my spell check nuts.

I’m an anti-gardener. No, that’s not quite right. I just don’t like it. I’m not going to take one apart. And I can be quite willing to let my wife La Donna put in whatever garden she wants to put in. I’ll even help. Once in a while. Under protest. Slight and usually unspoken, but protest nonetheless. Just don’t enjoy it, like so many others do. I don’t know why, exactly.
It might have something to do with the fact that my father was a fanatical gardener. Fanatical in that his first question in a new appointment was "Where can I put the garden?" He would spend hours working that garden, and he was really good at it. He knew his stuff. He could grow anything and get it to produce really well. The problem was - well, problem from my perspective, opportunity from his - was that he wanted to share this experience with his children. And usually, it was when we had done something wrong, or needed to learn some discipline or something. We got sent to the garden to weed.

I’m sure we did other stuff from time to time, but what I remember is having to weed. And it felt like punishment. And it still does. Even when La Donna asks real nicely and just wants a little help, when I help in the garden it feels like punishment. It’s a psychological problem, I realize that. But it is still there. Just don’t like it.

So, when I heard the quote I started with, it got me thinking - maybe we just need to learn to enjoy weeds a bit more. That’s our problem, some will argue, we are always trying to put up boundaries. If we just learned that whatever grows is a good thing, then we’d all be a lot happier. Who says dandelions are less beautiful than roses? Let ‘em all grow and quit fussing about it.
So, when I ran across the parable in this week’s Gospel lesson, I thought I found my confirmation. Wish I had found it all those years ago when I was sent to the garden to weed! Jesus says let them grow. Can’t get a higher authority than that, right? Let ‘em grow.

Matthew 13:24-30 He put before them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And 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.'"

"Let them both grow together," he says, weeds and wheat - or weeds and flowers - or weeds and whatever else you might be growing in that garden of yours. Don’t worry about the weed patch, just let it grow. It is a free and easy kind of living, right? It is a remove the boundaries, just let it be kind of approach to life.

Just the kind of thing all sorts of folks are advocating these days. So, is Jesus a "new age" thinker after all?

Well, there are a couple of things we have to take note of in this passage. Important things that might change our behavior and our attitudes. First of all, this parable does not argue that there is no such thing as sin any more. It doesn’t argue that there is no right and no wrong. The householder, when told about what has happened, when told that there are weeds in his field, says "an enemy has done this." Jesus doesn’t claim that sin has disappeared. He acknowledges evil still at work in the world and in the minds and hearts of each of us and all of us. It is there, and its effects on us can be devastating. And we are in the business of trying to root it out.
Which brings us to the second point of this parable. We don’t always know what we are looking at. One of the problems I had in this whole weeding the garden thing was that I wasn’t always sure which was weed and which was plant. I remember one time pulling out most of a row of carrots because they looked very much like the weeds I was sent to pull out. I couldn’t always tell.

The truth is we all have our blind spots. Remember the story about the speck and the plank in the eye? The point there was that we often think sins we don’t have are worse than the ones we do. We are more ready to correct someone else’s bad behavior than to pay much attention to our own. And in fact, at times, what we want to correct in someone else might be a difference in perspective and not sinful after all. We Christians don’t have a perfect record throughout history on that one. We were sure that women weren’t as valued in God’s Kingdom as men. We were sure that white skin was a better guarantee of entrance into heaven than black or brown or yellow or red. We were convinced that what Jesus wanted was to make every one like citizens of the USA, or the West, or the developed world, and that cultural expressions of faith had to be uniform no matter where you lived.

Now we are embarrassed to have held these views. We couldn’t always tell what was a weed and what was wheat. And the parable also tells us that even when we do know, pulling out the weed can do more damage than leaving it alone. That if hospitality is at the top of our to do list, if loving neighbors with the same energy with which we love God is our M.O.; then our approach to sin has to be different than pointing fingers and tossing folks out.

Because the other clear message of this parable is that ultimate judgement is God’s job and not ours. We don’t know enough, we can’t love enough, we won’t care enough to judge rightly. It might also be argued that trying to take over God’s job here is the ultimate in lack of faith. We don’t think God will deal with sin in the way we would like God to do. So, we’ll step in and handle it. Which is an arrogance that reeks of pride and self-centeredness. Instead, Jesus calls us to trust that God is still in charge. To trust that even though it appears that goodness and righteousness and living a life of love is simply a recipe for being taken advantage of in this dog eat dog world, God’s way is still a better way to be. God’s way is a more whole, more sustaining, more satisfying way to live.

Which is the answer to the question "what do we do about sin?" We live a life of righteousness in a public way so that those who have not yet found their way to God can see in us the power of Christ, the water of life welling up in springs. No, we don’t just turn our backs on sin, we overpower it, we counteract it, with love, not judgement. We transform, even as we are being transformed, through hospitality and grace, not hatred and exclusion. We heal, even as we are being healed, through acceptance and hope, not condemnation and exile. We tend, even as we are tended.

In the end, we are all gardeners, I suppose. The fields are white for harvest.