Becca's July 20th sermon, third in a series focusing on Jesus' parables about dirt. Wild Weeds of the Spirit
Pardon me from reading a meditation this morning as a sermon. I try to share stories and this seems like a good week to do that, especially given week’s Gospel comes from the 13th chapter of Matthew which contains 5 parables all of which are about understanding what the kingdom of God is like and how we live in it. But the text this morning is nuanced and takes some crafting of words carefully sorted to express the meaning and lose the heart of the message of Scripture, which is to love without judgment and to believe that all is reconciled with our creator at our death. To begin with I believe this is a parable about patience, about introspection and community. Weeds are the result of our neglect in the cultivated gardens and the truth of wilderness. They can be dangerous to plants we want to cultivate, but also a call to live at peace and beyond the boundaries set for us. The hope in our reflecting for a few minutes on this text is to dig into its roots and untwist the tangle of meaning that some of us may have brushed over the top of for years. Love begets love and so there is a loving message beneath the fiery remarks that need to be uncovered beyond the distancing ourselves from the message by exegetical feats or poetic licenses.
In the wilder places of this world and in our hearts where wheat and weeds grow together there is a tangle of roots can be undone. We can’t pull them out without doing damage to the other. The weeds must be kept in check so as not to harm the good growth, but for all of us, it is intertwined in a way that needs some gentle sorting. There is a story that when the Buddha first began to teach, a deity visited him and asked him a question: the inner tangle and the outer tangle---This generation is entangled in a tangle. So I ask you, who succeeds in untangling this tangle? The Buddha’s answer was simple and direct: the one who sits down in the middles of his or her life and looks with attention, calm and resolute has a chance to untangle the tangle and to relieve suffering.
I took this Gospel out to a wild tangle of plants on a wooded Canadian Island this week that Cathy and Martin Brown took Marcus, Tara, and I to… I took it into the wild place where mosquitos and tics multiply, where moss is thick carpet and where blueberries thrive. It is great setting to reflect on this scripture as someone who cherishes the blessed place of weeds as a devotee of thistles, chickweed and lupine. All of us see the value and gift of cultivated fields, of respecting the work of disciplined disciples, but we can all marvel as well at stunning places in this world and in our hearts that have not been pruned and judged. There is the gift of weeds in our lives whether from neglect that offers us change, wandering into the unknown, or understanding their presence that is humbling and valuable to a rich spiritual life.
As I sat among the weeds in the woods of pines and birch, above all I am reminded that there is something especially sweet about finding wild blueberries in the summer. Its like finding money on the sidewalk or seeing a the first firefly of spring. Its actually better because along with the surprise of the find there is the instant sense of being a naturalist; that you can feast with just the findings in the woods and provide for family and friends. The blended color is a rich matte of purple and pinks. There are things like deer flies that keep you on your toes, but the joy of a handful of blue berries on a sunny afternoon hike surpasses the irritation of a few bugs or the trepidation of the siting of a garter snake. A handful of blueberries is a fore taste to a heavenly banquet. You can’t help but say grace when you pop them in your mouth and taste real sweetness with a hint of a tartness to remind you of the wildness of this world. Blueberries thrive among the weeds. The weeds grow freely in the wooded landscape and serve as ground cover and food for uncultivated animals that eat whatever is available and rarely distinguish between weed and plant.
It feels like Eden to sit in such a setting where rocks call you to deep quiet and loons call you to deep listening. It is from such a place as Eden that we remember the first weeds grew, but in such an idealic place there are no words for weeds in Eden as everything grew together, blueberries and chick weed as they lived in harmony so both could prosper. Weeds were named by us and called out for their invasive nature, their particular barbs and their desire to take over a plot of land. They are labeled as weeds and then torn out and dismantled so that other plants can prosper whether through the sweat of our brow or chemical warfare. But weeds protect as well as harm and hold many healing qualities within their leaves and flowers. There is a reason that wild blueberries are tucked among the wild weeds that protect them from insects and provide shielding against harsh winds.
I have long held the view that if there were no weeds in the vision of the beginning of creation, in the fullness of time where the kingdom of love is poured out, there will no longer be weeds again. In this kingdom of love which is a vision as beautiful as the northern woods and eden itself, we will have felt how the healing presence lives in all things and will have removed the labels in a lush wild field that has a river of life flowing through it. The weeds will have become part of the tangle in vision where weed and blueberries live as one.
In this section of Matthew, Jesus is walking through cities wild with oppression in an occupied land where he is witnessing the institutional sins of slavery and poverty that are yoked and the desire for power religiously, politically and socially. He is knee deep in the weeds. He reminds us in story and action that faith offers us surprising reversals and compassion in the unfolding story, where people are astounded by God’s generosity and forgiveness. No tradition was to sacred to be questioned, no authority was too great to be contradicted and no assumption should be left unchallenged. Do not judge, lest you be judged is his call in the 7th chapter of this same gospel.
In those weeds he hears the psalmist’s song this morning, “There is no where to flee from God’s loving presence, whether I take the wings of the morning or dwell in the uttermost part of the sea. He knows the Story of Jacob, that the very ground we wrestle and walk upon is sacred if we listen to our dreams and visions. God is a God of mercy and love Jesus preaches in a thousand different ways to anyone who has ears. It is all part of the truth that love is woven into the fabric of the whole world. His compassion and zeal for the weeds of the world can hardly be contained as he restores health and life There is nothing that we need to condemn and no one we need to leave behind. We cannot forsake those who are mourning and in prison. We cannot abandon anyone who we have deemed a weed, whether it is roman occupiers, lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, a women hemorrhaging, rebels protesting, or a wandering rabbi preaching radical love. All of us get to grow in the field of the kingdom together and we are not to judge. God will sort it out. The weed and wheat remind us to deal honestly with our own motivations. We need to take our inner life as seriously as we do the outer life. I can imagine the hearers of this parable all identify someone else as the weed, they are the sweet blueberries. This parable reminds us that we too are part weed and that It is by God’s grace that we get to live in this field, keep our own weeds in check and continue to nurture the wheat and blueberries that thrive as we untangle our hearts. The Holy Spirit draws the whole creation into unity and speaks through weed, wheat and wild blueberry. We as a faithful people stand in solidarity with them all and see them all as part of a communion we encounter with a holy and life giving creator. Thank God the call is for patience in the field and mercy in our lives. We have more untangling to do to thrive in the kingdom of love.