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Be Ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only

Pentecost 10 – Year A

From Paul’s letter to the Romans: “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

The parable of the wheat and weeds is one of my personal favorites because its meaning has offered me great freedom. Freedom from pent up frustration, resentment, hatred in my heart, and the kind of anger that will rot one’s soul. The story Jesus tells is that the field is almost ready for harvest, but it’s far from perfect. What should be a bountiful crop of wheat is marred by intruding, kudzu-like weeds. But until the harvest, when there will be a drastic sorting out, weeds and wheat must be left to grow together. If the wheat flourishes so too do the useless, choking weeds. Jesus painfully reminds us that we must wait for God’s time of decision, the irrevocable sorting out that comes at the end.
This parable usually invokes the question: Should we actively seek to destroy who or what we perceive to be the “weeds,” the evil and evildoers of this world? Well, the Master is not removing the weeds and he is not allowing his servants to either. As disconcerting as it is, evil people have as much a right to their choices as we have to ours, and punishing them, executing them, wiping them from the face of the earth, isn’t going to change that fact. This is where I find freedom and relief. This parable tells me to surrender the bitterness I may harbor towards people who I think are bad, criminal or evil because God will ultimately sort them out—on judgment day. The person who comes to mind most recently is Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s sham president. This man has run his country into the ground and condoned unspeakable crimes against his own people. This parable frees me from secretly plotting his destruction or wishing the C.I.A. would do what it used to do with people so flagrantly menacing and corrupt. God knows the score. Mugabe will have his reckoning. It may not be on my time; it will be on God’s time. This is the hard part…waiting for a verdict I will never hear.
I trust God, and find freedom in that trust. The patience of this kind of trust requires belief that evil and injustice will somehow be reckoned with, creation will no longer groan. This is Paul’s hope—the assurance that the sufferings of the children of God will be set free from their bondage to decay and released into the freedom of God’s glory. Our hope in Christ is unsettling, and it probably will not pacify us, because it is hope unseen, hope unrealized in our minds, but hope all the same, and as Paul said, the only means of our salvation. (Romans 8: 19-20).
The parable of the wheat and weeds also frees us from convicting an innocent or yanking up a weed prematurely that would have no time to repent and evolve into a stalk of wheat. Jesus’ words actually serve as a way to save us from ourselves. Our nature is often quick to dismiss and discard. We want to remove the obstacles in our way, get rid of, or avoid people who disagree with us. We want to make life as simple, as easy, and as non-confrontational as possible. Unfortunately, many people throughout history have taken it upon themselves to choose who belongs in the field and who should be weeded out. One of the hidden lessons in our parable today is the fact that at first, it is hard to tell the difference between what is actually wheat from weed. The enemy sowed seeds of weeds long before the servants became aware of their presence. This is because the Greek word we translate as “weed” has a more specific name. It is, in fact, a specific type of plant called Bearded Darnel and in the early stages of its growth it is indistinguishable from wheat. What’s more, this camouflaged weed is only recognized for what it really is after its roots have become inextricably entangled with those of the wheat. To yank one means to yank the other. To pull the predator weed without damaging the good wheat is nearly impossible. So you see, Jesus is saying that no potential for wheat is to be sacrificed—the gardeners are to leave them to the reapers.
Another of the important lessons for us today is to recognize that it is not our place to judge others. This often leads to labeling, stereotyping, and misguided generalizations. It is also overly simplistic and ignorant to categorize any person as a weed or a stalk of wheat. Very few people are simply “good” or unabashedly “evil.” If God were to rip out all of the evil in the world he would rip us out right along with it. Frankly I’m not sure how one defines “good” anyway. And is being just good, good enough to get into heaven? And how bad does one have to be to be condemned to the fiery furnace of hell? The psychologist Carl Jung explored the unconscious shadow that lives within each of our souls. There is no doubt we all have a shadow side, and it is for this reason that our task is not to judge how others should live their lives for that is between them and their God.

I received a somewhat surprising phone call the day before I left for vacation a few weeks ago. It was from a woman who lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the same woman who was a bridesmaid at a wedding I officiated the weekend before. I was taken aback by her call because I mistakenly assumed that anything Biblical or religious I preached about in my wedding homily was of little interest to any of the young and beautiful wedding party. The woman on the other line prefaced our conversation with these words, “Please know that I am not making a judgment or judging her, I am just worried about her salvation.”

Here is the back story: The bride’s mother was tragically dying of cancer and everyone who attended the wedding knew that she was holding on to life just to witness her daughter’s marriage. The caller said that she loved the bride’s mother very much but was worried about her commitment to Jesus Christ. She went on to tell me that she knew that this woman was raised a Christian, but she was uncertain as to her acceptance of Christ as an adult. She said to me, “Dana, just being a ‘good’ person is not enough to get you into heaven.” As I am listening to her I formed my second incorrect assumption—that the woman on the telephone was another off-putting evangelical from the James Dobson’s Colorado Springs. But then I really started to listen to her; the tone of her voice was not judgmental or condescending but sincere and compassionate. I responded by saying that I knew for certain that this dying woman would walk right into the arms of God for she and I had had that very conversation about her love of Christ and her contentment with the way she had lived her life. She had no regrets. I then asked the bridesmaid what it was about the bride’s mother that she loved so much and she explained that she emanated love—that she was a conduit for positive energy and unceasing generosity. I then asked her, “Who do you think is the source of this love? Who is sustaining her positive attitude in the face of death? Who has relinquished her fear? It was then that she got it. Through her tears she answered, “Jesus. Her love is from God.”

So friends, rather than be preoccupied with who deserves to get yanked out of a field of weeds or who gets to thrive among the wheat it is important to remember that we live in communion with everyone on this planet so God’s goodness and love needs to begin and emanate from us. Think of every touch, every handshake, every email, every telephone call, as passing on God’s beam of healing love and acceptance. The hope and salvation of humanity can emanate from within each of us if we allow Christ to dwell there. This is what will define our goodness. And then think of every temptation, evil action, or difficult person you come across as an opportunity to rise above rather than respond in kind. It is not our place to judge, seek vengeance, or condemn, but to love, forgive and seek peace. The enemy may sows weeds in our field of wheat, but imagine the difference in the world if we made more of an effort to sow wheat in his field of weeds.

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