Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Comedian Doug Larson once said, “A weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows.” In fact, there is a basic gardening rule that one should honor: When weeding, the best way to make sure you are removing a weed and not a valuable plant is to pull on it. If it comes out of the ground easily, it is a valuable plant. So it should be no surprise, that Jesus himself after telling the colorful and wistful story of the reckless farmer casting precious seeds unto the wind, would turn to the farmer’s natural enemy- weeds.
Now, if you think gardening is all about planting pretty shrubs and flowers, I have some depressing news. Gardening is really about pulling weeds. Think about it. How much time do you think the average gardener spends planting? And then how much time do you think they spend pulling, spraying, and cursing weeds? Artificial flowers and Astroturf cause less stress and swearing than a natural green lawn in Minnesota. As I see it, gardening is really 15 percent planting; 20 percent watering, and 75 percent fighting weeds. Ok, I know my math is not great. You know, four out of three people have difficulties with fractions. Weeds are every farmer’s natural enemy.
Of course, Jesus’ parable isn’t simply about gardening and farming. The parable is really about life. A good life, Jesus teaches us, begins with good seed, wonderful dreams and hopes, and some thoughtful planting. With a prayer, and the right balance of sunshine and rain, and a bit of healthy soil, the seed germinates and life begins to take off. This is the beginning of Good Christian Growth. But that’s also when the real work begins. The farmer in Jesus’ parable, you see, knew that weeding would be a part of his daily chores and he was prepared for that task.
Every one of us should expect this as well. Indeed, you might say that the battle of every faithful Christian is tending to the weeds in life, in our relationship with those we love, with ourselves, and even in tending to our relationship with God. There will be tasks that are not glamorous, but they will need to be done. Indeed, they need to be done for our lives to be productive and bountiful. They need to be done if there is to be continued good Christian growth. There will, however, be natural enemies that hinder us along the ways- like adolescent children and aging.
But then Jesus weaves into his parable an ominous figure and agricultural sabotage. After the farmer had planted his field with wheat, later that dark night when every one was asleep, the farmer’s nasty neighbor came and planted weeds. How painful it must have been, and how deceitful an act, for the farmer’s adversary to have sown weeds into his field -to destroy it.
And what happened then? The weeds and the wheat grew up together. Weeks passed before the hired servants noticed something was wrong and asked the owner: “Did you use only good seed in your field?” “Yes, I did.” “Well, weeds and wheat are growing together. It’s time for Roundup.” I tried it once, Rounduup, on the Creeping Charlie that was invading my lawn. I was confident that one broad spraying of Roundup, and I would terminate that the threat of my neighbor’s persistent and pesky Creeping Charlie. It was effective- in killing every living thing.
In spite of this possibility, the servants stood in front of the farmer, like cowboys at the OK Coral, armed with trigger handled bottles of Roundup in their holsters, “Do you want us to go into the field and spray the Roundup right now? We can tell the difference between the bad weeds and good wheat? You can hear the movie soundtrack of the “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” playing in the background. “Do you want us to get rid of the bad weeds, to pull them up out of the field.” And then came Jesus’ surprise answer. “No, no, no” was the owner’s reply. “Let the weeds and wheat grow together. If you pull up the weeds, you will end up pulling up the wheat as well. Let them grow together until the harvest time; then the harvesters will come in and cut the field. They will first gather in the weeds, bind it up into bundles, and burn it. Then they will gather up the wheat and bring it to my storeroom.”
Now what lessons can be drawn from such a parable? Over the centuries theologians and preachers have heard different words of pastoral advice. Let me such suggest three common teachings. First, Be vigilant; Second, Be cautious, and Third, Be patient.
The early Church Father, St. Chrysostom instructed his generation to be vigilant and watchful. He noted in Jesus parable that the enemy came to sow the weeds into the field when the farmer’s household was asleep. No farmer can ever truly “kick back,” and let whatever happen in their field-happen. They must always keep a watchful, vigilant eye. The same is true for you and your life. You need to be vigilant in the lives of your children; you need to be aware of the health concerns of your parents, and you need to be aware of the visits of midnight strangers to your home. Or perhaps, your own midnight visits to the other’s homes. There are temptations in this world, and the evil one is always lingering not so far away. In the early stages, we can’t recognize the good wheat from the weeds. The same is true of the troubles in life. It’s only afterward, when the grain appears, that we can recognize the problem. And then, often, we can’t do anything to change the situation. My friends, be vigilant and watchful.
The reformer Martin Luther encouraged Christian men and women who were struggling with weeds to be cautious and to trust that Christ always prevails. The devil, he underscored, never has the ultimate upper hand. There is, however, a tendency among faithful Christians to over react to the trials and potential temptations they face. Like the servants with their holsters filled with Roundup, they are ready to remove any weed or anything that might threaten the harvest. It is not new development, for the early church it was to burn the heretics; for the scholastics, it was to condemn the pietists, for the liberals, it was to criticize the conservatives, for the Scandinavians, it was turn away from German-drinking Lutherans. Yes, in every age, there are people who are so pious, so prayerful and so pure that you can actually see them from a distance- glowing. Such people inevitably make you feel….irreligious, guilty and not very good inside.
The parable warns us, to be cautious. Do not try to weed out the sinners from the community. God alone knows what is underneath the sheen and shine of your life. Your actions, though well intentioned, may do greater harm than good. Ultimately, you must trust that devil’s promises are empty and will simply be gathered into bundles and burned on the last day. Instead, let all who are gathered experience the joy and promise of God’s word today. Christ will triumph.
Finally, throughout the ages, theologians and preachers have challenged faithful Christians who are struggling with fields of wheat and weeds to be patient. Perhaps that is what is happening to you and your life. Of course, the man who had sown the good seed in his field was concerned about his wheat. He was bothered by an enemy who would plot against him. He was annoyed by the inconvenience that the weeds had caused. But he also knew that he could live with it. He knew what he had planted, and it was good seed. It was going to bring a bountiful harvest. He didn’t need to act. With patience, he could still enjoy a wonderful harvest. As for the weeds, they could provide wonderful tinder for a fire on a cold winter’s night.
I don’t know what weeds have infested your field, or what sorrows have caused you grief. I don’t what enemy or illness has caused you sleepless nights and tears, but let me assure you, where God has sown good seed, he will bring about a bountiful harvest- one day, but you must work at patience. Perhaps, the treatments simply aren’t having any effect. The classes are helping me a find a job. The interviews aren’t bringing any results. Perhaps you have to be more patient with your children, your parents, your spouse, your friend, or your co-worker. Perhaps, you need more time for growth and encouragement, more love and support. Or perhaps, you yourself need the word of forgiveness and strength. Be patient and remember, where God has sown good seed, he will bring about a bountiful harvest.
The Parable of the Weeds and Wheat encourages us to be vigilant and cautious, but it also reminds if Good Christian Growth is to occur, we must be patient. Over my father-in-law’s fireplace there is a carved wooden sign. It is a word from the prophet Jeremiah. In the moments when it seems that the enemy’s weeds are getting the best of my time and energy, and true growth will never be experienced, it is the word of God that offers hope and assurance. The prophet Jeremiah writes, “For surely I know the plans I have made for you, says the Lord, planned for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” My friends, where God has sown good seed, he will bring about a bountiful harvest.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep you hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.