I did some baking yesterday. It involved this:
I haven’t gotten a good finished product photo yet, so the recipe isn’t ready to post yet. But I promise, the recipe for both the cake and the frosting will be up later today when I muster up some energy!
In the meantime, here’s today’s sermon – more parables! (Audio is here)
Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43
On Faith And Weeding
So last week we looked at the Parable of the Sower and we talked about sowing seeds of faith. We talked about what it means to sow seeds of faith in our own lives, in our community and right here at this church. We talked about how difficult it can be at times and how frustrating it can be to watch a disappointing crop falter as you are trying everything you know how to do in order to grow your seeds to harvest.
I closed last week’s sermon by saying the following:
We cannot control the rain that will fall, the sun that will shine or even the pesky little rabbits that will find their way through the fence and nibble away at our lettuce. We do the best that we can, we plant where and when we should, we water when the soil seems dry and we weed when we think the roots need room to grow.
We weed when we think the roots need room to grow.
Monday morning I took a look at the lectionary texts for this week and had to laugh when I saw the Gospel reading – The Parable Of The Weeds Among The Wheat. I wondered if choosing this text to preach on would be overkill in the parable department – but then realized that it would be a wonderful follow-up to what we thought about last week about sowing seeds of faith. Because when you sow seeds – seeds of agriculture and seeds of faith – you will (you will!) face weeds.
Let’s talk about parables in general for a second. Parables are tough because when you talk about them you are essentially speaking in metaphor. And sometimes I feel as though you get to a point where you are so caught up in the metaphor that you have completely lost sight of what you are actually talk about. For example – there could have been a point during last week’s sermon where you wondered if were really talking about church communities or we were actually just talking about my vegetable garden.
So since I made you sit through a sermon given almost entirely in metaphor last week, I thought I would take a different approach to the parable presented to us this week. I have three points to make about The Parable of Weeds among the Wheat and I am going to make those points by going back and forth the metaphorical parabolic language and real life.
So Jesus put before the people another parable. ‘Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well.”’
Here is what Jesus is saying in the parabolic world: So we have all had this happen to us. We spend an entire day planting seeds and plants, go to sleep proud of all of our hard work and how beautiful our gardens look and wake up the next morning only to find a handful of weeds popping up. And very quickly those weeds start to wreak havoc on the entire garden.
And here is what that means in our world: We can spend days, weeks, months and even years trying to grow a community. We can do everything “right” and one “weed” – one conflict, one negative person, one tragedy – can pop and very quickly start to wreak havoc on the entire church community. It doesn’t take much to bring a community down.
Do you all know that game Jenga? In this game, you build up a structure piece by piece and then try to pull the logs out from the bottom. Eventually the removal of one log brings down the entire structure.
One log – one weed – one conflict, one negative person or one tragedy → this is all it takes to bring down a church community.
The parable continues: ‘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?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.”’
Now this is where the line between metaphor and reality start to blur a little bit, because I do not think that anyone has ever thought of the weeds in our garden as “evil” – we just think they are annoying and part of life.
But in our world, in the world that Jesus was speaking to, the “evil” is the root of the conflict that will bring down a community.
Now personally, this it point where I am a little confused – because I am not sure if the “evil” that Jesus is referring to is an evil person or the devil. But – I do not think the “who” is the point of this parable.
And here is my point #1 about this parable: We need to stop focusing on where the weeds are coming from and start focusing on how to nurture the plants that are in the ground to help them grow. The weeds will come, that is a given – but it is what we do after they come that will determine how well the garden will grow.
In our world, we need to stop focusing on who and what we think the evil is in our church community and start focusing on nurturing our church community. There will be conflict in churches. You cannot avoid it. In churches, you are putting together a diverse group of passionate individuals – you are bound to not always agree and conflict is bound to arise.
But the transformation comes not from finding out who was to blame back then – but from nurturing the community from where we are right now.
Point #1 – There comes a point where we need to stop focusing on where the conflict came from in the past and start focusing on how to nurture the community towards the future.
Here is my second point – and bear with me while I head back into the parabolic world: Dealing with weeds doesn’t end with the weeding itself.
About two weeks ago, Bruce weeded around our lettuce and subsequently loosened the ground around the plants. By loosening the ground, he rid the lettuce of the weeds that were preventing their growth, but by loosening the ground he also got rid of some of its support system. And because of that, when a harsh rain came through the next day, all of our lettuce plants completely fell over. And it stayed that way and attempted to grow out from its pile on the ground. And they haven’t done that well since then.
Essentially we cleared the weeds away so that the lettuce would have room to grow. But we left the lettuce without a support system, which created a whole new set of problems.
When we rid the lettuce of the weeds around it, we needed to build a support system to hold it up as it grew without the weeds around it.
Back to the real world: If there is a conflict in a church community and that conflict – or the person that may have been causing the conflict – is removed, the work does not end there. In fact, the work only begins there. There needs to be an intentional effort to build a strong support system and network for the fragile community that is left behind.
We are in the middle of “A New Beginning” here at Rehoboth Congregational Church. And I am sure that I am starting to sound like a broken record when I keep referring to the new beginning from behind the pulpit, in meetings and in my epistle letters. But I continue to do so because we are at the stage where the weeds have been pulled and the soil around us has been loosened. We are in a fragile state.
We are trying to re-build programs that have fallen to the wayside, we are trying to be good stewards of our finances and we are trying to move forward. We – as a church community – need to make sure that we are finding ways to support one another. We need to be intentional about supporting our leaders and communicating with one another as we support one another. We need to be open to thinking about new ideas and new approaches to old ideas.
Do not underestimate the residual effects of all that has gone on in this church over the past couple of years. The weeds may been pulled around us and we may be watering the community with a fresh batch of new beginning, but we need to realize that our work is not over. In fact, it is only beginning. We need to support each other.
My final point doesn’t come from the parable at all (but I’m sure Jesus was thinking it, it just never made it to print): Have fun! Let’s face it – you do not have to come to church to be a Christian. But you do – you all do. And you come to this church. And you support this church and you care about this church. And there are plenty of other things to be doing on a Sunday morning, so if it’s not fun, what’s the point?
The parables are not meant to scare you – they are meant to give you something to think about. They are meant to describe this imperfect life that we are living in. And they are meant to give you some food for thought on how to find balance in it all.
Yes, there will be conflict in the church. And yes, that conflict will have to be dealt with. But my final charge to you today is to have fun and to not let yourself be brought down. Because being part of a church and growing that community to its fullest potential should be fun and completely full of grace.
On Thursday afternoon, I was sitting in the sanctuary for some time of prayer and meditation. I was staring at the cross and thinking about some of my friends who are facing illness and tragedies in their families and also the friends of this community who are facing illness and tragedies and was led to open a bible. And the bible fell open to Psalm 146, “Praise For God’s Help”. I read it out loud and it touched me in that moment. And as I was preparing my sermon for this morning, I realized how relevant this psalm was. Because in then end – no matter why we are weak, no matter where the conflict we are dealing with is coming from, no matter what the tragedy or hardship is that we face – God is with us, always.
I think it is a good reminder to us as we move forward as a community that we need to let God in. So I would like to share that psalm with you this morning:
Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I love; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith for ever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
The Lord will reign for ever, your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord!