Sermon: The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 11A, July 23, 2017, The Rev. Randall Hehr
Lord of all hopefulness, Lord of all joy, whose trust ever childlike, no cares could destroy, be there at our waking, and give us we pray, your bliss in our hearts Lord, at the break of the day. (Hymnal 1982, #482)
I was just a teenager when my grandfather in Pennsylvania enlisted me in the war against weeds. My family spent time on the farm every summer, and this particular year he told me it was time I learned to cultivate the corn. After a few test runs on the International Harvester, he left me alone to cover the rest of the field. I was amazed that he trusted me to care for his crops. And where was he while I was cultivating? He was fighting weeds with a hoe among the vegetables and potatoes.
That is my earliest image of my grandfather. I see him standing in the hot summer sun all day long fighting the weeds. And there was something about those long straight rows of corn that spoke to me about an orderly world. A world in which all things had their place. But you don’t have to be on the farm very long to realize life is also messy, especially if there are livestock and pigs and chickens.
The parable we read today from the Gospel of Matthew (13:24-30, 36-43) tells us about living in a world that is both orderly and messy, both good and bad. This parable is about the weeds and the wheat. It is about a world that contains both good and evil. It is about the decisions we make every day while living in such a world. We live in an age when so many want quick answers. We live in an age when Christians often pull one passage of scripture to provide answers to complex questions. And the parable teaches us about careful discernment in a complex world, a world of both wheat and weeds.
If you pay attention to creation, you realize the weeds are there all the time. No matter what you do to try to eradicate them, they are going to come back. They are part of creation. The parable goes a step further, adding an insidious element to the circumstances of the story. When asked about the presence of weeds among his wheat, the householder is clear: “an enemy as done this.” But when the workers want to move quickly to eliminate the weeds, the householder tells them, “Let both of them grow together until the harvest.” For at that time, when the plants have grown to maturity, it will be easier to judge the difference between the two. The reapers will gather the weeds first in bundles to be burned, and then gather the wheat into the barn.
As I listen to the householder, I perceive a person of wisdom: someone who is able to hold two very different realities side by side. And the word that comes to me as I imagine holding two strongly contrasting realities is patience. So many times in our culture people want to eliminate the tension inherent when two contrasting realties are viewed. They want to resolve that tension rather than live with it, wonder about it, even research and explore more about those two contrasting ideas. How do we practice such patience in a world that can be so impatient? How do we live with good and bad existing side by side?
I think of the people who teach me about this. It is the person who is living with the diagnosis of cancer. They are following the medical lead to attack the cancer cells through different therapies or surgery. They live with cancer and yet they do not let cancer define them. They see a greater purpose to their life and follow the goals and ideals found in God. They keep their eyes and ears on these goals.
At this moment I am thinking about Terry Hershey’s book entitled, The Power of Pause. Terry is a good friend of Holy Trinity, and he has been here many times. He writes about the power to pay attention to God, taking time in our days for God. He speaks about the power to be centered and focused on the holiness of life. He talks about the power to listen, to pause and tune into others and hear them, to open our eyes and our ears to the presence of God in our midst.
Such practices help us keep patience in an impatient world, a world quick to dismiss or negate. I drive many miles each day all around Tampa Bay, and I am very mindful how rude and reckless people can be in traffic. They cut in and out of traffic, thinking only of themselves. Come to an intersection where cars are stopped and we might expect a barrage of car horns blasting in protest. Notice that on occasion there may be one motorist waving others into his lane. He or she pauses to wait and to watch, allowing others to enter first. One patient person can have a profound impact on a particular environment.
Let’s put our focus on the householder in the parable. His perspective leads him to allow the weeds and wheat to grow together until they are mature. Often the weeds in an earlier stage of growth look just like the wheat. By allowing maturity to take place, the householder better ensures that the valued wheat can be harvested. Let the good and the bad exist side by side. Discernment is practiced with patience. One discerns by listening and observing, staying open, asking questions, probing and evaluating.
I think of the quote of Rainer Maria Rilke: “Be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves…”