Sunday, July 20, 2014

20 July 2014 -- Proper 11

6th after Pentecost / Proper 11 — 20 July 2014
St. Paul’s, Durant – 9:00 am

RCL1:  Gen 28:10-19a  |  Ps 139:1-12,23-24  |  Rom 8:12-25  |  Matt 13:24-30,26-43

Let both of them grow together until the harvest. [Matt 24:30]
The whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now. [Romans 8:22]

I have never really been much of a gardener.  Oh, at various times I’ve grown some vegetables — tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, corn when I had room for it.  But it hasn’t really been “my thing.”  And in our present house, the shade trees in the back yard have made growing tomatoes virtually impossible.  Wendy is a bit more of a flower gardener, which she does very well.  Especially hostas, which love all the shade!  But I have found that, after many years of living in rectories, and then in rental housing, since we have ad our own houses I have a somewhat different attitude toward lawn and garden issues.  This ground is now mine!  And I take the presence of weeds as a personal insult.

Some weeds are pretty obvious.  In the lawn, for instance, dandelions show up pretty readily, and are relatively easily controlled, and so far I have been generally victorious in this battle.  Crabgrass is also fairly obvious but less easily controlled, and by the end of the summer the war is something of a stalemate.  Creeping charlie is always kind of a tossup, though I have made some progress.

Garden weeds are something else, especially in the spring if you are planting from seed.  It takes a while before you can be sure whether these little green sprouts are what you planted, or what The Enemy planted!  And so you have to exercise a bit of care.

What you don’t do, whether you’re growing flowers, or vegetables, or a field crop like wheat or corn, is let the weeds grow up with the crop until the harvest.  One, it makes the flowerbed look all ratty, and although aesthetics is not exactly the point of farming, there is something really lovely about an absolutely clean field of soybeans, and something tacky about a beanfield full of scraggly volunteer cornstalks and pigweed.  Two, and more important, weeds draw away moisture and nutrients that should be going to the crop.  (I see that herbicide-resistance is now bringing back the annual summer teenage task of walking beans!)

All of this was just as much true in the first century as it is today, and a Galilean farmer hearing Jesus tell this story that we call the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds (or the Wheat and the Tares, though most of us wouldn’t recognize a tare if it grew in the middle of our geranium pot.  Actually, “tares” are probably darnel, a weed that looks a lot like young wheat) — a Galilean farmer hearing this story would have said, “Whattayou crazy?  You're a carpenter, obviously not a farmer!”  I think this is one of those stories that Jesus tells that we have “scripturalized” and tamed so that it no longer occurs to us how much it really runs counter to common sense.  Even the earliest Christians had trouble with this — if the consensus of New Testament scholars is right, and in this instance I think it is, the second half of today’s Gospel reading, in which Jesus is depicted as “explaining” the parable, is actually an addition by the church a generation or so later, who felt a need to come up with some plausible religious interpretation of what is actually a very difficult and troubling story.  (A lot of us think that Jesus never “explained” his parables.  Either we get them, or not.  Often not.)

And so we read this story as an allegory of the last judgment.  Well, I don’t think that’s wrong — part of the point of parables is to suggest a variety of interpretations — but I think that what the story is really about is (what we call) the problem of evil.  And what it says is not really what we want to hear.

We naturally and understandably assume that God is a God who fixes things for us.  (And there is a sense in which that’s true, though what God fixes is not so much “things” but us, if we will let God’s grace work in us.)  But I think that Jesus is suggesting to us in this story that God is not a “fix-it” kind of God.  At least not always right now.  Ultimately, all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well (as the Lady Julian says).  But in the meantime God lets the weeds grow.  And furthermore, God has to let the weeds grow for our sake.  Pulling the weeds up now would destroy us too.  But I’ll come back to that in a minute.

(When I say God has to do something, of course I don’t mean that there are any external constraints that can compel God to do a thing or prevent God from doing another thing.  God is, after all, God!  But God is who God is, as God told Moses at the burning bush, and in that sense God cannot contravene God’s own nature.  God must be true to God’s own self.  And in relation to us, God’s creation, God must act consistently with the purpose and destiny of the creation.  I’ll come back and pick this up again too the next time around.)

We need to approach this issue with some care.  There are a lot of people out there, and maybe some of you in here, who have been hurt very badly in one way or another — themselves, or people they love — and they asked God to fix it, and God didn’t fix it, at least not the way they wanted, and so they are dealing with pain, or anger, or despair, or all three, and that’s all very real.  And it simply won’t do for us to say, “Well, that’s how the world is, that’s how God is, suck it up.”

Because that’s not what God says to us.  God says, “My grace is sufficient for you [2 Cor 12:9], if you will receive it and let it change you, let it change your life, and thus change your world.  I cannot just pull up the weeds for you.  But I can do this — I will do this — I have done this:  I will come and be with you, and I will bear on myself all that the world’s weeds can do, and I will live, and in the end I will gather you to me at harvest-home.”  And that is how we in God’s Name must be with those who hurt.  Not everything can be fixed, but we can be there to share the hurt.

Here’s the hard truth:  the necessary condition of the possibility of freedom is the possibility of evil.  In order for love to be possible, hatred must be permitted.  God could have created a universe of robots in which everything is precisely programmed.  And maybe in some alternate universe God did so.  But that’s not the universe we have been given to live in.  God created us in the divine image and likeness, to share in the work of building the world, to share with one another the love of God for us and to freely return in that love to God.  God does not make us grow, God lets us grow.

And the corollary is that God has to let the weeds grow too, else we would no longer be free, we could not be what God created us to be.  If God pulls the weeds, it destroys us as well.  So the weeds have to be allowed to grow too. 

But only for a time.  Not forever.

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