A sermon preached by Bob Keller on July 17th, 2011 based upon Matthew 13: 24 – 30, 36 – 43.
The scripture that David just read for us is one of the few examples where Jesus takes the time to explain one of his parables. And so many claim to “get it” today.
Did you get it?
Jesus carefully explained it to His disciples, and to us. The people of the day had been waiting for God to establish His kingdom. They grew tired of waiting, of living under the oppressive rule of the Romans. They were poor and had relatively little freedom. When Jesus came, they had hope. Now Jesus wasn’t the first, and certainly wasn’t the only, one to make Messianic claims. But His claims were different. They weren’t what was expected.
The Zealots of the day were expecting a military-type that would undermine the influence and rule of Rome to establish the kingdom.
The Esseenes thought it better to go into the desert and separate themselves from the “bad guys” and live in purity to help usher in the kingdom.
The Pharisees thought that by strict adherence to the law with an organized religion that God would pleasure them with his arrival.
All of them were trying to bring about the kingdom of heaven through their own efforts.
But Jesus wasn’t any of those things. He said that heaven was like a field. Fields in the area were difficult to work. The layer of soil was thin and it really didn’t make any difference if you plowed before or after you scattered the seed. Rainfall was scarce and undependable and that made the harvest, any harvest, that much more precious.
So you can understand the concern that came from the farmer’s hired help when they asked him if he wanted them to get rid of the weeds. As a side note here, many of the newer translations are much easier to read and the word “weeds” is used. However, in the King James version the word Weeds is translated as “tares.” Tares is a word that describes a weed that resembles rye grass and looks a lot like wheat until it’s matured and it’s poisonous if consumed by humans. Why would they even ask their master if he wanted the tares removed? Of course he would.
But Jesus tells a different story. He says to leave the weeds alone. How often is the church today like the farmworkers? We see the weeds and we want to get rid of them.
When I was a child, my family lived in a row house. The only piece of bare ground was a spot in front of the porch right next to the sidewalk. It was about three feet wide and about 12 – 14 feet long. If you didn’t tend it, weeds would quickly take over. My mother or grandmother usually took care of keeping the weeds at bay. Well one year, maybe when I was in second or third grade, our school had a fundraising drive. We were each give a box of Burpee flower seeds to sell. There was quite a variety in the box – everything from alyssum to zinnias – and we sold the packets for a dime a piece.
So I bought a couple of packs of seeds and thought that I could make the little spot of land in front of our front porch look pretty. I took a little garden spade and carefully “plowed” straight rows, placed the seeds the proper distance apart from each other and carefully covered them over with dirt. Then I waited. Waiting for seeds to sprout takes forever when you’re six or seven years old. But soon enough a bit of green started to appear. I kept the plot watered and the tiny sprouts grew larger. And if a sprout of green wasn’t in one of my straight rows, I pulled it out.
As most young boys do, I lost patience and other activities took the place of caring for my little garden. The flowers came up anyway. And did you know that weeds can grow in perfectly straight lines, too? To my surprise, the carefully planted straight lines of flowers had a whole bunch of weeds growing among them! I never pulled those weeds out. In my childhood innocence, I didn’t know the difference between a weed and a flower and it never dawned on me that a weed would have the audacity to grow where I had planted flowers.
But we still want to get rid of the weeds, don’t we? We’re good with other shafts of wheat, but the weeds need to be pulled out now. But how do we determine the weeds? The weeds can certainly look different. Different colors, different languages or accents, and, after we get to know them and find out that they don’t think and believe exactly like we do, they become “weeds.”
Every group or individual that takes upon themselves the mission of bringing in the kingdom of God in this way ends up really warped with an inflated view of self-importance. Ironically, they begin acting in ways that are completely contrary to the kingdom of God.
The Pharisees in passion for a society structured around their spin on scriptures were the ones who plotted Jesus’ death. They were very religious and pious people but they were also the ones behind Stephen’s death.
In Salem the Puritans burned suspected witches — to maintain a pure society. In the Spanish Inquisition people who disagreed with the official teaching of the church were tortured. Husbands have beaten their wives to teach them submission – so they could have model godly families. People have murdered abortionists and blown up abortion clinics. Others have embraced bitterness and cut off all ties with their children because they disagree with some of their lifestyle decisions.
Every time we try to use worldly influence or power or scheming to get God’s work done we end up doing more damage to his kingdom than if we’d just let the weeds grow until harvest time. It’s our desperate attempt to please God by trying to become God.
I threw out pretty much the rest of what I had to say today. Last night, at about 11:30, I got an email from Pastor Jeff. In that email was a link to a blog by a singing artist named Nhojj.
I’d like to read it to you:
I am a homosexual man. It took me a long time to admit this fact to myself, much less proclaim it from the proverbial mountain top. You see I grew up right here in this Dear Land of Guyana, I attended St. Margaret’s Primary School and St. Roses High School, and like everyone one of you, I grew up in a society firmly rooted in Western binary opposition. This complicated sounding term, I discovered, simply allows us to think and speak in opposites: right versus wrong, holy versus sinful, male versus female, however more importantly, it denotes mutual exclusivity: one can‘t be the other. Life viewed solely through these contrasting lens has no grey area, no mixing of apples and oranges, no exotic concoctions – only stiff, archaic paradigms leaning against rival, irreconcilable walls. Hollywood blockbusters often exploit these polarities for our entertainment, but we know instinctively that they do not reflect the full spectrum of our lives. Our reality is never black and white, if it were so, life would be forever simple, but we know life is often complex. There is a truth that resides beneath these perceived dichotomies and there have always been individuals born outside it’s walls, but our society so far has offered silence or a selection of dirty words for coping with them… and who wants to be a dirty word?
It is into this world that I was born, crying I’m sure, as all babies cry. Naturally, as children do, I adopted the stance and beliefs of my community, even when all the pieces did not fit. “Children obey your parents…” the Good Book says, and obey I did – I was as good as any little boy could be, but my good behavior did not save me.
I don’t remember the first time a dirty word was hurled at me, but I do remember how the realization of its meaning shook me to the core. The word attempted to cast me into the hellish world of ‘them’ – the perpetual opposite of ‘us.’ Once that line was drawn in the dirt, the troops could be called in to destroy the newly identified enemy in our midst – the only problem was now that enemy was me! Of course at that age, I couldn’t articulate this, but I understood on a gut level that I was in real danger unless I ran for cover, unfortunately pre-teen battle hideouts aren’t easy to come by, and the guns took aim. The attack began with random teenagers tossing the ugliness from across the street, and thankfully, escalated slowly. I say thankfully, because for many the attack escalates quickly resulting in dire consequences. At any rate, all those dirty little words banded together and generated the desired effect in me – shame, and planted in me, like in so many others, the desire to do a bit of sculpting – to recreate what God had obviously messed up. I think I only succeeded in burying my head in the sand and wasting precious years.
However it would be a mistake to say my youth was all dirty words and hurt feelings – I did have the love of my family, I did well in school, and I had unlimited access to the transcending world of music. I would sing songs (of unknown origin) for hours from our veranda, until my mother gently suggested I sing songs (of known origin) from the pulpit. I sang these latter songs all the way through elementary school, high school, and college.
It wasn’t until I was studying Economics at New York University that I began to lift my head out of the sand. It started with informative words concerning free counseling sessions at school. There were many therapy groups to choose from and like a drowning man gasping for air, I enrolled in as many as I could. I remember one exceptionally helpful group that required us to share our life story – particularly the details we usually hide from the others. That was the first time I admitted – I am a homosexual man. It was the most difficult thing I had done, mainly because I had internalized all those dirty words I’d heard growing up. I had given those words power to erode and damage my spirit, and the results weren’t any less disastrous than if I’d cut off my own arm or leg, and left the wound unattended. But thank God, that little group planted a seed in me – I didn‘t have to be dirty words for the rest of my life, I could define myself for myself using whatever words that best suited me. That began my 10 year quest for encouraging words, supportive words, informed words, accepting words, and yes loving words.
Music played an important role during that time. By writing I was able to transform much of my pain and confusion into beautiful notes others could enjoy. This is the power of art: to transmute our human experience into articles of beauty, beauty is truth and truth sets us all free. I wrote and recorded, and over time healed my spirit and helped others to heal. The next step was obvious – tackle my homosexuality in my music. It was scary at first, like admitting “I am a homosexual man” all over again, only without the safety net of a supportive group, but that’s when my career really took off.
The dilemma, I realize now, with viewing life solely through contrasting lens is our tendency to promote one side to goodness and demote its opposite to evil, instead of realizing both sides, like yin and yang, exist because of each other – it’s a philosophy of balance, one hand compliments the other. More importantly though, it overlooks a fundamental truth – the opposites coexist in all of us. We all do “right” and “wrong” from time to time… we all have moments of holiness, and then… well… you know… and we all have active male and female elements dancing around inside us. If we realized this, we wouldn’t be so quick to caste those we perceive as different (our opposites) into darkness, because we would realize that difference is only an illusion. We are our opposites – the limitations we force around the necks of others are the limitations that eventually hang us, the hate we hurl at others is the hate that falls like a avalanche upon our heads. Thankfully the opposite is also true – the acceptance we allow others is the acceptance we grant ourselves, and the love we give to others is the love that makes our beds at night. Our world is a brilliant spectacle of splendid extremes linked by a continuum of subtle variety. I choose to see this and accept this, and like many others, I choose to believe God created me just as I am.
It is with this belief firmly planted within my soul that I proclaim from the proverbial mountain top – I am a homosexual man. I proclaim it in the songs I compose, in the music videos I produce, and in the blog posts I write. I proclaim it for all who can’t yet proclaim it. I proclaim it because it is a part of who I am and like being a man, being black, and being Guyanese, it is something to celebrate and be proud of. Celebrations by their very nature involve the opening of doors and the welcoming in of others. Celebrations are a times of happiness because they remind us that my joy is your joy and my love is your love. Bob Marley spoke the truth when he sang “One Love… One heart… Lets get together and feel alright…“ Love is a real force in this world.
Throughout history, naysayers (were abundant.) They said the world was flat, they said God sanctioned the slavery of black men and women, they said science was the work of the devil. Sound familiar? Let those with ears hear.
If we’re honest with ourselves, aren’t we guilty of trying to play God and do Him a favor by getting rid of all of the weeds? There are some that we think are really bad people and some that we think are really good people. Yet even those that we think of as really bad likely have someone that thinks they are good and those that we think of as really good have those that won’t give them the time of day.
Some think that the church, and society – our culture, would be a better place if we got rid of the conservatives, or the liberals. If we got rid of the poor people or the disabled among us. If we could only get rid of the homosexuals or the pro-choice people. Or the people of color or the immigrants.
In addition, that doesn’t even begin to include those that we look at and rush to a snap judgment. All too often, we will take one look at someone and immediately decide if they are good or bad.
Here is an example. A seminar leader recently showed a class of government workers a series of pictures. The pictures began with a view of a person’s face, and then broadened the view to reveal the person’s entire body. It was only when the entire picture was seen that the class could make anything approaching an accurate judgment.
The first picture showed the face of a grizzled man, scowling and straining. He looked to be a member of a motorcycle gang, perhaps gripping the handlebars of a chopper. But when the entire picture was revealed, it became clear that he was a maker of customized wheelchairs for the handicapped, and he was pushing one of his creations.
Picture two showed the face of a lovely woman with a beautiful smile. She appeared to be a flight attendant or a hostess at an upscale restaurant. But when the view was expanded, what the class saw was an exotic dancer, ready to do a pole dance in a sleazy nightclub.
Way too much of the time, we don’t see the whole picture and rush to make judgments, to pull the weeds. We need to stop and pull back and take a longer look at the situation.
What Jesus is saying is, let it go. I’ll take care of things. And be careful. There may be some over-zealous gardener out there that can mistake me, or even you, for a weed.