The sermon for Sunday 23rd July was delivered by James Badger who discussed the messages and imagery presented to us in the parable of the wheat and the weeds.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations or all our hearts be pleasing to you, our God. Amen.
Our gospel reading this week takes up where last week’s left off. Jesus has begun his ministry and Matthew includes a succession of five parables. Today we read of the second, a farming theme like the first but instead of God being the seed and we the ground, this parable speaks of us all as seed growing into good crop.
And the message of the gospel, at least for me during my first reading during my preparations, makes me a little uncomfortable…
It seemed to me this gospel reading was all about how, living amongst us would be ‘weeds,’ people who had been sent by ‘the enemy’ or satan whose sole purpose in life is to be a nuisance or weaken our chance of success.
Although we are starting to understand the benefits of weeds and their roles in complex and self-supporting ecosystems, I think it is pretty clear from the reading that weeds are just bad in the parable.
Now this does not sit easily with me! I am fully committed and believe in a God who loves us all and that whenever I see another person, I am seeing a reflection of the divine. Definitely a tension there with this idea that some people are ‘weeds’ rather than ‘good crop.’
I wonder whether you had the same reaction to this reading, or whether you’ve had the same disquiet at other readings, I definitely have!
So, this reading needed a little more unpacking, and some wider research for me to find a meaning which I could resonate with. I assumed, and assumption ended up being validated, that the message of the parable, was not just that there were people who were good, and people who were bad.
Where I think Jesus is being radical is in the idea of leaving judgement to God. The rest of the parable is just imagery to help make the point. For the crowds listening to Jesus telling the story, having clearly defined groups of good and bad people, made clean or unclean through ritual and rules of life, would have been natural and a foundational aspect of society.
Where Jesus is showing them a different way of thinking or living, is in the exhortation not to judge, punish, or disassociate from those they deemed as ‘unclean’ or ‘weeds’ in their lives. For groups of people for whom the law and rituals for righteous living were the guides to salvation, where it was thought that hanging out with the wrong crowd would lead them to hell rather than heaven, this was pretty darn radical.
Although we don’t follow the same system of clean living, it is still easy for us to become insular groups, growing smaller and smaller as the bar of acceptance grows ever higher. We’ve seen it throughout history, in the schisms of the historic church and, more recently, our increasingly polarised politics.
The challenge of this reading is, how do we, today, ensure we look outwards to who we live alongside and associate with.
How do we individually and collectively walk alongside those who we perceive as ‘the other’ and in this reading in particular, the people we find really difficult, whilst ensuring our interactions, places, and activities are inclusive, safe, and loving.
Alongside this challenge is an affirmation. Verses 41 and 43 speak of the future, a future where there is no sin and the righteous shine like the sun in the kingdom of their father. Something to look forward to!
This is a theme picked up in our reading from Romans, Paul writes that he ‘considers that the sufferings of this present are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.’ Although Paul was expecting the imminent arrival of this glory, it is no less of an encouragement for us today. Creation waits with eager longing for us to be reconciled with God.
We hold the hope and expectation that, in the end, there is life after death, light in darkness, mercy and joy within the pain and suffering of the world. This reading speaks to that message and reminds us of God’s promise.
But in between now and then, there is pain. Creation has been groaning in labour pains until now. And I don’t think that she has been groaning quite so loudly ever before.
June has been the hottest month in the world ever, the BBC reported this week that three other climate records (not good ones) have been broken, and the Climate Change Committee, the UK panel of experts who advise the government on its environmental policy, have reported the UK is set to miss the goals it made in the 2016 Paris Accords.
Not a particularly pleasant picture, I would like to suggest that, while I find it difficult to believe there are ‘human weeds’ placed to frustrate us, I do believe we have structural and systemic weeds in our societies across the globe. The collective inaction of governments and corporations to invest and support a transition to net-zero and sustainable economies/societies/communities is a weed.
And although God will be the final judge, we are called in Micah to ‘act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.’ We are called to show the love, peace, and mercy of God to all around us, journeying alongside those around us.
I wonder whether there is something you can try this coming week or month that will support a sustainable future. I’m not saying we all go and install composting loos in our gardens.
Whilst we will all need to make changes to our individual carbon footprints – today I reflect on our structural and societal issues, beyond any single one of us. I’m suggesting we reflect how we can use our voice or agency to show our elected representatives and other leaders we care.
A lot of the parables and messages of the gospels are on how we need to include and be with the outcast, the ‘other’, and the powerless in society. This gospel reading seems to encourage us to walk alongside a different group. Those who we find really difficult, those we don’t like or find frustrating, those people we might say have been sent by God to test us.
This is similar to the challenge on how we can show our care for the planet, multinational companies aren’t powerless or outcasts. They are quite the opposite!
The Proverbs reading shows us a way to follow this challenge, we are called to care for all people, to rely on God’s strength and be merciful. To act in strength but act also in mildness with patience and forbearance. And finally, to be kind and be filled with hope.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.