Romans 8:12–25; Matthew 13:24–30, 36–43

In last week’s Gospel lesson we heard Jesus telling a parable about a sower who scattered seeds quite liberally, some fell on rocky ground, others among the thorns, some fell on the walking path and the birds ate them, and some indeed fell on good soil and brought forth grain. This morning we hear another related parable about the problem of weeds growing up among the good plants. Those of you who love to garden can relate to the concern the servants had about the encroaching enemy.

I think it’s fair to say that Jesus is not attempting to give us gardening or farming advice with these stories that make up our mid-summer Gospel texts. Actually, it sounds like pretty poor gardening technique—scatter seed with abandon and don’t worry about the weeds! But Jesus, as we might suspect, is thinking about how we live. And here he’s offering some solid advice. Let’s take a look.

An idiom often used in business meetings, particularly of the strategic planning variety, is a warning about not “getting stuck in the weeds.” The point, of course, is to say that we can too easily lose sight of the big picture or overarching goals, when we get caught up in the minutiae of day-to-day detail. Ron Heifetz, the Harvard Kennedy School leadership training guru talks about good leaders maintaining a balcony view of their enterprises. Well, just as Jesus isn’t giving gardening advice neither is he attempting a first century Business School lecture, but he is telling us about what happens to our discipleship and our relationship with God when we allow ourselves to get stuck in the weeds. It prevents us from grasping any big picture sense of where the Spirit might be leading us. That’s the first point. And the second is related. It’s a warning about getting all caught up in the life-draining destructive cycle of judging others.

One of my brothers has a house on the Delaware Shore. He and his immediate neighbor have a difference of opinion about the sea grass that grows wildly on their properties. To the neighbor the grass is a weed. He keeps it pulled and his yard manicured. My brother lets the sea grass grow as the sand’s natural protection, the habitat for a whole variety of unusual birds, and as part of the ambiance of the beach. Who is right? Well, they both are.

This is a parable about judgment and who gets to judge. When the Master’s slaves become agitated about the weeds they imagine will choke the life out of the good plants and want to pull up them up, the Master tells them to relax. In fact, if they try to rid the field of the weeds they might actually uproot the good wheat along with them. So they are not to worry, the Master will take care of deciding the fate of the wheat and the weeds.

In an old Peanuts cartoon, Charlie Brown is confronted by Lucy who says to him, “Charlie Brown, you are the crabgrass in the lawn of life.” Crabgrass and weeds are those people or problems that keep life from being the way we think it ought to be. And Jesus knows that those of us in the Church can be particularly prone to such judgment. We too easily look around and see people we would liken to Lucy’s crabgrass—whose values and lifestyles we are certain present impediments to growing the kingdom of God in just the way we are certain God would have it be. We forget the words of the Prophet Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” The parable of the wheat and the weeds gives us a vision of the field from God’s balcony. Now, we’ll never fully have God’s vision, for we are not God. But Jesus is telling us if we can keep from getting all caught up in the weeds with our judgments about other people and worrying about who is worthy and who is not, then we will begin to get a sense of God’s Spirit at work in the world, a Spirit that always has the big view and that will not be constrained by our limited vision.

Jesus tells us that we are to be faithful sowers and bear fruit in spite of what appears to us to be weeds standing in the way of kingdom growth. At the harvest, God will judge the wheat and weeds. In the meantime we need to be a lot more faithful about sowing and a lot less concerned about judging. Only then, will we begin to glimpse a sense of God’s extravagant boundary-breaking plans for God’s family. Only then will we begin to glimpse some of God’s balcony view of creation. In our first reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans, we’re challenged to live in a way that witnesses to the world how our relationship to Christ transforms us. But that’s quite different from witnessing to the world by how we stand in judgment of others.

Our Anglican bishops from around the world are gathered right now in England for the once every ten years Lambeth Conference. Unlike past Lambeth Conferences, this meeting will not be a forum for legislation. Rather, the bishops, representing diverse peoples and cultures from across the globe, will spend time in prayer, Bible study, fellowship, learning about the context of each other’s ministry, and attending workshops on a whole range if issues affecting Christian proclamation in the 21st century. In other words, they are spending their time trying to heed Jesus’ teaching in today’s Gospel, not worrying so much about wheat vs. weeds—leaving that to God—but instead trying to get a sense of God’s balcony view of creation and how the Spirit is pushing and prodding us in so many different ways in the world. It is sad that not all of the bishops are attending, but for those who are there, the agenda, at least, is an attempt to let God do the harvesting while we work on deepening our commitment to do the sowing.

The other problem with defining our discipleship by judgment is that so often we get it wrong—really wrong. We see partially and do not fully comprehend the movement of God’s spirit. Theologian Carol Marie Noren suggests our judging tendencies are because we too “frequently act as though the harvest depends on our manipulation of people and situations. We proceed as though we were not living by grace, as though the Holy Spirit has little to do in the circumstances before us. We think of the field as ours and we adopt an us against them mentality…But (Jesus) reveals that more powerful and cosmic forces are present and that the wheat and weeds grow together and cannot be easily told apart. The roots intertwine themselves and it’s not the job of the servants to purge the field systematically of weeds and it’s not the job of Jesus’ disciples to point fingers and pronounce final judgment on other persons and groups.”

Our Bible is a record of God calling upon the most unlikely characters—people who would have been considered crabgrass or weeds in the lawn of life. Right from the start, Adam and Eve would not remain faithful, there was manipulative Sarah, the murderer Moses, Rehab a prostitute and liar, brilliant but lustful, self-absorbed David, Peter with his feet of clay, Paul the persecutor, to name a few. Bishop William Willimon, one of our recent guest preachers, reminds us that what looks like seediness to us, more often looks like potential saintliness to God. He uses the story of Rehab, the prostitute, to make his point. You might remember the story about the fall of Jericho and its walls that came tumbling down. Joshua sent a couple of his soldiers to spy on Jericho and what a surprise they ended up at Rehab’s place in a questionable part of town. The king got word about the spies and sent his own soldiers to seize them. And what a surprise, they knew just where to go to find them! But Rehab lied about her guests. She said the young soldiers who had been there left when the gate was closed. In fact she had hidden the Israelites on her roof. And she told the spies she had heard about their God and asked only that the Israelites would show her family mercy when they captured Jericho. Then, while it was still night, Rehab let the spies down by a rope tying a scarlet thread in her widow to identify her place for the invading Israelites. What kind of story is this! Is this a Bible story fit for children? Well, it’s a story about a woman in the world’s oldest profession who through her work came to know God and played an important role in God’s plan for God’s people. And it’s one more bible story reminding us that it’s God job to separate the wheat from the weeds. Our job is to sow.

God’s plans for creation are far beyond our full knowing. If we can get out of the weeds, we will glimpse the Spirit’s movement in creation, never knowing it completely. But nonetheless, God invites us to be fellow sowers, knowing that many of our efforts will fail or get entangled in weeds. Some of our sowing will multiply abundantly, perhaps most of our sowing will not achieve fulfillment in our time. But the work we’re called to do is not for our glory, but for the building up of God’s kingdom here and now. So we come here this morning so that the seeds of faith might be nourished and to support one another as fellow sowers whose lives are caught up in the life-giving, boundary breaking, expansive love of Christ, trusting that the harvest, after our sowing is God’s harvest in God’s time.