Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | July 20, 2008

2008.07.20 “Back to the Farm, Part 2: No Way to Run A Farm?”

Central United Methodist Church

“Back to the Farm, Part 2:

No Way to Run A Farm?”

Rev. David L. Haley

Matthew 13: 24 – 30, 36 – 43

July 20th, 2008

“Jesus put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away.  So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well.  And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’  He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’  But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.  Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’ ”

Then Jesus left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.”  He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.  The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!” – Matthew 13: 24 – 30, 36 – 43, from The New Revised Standard Version

       Last week, in accordance with a story Jesus told, we journeyed to the farm.  This week — in accordance with the next story Jesus tells — we return to the farm, to see how things are going.

        The answer, at least for here in Illinois, is “not good.”
According to an article in Wednesday’s Tribune, farmers are shaking their heads over a crop that has gotten off to its worst start in 15 years.

For example, wet conditions kept Terry Ferguson of Clinton, Illinois, out of his fields for all but five days this spring. Last Monday he and his brother, Ron, were taking advantage of sunny skies to load bags of soybean seed into a mechanical planter, finally getting it into the ground a month late. This particular field got 9 1/2 inches of rain during the previous week, and Ferguson points to the gullies where runoff cut deep ravines through the black dirt. “It’s been a year I’d like to forget,” he said. “I think the best we can do is two-thirds of the yield we got last year. Everything’s working against us.” (“Sopping Up Remains of a Season,” The Chicago Tribune, By Greg Burns, June 19, 2008)

Given this, the bad news is that prices have soared. Corn is approaching a record $8 a bushel at the Chicago Board of Trade, while soybeans have shot up to more than $15. Even at this early stage in the growing season, economists expect rising food costs for years to come. Bad news, not only for farmers, but also for us. 


       Ordinarily, at this time in the season, things would be different.  Rev. Barbara K. Lundblad is professor of preaching at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, but she grew up on an Iowa farm.  In a sermon on this text ten years ago, she describes what would be going on there about now:  

      “It’s already the middle of the summer and if I were back on the Iowa farm where I grew up, I’d probably be “walking the beans” for the second or third time. “

      “Now that phrase may sound odd to you if you’ve never lived on a farm . . . I walked, and my dad, my mom, my sister and brother too. We walked up and down between the mile-long rows of soy beans. Down one row, back another. We walked acres and acres of soybeans to pull or chop the weeds out of the row . . . the weeds you couldn’t get with the cultivator and tractor . . . . “

      “Sometimes, when the day was very hot (which it almost always was in Iowa in July) or when I was very tired and didn’t want to be there (which was almost always true), I’d look down at the weed in my hand and realize it was indeed a beautiful green soybean plant. With luck my dad would be several rows away from me and I’d stick the plant back, hoping no one would be around to see it wither and die.”

Then Lundblad added, “I wish I had been more familiar with Matthew 13 then. I could have told my dad, “Dad, remember what the scripture says: Don’t pull those weeds, for in gathering the weeds we might uproot the plants along with them.  Let both grow together until the harvest.” (“Bad Farming”, a sermon preached by The Rev. Barbara K. Lundblad, on Day 1, July 26, 1998)

      Of course, the Scripture referred to is our Gospel for today, Jesus’ parable of the “Wheat and the Weeds”. 

      In this parable, a farmer’s crop has been planted and has begun to grow. Unknown to the farmer, an enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat. (What kind of grudge match is this?) Nobody knew until the sprouts began to show, and the servants asked, “Who planted these weeds?” (The same thing you may have asked if you ever tried to grow a garden.)  I can just hear the farmer saying in a Yosemite Sam kind of voice, “Oooooh dat rascal . . .”

      “Shall we pull up the weeds?,” say the servants. “Nah, let ‘em grow, because if you pull up the weeds you’ll pull up the wheat.”  “Wait until harvest, and we’ll get it then. We’ll gather up the weeds for a bonfire, and the wheat we’ll gather into the barn.”

      By now, you’re probably thinking, “I came here to hear about farming?”  Jesus’ hearers probably thought the same thing.  Even to those who were farmers, it sounds like no way to run a farm. Of course, it’s not really a story about farming, is it? Jesus told these stories about farming to teach people about God’s kingdom. But after hearing it, you may think, “That’s no way to run a kingdom, either.  Let judgment go until the end; and let God take care of it?  Is that a good idea?

      Jesus’ disciples probably didn’t like the parable of the Wheat and the Weeds any more than we do.  In fact, it didn’t take long for people with more sense than Jesus to try to reshape the kingdom rules. Arguments broke out about who was in and who was out. There were questions about eating certain foods, disagreements about speaking in tongues, and pronouncements about who should be silent in worship.

      Ever since, it has proved difficult for the Church to wait upon God for the weeding. With the result being that some of the most tragic episodes in the Church’s life have been caused by this passion for weeding. Crusades were organized to drive out infidels. Inquisitions rooted out heretics. Native Americans and African Americans were deemed sub-human. Women accused of being witches were hung or burned, like weeds. Those deemed “bad seed” were excommunicated and cast out of the Church.  What was lost sight of was that all those “weeds” were people, sometimes labeled weeds simply because they were different from those in power.  But so they thought, the weeds had to be rooted out to protect the harvest.

      And just maybe some of those labeled “weeds”, just maybe they are God’s special people, labeled weeds by us but to God, delicate and beautiful flowers.  God has a special place in his heart for people like that.

      Inept farmers may think they know the weeds from the wheat. But wise farmers know that weeds can’t always be distinguished from the wheat, and can’t be pulled without damaging the wheat.  The more we think we know about who can safely be called evildoers beyond redemption, the more we prove ourselves to be not only inept gardeners, but immature weeds ourselves. 

      When we are tempted to take judgment into our own hands, John Dominic Crossan points out that there is a slippery slope involved.  It’s one thing to say, “These people are bad.”  The next step is to say, “These people are bad, someone should do something about it.” But the final step is the worst: “These people are bad, someone should do something about it, and I will do it.” Welcome to religiously inspired terrorism in the world today.

      So what Jesus seems to be saying here is not, as we sometimes hear, “Kill them all, let God sort them out.” It’s more powerful. The Son of Man, the judge of the nations says to us, “Have mercy on them all. Love them all. Let them grow, and leave the judging to God.”

      Should we abandon all attempts and institutions of human judgment in society? Obviously not, society would become a weed-field for certain.  And yet, as the commissions studying the death penalty have revealed, even our best judicial institutions cannot always rightly distinguish the guilty from the innocent, the wheat from the weeds. It is exactly for reasons like this, that sincere Christians disagree about the death penalty. Some say, especially in the case of heinous crimes, you kill another person you forfeit your life. Others say, since justice is rarely impartial and our understanding always incomplete, what right does anyone have — even society — to pronounce an irrevocable, ultimate sentence upon another’s life?

      You may say, this is difficult, “I’m not sure what I believe.” Truth is; we all struggle with it. It goes against our natural human instincts to get back and get even, to seek revenge when wronged, to label and eradicate the weeds who spring up in the garden of life.  

      Jesus is asking us to consider that when we feel and act this way, we may — even with the best of intentions — only perpetuate the cycle of retribution and damage the fragile fabric of the sacred worth of every human being. And once that happens, we may be next.  

            Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) wrote a poem about the inactivity of German intellectuals following the Nazi’s rise to power and the purging of their chosen targets, group after group.

“In Germany, they came first for the Communists,

And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist;

And then they came for the trade unionists,

And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist;

And then they came for the Jews,

And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew;

And then . . . they came for me . . .

And by that time there was no one left to speak up.”

But let’s take it out of the realm of society.  Here we are in one of the most voluntary of associations, a Christian congregation. We are different in many ways, drawn together only by our neighborhood location and our common commitment to Christ. Will we all agree? Not likely. Will we always get along? Probably not. But what we can do is suspend judgment about who’s right and who’s wrong, who’s in and who’s out, and choose instead — following the word and example of Christ — to love and care for each other, different and disagreeable even though we may sometimes be.

After all, as someone once said, there are two absolute conditions of true community: (1) True community exists when at least one person we least like is present;  (2) A corollary is that, “As soon as that person leaves, another will come to take their place.”   Get used to it.

Personally, I’m glad God has this strange system of agriculture, in a field so mixed and cluttered with weeds. I’m glad God has patience and tolerance.  Because every now and then I realize that I’m being a weed. Yes, even in ourselves we encounter good seeds and bad weeds.

Remember Broom Hilda, the ugly yet lovable witch?  One day Broom Hilda asks her friend Irwin, the troll “Irwin, what would be the best way to make the world better?”  Irwin thinks for a moment and replies, “Start with yourself!  Give up your bad habits and evil pleasures. Then when you’re good, when you’re perfect, you’ll stand as a shining example to others!”  Broom Hilda responds, “What’s the second best way?”

In his book A Church for the 21st Century, Minneapolis pastor Leith Anderson tells of calling ChemLawn to take care of his suburban weed-infested lawn, only to have them reject his lawn as a client because it was so bad. One member of his church volunteered to totally remove his old lawn and start a new one, an offer he was almost ready to accept when a former farmer gave him some advice: “Don’t worry so much about getting rid of the weeds. Just grow the grass, and the grass will take care of the weeds.” The Andersons took his prescription and did all they could to grow “the good stuff.”  After a couple of years, the lawn looked as good as everyone else’s. 

Our job is not to be weed-whackers, but to plant and grow good seed.  Our job is to cultivate in our lives and in the lives of those around us, in our congregation and in our community, a flourishing garden, in which even the most delicate flowers may bloom and flourish.

No way to run a farm? Maybe not.  No way to run a kingdom? Maybe not.  But this is the way God has chosen. May God give us patience and tolerance, that we might be — like God — good kingdom farmers.  Amen.


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