Sunday, July 23, 2017

Bad Farmer

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
July 23, 2017

Year A, Proper 11: The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Isaiah 44:6-8
Psalm 86:11-17
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

 Bad Farmer
            Two Sundays in a row now we’ve heard agricultural parables from Jesus – and in both cases Jesus describes practices that would drive any self-respecting farmer or gardener absolutely bananas.
            I read one commentator who pointed out the bad farming practices in these parables and joked that maybe Jesus should stick to carpentry and leave farming to the experts!
            Anyway, if you were here last week, you may remember we heard what’s usually called the “Parable of the Sower,” where Jesus describes a sower dropping precious seeds all over the place – on good soil, yes, but also on rocky soil and even among the thorns.
            We said anyone who wasted all those seeds would be fired from any farm – and would even be encouraged, gently, to step down from our own gardening committee here at St. Paul’s.
            And now, today, we heard another agricultural parable with even more bad farming practices.
            We’re told that a sower sowed good wheat but an “enemy” came along at night and sowed weeds in the same field.
            The slaves notice the weeds growing up and suggest to the master a wise course of action: gather up the weeds.
            This would be the way to go because as any farmer or gardener knows, weeds can choke the “good” plants – and, on top of that, if the weeds aren’t rooted out they will spread even more “bad” seeds and in the end you’ll be left with a field of weeds.
            But, the master doesn’t go along with this wise course of action – and for an interesting reason – pulling up the weeds would also involve pulling up the wheat – it’s not always so easy to separate wheat and weeds – and, maybe, as a lot of gardeners know, sometimes it’s not even easy to tell them apart.
            No, instead, the master chooses to wait until the harvest, when the wheat and the weeds can be separated and, we’re told, the weeds will be burned.
            Bad farming.
            Now, this may sound strange to you, but as I thought about this parable, I was reminded of my teaching days – especially the first few days of the school year.
            In September, as each class would file into my room, I’ll admit it, I would size up my students.
            I hesitate to mention this, because I know most of our teachers and kids aren’t quite ready to think about school, yet, but…
            In those first few classes of the new school year, I’d be looking out at their faces and their body language, trying to get a sense of who’s going to be a pleasure to teach – and who’s going to be a pain in the...
            Some kids looked very alert, very sharp, seeming to hang on every word, nodding along with me, furrowing their brows as they pondered the “profound wisdom” I was offering them, and, of course, laughing at my jokes.
            And, then, there were others who, right from the start, looked bored out of their minds, staring out the window, or horsing around with the kids next to them, and, not only not laughing at my jokes, but rolling their eyes at what seemed to them the stupidest stuff they had ever heard in their life.
            In some ways, I – and maybe you, too – do the same thing here in church.
            New people arrive and we try to size them up. Do they seem into it? Does it seem like they’ll fit in with the rest of us? Are they attentive in worship? Do they laugh at the priest’s jokes?
            Others seem to pay no attention at all, seem to be here only because someone is making them be here, don’t seem like they would fit in with the rest of us, and don’t even crack a smile at the priest’s jokes!
            Well, the lesson I’ve learned over and over first as a teacher and now as a priest, is that I’m terrible at telling wheat from weeds.
            Some of those kids nodding along with me and laughing at my jokes turned out to be not paying much attention at all, and some turned out to be royal pains in the…neck.
            And others who seemed checked out and un-amused turned out to be listening to every word and thinking and learning, and turned out to be wonderful students.
            And, the same thing at church.
            Quite a few times, new people have arrived and I’m sure that they’re going to love it here and fit right in and become longtime members of our community – and then we see them maybe once or twice but never again.
            And, others come who don’t seem into it, who don’t seem like they’ll fit in, and it turns out they enrich our community in ways that we could have never predicted.
            So, it turns out, we’re not so good at distinguishing wheat from weeds.
            Which is just as well, because that’s not our job.
            It’s God’s job to distinguish the wheat from the weeds – not ours.
            And, now, since we’re among friends, I’m going out on a limb a little, and you don’t have to agree with me on this, but here goes:
             I think maybe in God’s eyes there are, in fact, no weeds at all.
            For farmers and gardeners, “weeds” are just plants that we don’t want or we think don’t serve any real purpose – and, yet, often enough we discover that these “weeds” have surprising and beneficial gifts for us.
            And, one thing I’ve learned first as a teacher and now as a priest, is that often the even the “weediest” people have surprisingly good gifts for us, or, at the very least, are carrying around very heavy burdens that should make us feel compassion for them, should make us love them.
            And, of course, and I know you’ll find this hard to believe, but it’s entirely possible that there are people out there, or even in here, who see us, not as wheat but as weeds!
            So, it seems to me that if we are able to see goodness even in some pretty weedy people, then God is certainly able to see it, too.
            And, yes, like in the parable, maybe some day in the future, God really will separate the weeds from the wheat.
            But, for now anyway, the God who wastes all of those seeds and the God who lets the weeds grow up with the wheat – this God has chosen to be a pretty bad farmer.
            And, that, my friends, is very good news for us all.