Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Peter DeGroote

Minister for Stewardship & Resources

 

 

 

And Now for the Weeds

Sunday, August 7, 2005

 

 

Matthew 13: 24-33

 

Rev. Peter DeGroote

 

On July 17, I had the pleasure of preaching a sermon entitled, “Yeast, Seeds and Weeds.” I got through the yeast and the seeds… and now for the weeds.

 

Looking back, we spoke of the parable of the yeast as being about the energy of God at work in the world, whether we like it or not. It is always there. We can’t see it. It’s always present, always active: the energy of God in creation.

 

When we spoke of the parable of the mustard seed, we talked about the most humble-looking seed growing into bushes that created communities where birds could find safety and security—a symbol of God being at work creating communities of safety and security for God’s creatures, for us.

 

A response to those parables is: If God’s kingdom or God’s reign or God’s rule is already present and built into creation, why can’t we see it? Jesus often said that we could if we had the ears to hear or eyes to see. Today we might put it differently: If we had the mind to understand and the sensitivities that could sense and feel, then we would know of God’s presence in God’s creation. But, if it is not so evident to us, why not? What are our problems?

 

We have this parable of the weeds and the wheat. It is probably not a parable of Jesus because it does not end up the way that Jesus ends up most of his parables and is out of sync with most of his teachings. It is a parable of the early church that is important for us to deal with because we face the same problems it represents. If we can’t see God’s presence in God’s creation, if we can’t find our way to live in harmony with God’s energy, then who is to blame? God has planted the seeds in creation, but someone else snuck in, the enemy, and has planted the weeds.

 

Fundamental to almost everything that Jesus teaches is that when something goes wrong in the world, don’t go looking for somebody to blame. Start with yourself. You know how when there is something wrong in the church, we want to blame somebody. When there is something wrong in a club or in our neighborhood, we want to blame somebody. When there is something wrong in politics or in the world, we want to blame somebody. Jesus always invites us to take our own inventory first.

 

That’s why I wanted to add today the parable of the sower. That parable clearly asks us a central question: what kind of soil are we? Jesus has spread the seeds of his teachings and way of life among us. They are meant to grow in us that we might know how to follow Jesus’ way, which will ultimately lead us to a life in harmony with God. Are we soil that has been packed down and hardened so that the seeds are easily brushed off? Are we the soil where the birds can come and pick the seed away? Are we soil where all sorts of bushes grow? Have we allowed all sorts of bushes to grow in our lives that these seeds that Jesus has planted among us cannot take hold? Or are we soil that is so shallow that, when heat comes or difficulties arise, the roots have not been able to grow deep enough so that our spiritual life just withers and dies away? Or are we good soil – good soil that, when the seeds are planted, they produce a harvest far beyond the expectation that any human could predict, far in expectation than anything we could expect for ourselves?

 

There are weeds in the world. We will all acknowledge that. But we need to think about how those weeds grow, where they are growing, and if any of them are growing in ourselves. Let’s consider some of the weeds.

 

An introduction to the first one by snapping our fingers. Can you snap your fingers? Now, I am going to count to three repeatedly, what I would like you to do is to snap your fingers on each count. One…two…three. One…two…three. One…two...three.

 

Each time I say three, a child has died from hunger. The actor Will Smith started the international Live Aid Concert which was performed in conjunction with the G-8 Conference in Scotland several weeks ago, trying to influence their agenda. Every three seconds a child dies of hunger in the world. The world is quite capable of producing enough food for everyone if we just wanted to. Every three seconds, a child dies. That’s a terrible patch of weeds.

 

Bill McKibben, a scholar in residence at Middlebury College, has an article in the August edition of Harpers Magazine entitled, “The Christian Paradox.” I urge all Christians to read it. I also think that those of you who are trying to find subjects for adult forums would find it worth reading. You might be able to get three sessions out of it. It is a challenging article. I would like to point out some things that McKibben says.

 

His point of departure is that the overwhelming majority of people in the United States say that this is a Christian nation. An overwhelming majority of people in the United States believe and claim us to be a Christian nation. McKibben points out that this has meaning. It has meaning for the world’s understanding of Christianity. It has meaning for the role of religion in U.S. society. It has meaning for us as individual Christians.

 

He takes note of the great emphasis in Jesus’ teachings about feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, quenching the thirst of the thirsty, and others—we know those teachings. We repeat them frequently, almost ritually. He compares them to the fact that in the year 2004 the U.S. ranked second to last among developed countries in government foreign aid. Not in military aid – that’s another thing. But in foreign aid, to relieve such problems such as hunger, the United States ranks second to last amongst developed countries. There is only one other developed county in the world that claims itself to be a Christian nation, and that is Italy. We beat Italy. On a per capita basis, we gave 15 cents a day, or $54.75 a year. Some people say that we make it up in individual giving, but actually that works out to only 6 pennies more a day. We are second to last.

 

On the way out of the 9:30 service, somebody grabbed me and said, “Thank you for doing a guilt trip on me.” I asked, “What do you mean?” I was walking by a restaurant last night and I saw these two people in the restaurant and I waved. He said, “We spent more than that on last night’s meal for each of us.” $54.75 a year per capita.

 

Things are not much better at home, McKibben says. 18% of our children live in poverty. The U.S. trails all other developed nations in many of the measures relating to general childhood health and security.

 

Now the minute you start talking about these kinds of subjects, you get accused of dealing in politics. I am one of those people who don’t believe that Christians have a place in partisan politics. I haven’t had any problems living that way for twenty years because I haven’t found anyone I really wanted to unquestionably support. However, I will admit that I am glad that there are Christians who get involved in partisan politics.

 

Nevertheless, it is worth pointing out that while we claim to be a Christian nation and I don’t see any of our political parties making world hunger a major priority. It would seem to me that if we are going to be followers of Jesus, no matter what our political party is, we should be saying to them: this is a priority. Or stop calling ourselves a Christian nation.

 

Of course, when you talk about things being political, at this point in time, you can’t get anything more political than war. I have had more discussions than I have ever wanted to have about war generally and this current war that we happen to be involved in. Somehow, we Christians have to talk about it—it is another gigantic patch of weeds with deep roots and a great variety of species.

 

I have lived through 60% of the 20th Century and it looks like I am going to get through 5% of the 21st Century, God willing. My life has been filled with war: one war after another war after another war. Victory has simply been a sign that we are going to stop fighting for a while so that we can get ready for another war.

 

We try to use all sorts of mechanisms and techniques to make peace. We have balances of power. We have containment policies. All of the procedures that we have used to make peace rest on our having the tools of war. We have tools of war. They have tools of war. There will be no peace as long as we rely on tools of war to make peace. It’s an oxymoron. But humanity has done that, it seems to me, for almost all of its history.

 

I am concerned very often about Christians who talk about wanting to return to biblical Christianity and then are in support of war. They don’t seem to recall that the earliest Christians avoided all forms of violence and would not participate in military service. It was only after Christianity became the religion of Rome that the military could be members of the church.

 

Some of those folks who support war say “If you are not with me, you are against me,” quoting Jesus, ignoring the fact that Jesus is also credited with another quote: “If you are not against me, you are with me.” Now the difference between those two is profound. The first, “If you are not with me, you are against me,” gives us the opportunity to take our way, our will, and our preferences and wrap Jesus around us and go to war or go do anything else we want to do and justify it. The latter, “If you are not against me, you are with me,” is an invitation to discussion, to work out our differences – an invitation to reconciliation of all people. Which quote makes sense in relation to the rest of Jesus’ teachings?

 

Jesus said, “You have heard it said: ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ but I say…’” You know what Jesus said. Jesus said forgive your enemy, pray for those who hurt you. We could continue to build on these things that Jesus said to lead us to the conclusion that violence and war is not the way that Jesus would have us live, that violence and war is a great big patch of weeds that gets in the way of our hearing the message of Jesus.

 

Consider another of Jesus’ teachings: Turn the other cheek lesson. It is fascinating to talk about turning the other cheek with teenagers—a wonderful discussion. But I have discovered that I cannot talk about it like I am preaching. Instead, I have taken the tactic of a case study and I tell them about my experience as a teenager with Larry Eiler.

 

Larry was a teammate on my high school football team with whom I actually got along pretty well. But for some reason in the hallway one morning (our lockers were right next to each other), he hit me for some reason. You know how teenagers will hit each other. I have no idea. I don’t remember a reason. But I remember that I turned around and got into the position. And, of course, by that time, we had this great big crowd of other teenagers around us. So, I am standing there. He threw the first punch. So, the challenge is that I have to do it, right? So, I threw the punch, and he threw a punch, and then I started to throw another punch and the principal’s arm caught me. Somebody else caught Larry.

 

I tell that story, and say: “All right, what do you think? How do you analyze this?” I ask the teenagers to analyze it. I have collected a long list of comments; I copied a few out of that list to share with you.  They all chide me a bit. That’s all right, a sign of progress. “There wasn’t much courage in your hitting Larry back.” They told me I was “responding to peer pressure from everyone surrounding us.  They just wanted a good fight in the morning before class.” When Larry and I faced off, “we were no longer in control. We were doing what the others wanted: that doesn’t take courage. It doesn’t even take much smarts.” And then, “it would have taken far more courage to walk away or perhaps to extend an open hand rather than a fist.”

 

One of my great discoveries in life is that, when we take Jesus seriously, he is usually teaching us to act with uncommon courage, the kind of courage that goes beyond what we might have thought ourselves capable of doing. It is the kind of courage that doesn’t fight for our own egos and our own self-preservation. It’s an uncommon courage. 

 

The courage to be peacemakers – it is a role Jesus calls us to fill. It is the courage to turn the other cheek, to break the cycles of violence that exist around us and in the world, to start with us and that which is around us.

 

Now, it’s nice to talk this way, but what do we do about it? What do we as Christians do about it? I am not going to pretend to have all the answers because there are lots of questions here. I will suggest one thing, and offer an invitation.

 

First, at present, we are dealing  with our understanding of war in a much different way than most of us have been brought up to deal with it, simply because 9/11 has made it obvious to all of us that we always thought we were protected. We had these oceans and two friendly countries on each side. We thought that we were safe from the terrorism and the violence of the world. So, it takes some thinking and discussing.

 

In late September, the Peace and Justice Mission is going to be sponsoring a series of discussions on this little booklet called “In Search of Security.” It was prepared by our Council of Bishops in order to provide perspectives and basis for discussion on how we might think our way through this as followers of Jesus. These problems are important. These problems are things that we must deal with. Watch the Focus. The announcement of those sessions will be in the Focus.

 

Then, I have an invitation. I understand that it is my job as a follower of Jesus to be a peacemaker. I am not sure how to do that today. So, I am going to start in a way that is as emphatic as I know how, but is as peaceful as I know how. I am going to join a peace demonstration on September 24th. Some of you may have heard about it. Two organizations seem to be competing for the same day. I am going to affiliate myself with the organization that opposes violence of any kind. That’s a Saturday, September 24th.

 

If any of you would like to join me, you are welcome to do that. The reason why I invite you is because I think about the young man in our Wednesday evening Bible Talk group who takes Jesus very seriously. He does try to establish relations with and help homeless people and hungry people. If any of you have tried to do that, you know it can become very frustrating. I keep trying to say to him: “You need a mission partner. You can’t do this alone. You need a mission community. You need other people to work with because this can be very frustrating, very disturbing.”

 

Well, the same thing with peace. You can’t do it alone. If any of you would like to join me, send me an email, send me a note. Give me a telephone call. You are welcome to join me. Thank you for listening.

 

 

           

 

 

  • Emails to:  pdegroote@foundryumc.org
  • Notes to:  Peter DeGroote, Foundry UMC, 1500 – 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036
  • Call:  202-332-4010, ask for Peter DeGroote

 

 

 

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