This is what it said: "IF YOU WANT TO LIVE IN JESUS -- THEN YOU HAVE TO BEGIN TO LIVE AS JESUS LIVED!"
Think about these words for a moment. Jesus definitely spent a good part of his days with the people that were outcasts, disliked, and considered not "the in-crowd" by the religious of the day!
After reading the gospel lesson for this Sunday -- there were several important messages that got my attention! Last week we heard Rev. Kristin speak about the complex composition and meaning of the parables. Although they are clearly meant to draw our attention to issues that needed addressing --they are not the quick and simple stories we might like.
Remember the story about the farmer who sold his mule to his friend with the promise that the mule was cooperative and would do whatever told. But after the sale, the new owner, exasperated, having done everything he could think of, from commanding quietly-- to yelling forcefully for the mule to pull his plow--went back to his farmer friend and complained. The friend came to the rescue and taking a 2X4 swung with force and hit the mule on the rump. "Now," he said, "pull that plow." And the mule did!
"I thought you said he was cooperative," said the new owner, "and would do what I asked."
"He will, only FIRST, you have to get his attention!"
I believe that Jesus was teaching this parable about the wheat and the tares (weeds) in order to get the attention of the crowd! Hear again the question that the slaves asked of the master about the unwanted weeds:
“…do you want us to go and gather them?”
And the answer of the master was a CLEAR “NO”
That gives us our first clue as to how we are to live. A definite warning!
It would appear, that while the owner of the field was unaware, that which was foreign to the good seed, managed to get in and settle alongside!
Weeds! Who among us - who has gardened - does not know the battle with weeds? But our lesson this morning gives us a somewhat different message about those particular weeds. These are weeds that Jesus lets them know need to live and grow right alongside the good seed until it comes time to harvest. Known in biblical terms as "tares", these bearded darnel roots surrounding the roots of these good plants, make it impossible to root the unwanted ones out-- that is -- without damaging the good crop. That is the interesting detail.
Above ground, darnel looks identical to wheat, until it bears seed. Jesus' parable appears to be cautioning us against a rush to judgment. We cannot always tell initially what is the wheat and what is not. The strong message regarding those elements that are not the ones we planted --- begs the question of what to do when they present themselves in our space…I would say that this parable is first and primarily about relationships between people -- not judging and not assuming WHO ARE THE WHEAT AND WHO ARE THE WEEDS:
The other message in this parable and one we need keep in mind -- is this: ULTIMATELY, GOD IS STILL IN CHARGE
I suspect that Matthew was writing for a mixed Jewish Christian and Gentile congregation; neither group wanted to accept the other. Each viewed the other as “the weeds,” themselves as” the wheat.” We can certainly see this tendency in ourselves at times --ignoring those outside our inner circle as well as pretending we don't have some of the same flaws in us. In a world where seeds of hatred and injustice are sown daily -- how difficult it is not to judge --not to exclude!
When we imagine ourselves in the crowd gathering around Jesus, we realize that Jesus attracts all manner of people: whether they be women, children, the elderly, beggars seeking a hangout, people dressed all wrong for attending our church, even those who are outcasts in society.
-- -----BEYOND THE DESIRE TO BE WITH JESUS!
THERE IS NO STANDARD FOR ADMISSION TO BEING IN THE JESUS CROWD
Jesus prohibited judging in his teaching (over and over). He was always in some conflict with the Scribes and Pharisees for their personal judgment of people and their attempts to control the minutiae of other’s lives. YET, most people who have been alienated from the church today have said what they found most difficult about Christians, “Church people can be SO judgmental”!
Just how do we open ourselves to thinking and living the way Jesus calls us to live. By his life, Jesus teaches us that no matter how critical the needs are, no matter how important the work that we do,we all, need to go away at times to a quiet place and rest in God’s presence – enabling the grace of God to work in the hidden world of our hearts. That’s just one more example of “how Jesus lived!”
What a concept -- even though we might wish otherwise, if we are to grow up into Christ, side by side with the wheat and the chaff, the weeds,-- we are expected to accompany one another on the spiritual journey! But as Brian Taylor used to say: “Make this an experiment in your life – to LIVE as Jesus lived – TRUSTING JESUS as you go.” Not falling back into the pattern of fear or control!
Conventional “good guy/bad guy” interpretations of this parable limit the possibilities, the chance for reconciliation, and the maturing in faith and compassion!
Sometimes there are exclusions and separations that are painful to experience, especially when people are living side by side. Good example would be the pain experienced by those involved in the 41 wars being fought presently in our world - many living side by side!
Some years ago, after spending a week in an interdenominational spiritual growth retreat, the large number of participants were to share in a final service together which was held in the sanctuary of the Roman Church. As the mass began, the priest ready to consecrate the elements -- stopped. Facing the cross with his back to his brothers and sisters , his shoulders began to shake and as he wept be bent his head to the altar. There was absolute quiet for a moment and everyone knew the pain in this man's heart -- that he would not be able to serve many of his brothers and sister in this the GREAT THANKSGIVING - THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST!
Following what seemed an interminable silence -- everyone could hear the footsteps coming down that long aisle. It was a Lutheran pastor who had been one of the participants all week. When he reached the altar he enveloped his brother in his arms and they wept together. I doubt there were any dry eyes at that point and then suddenly --- someone in the balcony began singing -- "We Are One In The Spirit" …..And They'll Know We Are Christians By Our Love, By our Love… They Will Know We are Christians By Our Love….
That moment was for everyone the highest level of communion any of them could have known that day. Somehow, the love of Christ had transcended all the exclusiveness and separations that man had created.
Sometimes we can't program our community to be exactly the way we'd like. What if all those conference participants that day had just gotten up and walked out!!!! Instead, they sang, they surrounded with song the two pastors at the altar -- in a powerful reminder that we're all in this together!!!! They will know we are Christians by our love. We’re all in this together, St. Michael’s!!!!!
Understanding our gospel message today means: strong in our forbearance and patience, hearts unfrozen, and always willing to live as Jesus lived. I believe that St. Michael’s is ready to move ahead! Let’s move ahead, in the Jesus crowd, by taking the risk -- trusting Jesus as we live the way Jesus lived! To be a community as Steven Charleston describes in his prayer on Sanctuary, a house of God that shelters all those who come in need!!!!!
I want to close with this prayer from the "Spiritual Diary" by Steven Charleston : pray with me:
Let our communities of faith be a sanctuary for any who seek safe space simply to be who they are. Let our walls be a refuge against intolerance and fear, our welcome, a healing hand to restore the dignity of every human heart. Let our doors be ever open, O God, to protect your children from harm. Give us the courage to be the sanctuary for others that you have been for us, the one place we knew we could go when the dark clouds gathered and the hearth of our hope grew cold."
We are all in this together St. Michael’s. They’ll know we are Christians by our love!!!!!