Rev. Lyle McKenzie Lutheran Church of the Cross of Victoria
Genesis 28:10-19a; Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
– My Dad grew up on a farm, had an agricultural degree and was an agronomist. He spent the first half of his career working for a grain company, and the second in agricultural chemicals. In short, he was in the grain and herbicide or weed killing business.
– I can remember being quite young and traveling with him to visit a farm. Walking in the field with a famer and bending down to look at the young plants just a few centimeters out of the ground, they were talking about which was grain and which was weeds/wild oats. My Dad said something about the one blade twisted counter clockwise and the other clockwise. The farmer said, “It’s hard to tell them apart.”
– That was then. There was not much questioning of using herbicides except maybe the cost. And I can recall my Dad looking at mature crops and commenting on how many weeds were in with the wheat, or not. The aim was, and often still is, to kill as many weeds as possible. It supposedly means a better harvest, even as the soil and creation may groan at the cost.
– Jesus has a different view. He again uses an agricultural story, this time about wheat and weeds, offering his listeners, including us, a comparison to God’s dominion on earth.
– As we heard, wheat and weeds appear in a landowner’s field. The surprise may be that the weeds are the result of an enemy sowing the weeds in the field while everyone slept. The central question is to pull the weeds or not. Herbicides were not an option. To avoid uprooting the wheat, the landowner decides to let them grow together and leave the separating for harvest time, burning the weeds and storing the grain.
– There are a number of different ways of hearing this story. But a few verses later in Matthew’s Gospel, as we heard, the disciples ask Jesus for an explanation and Jesus provides one.
– I don’t much like Jesus’ explanation of the parable, and wonder, with many scholars, if it is more Matthew’s interpretation for that community’s time and context, identifying
those who were loyal to Jesus and those who were not, maybe their oppressors, and acknowledging while they grow together, there will be a great dividing by God at the end of time, including burning and weeping and gnashing of teeth.
– There is the possibility that in Matthew’s time this image of burning and judgement was connected to continuous fires of burning garbage outside the walls of Jerusalem, and that their occupiers/oppressors might meet the same fate.
– And maybe my dislike of Jesus’ explanation comes from the privilege of not living under oppression. If I did, would I welcome as good news that while we may have to live with the weeds now, there will be a reckoning at harvest time, including a great burning of God’s judgement against oppression, and the weeping and gnashing of teeth before God’s justice.
– That was then, and maybe a reality and hope for many in various circumstances of struggle and suffering now.
– But any talk of fire these days is dangerous. Too many lives are affected by wild fires in BC and we pray for the safe returning home of evacuees and firefighters and everyone involved. Today we trust that God wants no one to burn, and stands with those who weep and grind their teeth with anxiety over whether their homes will still be standing when they return.
– And here and now, do we recognize in Jesus’ story that the dividing we have often done in hope of weeding out others, doesn’t serve God’s dominion on earth?
– There was a time in 1960 when it seemed right to look across the street from an empty lot at the 100 year old community of St. Luke Cedar Hill Anglican and believe it was best to build a Lutheran church because it was inconceivable to imagine Lutherans and Anglicans worshipping together. It would be like wheat and weeds, and it’s hard to tell them apart.
– That was then. Now look how much we do together, because we are better together in serving God’s dominion on earth.
– The Summer Daycamp is an example – not just for children from our congregations, but for children of our neighbourhoods, all together. It isn’t unkind to say wheat and wild weeds all of them, and all of us, leaders and volunteers together. And isn’t hard to tell them apart?
– The Shelbourne Community Kitchen, together with St, Aidan’s United and two community associations and now over 500 members, participants and volunteers, wheat and weeds are all together, and it’s wonderfully hard to tell them apart.
– The ELCIC National Convention in Winnipeg just over two weeks ago once again included a presentation by the Primate of the ACC. Bishop Susan introduced him by talking about what a close and important presence and partner he is not only to her, but to everyone in the ELCIC. She said, so much so, many now refer to him as “our Fred.” “Our grace,” or “our archbishop” might be a little more respectful, but we Lutherans are like weeds when it comes to appropriate Anglican respect and formality. And some of you like that, so it’s hard to tell us apart.
– And this important full communion partnership continues to encourage a wider embrace beyond ourselves. At this convention, recognizing the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, other ecumenical guests were also present:
– The president of the Mennonite Church Canada preached at the opening worship – he said, “look at this, an Anabaptist preaching on the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, who would have imagined.” Who would have, when only a few years ago we as Lutherans issued an apology to Mennonites for our persecution of them during the time of the Reformation, and the weeds that we clearly became oppressing God’s people.
– An ecumenical panel including leaders of the Presbyterian, United, Roman Catholic, Mennonite, and Anglican churches, the Canadian Council of Churches and the ELCA, all speaking about the next 500 years, the future together, wheat and weeds and all, who will be able to tell them apart?
– A National Reformation Commemoration Worship, with all of these same ecumenical guests, joining with our Bishops in worship together in St. Gianna Baretta Molla Roman Catholic Church, all of them sharing in thanksgiving for Baptism around this magnificent font, pouring water together and making the sign of the cross on one another. The RC Archbishop read the Gospel while our female Bishop rose from the presider’s chair and preached the Gospel from the same ambo. All of the ecumenical guests joined in the prayers of the people, and then Bishop Susan presided at the communion table open to all.
– It was like there was a ladder between heaven and earth and angels were ascending and descending on it into the midst of wheat and weeds, and who could tell them apart?
– Who could have imagined this, 500, 50, even 5 years ago, wheat and weeds all of us, but liberated by God’s grace, so much so you can’t tell us apart.
– There’s more we could talk about then and now, personal and collective, still unfolding, all by God’s grace and the liberation God gives us together for the good of the world.
– Although my Dad was in the grain and weed killing business, I learned from him never to try and separate people into wheat and weeds, because it’s too hard to tell them apart anyways. Maybe it was because, like Jacob, he fully recognized both within himself.
– As Jesus tells us, the dominion of God may be compared to this, everyone together, for God’s good purpose, and if there’s to be any division or judgement, that’s left to God, and in God’s time.
– Together in Christ Jesus. Look around. You can’t tell us, or anyone apart, by God’s grace. We’re in this together. Amen