Pastor Wilbert Miller’s Sermon
“For God’s Sake, Let the Weeds Grow!”
Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43
July 23, 2017 (7th Sunday after Pentecost)
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity
New York City at Central Park
This is an amazing day as we receive seven new members into our Holy Trinity family. Quite a few of you have said, “This is terrific. What a gift from God.” Yes indeed, our hopes are high!
Those joining are excited, too. You do not take this step lightly. You have thought about this for a while, looking around at churches, even exploring other denominations. You are praying, “Make this the perfect faith community.”
We all want our life together to be perfect. Jesus understands our longings. That’s why he tells the parable of the wheat and weeds.
In today’s parable, we are reminded—and glaringly—how oblivious Jesus is to rational horticultural practices. He tells us to let the weeds sprout up with the wheat and all will turn out fine. “Jesus, you have got to be kidding!” we protest. Nevertheless, Jesus urges calm and we agree to excuse his botanical naïveté; he is, after all, our Savior.
Like Jesus, I am no gardening enthusiast. There have been countless occasions when Dagmar has flown off to Germany with no choice but to tolerate my mismanagement of her prize-winning gardens. In advance of the gut-wrenching separation—from the gardens, Dagmar has taken me by hand, warily expounding on how to water and how to discern ripeness in vegetables and fruit; she inevitably provides a tutorial for dummies on the minute differences between weeds and blossoms. Invariably, upon her return, Dagmar weeps: “Wilk, those were artichokes you pulled out, not dandelions.” I always promise to do better the next time.
While many of us have no gardening experience or have purposely chosen to live in this concrete jungle to avoid the nauseating nuances of flowers and weeds, we all yearn for Eden. That’s why Jesus instructs us, “Leave the wheat and weeds alone or you might end up ruining the good stuff. I will take care of the rest.” Jesus knows we want things to be impeccable and, in the face of the least little flaw, we will drive ourselves and others nuts in seeking perfection.
This longing is nothing new. We are embarking on the 500th year of the Reformation when the reformers yearned for a purer church. Protestants and Roman Catholics remain tragically divided as we attempt to separate weeds from wheat. You may believe things are purer because of Martin Luther and his sidekicks, but don’t forget the wars waged over pure doctrine, the heads lopped off, and the families devastated when their beautiful Catholic daughters married vulgar Lutheran boys. And that was not the only time the church was torn asunder. 500 years prior to the Reformation, in 1054, another theological squabble led to the Eastern and Western Church divide. And that wasn’t even the first monumental fracas. Remember how the first Jewish Christians tussled with the Gentile Christians over the earth-shattering issue of whether believers should be circumcised? Oh, how we long for perfection and what ugly rubble we create in pursuit of it. Could it be that every 500 years or so, we, the people of God, forget what Jesus has told us about wheat and weeds, and try once again to purify the church with our own preferred gardening techniques? Perhaps you have noticed the church is at it again, this time, issues of human sexuality are causing all manner of discord and people are ripping out wheat and weeds in all kinds of devastating ways. Oh, if we only would listen to Jesus: let the wheat and weeds grow together, he said, particularly since you are clueless what is a weed and what is wheat.
Something within us believes we can achieve perfection and, doggonit, we will stir up all manner of havoc in the struggle. When our personal lives and families, church and nation, are flawed, instead of doing as Jesus commands and letting the wheat and weeds coexist, we rip everything asunder, inevitably losing precious artichokes in the process.
I have a hunch Holy Trinity attracts lots of folks in search of purity. Would you agree? How many of us are here because we love the liturgy being “just so,” reflecting the venerable church traditions through the ages? We want to bow right, make the sign of the cross at the precise times, sing theologically fitting hymns with only the finest music, and wear appropriate vestments even when it is 95 degrees and soupy…By the way, I like it that way, too, or I wouldn’t have accepted your call to become the pastor here and I certainly wouldn’t be wearing this toasty get-up this muggy morning.
And yet, we need to be careful. My favorite author Annie Dillard writes: “The higher Christian churches – where, if anywhere, I belong—come at God with an unwarranted air of professionalism, with authority and pomp, as though they knew what they were doing, as though people in themselves were an appropriate set of creatures to have dealings with God. I often think of the set pieces of liturgy as certain words which people have successfully addressed to God without their getting killed. In the high churches they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a strand of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it any minute. This is the beginning of wisdom.”
Perhaps our freedom comes when we ease up a bit, taking ourselves less seriously and letting the weeds and wheat coexist. Rather than becoming nervous wrecks if we commit a nauseating faux pas like making an improper left turn instead of right as we process to the altar, let us manage a little smile, trusting that God will spare us the raging fires of hell and mysteriously let us enter into heaven. You could call this grace.
In a few moments, when the bread is broken at the altar, I will say, “Holy things for holy people.” You know better than that, of course you do, and you will shout out the ancient response, “Only one is holy, one is Lord, Jesus Christ, to the glory of God.”
Here’s what is astonishing: pure and spotless Jesus comes among us, repellant weeds that we are, looks straight into our eyes, and says, “Let the weeds remain.”
Perhaps Jesus, crummy gardener that he is, knows a thing or two about beautiful flowers. Maybe he knows beautiful flowers are nothing more than trained weeds…or at least forgiven ones.