Before entering ministry, I had the great joy and privilege of being a journalist. For 11 years starting in high school when I was a part-time stringer for the local paper I covered everything a young reporter could cover. I saw the inner workings of the legislative process, the fast-paced nature of NASCAR on a race weekend, the joy of a high school athlete who just won a state title, and the pain caused by the most obscure crimes.
Though I no longer cover a beat with my reporter’s notebook in hand I often find myself reflective of that time in my life. One of the things I have recognized about this time in my life was that it was season of preparation for this life in pastoral ministry. Not only did it give me the tools to communicate and express our mutual hope in Jesus Christ, but it also gave me the tools to look at our communities and world and to see what we often do not see at first glance.
So, what if I were assigned to write about what I see across our communities and world today? What would I write about? I cannot help but think that the story would focus on how our communities are bitterly divided.
I think this is familiar news for many of us. Throughout my lifetime, I have seen our communities become less unified and more divided. This division takes up a lot of our attention. We spend a lot of time focusing on what divides us instead of what we hold in common with each other. We are more likely to talk at each other instead of with each other. Most of our relationships are with people who share our viewpoints, opinions, or thoughts regarding various things. We spend time with those who are similar to us.
In all of this, we expend a lot of energy trying to determine who is in and who is out based upon our own definitions and believes. I find this disheartening, especially when I think about how I may have participated in these divisions. I have to wonder if this is really a healthy way for us to live? What does Christ ask for us in these times where we focus on our divisions more than our commonalities? As we reflect upon our passage from Matthew 13:23-30, 36-43, I believe Jesus is asking us to find ways to love all people as Christ loves all people.
Our passage for today is the second of seven parables in Matthew 13. Once again Jesus uses agricultural themes to make a point about the kingdom of God. If you remember from our discussion about the parable of the sower these parables are a response to the deep divisions Jesus is encountering through his teachings and witness. Here Jesus teaches this parable of the weeds that, once again, responds to the divisions and discord Jesus is experiencing.
As the story goes, a sower goes out to plant a seed in his field. Unlike the previous parable where the focus was on the receptiveness of the soil, the emphasis here is on the seed as God’s word that is planted in the hearts of all. When others were not watching, sleeping in fact, an enemy came and planted another seed. The seed the sower planted grew into wheat, while the seed the enemy planted turned into weeds. These weeds had the potential of hindering the growth and development of the wheat crop.
This leads the field workers to become anxious. They were worried about what will happen to the wheat crop. So they decide to go to the householder to ask for permission to remove the weeds. It is a response based on protecting the harvest, but notice how the householder responds. He says for them to leave the weeds alone until the harvest time. It is then that they will bundle up and remove the weeds. To do so now, he says, would potentially harm the wheat crop because they might accidentally remove the wheat instead of the weeds.
So, what are we to make of this parable? What does it say to us today? Once again we have Jesus’ interpretation to help us discern its meaning and to unpack its potential implications for us. The wheat is symbolic of those who seek to follow Christ and strive to be obedient of the Lord’s desires. They are God’s children. The weeds are different. They are symbolic of those who seek to have nothing to do with faith in God or the church. Jesus says both wheat and weeds will live together until the time of final judgment when they are separated from one another. In other words, those who seek to follow God and those who do not will live among each other.
We see this all around us. In our communities and in our world we know there are both people who are striving to love Christ and those who live not by Christ’s desires but by desires of their own heart. There is wheat and weeds all around us and even within our own selves.
When we recognize that there is weeds around us our response has often been like the field workers. Our inclination is to go out and to remove the weeds, so that the wheat may live in peace and calmness. We try to eliminate from our communities the things we find uncomfortable or unpleasant. We do not enter into relationships with anyone who does not share our same values and opinions. We try to determine who is in and who is out based upon our own definitions of acceptance. In a time when our divisions and differences are prevalent, we spend a lot of time furthering these divisions by only relating with those who are like us.
Doing so creates a challenge for the church, today, in its mission to “make disciples of Jesus Christ.” To many who have no faith in God our response to these divisions when it is like the field workers comes off as too judging and critical. Many spend this time when we gather for worship wondering if the church has anything to say to them. They feel no connection to God, because they see the church as a place where we focus more on what people do wrong than on the hope and grace Jesus offers. In doing so, we hinder our witness of faith and love of Christ to those who need to hear Christ’s love.
I think there is a better way forward for us and the church. I believe our engagement with our communities, neighbors, and the world must be defined and matched by our love of Christ and the love Jesus shares with us. Jesus’ love knows no division and focuses not on our mistakes or misjudgments, but on the very fact that we were created by God and are of deep worth. The love Jesus shares is a love that is filled with grace and hope that is given to all without conditions. This is the love we are called to share with all people, especially those who are outside the church and have no relationship with the Lord. In response to our love of Christ, we are called to love others, build relationships, and find places of commonality with people so that the hope, joy, peace, and love of Christ may shine through in these moments and impact the lives of others.
This is why, I believe, Jesus says that the wheat and the weeds will live together. The fact the weeds are among us gives us an opportunity to share Christ with them. The weeds are around us for us to be a beacon of light and a witness of hope to all people. Only in God’s kingdom can weeds live among wheat and have the potential to be transformed into fruitful crops of wheat.
By our witnesses of hope, joy, peace, and love and our desire to be examples of Christ with others, we have the opportunity to really make an impact in our communities. Truly, we have a chance to rewrite the story of the church that many who our outside the church write every week. I think we have that opportunity here. One of my biggest ministry beliefs is that the church must exist in our communities. We must move beyond the walls of our church and find places to share hope with our neighbors.
We go into our communities to be examples of Christ with those who are hurting. We go out into our communities to share hope with those who believe there is no way Jesus could love them because of something in their past. We go out into our communities to share joy with those who are discouraged and feel alone. We got out and welcome into our hearts those who believe that the church would never love. In doing so, we live by the same example that Christ set before us when he welcomed us, even when we looked more like wheat than weeds.
By our example of Christ in our hearts and in our love of others can we make a different in Salvisa, Lawrenceburg, Anderson County, and Mercer County. By our love will we build relationships with those who feel left out by the church so they may see Christ alive in their hearts.
You have lived in our communities longer than I have. You know the stories of our communities better than I. Who might Christ be calling us to love? Who might Christ be asking us to welcome? As I so often say, and has become a line that I hope defines my response to Christ, who needs to know that Christ loves them and so do we?