I was raised in Shady Spring: population of 1,000 and now with its regionally-famous traffic light and Dollar General. It is a small town on the outskirts of Beckley, but has always been home for me.
I was what you would call a nerd. My focus was on studying presidential history and being part of the journalism staff at the junior high and high school. I also worked for the local paper. I wasn’t athletic, even though I tried about every sport and loved to watch them all.
My favorite sport to participate in was wrestling. I loved the sport, and was average, at best, at it. When I moved more into my journalism career, it was always the most enjoyable and complex sport to cover. I still enjoy it today. What did I enjoy about it? You were part of a team, yet you were responsible for your own actions. You had to think on your feet and consider how to achieve your objective in a limited time and space.
Now, I have to be honest and admit that I didn’t just enjoy freestyle wrestling as a youth. I also enjoyed professional wrestling. There is something humorous about watching two people bark about how they are the most impressive talker and fighter all while wearing a feather boa and a mullet.
That love of professional wrestling has led to the creation of a line that you may hear from time to time. That line is this: This is feeling a lot like WrestleMania. It was a line, and its variations, that I started to say in the lead-up to General Conference last year. I was responsible for covering the event for the Kentucky Annual Conference. As I covered the event, I actually felt like I was at WrestleMania. For me, the phrase is used to describe an event that has become filled with anger, talking, and divisiveness, especially in places you would least expect it. Sadly, I use that phrase a lot in the life of the church.
In fact, I seem to be using that phrase quite a bit. It seems there is a lot of anger and fighting in the church. Fighting that looks a lot like what we see on cable news and, yes, professional wrestling. We argue, scream, and yell at each other about who is truly true and following Christ. It is an example we picked up from society and our willingness to divide and discount one another. Is this who we are called to be? Is this what it means to be citizens of God’s kingdom?
Our parable from Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 leads us to reflect upon these questions. It is the second of seven parables in this famous Chapter 13. This chapter filled with parables, as we began to look at last week, that focuses on what it means to participate in God’s kingdom. A kingdom that is breaking into the world to realize God’s reign through the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This particular parable builds upon the parable of the sower. If you remember from last week, there is a sower, Christ, who is planting God’s word into the hearts of each person. It is those who are found to be good soil – those receptive to God’s word and put it into practice – who will experience the transformative grace and hope of Christ.
In this parable, however, the focus is on the good seed that the sower plants. The good seed is the reign of God’s kingdom and what it means to be a citizen and participate in the world Christ is establishing then and now. That seed eventually grows into a wheat plant. At almost the same time, however, an enemy – the devil – comes and plants another seed that is contrary to God’s desires. It doesn’t grow into a wheat, but a weed. A specific weed known as darnel, which looks like wheat, but is poisonous. The two plants growing together would be hard to tell apart.
That doesn’t stop the sower’s workers from wanting to pull the weeds out. In the story, Jesus says the workers go to the sower wanting permission to get rid of the weeds, so they do not harm the wheat crop that is forming. They know weeds are not what they want, so they come up with the idea any of us would: get rid of the weeds.
Almost like how we believe we need to live in the world today. Our response to what we see in the world, it’s injustices and pain, is to figure out the group of people who are responsible and try to get rid of them. We want to get rid of the people, denounce them, and say that they are what is causing the problems that we encounter. We expend a lot of energy, in society and the church, dividing one another into groups of those who are good and those who are, well, like weeds who are preventing the good people from making a difference in the world. In doing so, we never see ourselves as those living as weeds. It is always the other person, which only enhances the divisions and distance from one another.
So, like the workers in the parable we go out and try to get rid of the weeds, whether in society or our churches. Perhaps we need to hear Jesus’ caution. He warns the workers to let the weeds be. That seems counter intuitive to us. Our basic instinct is to go and pull the weeds in order to let the crop grow. Jesus, as he often does, is encouraging us to think through things from a different angle. One that allows God’s grace to work in us and through us, as we seek to give witness to the love of Christ.
Jesus points to the fact in our zeal of wanting to get rid of the weeds, we could do some serious damage to the wheat crop that is blossoming. We could end up pulling up the wheat crop instead of the weeds. Why? If you get overzealous in an activity, you’re not always paying attention to the work. You are busy just going in and ripping things apart, much like how Noah does when he rips open the wrapping paper on a present. With that kind of zeal, you don’t just pull the weeds out. You end up pulling up the wheat, as well.
It shouldn’t take us long to see how this kind of activity has affected the church, especially in western society, over the course of my lifetime and yours. When all of our energy is tied to denouncing people or fighting battles with one another, we weaken our influence to the hope of Christ and the love of God. We’re too focused on aligning ourselves with this political group or that political group, to say that to follow Christ you must agree fully with me, and criticize each other that we don’t leave ourselves a lot of time to create relationships and be in ministry with the world. Even if we had the time, our passion for internal bickering and fighting turns off many in the church and is a contributing factor, though not the only reason, to the exodus from the established church of Generation X and younger. They see the church as a place of fighting and divisiveness, and have decided to walk away. Potential wheat crop is leaving, because we’ve focused our energy on getting rid of the weeds. Is this really how we are called to live in response to Christ?
The truth is that trying to figure out who are the wheat and who are the weeds is not for us. That is God’s work, especially the separating of the wheat and the weeds from one another. Jesus says in the parable and its interpretation that there will be a time, when Christ returns, when it will take place. Jesus is the one who will ultimately determine if we were true to our faith and walk or if we were following another path. We should not seek for ourselves work that is reserved for God.
Does that mean we do not speak out when there are sin and injustices? No. We should call them out and call people to live deeply in a transformative life in Christ. What it does mean is that in response to our relationship with Christ we must do the difficult task of not separating ourselves from one another, but to love those who might have the appearance of a weed. We are called to be a witness of Christ to all people, and that includes the potential weeds among us.
Our faith and the challenge of following Christ is that we are called not to divide ourselves or to hate. We are called to love as Christ has loved us. As Christ has loved us in ways words could never explain fully, we are called to love our neighbor and treat them as ourselves. Even more, we are called to do the difficult task of loving our enemy, of loving the weeds, and sharing grace and hope with them. This may be radical language to the ways of the world’s desires for us versus them, but it is the way of discipleship for those who seek to follow Christ.
We give witness to Christ by living as a faithful example of Christ. We do so by seeking relationships over division. We seek peace instead of fear. We seek love instead of hate. In doing so, we may inspire those who may be inclined to live like a weed to see the power and grace of Christ at work in their lives and be transformed by God’s presence.
I’m tired of the church looking like something I would see on cable news. I’m tired of seeing the church look like something I would watch on professional wrestling. We’re not called to look like that.
We are called to look like Christ who loved and taught people the deeper ways of Christ. We are to live like Christ who walked into the places of division and separation and showed a deeper way. In this time of deep division and attempts by many to separate to figure out who is in and who is out, let us be known as a people who will love as Christ called us to love. That is a hard and challenging work, and enough for us to do.
We’ll let God lead us in this, and let God do the work that is reserved for the Lord. Maybe then the WrestleMania moments will subside, and we get back to the deeper work of making disciples and sharing Christ’s love with the whole world.