This sermon is from the 7th Sunday after Pentecost, from Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
‘Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asks his disciples. Too overwhelmed to process any more parables they answered simply, “Yes.” But I doubt they understood any of these five parables with much depth.
We all know the Sunday School version of the Mustard seed. This idea that there is something small, it is the smallest of all seeds. And when it grows up it becomes a shrub and then a tree, and it’s this message that big things come in small packages and how small things can yield to become big things.
That’s the Sunday school answer. But let’s push it a little bit.
Imagine that you’re in High School and you’re going to write a paper on it. And you do a little bit of research- not a lot- to get by. Is the mustard seed the smallest of all seeds? No. Does it grow up to be a tree? Never! A shrub never grows into a tree. Never.
And then you get to college and your dust off that old paper and you’re going to write it again. And you dig a little bit deeper and you realize that there are all of these laws. There are 613 laws in the Torah- the law- which are the first five books of the Old Testament. And those laws suggest that mustard is actually a weed not a plant. Which means that you would never ever plant it in a field because it is considered unclean. The laws of Leviticus 19:19 say that you would never plant more than one crop in your field at a time, and you would never plant a weed as your one crop. So why- oh why- would Jesus tell his disciples that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a weed?
In your college research you go to the next parable. And hear a story about a woman who takes yeast that when added to three measures of flour, and makes leaven, which makes bread.
But you dig deeper and you realize that that yeast is really mold. And it too is ritually unclean. It is something that you would stay away from in the Hebrew world because it would make you unclean. And if you touched it you would not be able to do anything for the whole rest of the day until sundown because you were unclean.
Why- oh why-would Jesus of Nazareth speak about the kingdom of heaven like it was weeds and mold?
And then you would go to seminary. And you would take that same paper that you wrote in college and now you can dig even deeper. Now you know Greek, now you know biblical criticism, and you can really study it.
And you realize that Jesus isn’t really just talking about weeds and mold. He’s talking about subverting the power structures that be. He’s talking about looking at those 613 laws and say, ‘something has gone wrong here’ See the Hebrew people started these laws for good reason- they were all very practical when you kill a calf you needed to eat the meat within three days. Why? Because if you didn’t, you would get sick. If you’re plowing a field, you can sow crops for six years but on the seventh year you need to let it lay fallow- why? Because it cannot yield year after year. These are the laws- these are the things that made sense to them. If you have two different types of clothing don’t sew them together into one garment because it will pull apart. If you have mold on the side of your house you need to clean it for seven days- all of these were practical rules to live by. The problem arose when they made these laws. And once they made them laws, they became Judge, jury and executioner over anyone who broke them. Insert into that a revolutionary, a counter-cultural crazy rabbi who breaks every one of these laws- virtually. Who heals people on the Sabbath, who tells parables about how a man is lying in a ditch and two priests pass by on the other side and one man defiles himself to help him. This rabbi heals a woman who has been bleeding which was definitely unclean, a man who goes around eating with tax-collectors and sinners; a man who is so counter-cultural that everything he says makes them want to kill him.
My wife Ashley and I were working in our yard yesterday to sort of try to keep up with the neighbors just a little bit. And we were working to pull weeds and she asked me to pull up a weed near me. I looked around but didn’t see one. “I don’t see it” I said. She told me to look again and finally came over and pulled on one of the sprouts of the weed and said, “this, this is the weed” I said, “you mean this huge plant here?” “Yes,” she said, “that’s a weed.” To which I said, “who gets to decide what is a weed and what is a plant?” So I looked it up, and apparently there is no difference. A weed is simply an unwanted plant. In fact, one person’s weed could be another person’s plant. We are arbitrators over what makes a plant and what makes a weed. We judge for ourselves what is clean and good and what is unclean and bad. And when we give ourselves too much authority to decide not just about plants and things, but when some people are clean and some people are unclean, we go against the kingdom of God. That is what Jesus is talking about when he compares the kingdom of heaven to weeds and mold.
We have lived in our house for a little over a year now, and before we moved in, we noticed that the house had beautiful- looking ivy growing up the side of it. Now we realize that we kind of hate ivy. Because every time we met a neighbor at an adjoining yard they would tell us that Mrs. Barbara who had the house before us planted that ivy and that it had spread to their yard. And every time we met someone we were the people in the house that brought ivy to the neighborhood. And we thought this ivy that looks beautiful doesn’t just stay there. Ivy grows everywhere and you can’t fight it. One day I was out in the back yard, cursing under my breath, hacking at the ivy with my axe for chopping firewood, and my neighbor came out and said to me, “you fighting that ivy?” “Yeah” I said. “He said you want to know how to beat the ivy? “Yes, please, I asked.” “You move” he said.
You know the thing about weeds is, even when you try to keep them down, they come back. And that’s a good lesson for us to hear that we are simply not in control of our lives. And the sooner we realize that, the sooner we embrace the fact that we are not in control of our own garden of our lives, the better and happier we will be. As a parent I find myself constantly trying to “stay on top of things” whatever that means. Trying to make sure that my kids are perfect, that everything goes right, that they are not lacking in any school subject, that they are riding their bike on time, that they never wear the same socks two days in a row, that they go to bed on time, get up early, have brain food and vitamins, and that everything would be perfect. But by the time our third child came along we realized that this was not a good plan for success. So we have decided to admit that we are not always in control and we could give our lives up to God. And it is so much better. Rather than trying to control all the weeds in the garden why don’t we spend time enjoying the fruits that we have? Rather than trying to be in control of everything why don’t we let go and let God?
The reading from Romans 8 flows perfectly from the Gospel. Paul reminds us that we are convinced that neither death nor life, nor angles nor rulers, no height nor depth, nor things present nor things to come- NOTHING can ever separate us from the love of God. You want to know why the kingdom of God is like weeds? It’s because nothing stops it, nothing gets in the way of it, and nobody else can tell God how to rule God’s garden.
We are not in control. We have not been tasked with judging who is in and who is out. Paul continues, “It is God who Justifies. Who is to condemn?” It is not our job to judge others, period.
The power afforded those who were judging who was clean and who was unclean came to a head when this man who was walking around talking against their laws- and they looked at him and it didn’t take long for them to say, ‘that’s a weed and he needs to be plucked up.’ So they took him, put him on a cross, and killed him.
three days later,
that ‘weed’ came back. Amen.