If you’ve been gardening during this time of Coronavirus pandemic, you may have strong feelings about weeds these days. Interim Pastor David Mueller has a weed-related challenge for us in his message today.
Join us as we worship by way of a prerecorded video, produced by our Director of Music and Worship Arts, John Lasher, who has worked with Pastor to provide these online services each week.
Also participating today are Cheryl Powell, worship assistant and soloist, and this week’s Virtual Choir: Allen Kirk, Myrna Kirk, John Lasher, David McClure, Fred Meckley, John Nichols, Cheryl Powell and Teresa Stebner.
The link below will take you to the video on our YouTube channel. The video goes “live” at 10 a.m. The text of Pastor Mueller’s sermon is also included below.
“Have You Loved a Weed Today?” (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43)
Interim Pastor David E. Mueller
In a class at Princeton years ago, a professor claimed that many parables of Jesus were intentionally designed to confuse his listeners. Confusion is a state of affairs most people cannot tolerate, which compels them to work their way out of the confusion, to think through all angles until it begins to make some sense.
The perfect example is the lost sheep (Luke 15:3-7). “Which one of you, having 100 sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the 99 in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?”
Any shepherd, as well as anyone else for that matter, would find this absolutely insane. One cuts his loss of one sheep and continues to watch out for the 99. What on earth was Jesus saying?
With today’s parable, even though Jesus explains it, listeners are left with incredible questions and concerns. I am no botanist, but I have enough yard to know that if weeds are allowed to grow, they take over quickly. Explaining this by speaking of people instead of plants makes thing worse and not better. Evil in the midst of us tends to thrive even as we suffer difficulties at least.
Haven’t many or most of us at one time or another, perhaps more often, asked why God doesn’t do something about certain people, groups or forces that tend to be so effective at causing problems? Why can’t basically good people be left alone to accomplish good things? Why are we constantly confronted by resistance?
Yet again with incredible energy, we are faced with the evil of racism raising its ugly head ironically in the north and not just the south, perhaps in our very midst here at St. Mark’s? How can some people be so cruel, insensitive and selfish as to fight for not wearing a mask when all the research strongly supports wearing one is a main mitigation against the virus?
Is this mere misguidance or is it evil? Where is God in any of this? Must the devil so often prevail so it seems?
Jesus, as a Jew, got much of his teaching from the Hebrew Scriptures. I turn to the book of Ecclesiastes of the Wisdom Literature to seek some assistance. There are at least a few hints herein.
Solomon, traditionally believed to have been the author, says in 7:15: “In my vain life, I have seen everything; there are righteous people who perish in their righteousness, and there are wicked people who prolong their life in their evildoing.”
Ain’t it the truth!
Similarly in 8:14, Solomon says: “There is a vanity that takes place on earth, that there are righteous people who are treated according to the conduct of the wicked, and there are wicked people who are treated according to the conduct of the righteous.”
God, this is just not right!
Both Solomon writes and Jesus says that in the end, the righteous will prevail and the wicked will fail miserably, but what a hell of a meantime this is.
Have you heard about the lawsuits against the poison Roundup? It kills weeds for sure, but evidently has caused many cancers in those who use it frequently. That sort of risk Jesus raises — namely, that we do not want to harm the wheat or good folk as we poison, cut, or in some way kill the weeds. I get that!
In Romans 12,9, we note: “Let love be genuine, hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good.” We are not told here to hate evildoers, but the evil they do.
There are children and families still stuck in cages at our southern border. I hate that! It does no one any good to hate the perpetrators!
There are tens of thousands of good police personnel without whom life and crime would be worse. What of those police who cause unnecessary harm, even death? That is a question for us all these days.
What of those white guys who wave foreign and domestic enemy flags, shout racial slurs, make violent threats, and — all too often — are violent? I hate that!
What of politicians and government officials who fail in their duty to keep Americans safe and secure, physically, financially and otherwise? I hate that!
Speaking of police, Gigi and I were in Venice, Italy, on what we called our “There is Life after Tuition Trip.” After dinner one evening, we walked what there is of streets amidst the canals. We came upon a very drunken Gondolier who was surrounded by six policemen. There were several Carabinieri, military police, and an equal number of Polizia di Stato, civilian police, being incredibly patient with this young man. They spoke softly to him, encouraged him to stop shouting and making a fuss, and seemed prepared to take whatever time it took to wait him out or wear him down. There were no threats, no gestures of force, no drawing of weapons. That has stood in contrast to all too many scenes here in America. I realize that we are not frequently exposed to our police being patient and kind.
There is almost nothing in the words of Jesus that could be interpreted as “do nothing!” If then, weeds or evil people are so near us, what do we do? Hating, killing or harming them in any way is not the Christian way. What then? Love them! How? Allow them to get away with their evil ways? Not really. Come on, Mueller, you are suggesting this, so what do we do?
Love is misinterpreted sometimes. There is absolutely nothing mushy about love here. It is not a weak gesture. It is not passive but active. It seeks to express care for sure, care they probably have not known in their lives or they might not be the people they have become.
“Pray for those who persecute you.” (Luke 6:28) Offer them an example which is their moral opposite! Pray for them! Be Jesus to them, forgive them, show them mercy and grace. Pray for them! Be the redeemed person you are and they are not!
“Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:6) Let them see the rejoicing we do in what is good, true and positive. Let us refuse to rejoice in their evil ways. Pray for them! Praying cannot hurt. It can keep us engaged!
Back in seminary with a student body of approximately 400 or so (oh, to have that many today!), there were about a dozen of us who were not satisfied with what we were being taught about certain matters or about important matters about which nothing was being taught.
We set up what was an “inner seminary.” We had retreats, discussion sessions, prayer times. What really kept the seminary administration’s bowels in an uproar, was when we planned a weekend retreat with special guests or held an evening symposium.
We invited Fred Hampton, Chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party to come and speak to us. In the late Sixties, one of their stated desires, not goals but desires, was to get 13 states in the South for themselves. I remember moving from the back of the room right up front where Fred was sitting with several of his companions. When given the chance, I asked if after getting their 13 states, might some small percentage of their own people start to exploit them? His answer was “perhaps, but at least they would be our own people.”
Sadly, two weeks later, he and another Panther were shot and killed by the Chicago police in a raid.
There were then and there are now those white folks who would think of the Black Panthers as a terrorist organization. They did have a violent streak in what could better be called riots and not just protests back then. But we engaged them, sought to understand them, did not have to agree with them on anything. How Fred Hampton thought of a bunch of German Lutherans inviting him to dialogue we will never know.
As Christians, washed in the blood of Jesus, forgiven and freed, loved forever, we cannot allow ourselves to merely become victims of the evils around us. Engaging evil in a careful, caring, intelligent, faithful and prayerful manner is far less risky and potentially far more effective than doing nothing. Jesus engaged the devil and those throughout his ministry who were less than righteous.
Have you loved a weed today? If not, give it a shot! You might just discover a new and possibly righteous part of your Christian self.