July 23rd Sermon: The Difficult Grace of Doing Nothing (Rev. Zollfrank)
24He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” 31He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” 33He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” 34Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. 35This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth to speak in parables; I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.” 36Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!
Holy God, you are the first and you are the last; besides you there is no god. 7Who is like you? Let us not fear and let us not be afraid. You are the first and the last. There is no other rock; I know not one. Make us your witnesses.” Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I have a deep appreciation for all of you, who are gardeners and who know how to take care of plants and make things grow. The church garden to me is as close as it gets to a miracle and I have been amazed by the harvest that you have brought up to the altar each week. Was that kale you brought up last week? Or, were those collard greens? I have no idea how you make this amazing harvest happen! I’m sure there is a lot of hard work involved… Knowing you and the garden a little bit, you already have another pile of greens ready to bring to the altar again today. Amazing!
I, on the other hand, should probably try to grow potatoes in my backyard. You know how they say, “the dumbest farmers grow the biggest potatoes…” I have been a happy apartment dweller for many years. Why? – No gardening!! – But, some weeks back a friend of mine, who sold her house, gave me two beautiful flower pots filled with yellow, purple, and blue pansies. Ok, wait, – pansies or peonies? – I’m pretty sure those were pansies… Now, left to my own devices it would have never occurred to me to plant pansies and put the planters on the doorsteps of our house. But I have loved it! Every time I saw the colors of these little plants I smiled. They just nonchalantly thrived despite my benign neglect and everyday showed me their resilience. But then, the pansies stopped blooming and shot up – which apparently they do in the summer weeks (who knew?) and they looked – well, – like weeds! Days later, I observed other green stuff coming up in the same pots and thought it to be weeds as well. Since I am not a gardener, though, and had little time to spare, I didn’t do anything… to my astonishment, those greens that looked like weeds to me, changed into something that I eventually recognized as two tomato plants! Where did those come from? Well, maybe, if I don’t touch it, except for watering the plants, they will eventually develop little yellow blossoms and even tomatoes…?
In contrast to me, the disciples in our gospel story knew how to tell pansies from peonies and weeds from wheat. And when they saw the weeds, they went to the farmer eager to take action, “Lord, let’s do a little weeding… because, not that it is a big deal, but you may not have sown the best seed. No problem, really… the weeds are utterly apparent and fast growing. So, with your permission, we’ll get to work and fix the pesky problem.” But the Lord says, “No, don’t touch it, leave it, let both grow, weeds and wheat…”
What? – Wait, all of a sudden our field and farmer story turned into a debate among skilled gardeners about the problem of weeds and how to take care of it.
I hear the worry in the laborers’ questions. “What if these weeds are of the invasive variety? Have you thought about that? What if the wheat gets suffocated? Don’t you worry? We need to act now!” But Jesus seems to be a highly non-anxious farmer. “Leave it. Let them both grow…”
With that the laborers question if this Lord and master really knows, what he is doing. “Did you not sow good seed in your field?” And, since the answer seems to be that ‘of course, I have sown good seeds,’ there is some fear and distrust growing in the laborers’ minds, “well, if the seeds were good, where does all the bad stuff come from?”
I resonate with them, do you? God creates the earth and the heavens, and all that is in it and God said, “It is all good”. But then where does the bad stuff come from? And oh, by the way, the bad stuff can really hurt.
All of a sudden the conversation about weeds turns into a rather deep philosophical dialogue about the origins of evil. And, are you ready for this? In response to the question of where the bad stuff comes from, the Lord says, “an enemy has done this.” You heard right – an evil one, an enemy came, and sowed out bad seed. Jesus seems to say, “This didn’t happen by chance. The enemy wanted this to happen. Whoever the enemy is, there was some deliberate action, maybe even calculation, and full awareness of the consequences.” – “Yuck! This was done on purpose. Wicked.”
Jesus seems to say that whoever the enemy was, was smart. He knew that the root system of the weeds and the wheat would be intertwined to the point that pulling up one might result in pulling up both. And he picked weeds that will not only take root and grow like wheat, these weeds will also look very much like wheat, making it even harder to tell wheat and weeds apart.
In short, the problem of evil begets the problem of ambiguity. Easy enough to distinguish the bad plants from the good plants, but what if you pull out the good plants if you went ahead with weeding? All too often in our lives it is easy to distinguish between good and bad, but what if the only options are neither good or bad, but something ambiguous and uncertain in between?
Can you remember a time in your life when you wish you could with absolute clarity tell good from bad, wheat from weeds, friend from foe? Have you told yourself, ‘you’ve got to take the good with the bad?’ Or, have you had times when you wanted to make a decision, but there was so much uncertainty that it was just about impossible to know which choice would turn out to best? Have you felt the burden and stress of times when you felt responsible for consequences of a decision that you needed to make, but you knew there was really no good option?
Medical decision-making may come to mind. Deciding whether or not to take a new job. Intervening in family matters with good intentions and then seeing people respond in ways that were completely unexpected… We all know times when we want to do the right thing, but it just was not so clear what the best thing to do was.
For those times of uncertainty and ambiguity, Jesus seems to advise us, “Do nothing. Leave it be…”
“Don’t try so hard to fix it, let both, wheat and weeds, grow together until harvest time…” Just observe, watch things develop, sit with it…
The disturbing grace of doing nothing.
Doing nothing does not mean that Jesus or that we are indifferent. Maybe doing nothing is more and different from not doing anything.
The difficult grace of doing nothing.
Doing nothing and seeing weeds and wheat grow together, intertwined and inseparable may just make us more aware of the confusion, frustration, and pain of the ambiguity that winds itself through each of our lives. Doing nothing can be painful. And doing nothing might just mean that we feel more intensely what Paul his letter to the Romans calls, “our eager longing for the creation itself to be set free from its bondage to decay.” Doing nothing may just make us more aware of “our eager longing for the first fruits of the Spirit” as well. The grace of doing nothing can allow our deep longing for God’s kingdom to grow inside of us.
Jesus knows how hard it is for us to tolerate doing nothing and sitting with ambiguity. He knows. I think that’s why he follows the parable of the weeds with two additional parables, which are all about the grace of doing nothing. “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
The kingdom of God grows among us regardless of how eagerly and how action-oriented we work down the list, convincing ourselves that when all items on the ‘to do’-list are done, we might be closer to redemption. But maybe not… During this summer of Pastor Tim’s sabbatical we might just need a reminder of the grace of doing nothing. Why? Because the grace of doing nothing reminds us, that God is God and we are not. And God’s kingdom will come, despite of all we do or don’t do.
Or in the words of Isaiah, “I am the redeemer, the Lord of hosts. I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.’ And my word grows amongst you, do not be afraid.”
Lord, God, make us your witnesses! And let your word grow in us and among us. May your word ever be intertwined with the stories of our lives and by your grace, help us grow to become a part of your story. You are the first and the last, and your word of redemption grows in us and it will bear fruit. Amen.