In the Weeds

In the Weeds

My husband and I moved to Cedar Rapids in October of 2012.  At that dreary time of year, everything that had been growing in the flower beds had died away and dusty brown leaves covered everything.

That winter was desperately cold… but I knew there had to be something planted in those flower beds.  Sure it was a rental home, but I kept praying that spring would come and flowers would blossom and bloom all on their own.

In April, I discovered some irises on the east side of the house, but everywhere else, I couldn’t figure out what was growing.

931263_10151393787655866_1946090027_nI took some pictures of the chaos to post on facebook and I began pulling weeds.

 

A week or two later, I found myself at the garden center purchasing a few plants to go back in those now empty spaces.  I showed the horticulturist my pictures so she could get a good idea of the light I had to work among. With all of her knowledge and wisdom, she pointed out the lovely pachysandra, mums and periwinkle…  you know, all of those plants that I had just pulled out.

 

It wasn’t early enough for them to bloom, so I thought they were weeds.  I dug them out, right along with the wild grape vine, the garlic mustard, and the creeping charlie.  I assumed it had all gone to weeds, rather than be patient enough to wait and see.

 

It is not always easy to tell the weeds from the good things that grow. And maybe that is because of a simple truth. 

A weed is just a plant growing where it doesn’t belong.

Wrong place.

Wrong time.

Wrong circumstances.

 

Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of Heaven is like this:

A farmer plants good seed in the field.  It is not some innate characteristic of the seed that makes it good… it is that it is intended seed.  A planned crop of wheat in this parable.  There is purpose to what has been sown.

 

But that night, an enemy comes and plants something else in the midst of that field. Something unexpected.  Something unwelcomed. Something that has not been planned.

 

As the seeds sprout and begin to grow, the discovery is made that this field has been hijacked. 

The servants immediately offer to go out and gather up all of the unwanted plants so that the planned crop can grow as designed.

 

When I hear them make this offer, I think about my grandpa. 

volunteer-corn02We swore that he would die in the middle of a field pulling weeds.  Every morning, he would go out to check on the crops with his garden hoe as his cane.  One of most common weeds he dealt with was volunteer corn growing in the bean fields.  They were seeds… good seeds… that had simply fallen to the ground the season before and took root there among the new soybeans. 

A weed is simply a plant growing where it doesn’t belong.

 

The response of the farmer in this parable is important to hear.  Instead of sending out the servants with garden hoes and spades, he makes an astute observation. 

If you try to pull up the weeds… you will probably pull up the wheat as well.  Let them grow… side by side… until the harvest.  Then, we’ll be able to tell them apart.  Then, we will be able to toss the weeds aside.  

The farmer tells the servants to be patient.

 

The Kingdom of God is like this:

A creation designed and planted by God’s will.  With the good things of God like compassion and justice, wholeness and health, life and love, carefully planned.

 

But other things have taken root in this world.

Wealth. Poverty. Patriotism. Energy Needs. National Borders. Alcohol. Egos. Religion.

 

Are any of these things in and of themselves bad? No.

But too much…

 in the wrong place…

at the wrong time…

in the wrong circumstances, these powers can become weeds in the Kingdom of God.  

They can be sources of injustice, violence, disease, and death.

This past week, we might have felt overwhelmed by heartbreaking realities with an airplane shot down, thousands of children seeking refuge, the escalating conflict between Israel and Gaza, even the way a birthday party turned into a celebration of life instead.

The term “in the weeds” is used in the service industry when someone gets overwhelmed and falls behind in their work.  It can be a call for help or simply used to describe when we can’t figure out how to get back in control of a situation.

As we look at the injustices and tragedies not only in the larger world, but in our personal lives, we can feel like we, too, are in the weeds.

We wish that things were simpler. 

We pray for God to act and respond and take away the burdens that weigh us down.

We point out injustices and long for the day when wrongs will be righted.

 

We sometimes ask questions like – Why does God allow these things to happen? 

It frustrates us to think that rather than pulling up all of those “weeds” the moment they take root, our God allows them to grow. 

 

But perhaps we need to remember that the roots of these conflicts are not in and of themselves bad…. They are just not part of the planned garden.

In her reflection on the text, Kayla McClurg points out the benefits of weeds by quoting Mother Earth News, “Contrary to their reputation, beneficial weeds under certain circumstances can be helpful in the garden by holding top-soil, pulling up water and nutrients, providing food, controlling insects and more.” [1]

As I have recently followed the conflict in Israel and Gaza, I’ve noticed that among what look like weeds, good things are growing, too.

The mayor of Jerusalem worked to connect two families that have lost sons, one Israeli and one Palestinian.  The fathers spoke on the phone and comforted one another in their grief.  

Palestinian families then went to the home of the Fraenkel family, whose son was killed, to comfort them in their loss.  When asked why they came, the person said, “Things will only get better when we learn to cope with each other’s pain and stop getting angry at each other.” [2]

Among the loss are the seeds of a new future.

It is not as simple as pulling out the weeds. 

 

We are called instead to endure the weeds, to hold fast in times of trial… because this present reality is not the end.

Paul talks about how the creation itself groans as we wait for the coming of the Lord, for that day when the weeds and the wheat will finally be separated from one another. 

“I believe the present suffering is nothing compared to the coming glory that is going to be revealed to us.  The whole creation waits in breathless anticipation for the revelation of God’s sons and daughters.”

We persist because we hope.

Until then, we live in the midst of the weeds. 

Until then, the things that are not of God grow alongside us. 

Until then, we must be people who persist in hope… the hope that God’s Spirit WILL sort all things out in the end… that justice will reign… that life will endure… that violence will cease. 

 

Until then, I think we have two options:

First, we could spend our days worrying about the weeds.

We like to think that we can point out there in the world at the good guys and the
bad guys.

 It is easy to see the world in black and white, us verses them, good verses evil.

But in doing so, we risk letting anger and self-righteousness take over. 

Our focus on the present suffering can overwhelm us and we can become paralyzed into inaction or find ourselves causing more problems in our striving to do good.

Just think about my eagerness to pull the weeds in my flower beds. Because I thought I knew the answers, I ended up uprooting perennials that had been faithfully planted by someone ages ago.

With our limited knowledge, this parable reminds us that we just might pull up the wheat with the weeds. 

 

So our second option is to live in patient expectation.

Patience is holding on to the hope of the promised future and working to help that future become a reality.

Patience is trust. It is faith. It is holding fast to the good and helping to nurture God’s will in this world because we know and believe that the reality we can’t yet see is just around the corner. 

It is important to remember that patience is not inaction. 

Had I been patient with my flower beds, I would have taken those photos to an expert before I started yanking and pulling plants.

In the same way, our lives of prayer and faithfulness to God’s will guides our actions so that with patience we can heal the sick, advocate for others, and work to end violence. 

 

It is that kind of prayerful attention and patience that our Bishop has called us to this weekend regarding the humanitarian crisis of the thousands of children who have come to our borders.  Together with Bishop Scarfe of the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa, he writes:

“Before we retreat to arguments of border security, cost to states and quick-fix policy decisions, let us all pause for a time of prayer and immediate compassionate response.”

 

Patience transforms how we respond to the weeds of the world.  When we begin our response to the weeds by turning to God, we find ourselves responding out of love and mercy and grace…

After all, God’s vision of the weeds and the wheat might be drastically different than ours.

If a weed is simply a plant in the wrong place at the wrong time, then in God’s time and in God’s power, even the weeds themselves might someday be transformed.

The kingdom of God is like a field that has been carefully planted by our God… and though weeds might take root, though sorrows might come our way, though we might groan in frustration at the injustices of our present day… We are sustained by hope.

And we can do so, because we are not looking towards the past or even the present moment, but towards that time of harvest when God will sort it all out.  

[1] (inward/outward email, Church of the Saviour, 7.20.14, originally from Season and Scripture: Matthew: Ordinary Time A

[2] Samuel, Sigal. Jewish Daily Forward “Families of Slain Israeli and Palestinian Teens Turn to Each Other for Comfort” http://forward.com/articles/201500/families-of-slain-israeli-and-palestinian-teens-tu/?

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