Sunday, July 23, 2023
Isaiah 44:6-8 & Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Rev. Kristine Aragon Bruce

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The Bearded Darnel is a weed, but it is an especially troublesome one. Its roots suck up all of the nutrients from the nearby plants, therefore to pull up any of the Bearded Darnel is to potentially harm the good plants such as wheat that the Bearded Darnel tends to grow alongside. In addition, it is identical to wheat until it starts to seed. The seeds of the Bearded Darnel can cause dizziness and nausea if ingested. In large quantities, Darnel seeds can lead to death. 

The Bearded Darnel has been around for centuries. Jesus’s audience in Matthew was familiar with it and most likely dealt with this invasive weed in their own wheat fields. As with all of Jesus’s parables, he used examples from their daily lives to illustrate his points about who God is and how God is at work. 

It didn’t take long for those who were committed to following Jesus to recognize that there were bad seeds among them. Just as it’s difficult to spot Bearded Darnel among the wheat, it was difficult to spot those with ill intentions within their own communities. That is until the damage had been done. 

Throughout scripture, there were always false teachers and prophets who created discord among God’s people. We see it in the Old Testament, where prophets such as Jeremiah and Isaiah had to speak out against those who tried to lead Israel astray. In the early church, the apostle Paul called out false teachers in the churches of Corinth and Ephesus. The audience to whom Jesus tells this parable are also no strangers to those who appeared to be united in their shared belief in Christ, but their words and actions proved otherwise. 

They now have the opportunity to hear from Jesus about what can finally be done about the “wolves in sheep’s clothing” in their fledgling community of faith. Jesus assures them that evil will be judged and will be dealt with. But it’s not our job to do so. That task belongs to God. 

This is not to say that we wait until Jesus comes back to address conflict within the church. This does not mean we don’t have accountability within the church.  If someone we’ve entrusted our children with is no longer a safe person there has to be immediate action and consequences. If a volunteer is saying slanderous things about another member that needs to be immediately addressed. Such things can’t be left until Jesus comes back. As Christians, we are called to be loving and gracious and part of that means telling the truth even if the truth is hard to hear. If someone has acted in an immoral way or has abused their power there needs to be consequences. Later on in Matthew, Jesus gives more practical ways how to immediately address those who have been found to be in the wrong. Jesus later says if there is someone who needs to be confronted, go to that person individually, and if that doesn’t work bring another person etc.

Our passage from Matthew 13 does not give us practical ways to confront those who have proven themselves toxic or dangerous to the church because that’s not what this passage is about. It’s about who ultimately has the right to judge. In the end, it’s only God who has the right to judge. 

Unfortunately, this passage has been used to create an “us vs. them” mentality. Many churches have used this passage to declare themselves the true wheat and everyone on the outside the weeds destined for the fires of judgment. But in doing this many churches failed to see how they themselves were becoming weeds.

The truth of the matter is that the church is full of imperfect people. While the church is called to reflect the love of Jesus Christ, the church is a mixed reality of people who desire to emulate Christ and at times do that well. At other times we do the opposite. The reality is we all have the potential to bear both bad and healthy seeds.

Quote: “Each of us is some mixture of wheat and weed, of holy and unholy, of potentially fruitful and potentially destructive.” – Gary Peluso-Verdend

Instead of jumping to criticize those we deem as the weeds, we need to focus on whether or not we ourselves are growing in faith. Are we on the right track in following Jesus? Is how we live our lives reflective of God’s love not just for us, but for all people? Especially for those who, if they were seated next to us in the pews, would make us uncomfortable. Ultimate judgment belongs to God and not us. This frees us up to focus on mission, service, and loving our neighbors based on God’s love instead of focusing on judgment. Let us also remember that we all will have to stand before God when Christ returns. It would do us well to focus on what we might be doing wrong instead of focusing on what we think others are doing wrong, how we may not be emulating Christ’s love well in our own lives.

I always joke that you can find our house pretty easily. We’re the corner house with the worst lawn in the neighborhood. We’ve taken steps this summer to improve our lawn. Hiring a lawn service to do a fertilization process to help the grass grow healthier and be more resilient to weeds. We finally got around to fixing the sprinkler system. Things we’ve put off until now. It was clear that we needed to take some extra effort into getting our lawn healthy again.

Likewise, it takes effort to attend to our faith to make sure we are indeed growing a healthy faith. Are we placing ourselves in healthy soil and making sure we receive the right nutrients? We need to be rooted in scripture, prayer, worship, and a Christ-centered community. Those are the nutrients we need in order to grow a robust faith. If we are, we’re less likely to get tangled up in the weeds, which can be fairly easy to do. We sometimes find ourselves surrounded by voices that sound like God, but actually have nothing to do with God. These voices seem to fit with our idea of what it is to be a Christian – so it’s easy to listen and agree with them.

As a pastor, it is disappointing to me how many people I’ve encountered who hold a certain worldview in the name of Christianity, yet they’ve come to that position not because of what they’ve read in scripture, but because of what others around them believed. When I’ve asked, “What passage of scripture helped you come to this conclusion?” They often reply with: “Well it comes from what I’ve been taught and how I’ve been raised. I know the Bible does have something to say about X, Y and Z, but I couldn’t tell you where exactly.” In other words, their beliefs are not rooted in scripture and theology, but in the culture in which they were raised. Their belief isn’t rooted in the word of God but in the words of others.

If we can’t use the Bible to support why we hold a certain perspective, then we can’t say we hold that perspective because of our Christian faith. Furthermore when we are rooted in God’s Word we are able to distinguish the weeds from the wheat – whether those weeds are found in another person or within ourselves. The weeds that exist in ourselves and the church more often than not closely resemble good wheat. So we need God’s help, through God’s word, to tell the difference.

What I appreciate about our denomination, the PC(USA), is that we like to think of ourselves as a big tent. We may not all come to the same conclusion when reading scripture. But we do need to all agree that this is God’s Word. As Presbyterians, and as Christians, we believe in the Trinity, that Jesus is the son of God, and that he rose from the dead. We also must take seriously Christ’s command to love our neighbor. 

The more we are rooted in God’s word the more we are better able to distinguish the weeds from the wheat. The more we are rooted in prayer the more we are better able to see the weeds in ourselves and others. The more we are grounded in a Christ-centered community in worship, prayer, and God’s Word together, the more we are able to focus on loving, rather than judging, others. Remember it’s God who ultimately judges so we can focus on growing in our love for God which allows us to grow in our love for others.