A sermon delivered by Wendell Griffen, Pastor, New Millennium Church, Little Rock, Ark., on August 14, 2011.
Matthew 13:7, 22
7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 22As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.
In The Message, Eugene Peterson paraphrases Matthew 13:22 in the following words: The seed cast in the weeds is the person who hears the kingdom news, but weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it. If Jesus is to be taken seriously—and certainly people who claim to follow him should do so—controlling “weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun” is important. Remember, Jesus said that “nothing comes of” the gospel in the life and living of people who are living in the weeds.
That’s a painful judgment. It basically means that people can hear and understand God’s grace and truth. God’s grace and truth can be well-planted and rooted in their lives so they’re able to take the heat and hardships that come from living for God. These people can grow up to maturity in every way but the one that’s most important. Their living doesn’t produce what God expects. They’re grown, empty, and disappointing. They’re just big plants producing nothing God wants.
They’ve grown up with religious values. They’ve’ grown up with preaching, teaching, singing, and praying. They’ve grown up with the processes and politics of religion. But they aren’t producing more love, justice, peace, joy, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, patience, and self-control in the world.
Then what are they producing?
If they’re producing “nothing” God wants, who wants what they’re producing?
Why would people who’re planted, deeply rooted, and seasoned in God’s grace and truth yet who produce nothing God wants somehow believe God wants what they’re producing?
If these people aren’t producing what God wants, why does God put up with them? Doesn’t God know the difference between what God wants and what they’re producing?
If these people are well-planted and rooted and seasoned in God’s grace and truth, why don’t they know the difference between what God expects from their living and what they’re producing?
If they know the difference, why don’t they fix the problem? Why doesn’t God fix it?
Why does any of this matter?
These are “weed control” questions. They arise because what Eugene Peterson calls “weed of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle” God’s grace and truth that people have heard, understood, accepted, and become seasoned about.
Let’s begin with the last question. Why does “weed control” matter?
The whole idea that Jesus presents in the Parable of the Sower is that God has intentionally and extravagantly planted kernels of grace and truth in people like a farmer who plants a crop. Farmers always plant looking toward harvest. They know what they expect to harvest. They don’t plant expecting to harvest more plants. They plant expecting a crop from the plants.
Whenever they don’t get a crop from the plants because of drought, pests, weeds, floods, or anything else, farmers talk about “crop failure.” Farming results aren’t measured by how many plants are in the field. Farming results are measured by how much of a crop the field yields. No farmer plants to get “crop failure.” The part of the Parable of the Sower that deals with weeds shows that Jesus understands the risk of crop failure in moral life.
And to understand moral crop failure, we need to recognize the crop God expects. God expects love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control from our living. St. Paul called those results “the fruit of the Spirit” in his letter to some Jesus followers in Galatia (Galatians 5:22-23).
When divine grace and truth are planted, rooted, and seasoned in people God expects them to behave toward others in loving and honest ways. God expects them to be content with enough for themselves and generous towards those who are in need.
Where divine grace and truth have been planted, rooted, and seasoned in people, God expects them to actively work for peace and try to resolve conflict in just ways. God expects them to be concerned about and accepting of others who are different and to protect those people from harm.
God expects people who’ve been planted, rooted, and seasoned in divine grace and truth to be compassionate towards threatened and vulnerable people and situations. God expects people who’ve been planted, rooted, and seasoned in grace and truth to provide for and protect vulnerable people and situations even at cost to themselves.
God expects them to keep their promises and be gentle towards those who stumble in life. God expects their living to demonstrate wellness rather than addiction, over-indulgence, bitterness, anxiety, fear, hate, and violence.
Who wouldn’t want to live around those people? And if the world was full of them it would be heaven on earth. God’s will would be done on earth. That’s God’s vision for a good crop. That’s God’s vision of Paradise.
It’s not what religious people are producing. We’re good at producing churches, denominations, and institutions for churches and denominations. We measure the vitality of those groups by the size of church and denomination memberships, budgets, land holdings, and by the size and splendor of buildings and campuses.
God expects divine grace and truth to produce something much more and better than churches and cathedrals, buildings and budgets. Membership rolls and baptismal records are plants. Plants are what you get from seed.
But farmers don’t sow to harvest plants. Farmers sow looking to harvest a crop. Farming is determined by crop yields, not by the number or size of the plants in a field. Whenever farmers see fields full of seasoned plants but can’t find fruit from what’s been planted they know something is wrong.
• There’s something wrong in a world full of wars conducted with weapons sold by people who claim to be seasoned in divine grace and truth.
• There’s something wrong in a society where poor people, children, the elderly, and the disabled see their services threatened while wealthy people get protection from paying more taxes by people who claim to be following God.
• There’s something terribly wrong in a society where people who are different can’t be protected from hate crimes, bigotry, discrimination, and other injustice because people who claim to be seasoned in divine grace and truth won’t demand and provide justice for them.
• There’s something awfully wrong when God’s will isn’t being done in homes, neighborhoods, states, nations, and across the world while people who claim to be seasoned in divine grace and truth are continually building and grooming more places to grow big and beautiful.
Crop failure is always the wrong result for farmers.
Jesus said that crop failure is guaranteed whenever seeds are planted, rooted, and become mature in a field of weeds.
• We live in a war-torn world because people who claim to be seasoned in divine grace and truth have become strangled by “illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun” for themselves.
• We live in world where people who are poor, children, elderly, disabled, and immigrants are threatened and vulnerable because people who claim to be seasoned in divine grace and truth have become strangled by “weeds of worry and illusions” about self-privilege and “getting more and wanting everything under the sun” for themselves.
• People around the world are threatened financially today because people who claim to be seasoned in divine grace and truth are more interested in global markets, corporate profits, and personal wealth for the rich and comfortable than concerned about how business policies, decisions, and practices affect the least among us.
• We live in an addicted world because people who claim to be seasoned in divine grace and truth are being strangled by worries and illusions. In many cases the illusions are devised, manufactured, and sold by people who claim to be seasoned in divine grace and truth.
Weed control matters because weeds strangle the growth a plant needs to produce a crop. God deserves a crop from the people who claim to be planted, rooted, and seasoned in divine grace and truth. God deserves a just world. God deserves a peaceful world. God deserves a loving world. God deserves a gentle world. God deserves a faithful world. God deserves a generous world. God deserves a joyful world.
Shame on us who claim to be planted, rooted, and seasoned in divine grace and truth if we’re satisfied with buildings and budgets, membership rolls and religious services, and the grandeur of all that. Perhaps we’ve been in the weeds so long we’ve forgotten what God expects from us.
No farmer expects a crop from weeds. Weeds can’t produce a crop because they’re weeds. Plants that are growing among weeds won’t produce a crop. They just stand in the field planted, rooted, seasoned, and fruitless. When the harvest comes, the farmer cuts the plants and discards them. If the plants produce no fruit, they don’t even produce new seed for planting. That pretty much describes the impact of religion in the world, doesn’t it?
God gives us time to work on weed control. Jesus shows what kind of fruit God expects of us. Shame on us if we’d rather grow weeds! Shame on us if we aren’t aggressively guarding against weed growth! Shame on us if all we want to be for God is big old plants surrounded by weeds!
And shame on us if we don’t think God knows the difference between what we are and what God expects to harvest. Amen.
Pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, a state court trial judge, a trustee of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, author of one book and three blogs, and a consultant on cultural competency and inclusion.