Service for July 19: Weeds

Here is the link to the Deep River Community Church video for July 19:

Here is the Story and Exploration of the Word for the online service;

Story: A recent rerun of the TV series, “Big Bang Theory” has the group of friends decide to have a scavenger hunt. Immediately, everyone else decides having Penny on their time would put them at a disadvantage as they all have masters and doctorates, and she is just a wannabe actress and server in a restaurant. As the story unfolds, there are several times when she is faster at getting the clues than her partner, Sheldon, and they finish first. It is easy to dismiss the abilities of people whose abilities are different from ours.

Exploration of the Word for July 19, 2020:  Who judges the Weeds?  Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

The parable of the weeds invites two broad approaches.  In the first approach, the wheat includes all the good stuff provided by the Holy Mystery and the weeds include all the things that cause harm such as greed, lust, arrogance, and fear and the expressions of those things such as systemic racism or a society in which some have too much for their spiritual and emotional well-being and too many have not enough.  The gnashing of teeth would be from the experience of being cleansed of comfortable or enjoyable traits that cause spiritual harm.  This approach reflects the writing by Paul in which he describes the first part of death as being like refined in a purifying fire, alluding to the process of producing metal from an ore.

The second approach is to see the wheat as the good people and the weeds as the bad people.  This approach claims that only some people will experience life in heaven and many others will go to hell.  I am one of many followers of Jesus who believe the only Hell that exists is the one too many people experience in this life.  We cannot imagine the Holy Mystery, if truly loving, would create such a terrible destiny for anyone to experience for eternity. It is for this reason that I believe verses 36-43 are the creation of the author of the gospel of Matthew.  They are a pat on the back for the members of that community, encouragement for them to stay faithful in spite of all of the risks in doing so.  The punishment for turning their backs on the community is implied by the predicted punishment of the evil people.  That is all I will say about those verses.

Let us take a detour from the parable to what happens in the world, starting with the second approach.  We have too many stories of people deciding who is a weed.  In the 20th Century we have governments and business leaders deciding union organizers, Suffragettes, and socialists were weeds.  Hitler decided Jews, Roma, evangelical Christians, and handicapped people were weeds.  Stalin ordered the persecution and execution of millions of people seen as weeds by him.  And there are many other stories like these on a grand scale.

On a less dramatic but equally painful scale are the police officers, social workers and others who see Indigenous people, people of colour, poor people, and homeless people as weeds, making it easy for them to beat or kill them or confiscate their children or treat them badly in other ways.

And there are the social groups at all ages where group leaders decide who is in and who is a weed based on a variety of criteria.

Politically, in most countries there is discrimination against women in politics with only the most exceptional women like Charlotte Whitton, a famous Ottawa mayor, or Hazel McCallion who served as mayor of Missausaga for 36 years achieving leadership positions. The dominant belief was that men are better suited to politics than women.  Two of the most respected national leaders in the world today are Angela Merkel and Jacinda Ardern, women forcing many to rethink what qualities are needed for good political leadership. Of course, this is not news for Deep River where Joan Lougheed was followed by Sue Deon as mayor.

Every one of these levels of discrimination is rejected by this parable as they contradict our claim that we are all one in Christ.

Still on a detour, but looking at the first approach, people have and still make many judgements about which qualities make a person a good or bad person.  From handshakes to hair styles, accents to acquisitions, and abilities to attitudes, judgements about what is a weed and what is good abound, sometimes related to gender or ethnicity.  An assertive woman or person of colour may be judged as pushy or bossy while a white male showing the same behaviour can be judged as strong.

For gardeners, weeds are voluntary plants that either compete with our desired plants for space, water and light, or they are voluntary plants that spoil the appearance of our gardening space.  Sometimes it is just where they volunteer to grow.  I love sumac, but work hard at getting rid of the sumac growing in the lawn from suckers from a sumac in our neighbours yard.  Identifying weeds is about the self-interest of the gardener.

When people decided that traits or attitudes or individuals are weeds, it is out of self-interest again.  The leaders of social groups usually identify potential competitors for leadership as weeds so the group will exclude them, protecting the power of the leaders.  Many white people feel uncomfortable in the presence of African Americans, and see them as weeds.

Defenders of the status quo, of the privileges of the privileged, see ideas related to greater democracy, fairness in the distribution of wealth and power, greater accountability and transparency as weeds and find labels such as unrealistic or socialist or anarchist to encourage people to reject those ideas.

The label of unrealistic is a funny one, often used by Christians to defend ignoring many of the teachings of Jesus, teachings that challenge their values and behaviours.  In the past, voting rights for women, employment insurance, old age pensions, national pension plans for working people, and public health care were all deemed unrealistic.  Unrealistic means an idea would cost some people more than what they are prepared to lose for the well-being of the majority.

Back to the parable.  A key part for me is the line, “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them.”

I believe Jesus’ mission was to enable everyone to have a right relationship with the Holy Mystery, based on the conviction, that everyone is loved by the Holy Mystery. I believe in the divine determination that everyone will know, either in this life or in what comes after, that they are loved unconditionally. 

Our mission includes giving everyone a chance to grow and to live fruitful lives, and to allow ourselves as well to grow and life fruitful lives.  We are all planted by the Holy Mystery in a process that started about 13 billion years ago.  The Holy Mystery is patient even if we are not.

And we need to be careful about which attitudes and attributes we try to uproot.  Is our desire to uproot ideas, attitudes and attributes related to a harmful effect on people as a whole, or to them making us uncomfortable or potentially causing us loss. 

For example, Ritalin and related medications are given to an increasing number of children, mostly boys. When boys are given Ritalin to calm them down in class, is it to make them more manageable, or is it to help them improve their feeling of well-being.  For some children, a redesign of the education environment is more helpful than a medication.  For other children, that medication can bring sunshine into their challenging lives.

This kind of discernment process makes for a better approach to identifying and responding to weeds, an approach that helps everything that is good and everyone grow well.

The farmer did not want a single wheat plant to be lost.  Part of our mission as followers of Jesus is to help make that be.

We are loved unconditionally, but invited to also love unconditionally.  Thanks be to God.

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