Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Down on the Farm: You Are What You Eat

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Matthew 13:24-34.  This series was based on a series created by Rev. Adam Hamilton.

Last week as I was driving to House, I noticed in one of the fields that there was a man out there just standing in it, and I thought it was a little unusual, but kept going, and on the way back to Melrose he was still standing out there, and again I thought that was a little strange, but what do I know.  But again today he was out there, and so now my curiosity got the better of me and I had to stop, and so I got out of the car and yelled over to him and he smiled and waved, and I said, “I just have to know what you’re doing?”  And he said “I’m trying to win the Nobel Prize” and I said, “The Nobel prize,” and he said, “Yeah, it’s pretty prestigious, and I heard that if you win one they give you more than a million dollars.”  I said that was true but didn’t really understand how he was going to win the Nobel prize, and he said, “we’ll what they say is that to win the Nobel prize, you have to be outstanding in your field, and since I’m the only one standing in my field, I think I’ve got a pretty good chance.”

Last week we began a new sermon series in which we are looking at what we can learn about the Christian faith from life on the farm, and today we continue with another agricultural parable from Jesus.  There are only two times that we are told that Jesus talks about weeds and they are in today’s passage, commonly called the parable of the wheat and the tares, and in last week’s passage of the parable of the sower.  In that passage, Jesus says that a sower went out to sow seeds and some fell on hard ground, and the birds ate it up.  Some fell on rocky ground, but the soil wasn’t deep enough for the roots to take hold, my theory being that there was a layer of caliche just below the top soil, and so when the son came up the plants withered and died, other seeds were planted among the thorns, or weeds, but the weeds grew up along with the other plants and choked them out, and finally some of the seeds fell on the good soil and in that soil, the seeds grew and the harvest was bountiful.  Now the analogy that Jesus is making in that parable, is that the soil is supposed to be our hearts, and the seed is the word of God.  How prepared are we to receive God’s word, to have it take root in our lives.  This is a story that we will continue coming back to again and again throughout this series.  

It is my contention and belief that in fact we are all four of these soil types throughout our lives, that sometimes we are hard as clay and can’t receive the word of God, other times our faith is shallow and it withers, and sometimes we are fully prepared to receive the word of God into our lives.  Hopefully we are more often like the good soil, than the hard soil, but I can tell you that that is not always the case in my own life.  And regardless of where we are, the way we prepare ourselves to be receptive to the word and to be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to accept who and where we are and realize that only someone more powerful and stronger than we are can pull us out of the mud of life, then surrender our lives and begin to follow Christ.  Accept, surrender and follow are the first steps to discipleship

In today’s story, we again have the sowing of seeds but this time, rather than being different types of soil, there are different types of seed.  There is the seed that is planted by God, and there is seed that is planted by the enemy.  But, no one knows that this other seed is there until the plants start growing up and they are able to make a differentiation, until that point they all look the same.   If you’ve grown a garden you know that when it first starts, sometimes it’s impossible to know which are the weeds and which are the real plants and so you can’t really pull them out until you know for sure which is which.  With my lack of knowledge I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference even if I had planted them in the first place.

But it’s more than just being able to tell the difference, it’s also what we look to grow.  I ran into Tyler Belcher one day at Allsups and we were talking about the weather, and it was one of the days we were expecting rain, and I said that I hoped it would hold off for a while because I needed to pour some cement for our mailbox pole, and he said he hoped to get the moisture so that he might be able to get the wheat to grow.  Of course that was really the problem is that we got enough water for the weeds to grow, but maybe not much else, and that too is like our life.  Last week in talking about the weeds, or thorns that grow up and try and choke out our faith, we heard Paul’s famous quote that he does not do the things that he wants to do, but instead it is the things he does not want to do that he does.  And the same is true with the gardens and crops of our lives, “we do not grow the things we want to grow, but the things we do not want to grow is what grows.”  Can you identify?

Now the three biggest threats to crops, as most of you know, besides for lack of rain, are bugs, disease and weeds.  This is true whether you are planting just your small garden in the backyard of thousands of acres, and so it is with our lives as well.  Bug and insects eat the plants or do lots of damages which threaten their health, and disease obviously can do the same thing, and weeds compete for water, sun light and nutrients, and if they can win that battle then the crops are threatened.  As one farmer said, “if you didn’t use chemicals and herbicides it would be bad.”  When my brother lived in North Carolina, his girlfriend’s uncle grew tobacco, or as he said, in a thick southern drawl, “baccer,” he bemoaned that DDT had been banned, because he said “that stuff killed everything,” of course that was the problem, DDT killed everything, as Rachel Carson so memorably recounted in Silent Spring. 

What are the weeds that are destroying our spiritual lives?  What are the weeds that are growing up and choking our faith?  What are the weeds that are taking away our nutrients and water and sun?  What are the weeds that are distracting and distancing us from God?  What are the weeds that are destroying our crops and stopping us from bringing in the spiritual harvest that God is calling for us?  Sometimes we might not even know what it is because we might, in fact, think we are doing just fine and we don’t know that our fields are full of weeds until it’s too late, because we are distracted and not paying attention and so we let things into our lives that we shouldn’t, and sometimes we can’t tell the difference.

While from Jesus’ telling of this story there are no botanical descriptions given, some have said that these weeds, or tares, are the bearded darnel, which grows throughout the world, but is found particularly in the middle east, which is why some speculate Jesus was talking about this, and it looks a lot like wheat until it is time to harvest, at which time it’s easier to identify.  Because wheat is planted close together, pulling it out will indeed harm the real wheat if you were to pull it out, and what the bearded darnel also does is to wrap its roots around those of the real wheat insuring that if you were to pull it out, you would pull out the good plants.  But the biggest problem with these weeds is not simply the fact that they threaten the wheat around them because they fight the other plants for nutrients, water and sunlight, but that, because of a fungus that grows on the bearded darnel, it is actually poisonous, and delivers a toxin to whoever eats it that can cause drunk like symptoms, hallucinations and can even cause death, although this is more common in livestock than in humans, but there are recorded deaths from people accidentally eating bearded darnel.

And what brings in these bad weeds, what allows the seeds to be scattered into our lives?  In today’s parable, it happens while everyone is sleeping.  In Matthew and the other gospels, when Jesus talks about sleeping, it usually has the connotation of spiritual sloth or neglect, after all Jesus chastises the disciples continuously to what? Stay awake.  When we are sleeping, when we are neglectful of our spiritual lives, then we are liable to be sowing seeds into our lives that we would rather not have present.  Now some will argue that it is the devil that does these things, and certainly some can make that argument from today’s passage, but I’m of the belief that I am quite capable of sinning all by myself, I don’t need the devils assistance in doing it for me.  And here’s the absolute truth, Satan, no matter how you understand that term, cannot make you do anything, and when you try and place the blame elsewhere, say it’s someone else’s fault, do you know what will happen?  We will never learn from our mistakes because we have never taken personal responsibility for those mistakes. 

Now as I already said, last week we talked about the first steps of how we became disciples of Christ, and they were to accept, surrender, and follow.  The first three steps of 12-step programs modeled this are “to recognize that we are powerless and that our lives have become unmanageable,” and then to recognize that only something greater and more powerful than ourselves can pull us out of the mud, and then to decide to turn our lives over to the care of God.  And then the fourth step is to make a “fearless moral inventory” of our lives.  That is where are the weeds growing, and looking at how they got there.  Of course, what 12-step programs also know is that while trying to eliminate weeds and bugs and disease with chemicals and herbicides might work out on the farm, they won’t work in our lives, which we’ll get into more next week.  When it comes to our own wheat and tears we need to be organic in what we do.

Now Jesus clearly recognizes the presence of evil in the world, recognizes some of the undesirable things in the world, in the church, in our lives, those things are there.  (Disciples making way to Jerusalem, all have wheat and tares, not just Judas, but Peter and the others) Sometimes we want to be the ones to remove them, we want to make judgments about people and situations, but what Jesus says, is that we can’t do that, that that is up to God.  Now this does not mean that we are to be quietists, that is people who simply accept and then sit back and wait for God to do everything, that is not what we are called to do, or how we are to deal with and challenge evil.  But we must also recognize the old statement that the road to hell is paved with what?  With good intentions, and sometimes that which we might like to remove are actually vital.  I like to harass Linda that the state flower of Texas, which is the blue bonnet, is actually a weed, which she doesn’t find very entertaining.  Instead I should instead see it as Ralph Waldo Emerson said that a weed is “a plant whose virtues have yet to be discovered.” 

So, we are left with the question of how we are to make sure that we are only growing spiritual wheat in our fields, rather than tares, how do we make sure that we are not sleeping and allowing the wrong things to grow, and for the answer to that I think we have to go back again to John Wesley, the founder of Methodism and his general rules.  Does anyone remember what those three simple rules are?  The first is to do no harm.  To do that we have to take a step back and evaluate everything that we do, everything we think and everything we say.  It is to recognize that everyone else is a child of God just as we are, to treat them as such, and to let God be the one who does the judging and the sorting.  The second step is to do good.  This is when we take a step forward and engage with the world, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving hope to the hopeless, walking with each and everyone one of God’s children through the journey of life.  This is a key one because if you are spending all your time doing the right thing, then you won’t have any time doing the wrong thing. And the third and final rule is in Wesley’s language, attend upon all the ordinances of God, or as Bishop Reuben Job said, stay in love with God.  

Wesley has six things to do to help us do that, and here is the good news for all of us today, we are doing at least four of them today.  They are attending the public worship of God, check, the ministry of the Word, either read or expounded, which we are doing both today through the reading of scripture, and then me trying to expound upon that word, participating in communion, although we only do that once a month, it was something that Wesley encouraged us to do as often as possible and to follow his example which was to take it usually 3-5 times a week, next is family and private prayer, which we will do today.  The other two are to search the scriptures, which you might do today if you are looking for what I am talking about or thinking, he didn’t say that did he, and finally is fasting or abstinence, which as the NFL begins next week you could also begin practicing by being in worship.  But we need to also make sure these are things we do more than just on Sunday, because if we only do it once a week, then we are sleeping on our spiritual lives and we can be sure that we will begin growing weeds in our spiritual lives.

There is the old saying that you are what you eat, and you are what you watch, and you are what you read, and you are what you say, and you are what you do.  We are called to be ever diligent and attentive to the soil of our hearts, to prepare it for receiving the word of God, to not sleeping on our faith so that we don’t allow the wrong types of seed to take hold.  And that begins here.  It begins by gathering to worship God every week, it begins by reading the Bible, it begins by engaging in individual and collective prayer, it begins by searching the scriptures, it begins by fasting and abstinence, and it begins by partaking in communion.  Jesus says you shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God, and he says that whoever eats of this bread shall never be hungry, and whoever drinks from the cup shall never be thirsty.  

The Christian life begins with accepting, surrendering and then following, and we continue on the path by being ever diligent in our faith life, in seeking to avoid situations in which we allow weeds to grow in our life which can grow up and choke out our faith, and we do that by first doing no harm, second doing good, and third by staying in love with God, and when we do those things then we keep our soil fresh, we keep it watered, we keep it filled with the right nutrients, and we keep from allowing the weeds to even begin to grow and we then produce the harvest that God has called for us.  May it be so in our lives my brothers and sisters. Amen.

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