When I say I always knew my firstborn would be an actor, I don’t mean that he was overly dramatic. He was an intense little fellow. He loved books. He was an amazingly mature conversationalist, if he wanted to talk to you, with an astonishing vocabulary. And he would play quietly for hours, making what he called “set ups” of his “guys.” He started with Fisher Price Little People, then moved on to Playmobil figures. Finally he moved to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and even their enemies, most of whom the small director turned to the good side.
He was seven the first time he appeared on stage at the Children’s Theatre of Maine, playing a tiny little evil henchman in their production of Pinocchio. When the time came to say his first line, he looked a bit like a deer in the headlights, but he loved the experience, and pretty soon he was in another play, and although there have been dark times when he wondered if there would ever be another, I’ve now lost count of the plays he’s performed.
Now he is 25. And he is an actor, which is to say, he earns his bread and board by waiting on tables, but with three friends from college, he has a company, and they stage their own shows, including one playing Off-Off-Broadway right now. I know how much effort went into the work, how smart and committed these young people are, doing work of their own, writing their own play and designing it and directing it and lighting it and acting it…and marketing it. But no matter how hard they work, no matter how carefully they prepare, there is always going to be a moment of truth.
Will the critics come? And if they do, will they declare the play to be wheat? Or weeds?
I’m happy to say in this case the reviews are positive. And I’m very excited that my vacation will take me close enough to get to a venue called the Collapsable Hole to see this new work.
But it isn’t always that way. Sometimes you look at the work you’ve done, sometimes you look at your life’s work, and you wonder if it really isn’t mostly weeds. How much of it will count as a good harvest? How much of it will be burned, useless? What will the Cosmic Reviewer think of the show?
I’ll whisper to you that somewhere along the way to preparing every play – and possibly every sermon – there is such a moment. There comes a moment when we wonder if it could ever possibly all come together, and whether it was ever worth it in the first place, and whether law school or truck driving would have been a better idea.
How many have felt this way about something in their lives?
My adult life has focused primarily on ministry and parenting, both of which I love. And as challenging as they both can be, parenting is trickier. Children run into influences you don’t know about, or even ones you do, but can’t quite control. You can do everything “right” and still end up with a child who worries you in one way or another. And sometimes it’s hard to know whether they’re coming up wheat or weeds, because sometimes, they don’t look all that different.
I suspect God, our Loving Parent, must feel this way about us, when we’re not there yet, not fully grown in spirit.
I talked last week about the way we struggle to pin down the meaning of Jesus’ parables. In them he offers up familiar images – but only familiar to the community there and then! I know the difference between a daffodil and a dandelion. But the people listening to Jesus knew just what he meant that day; they knew exactly the weed he mentioned. It was a weed that came up looking just like the wheat, a weed that did not show its difference until both weeds and wheat had finished growing.
Yesterday I came out to meet with the Prayer Shawl knitters, and Priscilla was here working in the garden. She assured me it had looked terrible, and surely I could see the order of things as we walked over to the brush pile with her box full of weeds and flowers past their blooming. She wanted things to look nice last night when people came to the benefit dinner, and we thank her for it. We thank her for her effort and also for her practiced eye.
You see, I walked around the property just the day before, and it all looked good to me. But today it looks much more beautiful.
A little later on in this chapter of Matthew, we read:
34 Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. 35This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet:
‘I will open my mouth to speak in parables;
I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.’
Parables instruct through suggestion. We suffer the temptation to make it all orderly, as if cosmic truth could be winnowed down to something as simple as a grocery list. Good wheat, bad weeds. Good people, bad people. Sometimes even: Good churches, bad churches. Lord knows – God *knows*–people have sorted themselves out into good and bad according to language, national origin, skin color, sexual orientation, social class and even how often and what way we serve Communion.
But I don’t think it’s that simple. And I hope that’s the point of the parable. On any given day, I may be in the weeds. We all may be. The story of our lives is more than one day, and it’s more than one season in the wheat field.
I suspect God knows that even better than we do. The Creator put us here, on the cosmic farm, and we plant and God watches what comes up, a Patient Planter. And despite our human tendency to simplify and label and divide and sort and weed each other, ancient wisdom points to a God who wants what’s best for all of us and for each of us.
12:13 For neither is there any god besides you, whose care is for all people,
12:18 Although you are sovereign in strength, you judge with mildness, and with great forbearance you govern us; for you have power to act whenever you choose.
12:19 Through such works you have taught your people that the righteous must be kind, and you have filled your children with good hope, because you give repentance for sins. (Wisdom of Solomon)
Those words were written before Jesus ever lived. Some believers want us to believe in a God eager to condemn, but the whole collection of scripture and wisdom shows God understood not just now but long ago as loving and forgiving. A loving, accepting God is not just something we made up to be relevant to the world today; a loving God is not a weed of untruth. It’s a field of wheat planted long ago, sometimes full of like-looking weeds grown up alongside, weeds of division and taking sides and excluding people based on differences. But we hear it in the parable. God does not exclude prematurely, because God doesn’t want to uproot what is still coming to fruition. God waits for the harvest.
Maybe we’re all both wheat and weeds. Maybe we’ll be be gathered in and sorted out as individuals and as churches, not discarded “here one group and there the other” but instead given a chance to come to terms with the ways we’ve been both wheat and weeds, so closely intertwined that we can’t always tell the difference ourselves.
God, our Loving Parent, does not exclude. God, the Patient Planter of our souls, does not rush to toss us on the brush pile or into the fire. God, the Cosmic Reviewer, doesn’t give up on us after just a preview. But God has hopes for us, and God will assess us, I do believe it. God wants us to be the wheat and expects a bountiful harvest from our lives and from this community of Christ’s people. God knows there’s a beautiful crop of wheat in among the weeds. Amen.