July 23, 2017, The Roots of All Evil – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
To listen to this sermon, click here: Z0000034
This year, the NY state legislature passed a bill banning a practice called Conversion Therapy, at least on minors. Conversion Therapy is a kind of psychological and physical treatment, often very harsh, that is designed to “cure” gay people of being gay. It’s a practice that has been much promoted by extreme conservative religious groups, who consider homosexuality to be a particularly egregious sin.
And the parable we read today doesn’t have any light to shed on the issue of homosexuality. But it does have a lot to say about what happens when we human beings decide to play God and take it on ourselves to “fix” our sinful fellow creatures. In the case of Conversion Therapy, it very often results in depression, substance abuse, and even suicide – but rarely, if ever, has anyone actually been “cured”. It turns out when human beings decide to play the part of the Judge of the Universe it works out very badly.
This is one of the parables that paint a picture for us of how the kingdom of heaven works – which is to say, it shows us what we are actually praying for when we say “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done….” “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to…” this whole sequence of events, beginning with the Master, who goes out into his field and sows good seeds. It takes us all the way back to Genesis chapter 1, when God created light and land and trees and birds and fish and elephants and ladybugs and that most complex creature of all, man. And it was ALL good. Man was a good creation, male and female, designed in the image of God to watch over the rest of the creation as God’s ordained caretakers.
And then it all went horribly wrong. The parable says that under cover of darkness, while everybody was asleep, the enemy crept into the field and sowed his bad seed in with the good. The weed in Jesus’ story is a plant called darnel, which is a useless plant (at least for human purposes) that is almost impossible to distinguish from true wheat: evil that confuses itself with good, so that it’s impossible to just go out in the field and tear out the weeds without also tearing up the good wheat plants.
And that, Jesus said, is the state of things in the kingdom right about now. The good creation has been sown with all kinds of useless and harmful stuff: hatred and jealousy and lust and greed and selfishness and violence and pride. And the thing is, it’s not at all neat and tidy and separate so we can rip it out easily. The roots of all that bad seed are deeply and tightly intertwined with our very selves, with our fears and insecurities, and our need for love, and our loneliness and our hurts and our pain and our deepest desires.
It’s exactly what Paul was talking about in the 7th chapter of Romans when he cried out, “I don’t understand why I do the things I do! I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. I delight in the law of God in my inmost being, but there is in me another law waging war inside me. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” In other words, who will tear the weeds out of the messed-up, weedy field that is me? And then Paul answers himself, “Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
In the parable, the workers go to the Master all het up about the weeds in his field, and they want to do something about it in the worst way. “You want we should go out and rip those suckers out by the roots?” they ask. But the Master answered them, “Absolutely not! If you go out there now and rip out those weeds, you’ll end up tearing up the wheat as well. No, let them both grow together, until the time for harvest comes.”
Now, that impulse we humans have to run out there and rip up the weeds – especially the other guy’s weeds – that is called judgment. And the Biblical teaching on people judging people is crystal clear: Don’t do it. “Judge not lest you be judged,” Jesus said. “Why is it that you always see the speck in your brother’s eye, when you don’t notice that there’s a giant log in your own eye?” To put it in terms of our Weed parable, “Why are you so eager to go out there and rip up the weed growing beside your brother while all the time you don’t even notice you are being strangled by a thicket of weeds yourself?”
“We will all have to give an account of ourselves to God,” Paul wrote. “So let’s not pass judgment on one another anymore, but rather let’s decide never to put a stumbling block or a hindrance in the way of a brother.” As the Master in the parable said, “Let the plants grow, until the harvest time comes.”
And James wrote simply this: “Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
The true state of things, as it stands now, Jesus said in his parable, is that we live in a very weedy world. And it is our weedy human tendency to go out and play God by ripping up one another’s weeds. Conversion Therapy isn’t the only example of people playing God, and it certainly isn’t the most common example. How many marriages, for instance, flounder and fail because people enter into the marriage with the assumption that they are going to fix the flaws of their partner? “If only she’d keep the house clean” or “if only he was motivated to get a decent job” they say, “then this marriage could work.”
There’s no marriage that isn’t composed of two deeply flawed and weedy human beings. But instead of loving one another and helping one another grow, as flawed human beings, so often the husband and wife pronounce judgment on one another. They label each other’s weeds: she’s a lazy slob; he doesn’t care about his family. They put all their effort into trying to force each other into the weed-free image they have created in their heads instead of loving the real human being they married. And in the effort to pull up one another’s weeds they end up hurting each other, and sometimes they destroy the roots of their marriage altogether.
I knew a boy in high school who cried one day in class because he got an A- on a science test. He felt – whether mistakenly or not – so judged by his parents that anything he produced that was less than perfect was a failure on his part. There is sometimes a fine line between encouraging growth and passing judgment, but the difference can always be seen in the fruit of our actions – whether we heal one another or hurt one another. Judgment always does harm.
We human beings sometimes try to fix the people we see as bad, or hopelessly ignorant, or just plain wrong, by endless disputation, or mockery, or whatever cleverness we think will prove our point, to convince the other person that he is wrong and I am right – because we assume, don’t we, that we have the truth? Or sometimes we try to fix people by loading guilt and shame and blame on them until they are forced to admit that they are wrong. These have all been popular evangelical techniques at one time or another, unfortunately.
We look around at all those weeds of imperfection in our human neighbors, and they just seem to be crying our for judgment, begging to be ripped up by the roots – by us, of course. But Jesus tells us that’s not how it works in the kingdom of heaven. “Let them grow, until the harvest time. Because in the fulness of time all those weeds – everything that causes people to sin: all enticements and deceptions and everything that corrupts; absolutely everything that works against the good that God planted in the very beginning – that will all, finally, be bundled up and thrown into the eternal fire and good riddance. And then we will all shine like the sun in the kingdom of our Father, Jesus said. Then we will be like little children after a really thorough bath, all scrubbed and brushed and dressed in our spotless and happy best. Then we will be perfect, as our Father is perfect.
But for now, Paul wrote, “do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness, and will disclose the purposes of the heart.” Only the one who sees into our hearts has the right to pronounce judgment, just as only the one who knows how to tell the weeds from the wheat can safely tear the weeds out of the field. But the kingdom of heaven is like this: in the kingdom of heaven, the rightful Judge is also patient, and merciful, and full of grace. He doesn’t come to judge us. “For God didn’t come into the world to condemn the world,” John wrote, “He came in order that the world might be saved through him.” He didn’t come to weed out our flaws, to “fix” us. He came to love us, so that we can grow into the fulness of what we were made to be. That’s how it works in the kingdom of heaven; that’s what it looks like when God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven, where grace and mercy and love are the order of the day, not judgment and condemnation.