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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Seeds, Weeds, and Generous Deeds

2014-03-30 Seeds, Weeds, and Generous Deeds
Leviticus 19:5-10 and Matthew 13:24-30


So. Seeds. Sow seeds. It's Seed Sunday. So we need to read what the Good Book pleads concerning seeds. And weeds. You can't proceed far indeed and not perceive the connection. And deeds. Biblical screeds on seeds and weeds most always lead to generous deeds.  I wonder how the folks who need these seeds to feed their breed consider our deeds. How should we? So seeds. So weeds. So generous deeds. Let us receive the yield of this scrutiny.

So. Seeds.

He put before them [a] parable: "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away."

Hey you kids, get out of my yard! It takes so much work to get a yard, a computer, a living room, your health, just the way you want it. And then some *enemy* comes and scribbles in crayon all over it. It's vandalism against order. "Hey, let's blow dandelion seeds all over Mr. Frederickson's lawn." The seeds of hope are still there, but now they're competing with nuts.

So. Weeds.

"...the slaves of the householder came and said to him, 'Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?' He answered, 'An enemy has done this.' The slaves said to him, 'Then do you want us to go and gather them?'

When I hear preachers talk about weeds, usually the King James "wheat and tares," I think of judgment. I think of separating the wheat from the tares, the good from the evil, the heaven-bound from the hellions. I think of the billboard I pass by with the hands of Jesus offering Side A: flames and death or Side B: puffy clouds and rainbows. It asks, "Which road are you on?" (Well, I thought I was on Maryville Pike.) At the harvest Jesus will send you one way or the other. So be a good seed; don't be a weed. 

And so, generous deeds.

But [the master] replied, 'No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'"

There are a couple of ways this parable could have gone. The master could have declared war on all the weed-seeders. He could have sent his guys out to find the enemy prankster vandals and exterminate them. That's what you get for messing up my fields. 

The master could have said, "Ok, good idea. Go out and stick your fingers in the dirt and inch by inch remove everything that doesn't belong. You might step on some of the wheat, but write it off as the cost of doing business. Collateral damage."

Instead, the master gets all zen-like. "Let both of them grow together until the harvest." The master doesn't freak out. He doesn't demand punishment on the perpetrators. Who knows? Maybe he played pranks on someone's lawn when he was a kid. He says, "No, wait." He doesn't ruin the good to eliminate the bad. He's far-sighted. He's patient. He's generous. Generous to the weeds AND to the wheat.

When we get angry, the temptation is to turn destructive. The kingdom of heaven is like a master who even when angry does generous deeds. The master sacrifices destruction for the sake of the wheat.


So. Generous deeds. And sacrifice.

Leviticus says, "When you offer a sacrifice of well-being to the Lord, offer it in such a way that it is acceptable in your behalf." 

Back in Old Testament times, a "sacrifice of well-being" was a zevach shelamim. The name's related to the word "shalom" which means sacred peace and wholeness and unity. A zevach shelamim was like a good-old Southern barbecue picnic, without the pork. It was a thanksgiving meal to celebrate an answered prayer, or a return to good health, or a job promotion. You invited your family and friends. The priest helped cook and said the blessing. But this is Leviticus, so there were rules.

"It shall be eaten on the same day you offer it, or on the next day; and anything left over until the third day shall be consumed in fire. If it is eaten at all on the third day, it is an abomination; it will not be acceptable. All who eat it shall be subject to punishment, because they have profaned what is holy to the Lord; and any such person shall be cut off from the people."

Now, I've heard people say, "Those Old Testament Jews sure were smart. They knew not to eat food that had been sitting around 3 days without refrigeration." Well, OK. Kosher laws are divinely sensible. But I would imagine not eating spoiled food was something everybody back then learned the hard way. If it smells bad, danger, danger. But this isn't about the food.

If you eat a sacrifice of "well-being" on the third day, YOU become "un-well." It's not that food that's bad. Leviticus says, YOU become the abomination and are subject to punishment because you have profaned what is holy to the Lord and you shall be cut off from the people. Sounds harsh. But think about it.

Given that people wouldn't know about bacteria for thousands of years, it's not about the food. It's about the sacrifice. Eating the zevach shelamim on the first day is correct. Second day is second-best. Not great, but OK. Why wouldn't you eat your sacrifice on the first or second day? Because you weren't really hungry in the first place. Because you cooked too much. Because the sacrifice wasn't a sacrifice. It was just a ritual done out of your abundance. If you have three days of food, you're not sacrificing. You're showing off. It's not a generous deed. It's pretentious. And you're an abomination to the Lord.

Then, Leviticus loops back around to seeds. It says, when those seeds bear fruit, remember not to over-harvest your fields. Leave some for the poor and the alien. Because they're hungry. Sure, you could reap every last inch and gather every fallen grain to increase your harvest and your wealth. But you don't need to be THAT wealthy. Your wealth shouldn't be earned in acts of greed. Sacrifice. Sacrifice at least a little for the poor and the alien who barely have one day's worth of food. You won't go hungry because of your giving, and they might not go hungry because of their receiving. Care. Sacrifice for your heart's well-being. That's what acceptable to the Lord. Otherwise, you're an abomination. 


So now. See the parable of the seeds and weeds in the perspective of proper deeds of sacrifice. Jesus said, the kingdom of heaven is like this. There's a householder who isn't a tightwad. He isn't judgmental. And he isn't a knee-jerk jerk. The householder is willing to make his own sacrifice. He sacrifices time. He sacrifices space in his field. He sacrifices in order to get the best results. He's not in a hurry and he's not out to pluck the weeds and reap vengeance on the vandals. He's patient. He's forgiving. He's looking way, way, way into the future. That's heaven. That's what the kingdom of heaven is like.

I think when we interpret parables, we always jump to the conclusion that the householder or the master is God. But what if we're the householder in the parable? What if that's what Jesus meant?

Heaven is whenever we sacrifice for the good of family and friends, the poor and the alien. Heaven is wherever our sacrifice creates the shalom of peace, wholeness, and unity. Heaven is when we're not showing off but sharing the seeds of blessing. Heaven is when we're not racing to pluck the weeds but sharing our space and giving our time to see what might grow in the people around us by the grace of God. 

So. Seeds. So. Weeds. So. Generous deeds (and sacrifice). 

The kingdom of heaven is like a place where they all go together. And grow together. This is *your* Seed Sunday. How are the seeds of heaven growing in you?