preached by the Rev. Lowell E. Grisham, Rector
Paul's Episcopal Church, Fayetteville, Arkansas
2014; 6 Pentecost, Proper 11, Year A, Track 2
Revised Common Lectionary
(Matthew 13:24-30) Jesus put
before the crowd another 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. So when the
plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And 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?' But he 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.'"
Last week’s sermon focused on Paul’s
paradoxical message: we are all a mess,
and we are also all united within God. It’s a both-and situation. We’re a mess:
I can will what is right, but I can’t do
it!, Paul cries. And simultaneously, There
is no condemnation. The Spirit of God dwells in you.
Today’s gospel about the wheat and
weeds continues in the same spirit. There are a couple of ways to look at it. You
can look at the field of wheat and weeds as your own internal condition – each
of us is both wheat and weeds; the Spirit of God dwells in each of us, and each
of us is a mess. Or we can look at the field as the human condition. We’re all
wheat and weeds together; the good and bad coexist on this earth.
I’d like to borrow from the
spirituality of contemplative prayer and talk a little more about this
experience of the weeds.
If you try something like Centering
Prayer, staying still and silent for a period of time, you will experience the
weeds. If you set your intention on something of the Spirit – like spending
twenty minutes consenting to God’s presence and activity within – you will find
yourself assaulted by a multitude of thoughts and feelings. Some people call it
“monkey mind,” like the chatter of a thousand monkeys in the branches of your
mind. Some call it “mind-tripping.” It’s like someone hit a button and an inner
video starts up. It runs like tape loops that chatter and repeat over and over,
snagging our emotions. We are simply being still and silent for a time, then something
pops into our consciousness, and we start playing our reactive tape loops.
These thoughts – these emotionally
charged tape loops – are nearly always playing somewhere in our consciousness,
and part of us is always listening. Most of us think we are our thoughts and
We live so much of our lives reactively
– stimulated by a thought or feeling, we start our tapes, “talking, talking, talking,
talking to ourselves about life and love and how everybody ought behave and
You are standing in the grocery line.
A kid starts whining for candy, trying to get a distracted parent’s attention.
Tell me your tapes won’t start. Are you irritated? Isn’t there a bit of judgment.
The tapes start with all the advice you’d give to straighten them out. You
might even expand into a full mental commentary on the horrible way people are
raising children today. You are in the weeds.
Contemplative prayer teachers have a
way of dealing with these conflictive thoughts and emotions that bombard us. It’s
a practice that works in contemplative prayer, but it’s also available when you
are in the grocery line or whenever you are hooked by those nearly constant thoughts
and emotions that distract us from being simply present.
Benedictine monk Thomas Keating
offers this technique for gently releasing ourselves from our attachment to our
afflictive emotions and thoughts: the Four-R’s. Resist no thought. Retain
no thought. React emotionally to no
thought. Return ever-so-gently. In
Centering Prayer, you return to your sacred word. In ordinary life, you return
to your center, the givenness of your union with God as God’s beloved child. Resist
not. Retain not. React not. Return.
What contemplative spirituality says
is that we are not our thoughts and feelings. We are much more than our
thoughts and feelings. Behind and beyond our thoughts and feelings we are one
with God. Our deepest, truest, authentic self is continually one with God at
the center of our being. That’s the wheat. The Spirit of God manifest uniquely
in you. The wheat is always growing.
But the weeds are also always
present. They are present in our inner consciousness. They are present in the
wider external world. The weeds are not unlike what Paul calls “the flesh.” I
preached about that last week.[ii]
The weeds are related to what some call our “shadow.”
Parker Palmer says that there are
four common expressions of our shadow – four species of weeds, if you
will. The first is a deep insecurity
about our own identity, our own worth. Sometimes we attach our identity with
something external — a title, a relationship. If that role or relationship is
threatened, our very being feels threatened. The internal tapes bombard us.
A second shadow inside many of us is
"the perception that the universe is essentially hostile to human
interests and that life is fundamentally a battleground." Listen to the
battle language that pops up in casual conversation — "we’re going to
fight for that; let’s bring out the big guns; if I don’t finish this I’m afraid
it’ll kill me."
A third shadow is the belief that
"ultimate responsibility for everything rests with me." You may say
you believe in God, but you work like it’s all up to you. Parker Palmer calls
that "functional atheism" – "if anything decent is going to
happen here, I am the one who needs to make it happen."
And a fourth shadow is fear,
especially fear of the natural chaos of life. If I can just get things organized... If we can get some functional
rules around here...
We forget that God created out of chaos, "chaos
is the precondition to creativity, and any organization (or any individual)
that doesn’t have an arena of creative chaos is already half dead." Of
course, the biggest fear is fear of death, and its cousin failure. Yet, chaos
and death are natural; failure and death is never the final word.[iii]
The weeds: Insecurity, defensiveness, control needs, and
fear. If you are like most people, the weeds of insecurity, defensiveness,
control, and fear are deeply rooted in your consciousness, particularly in your
unconsciousness, below the ground of your awareness.
The Gospel speaks to us with
disarming acceptance. Jesus tells us that we are each held in a wholly loving
gaze. We are known, and we are infinitely loved. Therefore we don’t have to be
anxious about our insecurity, defensiveness, control needs and fears. The gaze
of God loves the whole tangled bundle that is you, loves with an utterly free,
utterly selfless love. So, you need not be anxious about your weeds. Leave them
alone. Relax. You don’t have to pull them out. You don’t have to fix yourself.
You don’t have to feel defensive. Resist not. React not. Retain not. Return to
God’s love at the center of your being.
In fact, it is that gaze of love that
disarms us. We are held by a gracious love "which undermines and
overthrows the selves we have built from defensiveness and calculation."
The end of this Gospel today says
that ultimately the weeds will be collected and bound and burned. We already know
what the foretaste of this heavenly fire is. It is the fire of Pentecost. It is
the wonderful, purging fire of love which alone can refine and burn away all
that is not Christ, and do so without harming.[iv]
In the meantime, we live in the
both-and world of wheat and weeds. We are all a mess of insecurity,
defensiveness, control needs, and fear. Whenever the noise of their tapes begins
to roar in our consciousness, we can leave the weeds alone. Resist not. React
not. Retain not. Return.
Martin Laird, A Sunlit Absence
, Oxford, 2011, p. 18.
Parker Palmer, Leading from Within
Beginning with the Parker Palmer material, much of this comes from an old
sermon of mine that I’ve lost, but it is archived with goodpreacher.com: https://www.goodpreacher.com/backissuesread.php?file=6356
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