Eighth Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 11
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Church
Last week, we heard what is commonly called the Parable of the Sower, and this week, we hear the Parable of the Weeds, or the Parable of the Tares as the King James puts it. Despite having attended a fairly rural, Texas high school whose biggest student club was the Future Farmers of America, I’m a Johnson County boy at heart and don’t know a thing about farming. Thankfully, others have written about some of the farming issues involved in this parable which begins with Jesus saying that the kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field, but while everyone was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away.
The weeds here are thought to be a specific plant called bearded darnel. This plant looks identical to wheat above ground, but below, it wraps itself around the wheat, intertwining itself into the root system, taking away nutrients and moisture from the wheat. It is a deceptive little plant. Rather than producing seeds that are nutritious like wheat, darnel seeds are toxic to humans and cause anything from hallucination to death. In Jesus’ time, sowing darnel in a field for the purposes of revenge was illegal, meaning it must have happened often enough to warrant such a law!
In this parable, Jesus uses this noxious weed to illustrate evil. “An enemy” intentionally sowed these weeds among the wheat. When the farmhands discover this, they propose to the farmer that they go and gather the weeds. Like me, these farmhands weren’t up-to-speed on their horticulture. If they had been, they’d have known that doing so would result in the wheat coming out of the ground at the same time, destroying the crop.
All too often, you and I become preoccupied with who is in and who is out. Like the farmhands, we think that we have what it takes spiritually, mentally, emotionally to separate the wheat from the tares. But as in the parable, trying to separate the wheat from the darnel hurts both plants. This phenomenon also happens in the Church today when we try to separate the “real Christians” from those who have a different stance than we do on a particular issue. In trying to weed out those who are impure, or even the heretic, we do damage to the faithful as well. Beyond the church, our world is full of dichotomies, and it seems increasingly so, perhaps especially in politics. What is the solution to this tendency to divide the world in two? The farmer instructs the farmhands to let both the wheat and the tares grow together until the harvest when all will be revealed. For at the harvest, the wheat and darnel bloom differently, and it becomes obvious which is which. And even then, it won’t be up to us to decide who is in and who is out. Jesus tells us in the second part of the reading that the Son of Man will send his angels to do this work. Then, and now, it is our job to trust that God will sort through the wheat and the tares in a way that only God can do. No matter how similar they look, no matter how intertwined the root systems are, God will send his angels with the appropriate knowledge and skill to separate the tares out without damaging the wheat.
While this parable is explicitly about the kingdom of heaven and thus the “last things”, I can’t help but think that my own life is often like the farmer’s infested field, with weeds and wheat intertwined in my heart, soul, and mind. Paul said it this way: “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” When someone begins to come to private confession regularly for the first time, it usually only takes two or three confessions before he or she says to me something like, “Father, I keep confessing the same sins over and over. Is that normal?” Yes. Yes, it is. All of us are plagued with the temptation to commit specific sins over the courses of our lives, each of us influenced by both nature and nurture, and no matter how holy we become, it’s unlikely that our pet sins will change over time. Usually the next question is, “Since I keep confessing the same sins, why am I confessing them over and over again?” Not to force an analogy into this parable, but perhaps the grace the penitent receives from God through absolution is like the water and nutrients the plants in the field receive for sustenance. When we repent from our sins and intend to amend our lives, we only do so by God’s grace. While we can’t stop sinning completely on this side of the veil, we certainly can learn to trust God more and more in the midst of the sin and chaos in our hearts and in this world, holding fast to the hope that at the Last Day, God will send the reaper to bring in the harvest.
We hold fast today to that hope – the hope that the weeds will one day be uprooted and destroyed. As St. Paul said in the second reading, all of creation waits “in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
We wait for it with patience, letting both the wheat and the tares grow together, trusting that no matter what the Enemy sows around us, God will fulfill our hope of a bountiful harvest at the Last Day.
 Romans 7:15b
Proper 10, Year A
July 16, 2023
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Some folks like a preacher to have a good amount of poetry in his or her sermon. They think poetically, and thus want the preacher to make them think and consider what is being said. Other folks are the opposite. They ask for something different out of sermons – cut the crap and tell me what to do. In today’s parable, we get both. We get the poetic and allegoric language in the first part, and then for once, Jesus actually explains what the parable means in the second part.
First, let’s take a look at the figure of the sower. In this parable, the sower isn’t identified except that he or she is the one who spreads the good news. Some believe that Jesus intended for us to see the sower as him. Others believe that the sower represents a missionary, you know, like the kind of missionary that earns their living spreading the good news overseas. Others believe that the sower represents the priesthood. In any case, the sower is one who spreads the good news. It could be Jesus, it could be me or newly ordained Fr. David, it could be you. Note that the sower doesn’t know in advance what is beneath the soil’s surface – where the ground is hard, where the soil is shallow, or where the weeds are already growing. The sower doesn’t know the quality of the soil before throwing out the seed. In fact, the sower would miss the point entirely if he or she were to waste time trying to figure out what is beneath the soil’s surface, or the quality of the soil itself. The point is that the sower is to sow. If the sower is doing his or her job, then the seed is scattered all over the place. And simply by sowing, it is certain that some of the seeds will result in grain. This is good news for you and for me! It isn’t up to us to figure out the scientific qualities of the soil, or become experts in the process of proper germination. It’s not up to us to know the conditions of other people’s hearts. It’s our job to throw out the seed and spread the Good News of Jesus Christ in both word and deed.
But this parable isn’t just about the sower. It’s also about the soil. In looking at the four types of soil Jesus describes, we continue in the journey of discipleship we talked about last week. Remember – being a disciple is about being one who learns from Jesus how to live by listening intently and responding. By relying on the nourishment and refreshment we receive from Jesus at the altar rail week after week. In looking at the four types of soil, we learn from Jesus what the necessary conditions are for fruitful discipleship.
First, the hardened soil on the path. In this case, the seed is thrown on the hardened soil on the path and is snatched up right away by the birds. This is because the person who hears the word doesn’t understand it. Without understanding, the word finds no place to implant, and the Evil One who is always close by snatches away the potential of faith. In order to understand, one must desire to understand. If you hear the Word and have no desire to understand what it means in your own life, it will be snatched up by the birds right away. But if you’re attitude is attentive, and you earnestly desire to understand the Word of God in your own life, the birds might just stay away. I’ve gone through phases in my life when I was super-attentive to the voice of God, and other times when I was distracted and closed off. And usually, when I was closed off, I wasn’t consciously aware of it. Looking back, the key to being attentive to understand God’s Word is quietness and silence. Some monks and nuns make it a point to spend an entire hour or more per day in complete silence and contemplation. You and I would rarely be able to make that happen, but we can spend intentional moments of our lives in silence, listening to the voice of God, seeking to understand what He may be trying to say to us. We can and should take a few minutes each day. If you’re a morning person like me, it might be while you’re drinking your second cup of coffee. It might be at your lunch break at work, or just before bed. The important thing to remember is that these intentional moments of silence provide the space needed to begin understanding what the Word of God means in your life.
The desire to understand isn’t enough in and of itself. The one who is super excited at what they hear is like the seed that falls on rocky ground. Such a person only endures for a brief moment, but when trouble comes, he or she immediately falls away. This trouble can come in the form of opposition of some kind, whether it be opposition to God’s Word in your life or in a broader context. Say you feel that you hear God speaking to you in some way or another, and ultimately become very excited about joining a ministry here at St. Mary’s. But as you begin to go down the road of joining forces with others to do this new work, you see quickly that there is a personality conflict with one of the other team members. Instead of working through it, you quickly decide that it’s not worth the trouble. Maybe the seed fell on rocky ground. You were so excited to serve God in this way, but then encountered opposition and allowed your enthusiasm to fade. Jesus is telling us here is that we need to take that initial joy and enthusiasm we feel when we hear God’s Word in our lives, and see it through despite any opposition.
The third type of soil contains thorns. The seed that falls among the thorns doesn’t grow because the thorns choke the grain quickly before it has a chance to grow. Jesus explains that this represents those who fall to temptation, and you don’t need me to explain temptation and what it feels like to fall to it. As followers of Jesus, we are called to resist temptation, and when we fail to resist and instead fall into sin, we are called to receive God’s forgiveness, turn away from the sin, and by the grace of God resist the temptation the next time it comes around.
As disciples of Jesus, we are called to listen intently to God’s voice, wherever it may be found, and to respond. We do so by listening to God’s voice in silence and contemplation. We do our best, by God’s help, to persist in the face of opposition and allow our initial joy to be seen through to completion. And when we fail to persist, and fail to resist temptation, we receive God’s forgiveness and resist the temptation by the grace of God the next time it comes around.
And throughout it all, like the sower, we spread the good news, liberally and without regard for the quality of soil where the seed is being thrown. Some will be receptive to the message we are called to speak, and some will not. Some will respond with great joy and enthusiasm, but will not persist in faithful practice and will eventually fall away. Yet we are reassured today that if we persevere, by God’s help, even against the odds, what we do matters. What we say and how we embody the gospel of Jesus Christ in practice will in fact usher in God’s kingdom here on earth. Regardless of the obvious fruit or lack thereof, we are assured that at least some of the seed will fall on good soil, and those who hear and understand will indeed bear much fruit with a bountiful harvest. Amen.
 Much of this sermon comes from David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Louisville (Ky.): Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 236-240.
 Ibid 238.
Proper 9, Year A
July 9, 2023
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Two weeks ago, our gospel lesson from Matthew included some difficult sayings from Jesus like “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” And “I have come to set a man against his father, and daughter against her mother.” This week, we hear Jesus say, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy burden, and I will give you rest.” Sounds like two different people talking, but both are in fact statements that Jesus made as part of the same discourse.
In both of these passages, Jesus is inviting us to a life of discipleship. Discipleship means “to learn”, and thus disciples of Jesus are called to learn from Jesus how to live. As part of discipleship, we are called to be obedient to our Lord, but not in the way we typically think of obedience – for instance a medieval serf being obedient to his Lord. Rather, Christian obedience is to listen intently, and to respond, not only to those who are supposed to have authority over us, but also to the voices of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. The call to discipleship is a call to radical obedience – a call to listen to the voice of God, wherever it may be found, and to respond. Unhesitating obedience to Christ often results in divisions within families and friendships.
When Jesus says “Take my yoke and learn from me”, he’s using a word that has the same root as “disciple”, which means “learner.” He’s not asking us to learn from him academically or merely spiritually, he’s asking us to take up a way of life. This way of life – this life of discipleship – is not easy. The stakes are high. A disciple loves the Lord with all of his or her heart, soul and body. Living this life of discipleship means we have to give up some things that we want, and instead put love of God and neighbor ahead of our own desires. But in doing so, we are given rest, or using the King James translation, “I will refresh you.” When I hear the word rest, I think of sitting down in a recliner and putting my feet up after a long, exhausting day. Refreshment makes me think of how it feels to open up a cold beer on a warm, sunny afternoon after having worked in the yard for a few hours.
The Greek word “rest” can refer to several things including Sabbath rest, the rest of death, or rest from war when Israel’s enemies have been subdued. But more importantly, the idea of “rest” functions as an image of salvation, of what will be when the world is finally ordered according to God’s purposes and enjoys its full and complete Sabbath. In promising us “rest,” Jesus promises life under God’s reign in the new world that he is bringing. This is the “rest” we pray for when we pray “thy kingdom come” in the Lord’s Prayer – it’s not just a “rest” that will come when we get to heaven, but “rest” right here, right now. This kingdom we’re praying for isn’t about humans being snatched up from earth to heaven. It’s not about eternal rest from human life that we achieve when we break on through to the other side. It’s rather the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down from heaven to earth. When God’s kingdom comes – when we receive this “rest” from Jesus – God’s space and ours are finally married and integrated at last.
“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy burden, and I will give you rest,” Jesus says.
Jesus is calling us to come to him. To take up his yoke upon us and learn from him. To be his disciple. Rather than a call to imitate a good man who lived on earth 2,000 years ago and has left us all alone, we are called to be his disciple by relying on the ongoing presence of Jesus in the world today. Thank God, Jesus did not leave us Comfortless when he ascended into heaven! By the power of the Holy Spirit, bread and wine will be blessed and consecrated to be for us the Body and Blood of Jesus, the holy food and drink of new and unending life in him. And then we will come forward and devoutly kneeling, receive the refreshment that he offers us in the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation. We will receive a rest more profound and more complete than we possibly could by putting up our feet after a long, exhausting day, or by opening up a cold beer on a warm, summer afternoon. In the Eucharist, God’s heavenly kingdom breaks into our earthly world and nourishes us with the rest and refreshment that only Jesus can offer. In the Eucharist, heaven kisses earth. And it is only after we are fed with this heavenly food and drink that we are sent out into the world so that we may “continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as he has prepared for us to walk in.”
“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy burden, and I will give you rest.”
 N. T. Wright, The Lord and His Prayer (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014), 24.
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