Sermon: “Gardening Advice”

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

July 24, 2011



The Matthew text for today that ends with a parable where the kingdom of heaven is about separation of good and bad.  If it has not done so yet, I invite you to allow it, for a moment, to make you uncomfortable.  Still, you did not chuckle, or refuse to respond when after reading I said: “This is the Good News!”  I heard you,  you said, “Praise to you, O Christ.”   How can that be good news then and even more so now?


Matthew us a glimmer of an answer in what is actually the final parable of the sequence, where the kingdom of heaven is likened to a head of household who is collecting and showing of treasures both old and new, clearly emphasizing the value of both, the traditions of Torah and the prophets as well as the new writings such as this that we have come to call “the Good News.”


If we look at this collection of parables, literally a collection of similes Jesus tells to describe the kingdom of God,  there are no rules rehearsed.  These parables begin as Jesus tells the parable of the mustard seed.  It grows wild, nearly on its own, but when cultivated it makes a home for many of God’s creatures.  This ‘trash bush’ is transformed into tree of life.   But how are we to understand this parable today?

That is not to say that there isn’t some things in life that are good, and other things that are rotten.  There is a judgment time, but that judgment is different from what we might think. There is no criteria set forth for judgment in the parable. It just says that the good will be saved and the bad will be thrown out. We know from other stories in the Bible that it is a judgment not based on color of skin, blemishes, size or shape, talents, wealth, fame or education. Nor is it based on beliefs, dogmas, or creeds. It is based on love.

Too often, I think, we make poor judgments about others.  On some criteria we think we have carefully learned and understood, we decide who is good and who is rotten.  Most often, these are also criteria that create a comfortable dividing line between us, and them, whoever is the ‘them.’  Often, our judgment makes us look good.  This interest in making ourselves look good is rooted, I believe, in our insecurities about ourselves.


As I see it, this parable presses beyond and through the façade between the cracks, and if we were to take it to heart there is a certain relief at no longer having to fake our way through life. There is a chance, if we are brave enough, to come home to the self God created us to be – an invitation to no more games, to not have to be an orchid or American Beauty rose, but the weed we are.


There are others, too, who come into our congregation; what if this were a place where they could relax for a change, no more need to prove anything to themselves or to us? Life’s primary task is no longer hiding from one another, no longer a test to be strong and beautiful, brave and able – but has become a willingness to embrace the dangers and hurts and bruises and disappointments that are the weeds, like all of us, that we are.


I am not really much of a gardener.  We have a saying at our house, it is that “I grow grass, and Becky grows everything else.”  In fact, I often stray over into her domain, and it gets me into trouble.  I sometimes pull up, weed-wack, or spray something I shouldn’t…something that looks to me like a weed.  In my efforts to make everything ‘clean and in order,’ I inadvertently destroy something, that given time, can be quite beautiful.


Most of us are dedicated weeders. Every now and then you come across a garden with an odd but striking flower only to learn that the innovative gardener has planted a weed – but probably not in our gardens. Certainly not in our emerald grassy lawns. We tend to pamper our gardens, root out and destroy unsightly and unwanted weeds, which may not be a bad metaphor for the way we treat ourselves. We are dedicated weed pullers in terms of habits and pounds and addictions and attitudes and guilts and any propensities that we believe keep us from being pure or good or complete or mature or whole or authentic or even perfect. We are determined to weed out bad feelings and dark moods, fears and anxieties, painful memories and the broken and bruised parts of our lives in the same way we weed off excess pounds or now remove wrinkles. The gardens that are our lives where we would grow and enjoy relationships that matter are meant, we think, to be orderly and comely, uncluttered with weeds such as our fears, angers, old shame, and ancient grudges.  We like our gardens and our lives to ‘look nice.’


So in the garden, as well as in life, we will find sprouts spring up, outside our neat rows, and tidy arrangements.  It is best, I think, to resist destroying these tender beginnings.  There is time enough for that.  There is, and will be, a time for that.  It’s best that we not rush to judgment.


See, left to grow and flourish, the Kingdom of God is like the mustard plant…it shows up where you do not want it, and it is almost impossible to get rid of.  That’s a good thing.


With the Children…I intend to show them an apple (I think they’ll identify with this more readily than a Mustard seed).  Cut it open, and ask them what they see…ask them how many seeds are in an apple.  Then I’ll take one of the seeds, and cut it open…asking them what they see.  Then, (hopefully the turn isn’t too hard) talk about ‘how many apples are in a seed?’  The answer is, of course, we don’t know.  It is alot like when we are kind or accepting of someone else.  We  know what that is like, but we have no idea how it many times it will help that other person.