I regularly have the opportunity to write articles (often applying the comic lens) for the "Religion" section of the local Waverly newspaper. Here's my most recent contribution. It will appear in tomorrow's paper. For your next sermon prep, your next visit to the garden, and/or your next date!
A Bouquet of Weeds!
Six years ago this Sunday was an especially magical time for me. I had recently met a wonderful man who’d I’d just started dating, and he was, among other things, a fantastic gardener and landscaper.
I was at that time pastoring a church in central California, and the gospel text for that Sunday morning’s sermon was Matthew 13:24-30 and 36-43, also known as “The Parable of the Weeds.” In this parable Jesus describes God’s realm as a field where a thriving wheat crop is sorely threatened when someone (an enemy) plants weeds that wrap themselves around the wheat, making it impossible to be then rooted out. As difficult as things now become - weeds by their very nature tend to aggressively steal from other nearby plants needed nutrients and water - Jesus says that’s what must be tolerated until the time when God will come and rid the world of its weeds, and all will then be well forever. Of course, the message here would seem to be that Christ’s faithful (the “wheat”), whether they like it or not, need to suffer as best they can the bad people (aka “weeds”) that the Evil One has placed in their midst and trust God will properly restore things at some point down the road.
Being a pastor (and person) who has pretty much a “black thumb” when it comes to matters involving gardening and plants, I asked my new (and horticulturally-gifted) fella what he knew about weeds. I figured he might be able to provide some helpful, maybe even fresh insights into these noxious flora that would make for a memorable, inspiring, and factually-accurate sermon.
The first thing he said to me was, “Weeds are nothing more than displaced plants.” Whether or not they intend to be where they find themselves, weeds are organisms that don’t belong and aren’t welcome. At least, of course, according to those plants who got there first, and, in the case of wheat, plants deemed far superior by those who cultivate them for their established economy.
He then told me when he was a young man, his young son wanted to garden with his dad, so my fella lined out a section of the backyard that his son could tend. In the middle of that patch was a large milkweed bush. As my fella got out his shovel and prepared to uproot it so his son would have nice weed-free soil to grow and tend flowers and vegetables to his heart’s content, the young son yelled, “No, Dad, don’t! That’s the tree where the butterflies live!"
Indeed, as many of you fellow plant (and butterfly) fans probably know, monarchs thrive in milkweed, apparently exclusively. While they may be anathema to other “nice” plants in the garden, without this weed we would be without one of the most beautiful (and spiritually metaphorical) creatures of all.
This all got me thinking that, like the rest of Jesus’ parables, there is much more to this seemingly straight-forward black-and-white description of reality than meets the eye. Maybe we’re to acknowledge that “weed” is more a pejorative term than anything else. Maybe the call here is for us to widen our blinders and imaginations and seek to appreciate those people, experiences, inner struggles, etc that we might deem “weedy” because to us and our agendas they’re nothing but inconvenient, disagreeable, even seemingly dangerous. Perhaps the truth is our weeds have great, positive purposes that deserve to be appreciated (as hard, from our perspective, as that may be).
To help make this point extra-visual, I asked my boyfriend if he’d create for me a “bouquet of weeds” that I could display as part of my sermon. So, on that Sunday, as he drove to my church (which was several miles from his home), he stopped to pull several different kinds of weeds that were growing along the road.
And when during my sermon it was time for the bouquet of weeds to enter into my discussion, he processed from the back of the congregation to the pulpit with the biggest, most colorful, truly stunning arrangement of plants I or anyone had ever seen! It not only got wild-eyed “ah’s!” from the congregation, but a rousing round of applause!
Yes, I think he was clearly trying to impress me (because we were in that “first bloom of love” as it were!), but his assemblage also made a stunning statement about the complex nature of God’s creative ways. There is so much more to everything than meets the eye, or the cultural story we’re taught about what’s right and what’s not, who’s welcome and who’s not …
Perhaps you may hear this story preached this weekend if you attend worship; it’s the “lectionary” gospel text. Perhaps as a part you will be fortunate enough to be treated to a bouquet of weeds! Even if you’re not, I hope you will let the Spirit of Love influence your approach to the seemingly obvious 100% and forever “noxious” presences in your life and community in new and helpful ways. Seems like something we all need to do a lot more of these days.
(Btw, that fella and I broke up amicably several years later. And he wasn’t, nor ever will be, a “weed” in my life story!)