Worship Service for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost

Hi everyone,

Welcome to worship for this 8th Sunday after Pentecost, July 23, 2023!

The bulletin for this service can be found here. In it, you’ll find the order, words, and responses to the liturgy (with your responses in bold), the page and hymn numbers out of the ELW, and the full sermon. All the words that you need to know are also displayed on your screen during worship and the sermon is on this page below the video.

To enhance your online worship experience, you may have a candle in your space, lit at the beginning of the service and extinguished near the end after the sending hymn at the same time as the altar candles. And if you wish to participate in communion, you are welcome to do so by having something small to eat and drink ready for consumption at the appropriate time during worship. More instruction will be given during worship.

May God’s unending and overarching love hold you and keep you this day and always!

God of all harvest and plenty, may your Spirit lead us in our listening, our discerning, and in our pruning this day and throughout our lives, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

I have some shocking news for you all.  I’m no farmer.  I’m sure most of you look at me and automatically think, “yup, he’s a farmer.”  But I totally am not.  In fact, I’m not even much of a gardener.  Other than plants needing to be watered every now and then, I have no clue as to how to care for any kind of vegetation whatsoever.  It’s just not who I am.

So when Jesus drops these kind of parables about plants or farming or general growing stuff, I’m a bit confused.  I mean, I understand that Jesus used parables to make the things he’s teaching easier to understand, but I just sometimes wish he’d use more relatable examples.  You know, stuff like fast cars or Marvel movies.

But I had to chuckle with this parable that we get today, because it reminded me of something that actually happened to me in my life.  I think I was right out of high school and my church I grew up at was doing a fundraiser that offered gardening services.  I volunteered of course, not because I love gardening, but because I just do whatever my buddies do.  Our little team was assigned to our pastor’s house… who admittedly wanted a lot more done than what we were capable of.  He wanted the regular grass cutting of course, but he also wanted us to hack down this giant forest of foliage on the side of the house, clean out this wasteland of garbage beside his garage, and even dig out some 50 year old stump that had roots like tree trunks… that came out of this tree trunk. 

Anyway, the whole day was full of back breaking work.  But the part that I want to talk about is that forest of foliage.  I tell ya, this thing was overgrown.  It was covered with weeds that were like waist high and were really secure in the ground, and our pastor wanted this thing cleared up.  So we cut, pulled, dug, yanked, scratched ourselves, cried a little, and repeated that over and over.  It took forever.  It got to a point that I was so frustrated that I went ballistic on these plants and grabbed handfuls and yanked with all my might, pulling up ground, rock, and whatever else might be holding these things in. 

Then one of my friends stopped me after a few minutes of extreme frenzied gardening and showed me some of the weeds I so mercilessly extracted from the dirt, and at the bottom of them were these little bulbs of something that didn’t quite look like just roots.  “They’re turnips,” he said.

Now, I wasn’t sure if they were accidental turnips or intentional, and to be honest I’m not even sure what a turnip even is or if these things were actually them, but my goodness did that experience bring this parable alive for me. 

“For in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.”  Or turnips for that matter.  Now where was that advice like 20 years ago when this happened?  So this experience really drove home to me the dangers of just pulling out weeds like crazy, because who knows what other goodies die along with them.

But so often in life we like to rip things out, thinking that they’re not good for us or are causing us pain or just because we don’t like them for whatever reason, in order to protect ourselves from them.  We extract these things efficiently and mercilessly, perhaps not really thinking about how it might affect the things around them.  We trim away and remove all unnecessary aspects of life according to us, in order that the “good” parts of us might live and thrive.  But it seems like Jesus is warning us from doing this with his parable.

But before we get into that, can we just take a moment to appreciate the humour in this story?  Like, weeds are surprisingly growing in this prize garden and the first reaction is “an enemy has done this.”  I mean, really?  An enemy?  I just can’t imagine some villain twirling his moustache coming up with his master plan of planting weeds some his archnemesis’ garden. It just doesn’t seem like a real “enemy” thing to do.

Then again, maybe it is.  Maybe it’s a bit more complicated than that.  Maybe even these supposed seasoned gardeners in the parable might have had a hard time telling the weeds from the wheat.  I mean I had a hard time telling weeds apart from turnips, so I guess it really could happen to anyone, even fictional gardeners in a story about fictional weeds and wheat.

I’ve read that it’s been surmised that the weed that is talked about in the parable is likely the bearded darnel, which some of you might have heard about.  Basically it’s this invasive weed that looks pretty much identical to wheat.  It isn’t wheat though, in that it grows different, looks a little different, and oh yeah it’s poisonous to a certain degree so maybe we shouldn’t make bread with it. 

So if this is indeed the case, that the weeds in this parable are the bearded darnel, then there really was a good reason the landowner told them to not yank them out.  Quite literally they could reach for a bearded darnel and all to easily grab wheat instead.  Perhaps this really could be the work of an enemy because it could cause some real damage to the harvest.  Maybe it is infinitely better to just leave the weeds where they are.

It’s just that, leaving them goes against our most natural instincts, doesn’t it?  I mean, when we see something that doesn’t belong, we want to pluck it out.  Be it a weed in our garden, an ingrown hair in places that should be clean shaven, or maybe even a person out of our lives.  It’s pretty obvious when those kinds of things need to be taken out, because they’re different, they’re noticeable, they stand out in some way and practically scream out “Pluck me! Pluck me!”  (that’s “pluck” as in p-l-u-c-k for those of you who might not hear so well)

So I think Jesus’ point in his parable today is that maybe what needs to be removed might not be so clear.  Sometimes whatever needed to be taken out kind of blends into the background.  Sometimes, there are no distinguishable features that tell you what to keep and what to toss.  This is what the landowner was warning the workers about.  This is exactly what happened with those possible turnips that I pulled out.  And this is something that could be happening with all of us when we react, discern, and ultimately judge what should and shouldn’t be. 

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t react to negativity in our lives, but I wonder if the knee jerk reaction we have to remove all “bad” things could be detrimental.  I wonder if cutting things out too quickly and without consideration might lead to us missing out on some learning or growth opportunity.  I wonder if by extracting parts of our lives might extract parts of ourselves too. 

I know, it’s our gut reaction.  Our instinct is toward self preservation.  We just want to protect ourselves.  I’m just saying that maybe it isn’t up to us.  Maybe we don’t need to cut things out for protection.  Maybe God will be faithful and just and choose to love us, scruples and all, and continue to refine us and purify us and reform us as we are forgiven and redeemed by the grace that calls us children of God.  Just as the landowner saved the distinction and separation to the end, perhaps we can leave our own judgements up to God.

So then maybe we don’t have to worry about the weeds disguised as wheat in our lives.  We don’t have to micromanage and figure out what should be plucked and what should be left planted.  We don’t need to judge others or even ourselves in terms of salvation, because we have a Saviour who determines that for us through a lens of grace and mercy.

This is the hope that Paul talks about, in things yet unseen.  That by the power of the Spirit, we might be able to move into the future with confidence in God’s promises of redemption, knowing that our work and who we are is not in vain, but honoured and blessed by the God who gives us strength.  And through it all, God invites and welcomes us into God’s kingdom, showing us our value and worth as God’s beloved children, reminding us that we are both broken yet whole, sinner yet saint, weed yet wheat.

In this season after Pentecost, may we be liberated from our self judgements and our judgements of others, that we be freed to love, serve, and live in community with God and each other, now and always.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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