Sermon for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost

GOD OF THE NEWCOMER (Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43)

Don’t uproot them. Welcome them.

Hi, my name is Steve and I’m a newcomer here. I’ve been a newcomer most of my life. My Dad was in the US Diplomatic Corps, so my sister and brother and I lived in Germany, Japan, South Africa, New Zealand, Norway and England, and of course from time to time here in the U.S. Then college outside of Philadelphia. Then Los Angeles working with a Korean community – a very different culture from mine. Then seminary. Then Ossining. Then here

At each of those places I was worried. Would I be accepted? Would my ideas be accepted? Would I only be allowed part way into the culture but not all the way?

Yesterday the vestry and search committee met with Canon Claudia Wilson from the Diocese, and we talked about how this church is very accepting of newcomers, of all people, and I have discovered that for myself. We are made up of people who maybe weren’t welcomed in other places. But they are welcomed here. That is one of our great strengths and why we grow.

Jesus’ ministry took place both among newcomers and outcasts, and those who had trouble with them. Those who had trouble with them were Pharisees and Saducees and Esssenes. The Pharisees believed that only if you obeyed every last word of the Bible were you accepted. They were fundamentalists. Sound familiar? The Saducees believed that only if you obeyed every last word of Temple ritual were you acceptable. The Essenes believed that only if you withdrew from the world were you acceptable. They were the ones who coined the term children of light and children of dark.

Then there was everyone else, the Greeks who inhabited Galilee of the Gentiles where Jesus did most of his teaching. There were the poor who did not have the time or the ability to live by all the ritual laws. There were working people like us whose jobs made it impossible to live by all the laws of purity. These are the ones who are listening hungrily to Jesus’ sermon, with the hope of being included in a kingdom always locked to them.

The homogenous groups want to keep themselves pure. They have this question, the same question we all have. What about evil people? How did they get here? How do we know them. What do we do about them?

Jesus’ answer is something they probably expected. They were from bad seed sown by the evil one. But his answer to their other question is a surprise. Do nothing about them. Do nothing to uproot them from your midst. Be patient.

He agrees that there are bad people in the world. Jesus is not some pie in the sky person. There are evil and destructive people. He says that they are from bad seed sown by the evil one. But the problem is this: the bad seed leads to weeds that look a lot like the wheat. The old translation was tares. The Greek is zizania. Zizania looked a lot like wheat.

So the danger is this, in uprooting the weeds, you’ll uproot the wheat by mistake. Every newcomer will look like an evil person because they’ll look different from you, and you will want to get rid of them.

So we’re just not qualified to make the final judgment of who’s in and who’s out.

We also don’t need to worry about whether or not the weeds will choke out the wheat, or the evil crowd out the good. You notice that Jesus says they’ll both grow until the last day. There is no danger of the weeds overrunning the wheat. The wheat comes from good seed. It will do just fine.

There is another danger. In uprooting the weeds, you will weaken the root system of the wheat, and they will die.

So the evil that the devil does in sowing weeds is two fold. First of all he sows the weeds. Secondly he leads us all into the temptation to purify our religion and, in doing so, to harm it, to uproot the week, to exclude the different.

God, on the other hand, is a patient gardener. We are not. God waits until the plants bear fruit. That is how we know if someone is good or evil, by the fruit they bear.

We are not called to be the police of Christianity, we are called to be the welcomers.

We are called to a ministry of hospitality, something the wider Church has not done well over the years. We have fallen into the same trap that the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes fell into. In our zeal to do the right thing, and live the right way, we wind up excluding those who are different from us. We wind up treating them like weeds who don’t belong.

Those who come to our doors might indeed look a little weedy. The way they live might be suspect, but we might be wrong in making that judgment or in assuming that because they have some weedy habits they are weedy themselves, deep down. So welcome them instead. Perhaps our loving welcome can become the way to transform someone deep down. Trust God to do God’s job of sorting out good from evil, weeds from wheat, sheep from goats. We can do our job of being welcoming to all.

So God has entrusted to his church a great gift. And the gift is not to tell good from bad – that legacy of Adam’s eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the legacy that got him thrown out of the garden of Eden. Perhaps the real problem of eating of the tree was that, in learning good from evil, we forgot love. Perhaps the treasure God had in mind for us in the garden, and the reason he barred us from eating from that tree is because we would forget love and the way of love. So Jesus comes to teach us that.

Jesus came to tax collectors and sinners. He came to evil people. He came to people who were breaking the law. He came to tax collectors whose job it was to extort money from their fellow Jews and give it to the Roman occupiers. He came to prostitutes who were destroying families, to sinners who were destroying their people’s religion. He came to these weedy people. So by his proclamation and his life he showed us to do the same, and to include at his table all these people we have doubts about.

At his table he ate with Judas who would betray him, and Peter who would deny him, and with all those others who didn’t even get close enough to the Crucifixion to do that. From the cross he said of his persecutors: “Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do.” We, as his followers, are called to be as inclusive as he is, at what is his table and not ours and to welcome everyone to the table of the Lord, as you have welcomed me and my family, as you have welcomed so many people, and so many families.

There are many people in the Kingdom of God. Jesus says it’s a very mixed bag. God doesn’t have good boundaries. Even an enemy can get in. Let God deal with what the enemy has done. That lets us off the hook so we can follow God’s first law of love to all.