Reading: Matthew 13:24-30
The way we usually think about God is that he will always say `yes` to us. He will welcome us, we say. He`ll accept us as we are: `Just as I am, without one plea`. He`ll love us, even though we might not love ourselves, or others, or even God.
We`ve heard it all before, many times, and we hardly give it a second thought. God will say `yes` to us. Ask, and we shall receive. That`s just how it is with God.
But what we don`t think of so often is that God also says `no` to us - that God rejects our proposals, turns down our requests, and disowns our actions. And this Sunday lets us reflect, not on God`s `yes` to us, God`s acceptance of us, but on God`s `no` to us, God`s refusal to be identified with us.
The gospel we have is the parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matthew 13:24-30), and the key to the parable is the suggestion made by the farmer`s employees that they should get rid of the weeds as soon as they appear. But God said to them, `no.` Don`t do that.
And this isn`t one isolated instance of God saying `no.` In the gospels, again and again, Jesus says `no` to the disciples. They are not to send the crowd away. They are not to stop the strange exorcist. They are not to rebuke those who bring children for Jesus to touch. James and John are not to call down fire from heaven on the Samaritan villagers. They`re not to rebuke the woman who pours ointment over Jesus at Simon the leper`s house.
And in the parable today, they are not to root out the weeds.
While everyone was asleep an enemy sowed darnel - weeds - among the wheat. So when the corn sprouted and began to fill out, you could see the weeds. The workers went to the farmer and said `You sowed good seed, so where have all these weeds come from?` `It`s the work of an enemy,` said the farmer.
`Right,` said the workers, `we`ll go and pull them up.`
`No,` said the farmer, `because in getting rid of the weeds, `you might pull up some of the wheat at the same time.` Instead, they were told to let both the wheat and the weeds grow together until the harvest, when the farmer, not the reapers, would decide what`s to happen to the weeds.
And this is the point of the parable. The words of the farmer, that is, the words of God, Let them both grow together. Let things be. Don`t think it`s our job to get things sorted out. The sorting out isn`t our business. That`s the prerogative of God. The message is clear. God will have nothing to do with our over-cooked zeal for him, or with the rigour, the rigidity we attribute to him.
As Faber has it in one of the most profound hymns in the Anglican tradition:
`We make his love too narrow by false limits of our own, and we magnify his strictness with a zeal he will not own.`
Which reminds us that it is both the glory and the difficulty of the Christian religion that its primary, essential concern is nothing to do with creeds or doctrinal confessions designed to exclude, but personal relationships.
Of course Christianity is comprised of intellectual and moral principles. Truth and goodness are necessary for any enduring personal relationship. But Christianity forfeits its true character if it makes doctrinal and ethical orthodoxy its primary obligation. Therefore Christianity can never accept a cut-and-dried legalism, and say `this is the law, and unless you observe it, you cease to be a Christian.` An immoral Christian may be a poor specimen, but no more of a poor specimen than the pharisaical Christian. Indeed, the Gospels suggest that to live by scrupulous conformity to rules is to endanger the humility, sensitiveness and spontaneity which are vital for true religion. Attempts to transform the way of Christ into a rigidly defined and strictly fenced railway line have often been made in the past, and still have powerful - and voluble - present-day advocates. But intellectual short-cuts and mechanical obedience are an easy substitute for discipleship, and they destroy the life of faith.
We walk by faith and not by sight, and a handbook of regulations is no substitute for daily dependence upon God, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Since our faith concerns people, it can never be standardized or regimented without destroying its primary quality.
So we are warned today not to judge, but to forgive; not to coerce but to understand. There are no commandments but love of God and love of God`s creation, and the way of love can never be put into such a statutory definition as will let us start pulling up the weeds from amongst the wheat. We can`t bury God in codes and definitions that we then use to appropriate God`s judgement to ourselves.
After all, who are we to take over the role of cleaning up the vineyard? What gives us the right to set ourselves up as judge over others? Who are we to point the finger and say, `You`re the one who`s to be dug up and thrown away?` Judgement is God`s business, not ours.
And if we want confirmation of this, we turn to Paul`s epistle to the Colossians, which tells us what we ought to be concentrating on. `Put on,` he says, `a heart of compassion, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering, forbearing one another, and forgiving one another. Even as Christ forgives you, so you also forgive others. And above all these things put on charity, which is the sign of perfectness.` Nothing about judging others.
A spontaneous sympathy, a generous spirit, a humble attitude, a willingness to make allowances, patience. These are the virtues needed. They are the alternative to being judgmental.
And it`s when we relinquish the urge to be weed-killing fanatics that we are most able to show forth the Kingdom of God. The alternative is mind-numbing in its awfulness. Instead of a spirit of intellectual freedom and honest enquiry, we`ll be burdened with bigotry, intolerance, fundamentalist righteousness, and a demeaning sloganising that can only diminish the integrity of a humanity that is at all times various and diverse.
One way to read the history of the church is to see it as the story of God`s `no` to us when we`re over-zealous and excessively rigorous. To believe in God is to believe in one who is different from our idea of God - that is, to believe in God is to believe in one who will not automatically say `yes` to us, but who will disown and reject our flawed suggestions and unloving attitudes. God is, in all respects, greater than our ideas about him. If he were not, he would not be God. And God rejects our inadequate statements about him. If he did not, he would not be `love.`
`Let both grow together.` Let everyone live. Any sorting out that needs to be done will be done by God. This doesn`t mean we`re being asked to stand by and tolerate injustice. We`re to be moral, caring and committed. But we`re to remember that if it gets to righteous indignation, then that`s dangerous, because righteous indignation so easily slides into judgement, and that`s forbidden. What we`re called to is a life, not of judgement, exclusion and rejection, but a life of loving forbearance, patience, acceptance, forgiveness, sympathy, humility and charity.
This is the life which will show what the Kingdom of God is really like - a Kingdom committed to the flowering of humanity in the image of God, that glorious and wonderful Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.