The Garden of God
Updated: Aug 6
This sermon was delivered on July 23, 2017 At Westminster Presbyterian Church In Trenton, New Jersey. Text: Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43
Church, I have a confession to make: I am a recovering categorizer. For much—if not all of my life I have been tempted to make life simpler by using categories, particularly for people. Coming from a more rigid, literalist world, I was given a few categories and told that everyone can easily fit into them. Among these categories were: believer and unbeliever. And they came with lots of meaning. For instance, if you were an unbeliever, then you were really dissatisfied with your life, you were secretly unhappy—even if you looked happy—and you were definitely going to burn in hell for an eternity. On the other hand, if you were a believer, then you were full of the joy of the Lord—even if you were miserable all the time—you were living the life that God designed for you, and you were definitely going to heaven where you would get a mansion and live on streets of gold (even though you were told to reject materialistic desires). You see, these categories were essential to the way that I navigated the world—and they seemed to be the way that those around me also navigated the world.
The trouble for me came when people defied those categories. What happened when I met someone who was an unbeliever who had an undeniable vigor for life and infected me with a sense of deep joy? What happened when I realized that I had been living in denial of my own emotions and darkness for the sake of saying that I was happy and living my best life?
I believe that the problem with categories is that people cannot be so easily categorized. Even as I have discovered many new categories and identified myself as part of some of these new categories, I have continued to come to this same conclusion: while categories can be helpful for identifying trends and similarities, there is not one single category that can adequately describe an individual. For example, I would categorize myself as a Christian. But it is certainly not true that I hold the same beliefs as all other Christians. In this instance as in most others, the category “Christian” fails to adequately describe and explain the diversity that exists within Christianity.
When we look at our Scripture reading this morning, there is a temptation to enter the sin of narrow categorization once again. This time, the categories are good people (children of the kingdom) and evil people (children of the evil one). Back in the day, it would have been easy for me to import my understanding of believer and unbeliever into these categories. But now, I simply cannot do that based on real life experiences with real humans—including a more honest look at my own self.
So, if this parable is not inviting us to live in a binary world where there are simply good people and evil people, what is this parable inviting us to do?
First, I believe that Jesus’ parable is inviting us to consider the harvest of our own lives. It is as if Jesus is asking us, “What are we producing?” The parable affirms for us that the divine is active and at work among all of us and in each of us. We carry within us divine seeds that have been placed there by the Creator.
At the same time, however, we are complicated beings. We have complex desires and motivations. From studying humans, we can deduce that usually, people are doing the best that they can with what they know. Of course, doing the best that we can does not mean that it’s the healthiest or the most helpful for ourselves or others. The reality is that all of us develop unhealthy coping mechanisms as children that often go unrealized and unprocessed. Being an adult does not mean we magically let go of our childhood wounds and coping strategies.
The parable speaks to this reality. The seeds that are sown are not clearly identifiable as good or bad at first. They are simply seeds. And the bad seeds are planted while the workers are asleep. They are not aware that there is good and bad seeds in their field.
Yet, as time goes on, the seeds become something else—in this case, wheat and weeds. In our own lives, we carry within us seeds that are divine, beautiful, whole and they produce divine love and justice in our lives. But we also carry bad seeds within us that produce destructive behaviors and unhealthy patterns.
There is an important caution here in the parable, though. We are invited to take a non-judgmental stance towards ourselves as we consider the harvest of our lives. It takes time for seeds to become wheat and weeds. In a similar manner, it can take time for us to realize that what we are doing is actually a product of divine life inside of us or a product of death and destruction. Eventually, we are able to collect enough information about ourselves and examine what is going on. We do this through prayer, meditation, honest communication with friends, family members, therapists, and ourselves, and sometimes by experiencing our weaknesses through other’s actions. These experiences can help us to ask ourselves the hard questions about what is going on inside. What are we nourishing within us? Envy? Deceit? Hatred? Hurt? Fear?
What we come to realize, though, is that the wheat and the weeds have a symbiotic relationship. They often grow side by side as the parable reminds us. We are a mixture of the good and the bad. Able to love greatly but also hate deeply. We are able to share generously yet hoard resources.
But the parable does not leave us in a place where we merely accept the fact that we are a complex matrix of good and bad seed. It goes a step further and invites us to be transformed by the divine. Once we come to the awareness of that which is destructive and unhealthy in our field, we are then able to deal with it—again through prayer, meditation, community, intentional living, therapy, and other transformative avenues.
We get to see the power of God at work in us as we nourish the divine seeds within. We can see truth, beauty, love, and justice be birthed in us again and again. The beautiful thing about our field is that not only does our field nourish us, but it also produces a harvest that nourishes others.
When we nourish the divine seeds within us, we find sustenance and those around us find true sustenance as well.
Imagine. What would it be like if we gave ourselves time to get to know ourselves. What if we stopped placing ourselves in such rigid categories and we simply took stock of our fields? And we did so without seeking to make quick judgments about our fields. Instead, we surveyed the land and paid attention to what was there.
And then, after becoming acquainted with the field, we began to make some assessments about what was good and beautiful in us. We acknowledged that there are things worth celebrating in us. Things that the divine has planted deep within. But we also acknowledged that there are destructive things that have been planted in us along the way—oftentimes because we were scared, we experienced scarcity of resources, we were marginalized, we were hopeless. As a result, we responded to these circumstances by nourishing these destructive seeds.
But with this new awareness of ourselves, we can then begin the slow work of transformation. It is described here in the parable as a fiery furnace. The reality is that change is not always easy nor is it simple, but requires time, patience, and diligence. Change is a long game, not a short game. And in that game, we find sustenance, health, and wholeness. There, we find what the Scriptures call salvation.
Imagine what happens to our relationships with one another when we treat ourselves in this way? We can recognize that others are in the same boat as us—not easily categorized as good or bad, but instead a beautifully complex mixture of both that has been created by their own unique circumstances. We can allow them to be at different points in this process and hopefully, we can experience nourishment from the divine fruit that they bear—even if their harvest is not yet plentiful. And we can even learn to do this with those whom we despise or find agitating.
When we live in a world like this, we can experience transformation together and experience this kingdom of heaven that Jesus so freely talked about here on earth. Amen.
May we become ever more aware of our own fields and with the help of God, become master farmers so that the divine harvest might be plentiful in our lives.
May God bless you and keep you,
May God’s face shine upon you and be gracious to you,
May God’s countenance be lifted upon you and give you peace.