Brothers and sisters, I feel I should begin with a confession – I am a very poor gardener!
This mainly comes from not being a big fan of weeding.
The house we were in at college had a steep bank that led up to the road – too steep for the kids to play on, hard work to climb, and not really much use for any kind of garden without major re-sculpting work. When we moved in it was completely covered in weeds, which we attempted to hack back. This became an ongoing battle – one we couldn’t win, as we could never give it the time it required. Eventually, as the weeds got higher, the landlords brought in a gardener. This ‘kind gentleman’ turned up, cast his ‘expert’ eye over the scene…then got out a strimmer, chopped the weeds back to ground level & departed. Now, anyone with any knowledge of weeds will immediately spot the problem – about 3 months later the weeds were back, bigger & stronger thanks to the weather over the summer. Eventually, we organised a gardener of our own to come out. This one dug the weeds out by their roots, turned over the soil & planted good plants to help keep them at bay – in the words of our neighbour, this one “knew what he was doing!”
In our Gospel reading today we find Jesus taking part in the earliest recorded episode of Gardener’s Question Time. Just before this, as Junior Church explained so brilliantly last week, he’s spoken of a farmer scattering seed with varying degrees of success, and here Jesus talks about weeds entangled in an important crop of wheat. He explains the weeds are the children of the evil one, and it appears they have been sent to stunt the growth, hold back, and endanger the children of the kingdom.
This got me thinking about how much time I spend tending the garden of my life. When I look at the soil of my heart, I hope I’m doing the right things to make it good and fertile. I try to give it the right nutrients – time spent in church listening to teaching, and engaging in fellowship. I try to plant good seed in it – the word of God through the scriptures. But, as those in the gospel reading discovered, sometimes weeds begin to grow unbidden and, apparently, unaided. The slaves of the householder appear truly shocked that this has happened – they expected only good crops to grow.
All the right precautions had been taken - the ground ploughed up and prepared, only the best seed sown; and yet here come the weeds, tightly bound to the crop.
Possibly fearing blame, they look to quickly rectify the problem, but the householder is good & wise – he knows the only way to remove the weeds completely is to pull them out at the root, and at this point that would damage the crop as well. He casts his expert eye over the situation and urges patience, knowing that when the time is right the weeds can be destroyed and the crop gathered in.
Now, some might say it’s easy to avoid weeds – just don’t plant them in the first place! We all probably feel we have a good grasp of right and wrong, and try to avoid ‘sinning.’ I doubt any of us go ‘looking’ for trouble; we avoid the usual suspects of sin – murder, theft, adultery. We may try even harder, attempting to live out the things Jesus highlighted in the sermon on the mount – seeking reconciliation instead of anger, avoiding lust, turning the other cheek. But it isn’t just about the big things. What else holds us back from our relationship with Jesus?
Weeds come in all shapes & sizes. Some are deep rooted and tough to shift. Some even flower, and externally don’t look too out of place or wrong. But these are habitual weeds, the things we do often and without thinking, that stifle the growth of the seed God plants in us by using up the goodness it needs to flourish.
Just as a weed blocks light and consumes nutrients, these habits block our vision of the light of Christ and steal the precious time we need to nurture that which God has given us. Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t have hobbies, pastimes, fun! But when these things detract from our relationship with the risen Lord they become a problem. All around us are things that can help us pass the time, but can become overwhelming. If I claim I haven’t got time to read the Bible every day, but spend a couple of hours doing the crossword or looking at Facebook, I may need to do some pruning. If I don’t have time to pray, but know the latest plot twist in Eastenders, I may need to find my trowel and gloves. Lets take a few moments now and ask ourselves - When did I last take a good look around my garden and ask, “what weeds have I left to grow recently?”
Some weeds are smaller - so less of a problem, right? But think of the dandelion – one strong gust of wind and it’s seeds scatter far and wide, and in no time more dandelions spring up all over the place. When we look at our own lives, what are the little things we do that affect other people’s growth in God?
Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, was quite keen on our actions not damaging the relationship others had with the Lord. There are things we probably don’t see any harm in. Things we do that we can happily hold alongside our Christian walk. But just because we don’t think they harm us, that doesn’t let us off the hook when it comes to others. Lets think again for a moment. What seeds blow from my garden into others? Will these seeds bear fruit…or choke the life from those around me?
My biggest problem in the garden is I find it hard to tell the weeds from the plants. The slaves in the story appear to have had a similar concern. But help is at hand.
Unlike the bloke who strimmed my slopes, we have access to the expert in tending our particular garden – one who can advise us on what is best because he managed to tend his own garden perfectly, and wants ours to thrive and produce an abundant crop. When did we last ask the expert gardener, the one witnesses believe “knew what he was doing,” the Lord, the giver of life to help us to remove those things that are getting in the way of our relationship with those who we love, and with him?
We’ll pause again for a few moments. Let’s take some time to wander around the garden of our lives, our hearts, and ask Jesus to help us check for weeds.
One thing about a good garden – people stop and look at it. People ask how it got to be like that; what we did differently to make it so attractive; why is it so abundant, so full of life? Friends, neighbours, complete strangers see something special and want to know how to get it for themselves.
We all know the best way for any gardener to find new work is word of mouth – the recommendation of a friend, who has experienced their work, means more than any fancy advert or promotion! Are we ready to tell those who ask how our garden got to look so good!?
As we come to the communion table, to remember Jesus life and death for our salvation, we use the produce of good human gardening; maybe we should take the opportunity to ask him to clear out the weeds, dig over the soil, and fertilize our hearts with his body and his blood. Are we prepared to work with him, tend the good seed he has planted in us, and let the Holy Spirit blow the seed of that crop far and wide? Are we ready to let him loose with his trowel?