"Creeping Charlie and the Galactic Empire" by Vicar A.J. Houseman
Updated: Aug 4, 2020
So if you haven't noticed yet, we have entered the season of parables. Often in this time after pentecost, we go through more of the teachings of Jesus. Because thought the rest of the year we have Advent, then Christmas, then Epiphany, then Lent, then Easter; these are very specific things in Jesus’ life that we focus on. But during this time after Pentecost, or as some call it “ordinary time”, we focus more on the things that Jesus said and not just what he did. And so for that, Jesus said a lot of parables. Now parables can often be confusing, sometimes they may feel more like riddles than they do lessons. Which is why the disciples are always like, “mmmm, can you explain that to us?” It felt to them like Jesus was talking in riddles all the time. And even today it's hard for us to sometimes understand what Jesus may have been talking about. And sometimes in our attempt to figure out what Jesus is talking about, over time we have gotten a bit confused about some of the things that Jesus says.
So I’m just going to say it first and outright. This is a problem parable. I’m not saying that anything that Jesus says is wrong, or in any way not in line with the rest of the theology he gives us in the Gospels. I’m saying it's a problem because of how humans have chosen to use this parable.
Christians are really good at the “who is in and who is out” game.
A preaching commentary that I read each week by an episcopal bishop writes, "Perhaps there were some overzealous 'weeders' in Matthew's congregation who wanted to purify the community by rooting out the bad seed. This seems to be a temptation for followers of Jesus in every age.".
There are some Christians who are very quick to say who are wheat and who are weeds. These Christians have a very defined list of what you need to do to be a wheat. For instance, there are churches that all of you and I are not welcome in, even if the doors say it, they don't actually mean it. You haven’t done the things on their list to make you wheat instead of a weed. And for all the churches that don’t welcome you, there are twice as many that don’t welcome me.
See to some, we are weeds… but to others we are the wheat. So which is it?
In a country that is rapidly making everything a polarizing issue… which is it? Wheat or weeds? And how do we know?
I will repeat myself from last week, in case you weren’t here. It is not our job to decide, friends. Do you know why? Because the designation of weed is something humans came up with. What is a weed to some, is a useful and valuable plant to others.
Take for instance, ground ivy. Or more commonly referred to as “Creeping Charlie”. My grandmother’s lawn was full of it. Once it gets into your lawn, that's it. Game over. This weed slowly snuffs out the grass you planted there until it takes over your entire lawn.
Creeping Charlie is like a landscapers nightmare. In the 21st century there are about 3 chemicals that have been made to kill this ground ivy and not harm the grass. But the grass has to be strong enough to handle it. You can’t use these chemicals on baby grass because it will die along with the Creeping Charlie. You have to let them grow together for a while.
See the thing about Creeping Charlie is, it's only a weed because it is unwanted on our lawns. It’s actually a pretty remarkable plant.
First off, it's an astringent, a cleaning agent. It is similar to calamine lotion. If you were to get into some poison ivy you could mash some creeping charlie and put it on the rash.
It’s also an anti-inflammatory and very rich in vitamin C. It can be dried and added to tea for these medicinal purposes. Or just eat it, but I’m told it tastes terrible. I’ve never tried it.
See if anything, you will leave church today and go home and look at your Creeping Charlie a little differently. This is entirely my point. Maybe in a wilderness survival situation, you now are a little more prepared.
What is a weed anyway? It is just a label for a plant you didn’t intend to grow.
See Jesus isn’t trying to teach us to pick out the children from the kingdom and the children from the evil one. He’s not teaching them to look at a lineup and pick out the evil one.
Because not only is that an impossible task, but it's also a highly subjective one. There are people that I think are pure evil that are saints to another and vice versa. Our subjectivity on moral high grounds is purely based on the point of view that we see the world. Let me repeat that: what we view as right and wrong is based on the point of view that we see the world and everyone has a different point of view. We all have different experiences, ways that we were raised, we were taught different lessons, and we come from different places. So our view of what is right and wrong, the gray area, and what is good and bad is different. So of course it is unreasonable for us to pick out the wheat and the weeds. Creeping Charlie is a weed to some, and to others it can be the life saving difference in a wilderness survival situation.
Many of the world’s wars have been fought over the subjectivity of morality. Of people have different kind of views of what is good and bad. Families torn apart. Political lines drawn. And the Church splintering into thousands of denominations.
See why I say this parable can be a little bit of a problem? When it causes us to pick lines, when it causes us to pick what is good and bad from our perspectives?
See what Jesus is addressing is what was happening at the time. It’s always important in ancient texts to ask the question, what was happening at the time. Who is the author talking to? At the time that this was written, about 70 years after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, the Christian church was still a baby and facing all sorts of crazy odds. Odds of survival, what they are going to do in their own current oppression and fight for the Christian church. This text is hope.
See in a primarily Jewish society, they still held to many purity laws. To have weeds in the crop would make it impure and the whole field is now a waste.
So Hope. The fact that Jesus isn’t like “yep, burn it all. Once you get a little bad, you’re all bad now.” is the message. The message that Yes, there is evil in this world. And yes it lives and moves among us. But it does not win.
There is hope.
There is a future where evil is removed by God’s angels from the kingdom.
In 1st century Palestine, they were sitting under the oppression of an empire. One that didn’t particularly like the Jews but rather tolerated them because they had to and now they are calling themselves christians?
So the epic Star Wars saga is all about a small rebellion against the evil galactic empire. There’s actually a lot of good nuggets from Star Wars for Christianity, so you might hear me talk about it from time to time. And what do they say, “Rebellions are built on hope. It just takes a spark.”
Jesus is giving them the spark. The spark of hope that the kingdom is coming. That it is coming every day and it is continuing. They were feeling somewhat hopeless because they are doing all of this work, they are building this church, they are giving it everything they have and things are still going wrong! There is still evil in the world! How is that possible after all of this? And that’s why Jesus says, “Listen, it's coming. God is always working on it. There is hope, but sometimes, you have got to let them grow together.”
God is still working on it. And our job? Our Job isn’t to pick out the wheat and the weeds, it's to help build the peace and justice in the world. Striving for the Justice that Jesus continues to talk about throughout his entire ministry: to love the poor and the orphan, to love your enemy, to pray for those who persecute you, and when you have done these things to the least of these you have done them to me. Hope and understanding that we are loved no matter what someone has labeled us. The kingdom is still coming every day, this kingdom is manifesting even amidst the weeds. Amen.
This morning for our reflection song, I want to share with you a contemporary christian song about this hope. It's called “Build Your Kingdom Here” by the Rend Collective.