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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Lambeth Weat and Lambeth Weeds

“Let anyone with ears listen!” Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
X Pentecost – July 20, 2008
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul
Chatham, NJ
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton

I have very clear memories of my grandfather’s garden, which was the side lot of the family home in Fall River, MA. My grandfather and father and uncles would all help in the plowing and planting of the field, and we children and my grandmother, mother and aunts would help him tend the garden.

It’s gone now, that side lot. A house has been built on it. They call that progress, I believe. Reminds me of the reporter who asked Gandhi what he thought of Western Civilization. “It would be a good idea,” he said to have responded.

We were taught at an early age how to plant and how to weed – how to recognize the early shoots of corn and melon, squash and pumpkin from the weeds that would spring up right beside them. Oh, in the beginning, we would make a mistake and pull up the wrong growth, but that only happened once. My grandmother kept an eagle eye on us, and it seemed that every new growth was precious in her sight.

My grandfather’s garden was huge – it had to be. This was not gardening as a hobby. This garden fed our family. It was important work. Hard work. “Honest work,” as my grandmother would say, which is why she insisted that we sing songs as we worked – songs that gave praise to God and the mystery of our place in creation. The music fed our souls while we tended the food that would feed and nourish our bodies.

So, to hear Jesus tell this parable, this image of the Realm of God seems very strange to my ears and eyes. My first thought in reading this passage was that if Jesus ever wanted to become a farmer, well, he should not quit his day job. Not pull up the weeds? I’m sure Ann Bennett and the rest of the ‘Monday Night weeders’ would agree with me – this is preposterous! First of all, weeds can be harmful to the plants. More than that, if you wait for the harvest to pull up weeds and wheat, your job is made that much more difficult.

As I’ve studied and meditated and prayed over this gospel this week, I’ve come to see that this is a perfect image of this church to take with me to England. Indeed, it is a great image of the church I’ll be encountering on the campus of The University of Kent, where the Lambeth Conference is being held.

How can that be an image of the Realm of God? How is that Paradise? I walked around for days trying to figure this out, and then I remembered a story told by Mpho Tutu, one of the daughters of Desmond Tutu, who is also an Episcopal priest. Bishop Robinson recently retold this story last Sunday in his first sermon in England at evensong at St. Mary’s, Putney.

Mpho tells the story about her brother-in-law’s engagement. When he brought home the woman who was to become his wife, his mother was not pleased. Indeed, she was so distressed that she hardly slept all night. When she awoke in the morning, however, she made an announcement.

“In my dream,” she said, “God revealed to me that I have placed myself on the wrong committee. God did not appoint me to the Selection Committee. God appointed me to the Welcoming Committee.” And, with that, the family dispute was settled.

I think that’s exactly what Jesus is telling us this morning. In the family of God, we have not been appointed to the Weeding Committee. Neither have we been appointed to the Wheat or Harvesting Committee. Rather, we have all been appointed to the Welcoming or Hospitality Committee – and the only thing we are responsible for, ultimately, is the harvest of our own life. In the end, as it was in the beginning, God will sort out the weeds from the wheat.

That is what we say about this church, isn’t it? Everyone is welcome here to come and grow – the weeds and the wheat. And everyone, every single last one of us – from the tiniest grain of wheat to the strongest blade of weed – is welcome to celebrate God’s presence together in the way that is most meaningful to us as individuals in community. We are each responsible for the harvest of our own lives.

That’s also a wonderful image to take to the Lambeth Conference with me. There are over 650 bishops and primates of the over 800 in the WWAC who have gathered together to study scripture and pray together, and live in community with one another. Some of the bishops think other bishops are the weeds in the fields of the Lord, which threaten to chock out the good wheat of the “faith first delivered to the saints.”

The problem is that those bishop don’t see that other bishops see them as the weeds, come to chock out the good wheat of the on-going revelation of the Spirit who brings new growth, new life to this ancient church of God. Well, you can giggle, but those bishops are not any different than anyone else in this church. I suspect you might agree with me that it is a good thing that God has decided that S/he will be the judge of that.

I admit that some of my dread in going to England was about this idea of weeding. There are some of our sisters and brothers who like to take things in their own hands. They believe with all their hearts that God has anointed them with the task of being on the Selection or Weeding Committee, and when the weeds are not pulled, or banished or humiliated, fear begins to set in and violence is ignited in their minds.

I was at the Lambeth Conference 10 years ago, and at times, the tension on the beautiful green rolling hill of Kent was as thick as weeds in a meadow. It was not a pretty sight, made even more ugly in a gathering that called itself the Anglican Communion, which professes to follow the Way of Jesus. I confess that I am going to Lambeth this time, ten years later, with a certain amount of healthy anxiety, but I can also say to you in all honesty that I am not afraid. I say that as fact and I say that as prayer.

I can say that, in no small part, because of this little miracle meadow of wheat and weeds called The Episcopal Church of St. Paul in the hamlet of Chatham, NJ. The love and the prayers that are here give me the strength to feel my fear and keep walking anyway. I have come to know that this is the definition of courage: to feel your fear and keep walking, anyway. I have also come to know that courage is not something you have – it’s something you get from others when you feel loved and prayed for.

So, off I go, then, from the fields of wheat and weeds at St. Paul’s, Chatham into the fields of wheat and weeds called the Lambeth Conference. Both are, as Jesus tells us in this morning’s gospel, very near to the Kingdom of God, who is, in fact, President of the Selection Committee.

I go with that image of the field of God, in which I am not a weeder, but a sower of seeds of hope in the fields of the world. It is important work, hard work, honest work, so as my grandmother taught me, I travel with this song in my heart:

My life goes on in endless song
above earth's lamentations,
I hear the real, though far-off hymn
that hails a new creation.

Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear it's music ringing,
It sounds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?

No storm can shake my inmost calm,
while to that rock I'm clinging.
Since love is lord of heaven and earth
how can I keep from singing? Amen.


Fran said...

Oh Elizabeth- such good words.

Weeds or wheat, how are we to know which is which? My response would be to err on the side of mercy versus judgement, but as the saying goes - OCICBW.

You are in my prayers as you journey. Today I posted that in many ways I am part of the TEC these days, albeit in an unofficial role!

And the other day, I used that song in a post as well.

Godspeed good sister. Travel well and walk in the peace and mercy of Christ.

David@Montreal said...

Godspeed dear sister, Godspeed


Bill said...

Be careful Elizabeth. I still have not gotten over the fact that some person or persons have threatened the lives of those in support of Gene Robinson. I know it's not Christian, but I'd like to hold them by their throats and slap them until they were gibbering idiots. I don't take kindly to someone threatening my friend and priest. The fact that you, Gene, and others will have to wear Kevlar vests makes me see red.

Again, be careful and Godspeed.

p.s. Try to have some fun and say Hi to MP.

KJ said...

But, but, but...

This is a hard teaching!

Last week, at our "Adult Forum" Bible study between services, was a gentleman, his NIV Bible in hand. By his report, he was a cradle Episcopalian, but I got the feeling he'd been away awhile.

He was concerned with the language of the Bible used for the scripture reading (He had attended the early service; I was to attend the later.). He was concerned about the word "extravagance" that had been used in the homily regarding God's abundance. He assumed the female clergy were "deacons", apparently not realizing that in our larger, rather progressive cathedral parish, the ratio of female to male priests is one-to-one. Further, when the study was to be led by a lay woman, the gentleman expressed his surprise, stating that it had taken him most of his life to understand that men were to be the spiritual leaders, and used the creation story (i.e., Adam's Rib), to support his viewpoint.

Aaaggghhhhh! "What is he doing here?" was my first thought. A parish where girls and boys share responsibilities alike, and glbt children are at every turn?

I had no idea. However, the leader of our discussion group, a conservative church evacuee, like myself, took it all in stride. I discovered that I was beginning to shake, and knew if I said anything, well, let's just say some weeds, or wheat, would have gotten damaged. Fortunately, I had to leave to get ready to serve at the next service.

How wide is our welcome? Must it include literalist misogynists? Oh, I wish not, but it probably does. I was able to have a conversation with the gentleman at the "welcome table" after the second service. I wanted to tell him everything that he should know about our cathedral parish, but decided it wasn't my place; that will come in time. My place was to welcome.

I hate that!

Kirkepiscatoid said...

I mentioned something in my blog today about how this parable in the old KJV, the weeds are "tares"--false wheat--which you can't really tell from the real wheat till it's harvest time. And perhaps that is part of what your anxiety is about over your trip to Lambeth. Some of the tares have fruiting heads--some have not borne heads yet--how to tell? But as you say, if you are not on the harvest committee or the weeding committee is should be of no consequence! Godspeed, dear lady, don't forget to write!