Weeds on the Pathway
There is a stone walkway that leads to our home. It is an aesthetically pleasing design – big rectangular flat stones surrounded by little small rocks. The problem with all those little small rocks is that nature seems to always find a way to grow things in between them. Constantly there are blades of grass, weeds, moss, even small saplings from a nearby tree sprouting up between every crack, nook, and cranny. It seems that after every rainfall, or after a few days we have been away, or simply when we get busy with other things, those weeds, grasses, mosses and struggling saplings start to take over the pathway. Their struggle for life both ruins the aesthetics of the pathway and makes us look like we are inattentive to our responsibilities. I spent about an hour with my son weeding yesterday, and it made a huge difference – not only in how the pathway looked but in how we felt about where we lived and what we were doing.
Have you ever thought the church could use a little weeding?
Please don’t misunderstand what I am about to say here – I am not being literal – those who care for our grounds do an amazing job – thanks for all you do! That doesn’t mean we don’t have clutter issues (there is your warning before entering my pastor study at church) or that weeds, grasses, mosses, and other things are not bound to pop-up given the many nooks and crannies around here. But I am not talking about types of weeds and clutter. I’m talking about the things that eventually start to choke us out from following Jesus together. Some weeds start to into the path and we lost track of what things looked like before they grew there. Others grow in or around our very fibers and we get tired, dismissive or frustrated because others don’t see that they are there. Sometimes we are moving so fast we don’t even notice.
Maybe we have overlooked those weeds for too long. Maybe the weather has changed and we have just been stuck inside. (How many of our church activities only take place in our buildings?) Maybe we have been out and about doing other things that we have not tended adequately to the pathway set before us. Maybe we have just gotten busy doing other things. Maybe things have overgrown, and we have walked by those now flourishing weeds enough times to not even really notice them anymore. In any case the weeds will just keep growing (they always do). Our task is to diligently pull them.
Words of caution about weeding
My confession before you is that I am not much of a weeder. The reasons many of my gardens have failed is because I didn’t keep up with the weeding. I am reminded of the parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43). Jesus teaches that both weed and grain grow together until the harvest, and only he can truly sort them. It is only at the harvest that we will truly know the difference between the good grain that he planted and the weeds that the adversary has planted to choke us out. We run into problems when we think that our weeding can eliminate weeds and make our pathways clear; or that the pathway belongs to us and is ours to protect in order to keep weeds away from it. The path, the way, the journey is open and there are going to be weeds no matter what we do.
However, our own understandings, priorities, and actions often get weeded up by our own sinfulness and self-reliance. Repentance calls us not only to turn our self-reliance over to dependence on a gracious God no matter how weeded up we become, but also to clear the pathway of that which keeps us from him and others. In that regard, weeding is part of our vocation and life guided in the Spirit to serve others, as much as only Christ can clear the weeds from our own lives.
There is one other image worth exploring. It is not the weeds of the world infesting the pathway of the church, but rather flipping that image around. What if we are called to be weeds as the church on the pathway of the world? Jesus speaks of the image of a mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32), and we get excited because we often focus on its size growing from a tiny seed into a large enough bush to form shelter for the birds. The part I never really learned until this week is the subversive nature of such a bush. Mustard is an invasive species.
“What if the key to reading the parable of the mustard seed were to understand what a peculiar seed it actually is? The things about mustard seeds, you see, is that while some varieties were used as spice and others medicinally, in general they were considered at the very least pesky and often somewhat dangerous. Why? Because wild mustard is incredibly hard to control, and once it takes root it can take over a whole planting area. That’s why mustard would only occasionally be found in a garden in the ancient world; more likely you would look for it overtaking the side of an open hill or abandoned field.” (David Lose. “Mission Possible.” (Luther Seminary: Working Preacher, June 10, 2012. [online available:]
Mustard plants do not belong in a farmer’s field. It makes shade that prevents other crops from growing – and it spreads everywhere. What a great image a mustard bush is for the church! We are not wanted in this world; we are invasive like a weed; we spread our branches where nobody wants them and we provide shelter for the same birds that eat the farmer’s grain. Birds eat seeds that farmers sow and bring weeds by other seeds they have eaten. Birds are enemies – and yet God still provides shelter – and calls us to provide it too – even for our enemies. See how subversive Jesus calls us to be?
The Two Sides of Weeds
There are two sides to weeding. The first side to weeding is clearing our pathways from the things that keep us focused on our purpose – which is to love God and love others. Our lives so often get cluttered by so many things we don’t realize the weeds that are chocking us most of the time. The danger in weeding is that we can fall into the trap of thinking we have a monopoly on holiness and we start to weed out others, rather than tend to the path set before us and getting our hands dirty where God has placed us. The second side of weeding is to understand that the church is a weed to the world, that we as Christians are weeds to a culture that wants nothing to do with sheltering enemies, caring for the forgotten, and sprouting up where nobody wants us to grow. In this calling we are called to be like weeds – spreading around, growing in the nooks and crannies, and changing the landscape.
Following Jesus, weeds and all
Following Jesus is not easy. Getting our hands dirty never is. It requires discipline and courage. Yet following Jesus is not something we can do or survive alone, as we are always tangled up in the weeds. We have the gifts of encouragement, support and sharing experiences together as we grow in the church together. We live in this world (full of weeds, in need of weeding) and God is at work – scattering seed and bringing new life and sprouts in all sorts of places. We live within the life of the Triune God – who by his word plants us, waters us, weeds us, cultivates us, and bears fruit and scatters new seed through us – planting shade all over the place, especially where we’d least expect it.
We are both weeds and we are called to weed. We follow the master gardener along the path he has set before us. As ugly as that path may have first appeared, it is starting to look beautiful.
“If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.” (Galatians 6:8-10)