Sermon – July 17, 2005

The Weed Eater

There’s a story that tells of a woman a few years ago who noticed a few bees buzzing around the attic of her home.  Since there were only a few, she made no effort to deal with them.  Over the summer the bees continued to fly in and out of the attic vent while the woman remained unconcerned, unaware of the growing city of bees that was taking up residence just above her ceiling.  The whole attic became a hive, and the ceiling of the second-floor bedroom finally caved in under the weight of hundreds of pounds of honey and thousands of angry bees. While the woman escaped serious injury, she was unable to repair the damage of her accumulated neglect.

That’s a parable about many people’s lives, is it not?  We let things go.  We put off dealing with them.  We ignore that which is disturbing and inconvenient—until it is too late.  And our ceiling comes crashing in.

Neglect.  What a powerful word.  It describes many relationships and aspects of our lives.  Spouses neglected.  Children neglected. Friendships neglected.  Responsibilities neglected.  Opportunities neglected.  It is a ghost that haunts all of life.  Ever seen a neighborhood that’s neglected?  How about a home?  A garden?

Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Tipping Point, tells about the “Broken Window” theory of crime.  Many years ago, criminologists James Q. Wilson and George Kelling formulated this theory about how a neighborhood or community slowly gives in to increasing crime rates. Wilson and Kelling said that crimes are more likely to be committed in areas where it appears that the residents have lowered their standards and no longer care about their community. 

If a window is broken and left unrepaired, people start to assume that no one cares about maintaining that building.  More windows will get broken.  As the building becomes more dilapidated, there is a growing assumption of lawlessness by the residents.  People assume that they can lower their standards of behavior, because no one will notice or care.

The mayor of New York City used the Broken Window theory in the 1990s as a guide for reducing the crime rate.  He had work crews cleaning up vandalism and repairing crumbling buildings.  He assigned officers to patrol neighborhoods and cite people for even minor infractions.  Littering, public drunkenness, vandalism and other small crimes were noted and swiftly dealt with.  When the police attended to the “little things,” they sent a message that the community cared about setting higher standards for itself.  Major crimes like theft, assault, and drug dealing dropped dramatically once the minor crimes were under control.

Neglect.  Broken Windows.  Weeds growing in the garden.  Jesus told a parable about a man who sowed good seed in his field.  But, in the night while he was sleeping, someone with a grudge against him came and sowed weeds among the wheat.  When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.  “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field?  Where then did the weeds come from?’ “An enemy did this,’ he replied.  “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ “No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them.  Let both grow together until the harvest.  At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.”

In Syria and Palestine there is a weed known as the bearded darnel, which grows plentifully.  Here’s the problem with this weed: it bears an uncanny resemblance to wheat—until the head appears on the plant.  Only then is the difference easily discerned.  The weed appears to be wheat—even an experienced farmer could not tell the difference—until the time comes for it to produce fruit.  Only then is its true nature revealed.  To attempt to weed it out sooner would have been impossible, and attempting to do so would have destroyed valuable grains. Weeds and wheat.  Kind of a scary parable, isn’t it? 

I don’t know about you, but I am continually fighting weeds in my own life.  If I neglect my car, sooner or later it catches up with me.  The battery cables corrode, and one colder winter night, the car refuses to start.  And, you know what I do?  I pray, “Lord, why did you let this happen to me?”  I need to get to that meeting, but my car won’t start.” But we all know it wasn’t God’s fault.  It was my own neglect.  If I neglect the lawn, soon there are dandelions everywhere.  If I neglect my health, sooner or later I pay a price.  If I neglect my responsibilities, weeds sprout up all over the place.  Battling weeds goes with being a responsible human being.  Keeping a garden or keeping a life is not easy.  Someone has said that when weeding, the best way to make sure you are removing a weed and not a valuable plant is to pull on it.  If it comes out of the ground easily, it is a valuable plant. Weeding our lives is easier said than done, and it’s not something that we can completely do on our own.

Some of us have weeds growing in our most important relationship of all—our relationship with God.  It’s true, isn’t it?  We don’t pray as often as we should. We don’t rely on God’s guidance like we should.  We give no real thought to God’s claim on our lives, and the weeds grow. 

Relationships take maintenance, just like our car, just like our house, just like our lawn or our community. Our relationships with our children, our spouse, our parents, our friends, and most important of all, our relationship with God.

Sometimes we get overtaken with weeds that choke out what is good, and it is hard and tedious to pull them out.  However, we know that we can do this because the most important relationship we have:  our relationship with Jesus Christ. Because of this relationship we can break through the weeds and find beauty in our lives.  We can replant and start again.  We can share the beauty with one another.  Our lives do not have to surrender to the weeds, but rather, they can blossom and thrive.  This is the gift that the gospel brings us. And another wonderful attribute of this gift is that even when there are too many weeds to count, we are still loved and claimed by God.  Even when we do neglect those important things in our lives, God does not neglect us. This is why we can tackle the weeds—we can get our hands dirty and throw our back into a little maintenance of our selves.   Are there weeds growing in your garden right now?  With the love of Christ for us we can pull them out today.