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Fr. William Sisterman - St. Dunstan's, Minneapolis, MN
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany - February 6, 2000 
"First, collect the weeds and bundle them up to burn. 
Then gather the wheat into my barn." 

Because we do not hear this parable very often, it might be good for us to examine what Jesus is talking about. In the translation that I use, He uses a very plain word for the weeds. He calls them simply "weeds". In our reading that you heard a little while ago, you heard "tares". Another word for those weeds is darnel. All of them mean the same. Darnel is a weed that simulates wheat. When it is in the blade stage, it looks exactly like wheat. It would take a botanist to discern which is darnel or tares and which is wheat. But as it begins to grow, it develops its own properties. The stem of the darnel or the tares is much thinner than wheat and its head is much smaller, it is also known as "drunkard's wheat". It is toxic to animals and to man. If you ate it, you would suffer from vertigo. 

Darnel or tares looks like wheat. And that was the point of Jesus' parable this morning. When we hear this parable, we say, "This is rather simple to understand." Of course, we have had the benefit of two thousand years of understanding it. But for the people of Jesus' time, this was something brand new. His disciples, who weren't always the most astute, had a problem with it. So Jesus explained it to them. It's the only parable that Jesus explains, aside from the parable of the sower. A few verses later, in Matthew's Gospel, we read this: 

"Dismissing the crowds He went home. His disciples came to Him with a request. "Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field." He said in answer, "The farmer sowing good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world. The good seed - the citizens of the kingdom. The weeds are the followers of the evil one. And the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the world while the harvesters are the angels. Just as weeds are collected and burned, so will it be at the end of the world. The Son of Man will dispatch His angels to collect from His Kingdom all who draw others to apostasy and all evil doers. The angels will hurl them into the fiery furnace where they will wail and grind their teeth. Then the saints will shine like the sun in their Father's Kingdom. Let everyone heed what he hears!"(Matt 13:36-43) 

Because we do have the benefit of two thousand years of Church history behind us, we can understand the parable in a little different light. "The weeds are collected and burned. So will it be at the end of the world. The Son of Man will dispatch His angels to collect from His Kingdom all who draw others to apostasy and all evil doers." Consider that the a darnel, tares, looked exactly like the wheat, growing together. Within the Church, good and evil exist together. When I look at you this morning, what am I saying? That some of you are wheat and some of you are tares? I would hope not. We won't draw the conclusion that closely. 

But I would like you to draw this conclusion. Remember that all of us who come from various places, perhaps various churches and various communities, have, at one time or another, most likely been hurt by the Church that we used to go to. Maybe it was a personal hurt. More likely, the hurt was something deeper than that. We sensed that something was wrong with the direction that the Church was taking. And you said, "This is not the Church that I grew up in." In an act of arrogance, individuals did away with the way in which people worshipped in the Episcopal Church. The 1928 Book of Common Prayer was suddenly looked upon as some heretical tome and could no longer be used. That hurt a lot of people. Soon, other things began to happen; incidents that were contrary to the faith and practice of the Church for nineteen hundred years: The endorsement of life styles that you can't find endorsed by God's Word. And you begin to say. Something is amiss here. Where are the bishops? Why didn't the bishops do something about this? We would be like those servants who came to the man who owned the field, "Why don't you root it all out?" But that isn't God's way. 

There was a bishop whose name you recognize. His name is Bishop Spong. He was the bishop of Newark in the Episcopal Church. And he is a case in point. He is so radical that he becomes a caricature of some of the things that have happened to our churches. Bishop Spong doesn't believe in the Virgin Birth anymore. He doesn't believe in the bodily resurrection of the Lord. ("If Christ is not risen, your faith is in vain" (I Cor. 15:17). He decided, after some scrutiny, that St. Paul was a homosexual! Well, a lot of people said, "Why don't the bishops do something about this man?" But they don't seem to do anything. 

Prior to Spong, there was another individual - Bishop Pike. He too was rather bizarre in his belief. In fact, he got. into the notion of reincarnation. He disappeared up a wadi in Israel and he hasn't been seen since. Poor man. (Maybe there is reincarnation. And he came back as Bishop Spong!) 

You and I look at this and we say, "What has happened to our Church? Why doesn't God do something here?" It isn't always God's way to deal with these things immediately. But it is God's way to deal with these things ultimately. And there is the clue. None of this is left unnoticed by God. He loves the Church. Jesus loves the Church more than you and I do. After all, it's His Church. He is not going to allow this to happen with impunity. 

What had to be given as instruction to the first century Church is just as appropriate m the twentieth century. Not all of the solutions are immediate solutions. After all, in the first century, there were bishops just as crazy as some of our contemporary bishops. And they lead people into apostasy, the surrender of one's faith. People in the first century asked the question, "How can this happen? Is this not the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church?" And Christ would say, "Yes, it is. But those individuals, who look like wheat, are not wheat." Often, the apostles had to instruct their people to be on guard "Your adversary goes about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour" (I Pet.5:8). Peter wasn't just talking about the political adversaries. He was talking about problems within the community of believers. 

After you have orthodoxy, then you have heresy and apostasy, but you have to have orthodoxy first. Gnosticism, in the end of the first century, was a perfect example of that. Christianity became something only for the intellectual elite. It's still around. They call it New Age now. It's as old as Gnosticism. But heresy has reared its evil head in our Church throughout the centuries. 

There is so much in the history of the Church that has nothing to do with religion, with our relationship with Jesus Christ, and with one another. Jesus is warning us about that. It can have all the trappings of religion and still be false. Just as the tares can grow with the wheat. But look what will happen if God seems to tolerate this. He tolerates it only for a time. 

At Christmas, I reminded you that Christ came historically as a tiny baby. He is present to us now in the Sacraments, in His Word, and in the Church. But remember that the next time He comes, He comes as judge in order to set everything right. "The Son of Man will dispatch His angels to collect from His Kingdom all who draw others to apostasy and all evil doers. The angels will hurl them into the fiery furnace where they will wail and grind their teeth." I won't make any judgments about individuals in any of the churches but I think there are a lot of people in positions of authority that have much they are going to have to answer for. And they are going to answer to Christ when He comes as judge. It will be all right. It will work out. Jesus Christ is still Head of His Church. He is still in love with each and every member of His Church. And He may tolerate the weeds growing, but He will respond. 

What can we do? We are a little community as we see a bigger picture Sometimes it's overwhelming and we say, "God, do something now! Change things now! Reform Your Church. Renew Your Church." Well, renewal always comes from the bottom up. Authentic renewal of the Church historically has always come from the people first, not from the top down. Leadership finally get the message of what the people are saying. Then they come up with the renewals and the reformations. But it begins with the people. It begins with you and me. If we want the Church to be renewed, it begins with us. First, we are renewed. First, by the grace of God, we are changed. 

The first reading this morning, from Paul's letter to the Colossians has a very short description of what the Church ought to be. This is authentic wheat that Paul is talking about. This is what we have to understand and practice in our own lives. This is how the change happens. We will let God take care of the big picture. But the little picture. you and I, this is something that we can choose to do. Hear what Paul says now in the context of the Gospel reading: 

"Because you are God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with heartfelt mercy, with kindness, humility, meekness and patience Bear with one another. Forgive whatever grievances you have against one another. Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you."V 

Would the history of the Church be different if forgiveness had been a greater part of it? 

"Over all these virtues, put on love which binds the rest together and makes them perfect. Christ's peace must reign in your hearts since as members of the one body, you have been called to that peace. Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness." 

If you're really grateful, you don't have a lot of time to get into a lot of heretical notions. You're just grateful to God that He's blessed you with whatever He's given you. You know you're unworthy. But He still blesses you. "Let the Word of Christ, rich as it is, dwell in you. In wisdom made perfect, instruct and admonish one another. Sing gratefully to God from your hearts in psalms, hymns and inspired songs. Whatever you do, whether in speech or in action, do it in the name of the Lord Jesus. Give thanks to God the Father through Him." 

If we just followed that teaching of Paul, the history of the Church would have been different. Certainly, the Church today would be different. You and I would be different. As we give ourselves, soul and body, heart and mind to God in this Eucharist, let us make it a gift of ourselves. Let the bread and wine placed on the altar stand for what we are and who we are. Ask Him to bless it and give it back to us so that we can be nourished with His body and blood in order that we can truly be Church as He wants us to be. Then we can truly be the wheat that He will gather into His Kingdom.