Sermon, 23 July – The Rt Revd Nigel Peyton


Trinity 7, Sunday 23 July 2023

Weeds, and more weeds. Our damp cool summer is bringing them on wonderfully in our gardens and public spaces. Japanese knotweed excepted, the notion that ‘a weed is just a flower in the wrong place’ divides opinion. Especially now that ‘no-mow May’ and rewilding are in vogue.

Weeds indicate a healthy soil and attract wildlife. They are the most successful plants in any garden. Unless you are establishing a wild area, the trick is not to let them seed: ‘One year’s seeding means seven years weeding’. Cut back, weeds make great compost.

When I was a young parish priest the rectory garden had a patch where I attempted to grow vegetables. Jim, an elderly parishioner would lean over the stone wall, advising me that ‘all those weeds are your troubles’. There was a wisdom in his realism that has stayed with me over the years.

Jesus shares some interesting thoughts on weeds in our Gospel this morning which Matthew clearly found helpful in describing God’s Kingdom to his readers. The agricultural reality of wheat and weeds growing together is that, as in my garden, if you try to pull uproot the weeds, you disturb the good plants. This then is a parable of the mixed reception of Jesus’ teaching. Some Jews accept, side by side with others who reject the good news of the kingdom.

Matthew, writing for a persecuted first century Christian community, largely made up of Jewish converts, devises an allegorical explanation, which probably goes much further than Jesus’ original observation. However, what we lose in Jesus’ enigmatic ending, we gain in Matthew’s efforts at theological reflection.

Matthew has a distinctive approach to Jesus’ parables, often linking pairs of stories to illustrate contrasts: small beginnings / great results, contamination / purity, things as they are now / and in the future, wickedness / righteousness and so forth. And Matthew the tax collector’s signature contrast, ‘treasures old and new’.

This morning we have the farmer and workers; Jesus and the Devil; the field, the world; angels and the fiery furnace. We are reminded of the wonderful promises of Jesus and surpassing value of the kingdom of God that are so neatly sketched by Matthew.

The story and it’s explanation counsel patience and tolerance in the present. At the final judgement there will be a separation between the just and the unjust, and appropriate rewards and punishments.

St Paul elaborated this narrative in his Letter to the Romans to explain the character of salvation. He compares the present sufferings of faithful Christians and the hope in Jesus Christ. Groaning creation, Paul preaches, will be set free and glory will embrace the children of God.

The message of patient tolerance and leaving to God the settling of scores is challenging. For a world in which so many conflicts occur based on religion and race, gender and contested identities, economic and social injustices, environmental crises and political extremes – lazy acceptance is surely dangerous?

Shrugging our shoulders and pleading that there’s nothing we can do to change things. Just a few bad apples we excuse, ignoring institutional contamination. Moral dilemmas, failing systems – each of us can fill in our own thoughts and sensibilities.

There are in plain sight wickedness and weeds we should seek to root out. We don’t only have eternal hope, but we also possess human agency. ‘You have the power to act whenever you chose’, the Wisdom of Solomon reminds us.

Starting with our own lives, our relationships with others and our engagement with issues. And as a Church called to multiply disciples, to serve others and to transform lives. We should not make perfection the enemy of the good enough. There is a real difference between welcoming diversity, tolerating untidiness and allowing bad things to take root. We take courage to insist on goodness, speaking truth to power.

Remember, in the garden, weeds signal the potential for abundant growth in healthy soil. Weeds are naturally supressed by plants densely planted, denying the weeds light, with lush green leaves and cascading colour.

It seems that Jim’s words over the garden wall, echoing down the years, ‘all those weeds are your troubles’, are only partially true – they are also our potential, our possibilities to flourish.

Rt Revd Nigel Peyton, Assistant Bishop – Diocese of Lincoln