Patience for maturity – Matthew 13 v24-30 and 36-43

My first sermon as Curate at St. Mary’s Old Basing and Lychpit for 8am Eucharist (BCP) and 9.30am Sung Eucharist (CW)

TRINITY 5 (PROPER 11)
Readings: Isaiah 44:6-8, Romans 8:12-25 and Matthew 13:24-30 and 36-43

The parable of the weeds and wheat as an inspiration to grow in patience and maturity.

The stinging nettles flowering amongst my rambling rose!
The stinging nettles flowering amongst my rambling rose!

There’s something about training for ordination that means there’s much more willow herb and considerably more stinging nettles growing in my garden than there were two years ago! I could explain that it’s for the benefit of the moths and butterflies whose caterpillars thrive on both, but… er… that would be a fib, and I guess it’s best not to start my association with this pulpit by telling lies. So, no, it’s simply that there aren’t enough hours in the day, at least not ones with any willpower and energy lying around spare, for my garden to look as weed free as I would wish it to be.

Some would say that a weed is simply a ‘plant that is in the wrong place’, and to some extent that is true of the weeds in our Gospel this morning, growing among the wheat which the farmer has had sown. But, these weeds present a difficult problem.

The chances are that the weeds of which Jesus spoke, looked not dissimilar to the wheat that the farmer was trying to grow. Unlike my stinging nettles and willow herb, darnel, which some think this Biblical weed to be, is a plant that not only looks incredibly similar to wheat until it’s seed heads ripen to almost black, but it is very vigorous, has stronger roots than wheat, and is regarded as poisonous because it plays host to a nasty fungus. You can quite understand why this isn’t something you want mixed up in your wheat crop, and why, on discovering it, the immediate reaction is to get it out as soon as possible.

But no, the farmer is adamant that the weeds are there to stay until the end of the growing season when the field is mature and ripe for harvest. Only at that point, when it’s really obvious what is weed and what is wheat, and root damage to the wheat is immaterial, will the labourers be allowed to rip out the poisonous darnel and burn it. Then the wheat can be harvested and stored to sustain the community. It’s a management technique that requires patience, and an understanding of how both plants grow.

God has a habit I’ve discovered, of not being very good at conforming to any timetable that WE might wish to set him. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here to be honest; I’d still be tucked away in St. Peter’s in Yateley. As far as I was concerned, THIS (point to clerical collar) wasn’t meant to happen for several years yet, IF AT ALL!

God however, is just as adept at taking a lot MORE time than we might think ideal about sorting out some things. I am sure as we watch the news from Ukrain, Israel/Palestine, Iraq or Syria, or hear that another friend has been diagnosed with cancer, MS, dementia or some other debilitating disease, we wish and pray that God would simply get on with stepping in NOW, to solve the problems and diseases of the world. He doesn’t, because though he dislikes the weeds in the garden of his creation even more than we do, he doesn’t want to destroy the things that are maturing nicely before they are ready for harvest. Or, more accurately, he is active in the world, but he’s active in ways we perhaps find difficult to recognise or understand.

There is a reason why patience is part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit – and it is because it forms part of the character of God that we are called to reflect in our own lives! God’s judgement is delayed because he is patient. This parable isn’t particularly about who’s going to be in, and who out, of the Kingdom of Heaven; who’s good and who is bad. Rather, it is underlining the fact that God is waiting for the wheat to mature into a crop worth harvesting, one that can be clearly distinguished by it’s character from the weeds that otherwise look similar but are different and have become poisoned.

Much as we want it to be, the evil in the world around us is not going to be weeded out overnight by an army of God’s labouring angels. We’re not going to be isolated from the rubbish of the world, we HAVE to live alongside it, with the same patience as God. But this isn’t an excuse to sit back and do nothing, to live, as our Epistle puts it, according to the flesh. Led by the Holy Spirit we are instead called as children of the resurrection NOT to be fearful, but to be adventurously expectant, to grow as strongly and as fruitfully as we can towards maturity, so that we will be recognised for what we are: children of God, affected, but uninfected, by the evils of the world; a part of God’s coming harvest.

This parable isn’t about the stuff we do wrong, or a finger pointing exercise about what others foul up. It’s about the stuff we do right, the stuff that reflects the faith we proclaim. This parable is saying there’s time to do MORE of it, BECAUSE God is patient.

For example there’s time to take part in the Pilgrim Course, to share and learn more about Christ, the how and where of his work in our lives. There’s time too, carved out though it might need to be from our own timetables of living, to make our faith more recognisable to others than it is already. On the world stage that MAY mean that those people who are appropriately placed should step out, trusting God’s strength, to help humanity change for the better; equally it probably DOES mean that we should hold those situations, and the people that can make a difference to them, in prayer.

It’s worth remembering that this parable doesn’t liken a farmers wheat field to the church, because in Jesus’ time the church didn’t exist! The wheat field is the world, the world of Old Basing and Lychpit, as well as further afield, and it is in THAT context that Christ will one day be looking at us to see whether we are discernibly different to the weeds that he knows he will sadly need to destroy. That’s why we are called to engage with our local schools, the food bank, and probably a myriad of other community activities I haven’t seen yet, in ways that mark us out as people of Christ.

There is a deep challenge to us all within this Kingdom parable; but rather than being a source of gloom and fear, this challenge should be a cause for hope. Whatever stage of life and faith we are at, because of God’s patience there is time to grow towards maturity in our love of Christ, and the degree to which we reflect God’s character. If we will allow ourselves the freedom to grow, the Holy Spirit is eager to be at work in us, enabling us to be part of the harvest that will be stored in God’s presence as part of his glorious Kingdom.

Advertisements

The Rev’d. Mrs.

From Ecclesiastical, our new Insurers... and my Diocese did the same!
From Ecclesiastical, our new Insurers!

Well, I’ve been a Reverend for nearly three weeks. How does it feel? A pretty good fit, like a comfortable new glove.

It’s a title that I have actually been increasingly looking forward to as ordination training progressed. There was no fear attached to it; it was something I knew would come with the calling – part of the deal. In the context of the parish I’m now ministering in, I suspect it will get well used, and I was more than happy to sign my first offering to the pew sheet as “Rev’d Rachel”.

This one's from the Church Times!
This one’s from the Church Times!

But I have discovered an unexpected emotional response, closely related to the use of the term Reverend. In many cases, on all sorts of post, I am no longer “Mrs.” and that I actually find quite distressing.

Let me go back in time, briefly, to a point a few years ago (no more than 10) when this then Editor of the Diocesan Mothers’ Union newsletter was gently chastised for not using the official and correct form of grammar for anyone who is ordained; it should be “The Rev’d. Mr./Mrs.” when the person is first referred to, and then plain “Mr.”or “Mrs.” thereafter in any extended text. I was careful to get this right from that point on.

And yet, having been ordained I find that almost everything is just written as “Rev” (popularised by a certain TV series perhaps), “Rev’d.” or “The Rev’d.”, often without the full stops or apostrophes. In some ways this doesn’t bother me; I’m not usually a pedant, or bothered about the modernisation of language when appropriate. And, I guess for gentleman who are married, who have never had an appropriate form of address to signify their marriage because they simply remain “Mr”, this perhaps isn’t such an issue.

The Rev'd. Mrs. and her Mr. on Ordination Day (photograph by our friend Stephen Usher)
The Rev’d. Mrs. and her Mr. on Ordination Day (photograph by our friend Stephen Usher)

But you see, I’m still a “Mrs.” and very proud of being so! I’ve enjoyed 22 years of marriage to a wonderful, long-suffering, man, who himself is very proud of having a “Reverend” Mrs. We think marriage is a fantastic institution that is part of our relationship with God, but suddenly any public celebration or declaration of this fact in the envelopes that arrive through my door is being hidden by the dominance of the “Rev” bit of who I now am.

Actually, what I’m really bothered by is not the lovely envelopes from friends that come addressed to the “Rev” they want to congratulate, but the envelopes from Christian institutions (like those shown above) that have also noted the change of status, but seem to think that the “Mrs” bit of me has been subsumed – she hasn’t, I’m still someone’s wife, and very proud and delighted to be so!

[Is it me? Or have other married women had a similar reaction to their ordination?]

Ordination Retreat and it’s wildlife

Park Place Pastoral Centre, Wickham, Hampshire
Park Place Pastoral Centre, Wickham, Hampshire

For Winchester Diocese, like Portsmouth, ordination retreats are held at the beautiful Park Place and Wickham in the Meon Valley.  Last week was my Diaconal retreat, shared with those being ordained to the priesthood in our diocese. There were periods of silence, reflection and free time to restore the soul and focus on the role to which I am called.

Anna Norman Walker, Canon Mission of Exeter Cathedral was our excellent retreat conductor, and for me managed just the right balance of humour, Biblical reflection, personal stories, poetry, images and music. Using the ‘scaffolding’ of the Eucharist our 5 reflections focused on the words “take”, “thanks”, “blessed”, “broken” “shared”. I would particularly commend the poetry she used, which was by Gerard Kelly (“Spoken Worship” was the recommended title – something I shall be buying for future use).

Anyway, before succumbing to a lurgy that meant I would have to be nursed with prayer and paracetamol through the ordination day itself, I took a couple of lovely walks in the afternoon free time we were given, along the edge of the neighbouring Wickham Park Golf Course and down to the River Meon at the bottom of Wickham itself, before winding back along the disused railway line to the golf course and pastoral centre. The golf course, it’s bramble and grass lined edges and it’s water features in particular, were a haven for wildlife, and alongside the insects shown below, I also saw Ringlet butterflies, Beautiful Demoiselle damselflies in courtship chases by the Mean, an Emperor dragonfly and a Broad-bodied Chaser dragonfly that took a Meadow Brown butterfly on the wing over a pond before taking it high into a will to shuck it’s wings and eat it!

Unexpected update: delighted that this post appears to have inspired Archdruid Eileen to the most wonderful parody of the wild life to be had on ordination retreats; Ordination retreats and their wildlife