Uniting Methodists - Wheat and Weeds

The United Methodist Church is facing the reality of becoming a monoculture denomination. (Monoculture in the church is something that I have touched on before below are a few links to previous posts for reference).

A monoculture denomination is a denomination that is really good at making one type of thing. This efficiency means a monoculutre denomination may be able to grow in numbers, but like all other monocultures, it is very susceptible to sickness and unhealth. Nonetheless, when there is a lower "yield" than previous years and the numbers do not look good, monocultures are very attractive.

Jesus had a little parable about the kingdom of God and buried within it we can see the resistance Jesus has for the monoculture church. 

Even weeds have beauty

He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’ - Matt. 13: 24-30

Every side of the denomination feels like they are the wheat and others are the weeds. You know the arguments made by different field workers of today:

  • Traditionalists argue that Progressives are sowing seeds of disobedience and seek to uproot the entire orthodox tradition.
  • Progressives argue that Traditionalists are sowing seeds of contempt and seek to uproot justice for the sake of compliance.
  • Non-Compatibleists on both sides argue that those in the are sowing seeds of fear and seek to uproot the whole church for the sake of a Pollyannan idea of unity that is lukewarm at best. 
  • Compatibleists argue that the extremes are sowing seeds of anger and are determined to uproot the entire church out of their self-righteous peacocking. 

The reality is we all are convinced that we are the wheat and others are the weeds. We all are convinced that we are good enough at this thing called Christianity that we can remove the weeds without harming the wheat. 

Jesus says otherwise. 

Jesus reminds us all that we are not very good at all at discerning wheat from weeds and even if we could, we are so inept that we do much more harm than we realize.

I read this parable in part as a caution against the attraction to a monoculture denomination. In our efforts to be as faithful as possible (growing only wheat) we will always find things/people we believe are not faithful (weeds). The Uniting Methodists stand with those who heed the call of the master and, despite our frustration, let the wheat and the weeds grow together. The Uniting Methodist stand with the humble servants who were confronted with their own limitations. The Uniting Methodists stand with those who trust that the Master is okay with wheat and weeds in the field.

If we cannot live with the weeds in God's field, then perhaps our anger/frustration is less about the weeds and more about our own lack of faithful discipleship.

Are the Seasons Backwards?

Back in 2009, the question was raised, "Could the problem with Sunday worship be that it begins out week?" The assumption I generally operate from is that Sunday is the start of the week. But, the question wonders, is it more reflective of a deep wisdom that Sunday should be considered as the culmination (the end) of the week? 

Taking this idea of flipping my assumptions, it lead me to think about the seasons of the year. 

While the calendar year ends in December, for reasons I cannot place my finger on, I have always put the "start" of life in the season of spring. In fact if I were allowed to remake the calendar, I would have shifted the start of the new calendar year with the first day of spring. Spring has new buds and new leaves and new life and it all feels like spring is the start of a new life. Conversely, winter signaled to me the "end". Cold and dark, it just made sense to me that winter is the end of life and spring is the beginning. 

However, what if this ordering of the seasons misses a deep wisdom? What if we did not associate spring with the beginning of new life but we considered the season of fall? 

If we think of fall as the "beginning" then we gain a good number of deep truths. First of all, we no longer would be so afraid of death and dying. Death and dying would be the "start" of a new life. And in fact, in the world of plants, death is the start of life. If death is seen as the start of our lives, then how would our minds change toward our care for the elderly?  

After our new life begins in death (fall), the next step in life is germination (winter). This is the season of wondering what sort of new thing God is germinating in us. This season of germination would be the season of deep faith that God is doing something even if we cannot see it. It is the season of faith that there will be spring and summer after the dark season of winter. Additionally, Advent, the season around Christmas which focuses on God coming into the world, would take on a whole series of new meanings.

After the season of germination (winter) we begin to flower and see the beginning of this thing that God has been doing in our lives for the past six months. We no longer see flowers as the start of the process but as the half way point of what God is doing. We begin to see that these flowers are beautiful but temporal. Spring becomes the season that we rejoice that God is faithful to us because for six months we may not have seen much evidence of God's work in us when we began this process of new life.

Finally, we see the "fruit" of the past nine months of God working in and on us in the season of summer. The fruit is sweet and provides sustenance for us. We assess if we are producing good or not so good fruit. As we sit in the heat of summer, beaten down by the sun, we can only consider if the work that we have done with God the past year is fruit bearing. While we enjoy these fruits we understand that God is calling us into a new thing once more and we take that first step into new life by dying to our old life - the season of fall is upon us once more.

The goal is not to bear fruit

For many of us Christians, we talk about the true disciple is one that bears fruit. The Church talks about different ministries being fruitful and many churches count different things as a way to talk about how much fruit something bears. In the past I have written about the need to grow fruit and not veggies, how drought leads to high quality fruit and even the needed shift from being fruitful focused to being faithful focused

Today I want to share a story from my friend, Reid, when he went to his grandmothers house.

Reid's grandmother has at least one apple tree in her backyard. This tree is beginning to have a lot of fruit. So much so in fact that the branches are being held up by posts for support. Reid and his grandmother were shook from their seat when one of the fruit laden branches snapped and fell to the ground. Reid shared that it is a shame that the branch snapped off because it had a lot of fruit on it, but the fruit was too immature to pick and eat. That branch and all the buds on it were going to rot and end up as firewood. 

In many circles and conversations I have participated in, there is an emphasis on bearing fruit. As such churches are measured by how much fruit they produce - members, dollars, building size, average worship attendance, etc. With all this talk about bearing fruit we might forget that the goal of the Christian life is not to bear fruit.

The goal is be connected to the True Vine.

When we talk about the Christian life we are tempted to talk about the fruit, when we really should be talking about the connection we have with the Vine. Don't tell me how many people you have in worship, tell me how you see people connecting with God in worship. Rather than how many dollars you give, share how much grace you have received. I am not interested in hearing how many times you have read the Bible as I am hearing about how many times you have allowed the Bible to read you. So you have a ton of 'likes' or 'followers' but when was the last time you were humbled by your own smallness?

We are not called to bear fruit, we are called to connect to the vine. If we focus on fruitfulness without contentedness then we may be like a branch that is full of apples only to break off and (ironically) not be fruitful.