This time I firmly recall why I used bullet points for this sermon. I had just gotten off a plane from Jerusalem and my brain was jetlagged, emotional, and mushy. I couldn’t sentence at all.
(Why haven’t I written about my Holy Land pilgrimage? Perhaps I still will. There’s a saying that if you spend a day in Jerusalem, you can write a book. Three days, and you can write a paragraph. A week, and you can’t write a sentence. I have always found that amazingly accurate to my experiences there each time.)
Anyway, I landed at Kansas City around 12:30am on Saturday morning, and preached this sermon at 5pm on Saturday evening. At least, I think I did. I was pretty tired.
Rev. Megan L. Castellan
July 23, 2017
Ordinary Time, Proper 11
- –Holy Sepulchre is disappointing for many people.
- –They go, expecting a beautiful, transcendent experience of universal Christianity, and instead
- It is an exploded furniture warehouse run by rival mafia families. Basically.
- First off, the building is weirdly ugly. It was built in stages over centuries, all ramshackle and whatnot.
- Then its pretty run down. Black smoke tar all over every thing. Icons faded, disappeared over time. The Assyrian altar looks like four pieces of wood held together with prayer and duct tape.
- Know when it was last renovated? 5 years ago, and it was paid for by the King of Jordan.
- And it’s loud. Thousands of pilgrims taking selfies, pushing and shoving, not understanding how lines work. Crotchety priests telling tourists that they can’t come in because they’re wearing shorts. Rival processions of monks trying to out-pray the others.
- And it’s disconcerting. 6 different churches control areas of the church, and they do not get along. Armenians, Roman Catholics, Coptics, Assyrians, Ethiopians, Greek Orthodox. And they fight. Example: Greek Orthodox control the tomb where Jesus was buried…but the Copts control where his head was laid. Periodically, one will stage a small incursion into another’s territory and a literal fistfight breaks out. It’s so bad that since the 1850s, two Muslim families have been charged with being the caretakers of the church, since they don’t have skin in the game.
- My favorite story is that of the Immovable Ladder: a 6 step ladder up the edifice of the church, which has been there since the 1840s. It is now against the law to move the ladder now, because of the Status Quo agreement–the top of it is on Armenian territory, the bottom is in Greek Orthodox territory, so periodically, the ladder has to be replaced. Once, the ladder was replaced with a DIFFERENT ladder, and great controversy ensued.
- All of which is to say–for many pilgrims, the holiest site in all of Christianity ends up feeling like less of a holy experience.
- They walk out into what they expect will be a field full of lovely wheat and WTH–it’s all tares. Not cool.
- (This is sort of the crowd reaction I think Jesus expects from his parable. IT IS NOT OK TO MESS WITH SOMEONE ELSE’S CROPS. DUDE. MAJOR PARTY FOUL.)
- Additionally, the word used here for ‘weeds’ is a specific one. The weeds are a specific plant that cannot be torn out because their roots are intertwined with other plants. So to weed your field would also mean destroying your good crops. Someone’s getting punked pretty good.
- Again, parables were meant to shock and slightly discomfit the hearers. We, on the other hand, have gotten so used to the shock we no longer hear it. But the crowd would have been very upset at the prospect of having dumb weeds all in your nice field.
- So, too, with having dumb tourists all in your lovely shrine. On a visceral level, it doesn’t seem right. Aren’t we supposed to be holy and silent and contemplative over here?
- Why do we feel the need to have what feels and occasionally looks like the Worst Shopping Mall Ever built over our holiest spot on earth?
- When what we want is a glorious, calm, neo-platonic vision of beauty to carry us to God?
- The truth is, we would prefer not to have any messiness in our religion. No corruption, no confusion, no crossed signals….and, I daresay, if we could get away with it, no humans at all. They only muddy things up.
- Better to just have me and God, calm and quiet, forever. A perfect field of wheat, ripe for the picking.
- Instead, we walk out into Christ’s promised field and there are all these weeds we have to get through. What the heck!
- But here’s the thing. It’s easy to get angry at the weeds when they aren’t what we expected.
- But In the midst of that chaos and confusion of the Holy Sepuchre, there are moments of beauty. The Muslim family ahead of me in line to pray at Golgatha. The hungry cat who snuck into Mary Magdalene’s Chapel and was finally fed by a Catholic priest. The hundreds of thousands of tiny crosses carved into the stone walls, left by medieval pilgrims who travelled across the known world.
- God, after all, doesn’t deliver us from the chaos of humanity in Christianity. God comes to dwell in the midst of it. God doesn’t clear out the weeds–God instead plants wheat down here with us. It is therefore fitting that the holiest place in creation to us would be the place where all of humanity’s foibles are on unique display, and God shows up anyway.
- The weeds don’t disguise or prevent the wheat from flourishing. Indeed, the weeds display the hardiness and strength of the wheat.
- Our God doesn’t allow any weeds to prevent the goodness of creation from shining through at last.
- So we have no need to fear or disdain the weeds of the world–God has planted wheat in the midst of them for us to discover.