From Many Paths, Embracing our Differences, Finding Our Story Together
An Open and Affirming Congregation
"After Sunday worship I feel refreshed and ready to start a new week. Worship calms me and makes me want to be a more giving and forgiving person."
"I am here to share my soul, body, and mind with our bigger family who shares our worship to God and the entire universe. This is my worship experience at church."
Worship at FCC Essex follows a traditional liturgy, but God still speaks to the world today from these ancient words and rituals as if they were new. Music and spirit and art and words and silence center us and inform us. Our style of worship brings comfort, soothes the spirit, challenges the mind, strengthens our love of each other, and empowers us for doing good in the world.
We worship at 10:00 am.
Other special services of worship are celebrated throughout the year during Advent (Christmas) and Lent, as well as ecumenical events with other churches in Essex and within the UCC.
July 19, 2020
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Genesis 28:10-19a Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24 or
Many of the same questions that trouble us also troubled the earliest Christians, including the community Matthew addresses here, in his Gospel. Matthew often uses language of judgment, decision and division, sometimes producing terrifying scenes of condemnation, as Thomas Long describes it, "stark, uncompromising, unequivocal pictures of good and bad spiced up with plenty of weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew, Westminster Bible Companion).
In response to our ancestors' struggle with the presence of evil in their midst (not so much why it was there, but what to do about it), Matthew provides pictures and promises to help them endure and persist, even if their little church, and the big world beyond it, seemed infected and flawed by "bad seed," the "weeds" sown by a power at odds with God's vision for the world.
Explaining the parables
Once again, Jesus is teaching the gathered crowd in parables, as good Wisdom teachers did in that day. Later, in private, he "explains" the parable to his closest disciples, evidently leaving the crowd to wrestle on their own with his words, even as we do today. Matthew provides the kind of explanation of the parable that is thought to be more often the voice of the early church seeking "the" meaning of the parable.
Barbara Brown Taylor reads parables not as direct answers to direct questions that we all have and want answered (clearly and specifically). Instead, she says, they deliver "their meaning in images that talk more to our hearts than to our heads. Parables are mysterious....Left alone, they teach us something different every time we hear them, speaking across great distances of time and place and understanding" ("Learning to Live with Weeds," in The Seeds of Heaven).
Parables are mysterious, and as we said last week, as soon as we think we "know" what a parable means, we're probably mistaken. But if we're made uncomfortable by the challenge of a parable, we're probably getting a little closer to the heart of its meaning.
Tension and conflict over the seeds
Once again, like last week's lectionary reading, our passage contains a parable with images of sowing seeds. Last week's sower liberally spread seeds on every kind of ground, with mixed results. This week's sower presumably uses good ground, but also gets mixed results because of the actions of an enemy.
There's tension and conflict in this week's story, active not passive resistance to the work of God the sower. Perhaps those early Christians had a stronger sense of their own powerlessness, feeling small and vulnerable (but good) in opposition to the powerful but (clearly) wicked forces around them.
In any case, the parable doesn't address the reason for the enemy's actions. Instead, the focus is on the church's response. The parable could be heard on two levels, our local and our wider realities, that is, the church and the world. What to do about less committed, less faithful, perhaps even trouble-making members of the church?
A community of purity
God forbid that we have sinners in our midst! Never mind all those stories of Jesus eating with sinners, or his words about not judging one another: a religious community, after all, should work for perfection and purity, right?
Fred Craddock says there's a tension between the urge to purge imperfection and the "obligation to accept, forgive, and restore....the task of judging between good and evil belongs not to us but to Christ" (Preaching through the Christian Year A).
Who are the weeds?
Barbara Brown Taylor describes the frustration of "good" church members who recognize "weeds" in the midst of the church that ought to be a refuge from the tainted world: "If God really is in charge, then why isn't the world a beautiful sea of waving grain? Or...couldn't the church, at least, be a neat field of superior wheat?"
Then as now, "however the weeds get there, most of us have got them--not only in our yards but also in our lives: thorny people who were not part of the plan, who are not welcome, sucking up sunlight and water that were meant for good plants, not weeds" ("Why the Boss Said No" in Bread of Angels).
Us against Them
This kind of attitude sets up an either/or, Us and Them situation, where some of us are "wheat" and others are "weeds." But who can tell the difference, and who can presume to pull the weeds without harming the tender wheat?
Religious communities, that's who...at least we often presume to do just that, according to Richard Swanson: "Even communities that affirm the radical otherness of God, that claim that God is above and beyond all human distinctions, even such communities assume that, if we must divide Us from Them, God is properly on our side of the dividing line. Carefully developed theologies, balanced and nuanced and properly in awe of the majesty of God, retire to the other room when Us/Them divisions are being made."
Oh, sure, these theologies "will return to the discussion after the dirty work is done," and it will be clear that the "Them" in the story will be at fault for the terrible things that have happened to "Us" (Provoking the Gospel of Matthew). How often has religion been used to justify violent efforts ("the dirty work") to eliminate perceived "weeds"?
Read the scriptures and this entire reflection here.
First Congregational Church in Essex
United Church of Christ
6 Methodist Hill
Essex, Connecticut 06426