Stories

Matt. 13:24-30,36-43
Pent. 9

Man is a story telling animal. More than anything else, more than walking upright or having a thumb, it is our ability to tell stories that separates us from all of the other animals in God’s creation. (1) We make sense out of our lives by telling stories.

A story can be imaginary and totally made up. As a child you may have been warned not to “tell stories” - things that are just made up. Or a story can be an account of something that really happened. Often stories are a little bit of both. They employ imagination and they connect to the real world that we know in every day life.

It is natural for us to put together a narrative, which has characters, a problem, the solving of that problem and then some reflection upon what has happened. Some of our stories are small and we can even be a character in the story. But there are also big stories, or narratives, retold and put together over thousands and thousands of years. Those big stories are what we call the world religions. They help us understand what has happened in the world and what is happening to us. There are religions that are highly imaginary and mythical, like those of the Nordic gods. They have little connection with the real world and events. Other religions like Judaism and Christianity connect closely with the world, with events and with our lives. We accept our religion, Christianity, because it connects, or coheres, with life as we experience it. Our minds, our hearts, our experiences and the experiences of others cause us to say, “This is true. It makes sense to me. It draws me into it. I want to be a part of it.” Today Traci Rawson will enter into the story of Christianity. Through her baptism she will become part of the community of faith. Her parents and godparents will introduce her into this story. By their presence here they are saying that they find meaning in the story of Christianity. It informs their lives and they want Traci to be part of that story, or faith community, as well.

Now I am going to tell you a story. Although it is a small story, I think it will help us to understand the passage, which was read this morning from the Gospel of St. Matthew.

When I was fourteen years old, my neighbor, Mr. Dittmar, had the most lush garden I had ever seen. His corn was “knee high by the Fourth of July”, and his tomatoes were “Big Boys.” There were Hubbard squash and dark green Zucchini. Often he sent over corn by way of his son, Doug. (Doug was two years older than I, and a little average, so things evened out. The added bonus was that his sister was a dancer at the Edgewater Beach in Chicago.)

There were other boys in the neighborhood. Freddy Patterson lived down on Main Street with his cousin, Willie, and the Lawrence boys lived on Oak Street. I didn’t like to play with Freddy because he argued and was always up to mischief. Still, when things got dull, on a summer day in l949, Freddy was better than no one. In the hot evenings we would roam around looking for a game of sandlot baseball or for apples to put on the end of saplings to whip over the rooftops. One day Freddy asked me if I knew of any gardens, where he could go and look around. I told him my father had one, but the best one was Mr. Dittmar’s. I went off to scout camp for two weeks and forgot about it.

When I returned, there was Doug, dejected and forlorn, on my back stoop. He told me that one night some boys had trashed his father’s garden. They had trampled the turnips, smashed the squash and tossed the tomatoes. Did I have any idea who did it? I didn’t, and I wondered what his father would do. His father, a patient man, was going to leave most of the stuff alone until harvest time and then clear out the waste. Doug said that his father had decided not to spend time trying to find out who the bad kids were. He preferred to concentrate on harvesting the good vegetables.

Later I discovered that it was Freddy and his friends. I did not report them to Mr. Dittmar, for I figured there would be too many denials and evasions. So I simply stayed away from Freddy. Some said that Freddy had a bit of the Old Nick in him. Others said he was a mischief-maker. I thought he was just plain destructive. Shortly thereafter I moved to Connecticut. I never heard any more about Freddy. Willie and the Lawrences. I didn’t miss them, either.

Jesus told a similar story, the parable of the wheat and the tares (weeds). There was a field where good seed was sown. One night the enemy came and sowed weeds, intending to spoil the field. When this was discovered, the slaves offered to pull out the weeds, but their master told them to leave the weeds alone, lest in pulling them out they damage the wheat. At harvest time the wheat and tares could be separated, the wheat put in a barn and the tares burned. The first half of the story focuses on the patience of the landlord. The second half of the story is allegorized and focuses on judgment and punishment.

Jesus is acknowledging that there are mischief-makers and spoilers in the world. Traci, you will find that there are always persons around who seem to be your friends but create problems wherever they go. They sow seeds of discontent. Jesus is saying that that should not stop you from being creative and good and positive in your life. Jesus is also saying that there really is such a thing as evil in the world. We cannot explain it, but some times that which is bad seems overwhelming. The destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Center was such a time. That destruction was not just some boys making mischief. It was an act of evil. Those boys were overcome by a distorted desire to wreck havoc and to kill. We may be very bothered and confused by the presence of evil, but Jesus is saying that just as in this world there are consequences, rewards and punishments, so in the long run, in the next world there is reward and punishment. Evil and sin do not and never will finally win over against the love, justice and compassion of God.

Traci, as you live out your life in the story of the Christian faith, take good care of the garden of your life. Tend it carefully and plant good flowers and vegetables. Learn as much as you can about your faith and live in it every day and every week through prayer, reading the Bible and coming to church regularly. Your garden of faith, and your life, will not do well if neglected and unattended. You need the constant help of your parents and godparents to nurture you in the Christian faith. As you grow older you will see that the parables of Jesus connect with your experiences in life, similarly to the story of the wheat and tares and my story about Mr. Dittmar’s garden. It is my prayer for you, and for your family, that through the sacraments, study and Christian fellowship you will come to know Jesus as one who is close to you and one who guides you on your journey of faith, which will become your life story. May God bless you today and always. Amen. - Fr. Gage -

(1)Morton, Kathryn. “The Story-Telling Animal,” The New York Times, pp. 1-2, section 7, December 23, 1984.