It's all grass

September 29th, 2022

One of the most rewarding-yet-challenging things that I have ever done as a pastor working in a community has been to take part in creating a soccer field. The field came into being on a piece of land that had once housed an enormous produce market. The last half of the last century brought a shift in how produce was distributed, and this piece of property lay mostly dormant for many years because of it.

The ground was rocky, uneven, inconsistent. Old buildings had been demolished on the property, their foundations covered up with dirt. Turning this piece of land into a play place for the community was going to be a challenge.

With some good help, a plan developed to make this soccer field take shape. Our community needed it, especially our youth. And so we got to work. We called a local sod farmer for his opinion on how to make new grass grow. His instructions were simple enough: “you have to level the surface, spray herbicide to kill any lingering green things, and then plant.” 

After recruiting good help to spray the field, I borrowed my friend Brad’s tractor…which I broke. Brad brought me another tractor…which I also broke. He brought the first tractor back after being repaired, and then I spent hours on end, day after day with a box blade trying to level out the ground so that the field would not have slopes and contours. I broke Brad’s tractor again. Finally, after a week of trying to level one quadrant of the field with no success, another local man with a bigger tractor and a laser leveling attachment offered his services. It took him a day or so to do what would have taken me months (or longer, at the rate I was breaking the tractors). It was a perfectly level piece of ground now, with good run-offs in place for diverting water.

Now it was time to plant. Our local sod farmer offered his equipment and labor to plant the common Bermuda grass that we had been gifted. Due to their expertise, the grass went in beautifully. All we needed then was some rain. 

It didn’t rain for weeks.

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We had taken for granted that the well on the property would still pump water. Come to find out, the well was dry. My friend, Juan had a church next door. With the church’s permission, the town tied into their water lines to install two spigots to which we could connect our sprinklers. But because they had to splice the lines, the resulting water pressure wasn’t high enough to power the sprinklers. Instead of the good pressure that makes a sprinkler go “chugggggg, chuggggg, chugggggg,” all we could get was a “plop….plop….plop.”

Eventually, my fire chief said he would help me haul water. We would empty the fire engine of water in a matter of a few minutes. Go back to a hydrant, fill up again, empty again, and so on and so forth until the entire field was saturated, at least a little.

Finally, some green started to emerge. And then, the rain came. Green, green grass, everywhere. And not just any grass. Good Bermuda grass. I thought, “This is what good community engagement ministry looks like. This is textbook stuff for making community partnerships and collaborating for our community’s betterment. God must be so pleased! Obviously, God is so pleased with all our efforts, just look at this grass. No weeds in this grass!”

Eventually, the grass grew tall enough that we needed to mow. I take pictures of the grass. I’m showing the world, and all my grass loving friends, “Look at this. No weeds in my grass.” Like a proud parent showing off pictures of a newborn baby, I show the pictures of that field to the people who could not care less about the grass. 

And then, it happened. Seemingly out of nowhere, the weeds appeared. The weeds and the grass were nearly equal in height, overnight.

Baffled, perplexed, frustrated, I lamented, “Why all these weeds!?!?” We called the sod farm guy and asked his opinion. “Well” he says, “you must not have killed the roots of all of the weeds before doing all the leveling and the planting.” Unlikely story, but he’s the expert. He suggested applying a chemical called Cimmaron. Cimmaron zaps the weeds, but allows the grass to keep growing. We conveniently ignored Jesus’s words—we’ve got to take care of these weeds now! We buy the Cimmaron treatment. For the cool price of $8,000 you can spray 100 acres.

Someone gifts us the chemical, another neighbor volunteers their time and sprayer, and we let those weeds have it. Soccer season for the youth of the community would be starting soon. The first ever soccer season in the community! And they will play on good grass! No weeds! Happy grass, happy kids.

The rhythm of water and mowing continues, and then it happened again. Like an enemy in the night, the weeds emerge once more. We can’t keep spraying the chemical. Practices start soon. The kids will just have to play on the patchy grass and weeds.

On the first day of soccer season, approximately 400 people set foot on that important piece of community property. I stood out on the patchy weed and dew-covered field that autumn morning and thought about all the people who made this soccer field and season possible. Yet, deep down I was still bothered by the lack of good grass. 

A friend, one of our community’s coaches approached me and thanked me and all our partners for making this field a reality. He said, “I don’t think you all realized how special of a thing this is for so many people in this community.” I thanked him as best I could for the kind words, and then added, “I just wish they had better grass to play on.” My friend, the coach responded, “Jabe, to them it is all grass. These kids and parents don’t care one bit. They are just happy to play. It’s all grass brother.”

(It took me a couple years to figure out that the reason the weeds kept coming back was because I was borrowing a lot of different lawn mowers from folks to cut the grass. Guess what? If the mower lenders had weeds in their yards, those mowers cut those weeds. The residuals of those weeds would be on the bottom of the mower that I borrow and cut the good soccer grass with. I was my own enemy, sowing the weeds amongst the grass.)

Jesus tells a story about a farmer who plants good wheat in his field. At night, an enemy sneaks in and sows weeds among the wheat. The farmer’s hired hands question the presence of the weeds in the field, “Sir, didn’t you plant with good seed?” The farmer replies, “An enemy did this.” The hired hands say, “We can pull the weeds out.” “No, don’t do that, you’ll uproot the wheat in doing so. Just let them grow together. We will sort it out at the harvest time.” 

This parable holds even more meaning for me now, especially in seasons like this one. These are divisive times. Our world is divided. Our nation is divided. Our households are divided. Sadly, in many places, our churches are divided. Everywhere you look, folks think it’s their job to identify the weeds and blast them into oblivion.

In the midst of all this division, our job as leaders in the body of Christ is not to determine who among us are wheat and who are weeds. Our instinct is too often to say, “Ok, let’s get to spraying.” Or, “Let’s get to pulling those weeds out.” “These two can’t go together, it’s just not right.” “Well, you know wheat and weeds don’t go together, and since they think or believe differently than me, then they are the weeds, and we must separate.” 

At the risk of really overplaying the agricultural metaphors: that’s a load of horse manure.

It is not our job to separate the wheat from the weeds. Like little kids on a patchy soccer field, God calls us to see it all as grass. Anything we say or do to contradict that runs counter to the will of God and what God wants for us as workers in the field. There is no need for us to do any judging or separating. It is a silly waste of time, and it is a judgment that is not ours to make.

Jesus has said, that when the time to sort it all out comes, what ends up in the owner’s barn will be what ends up in the owner’s barn, and none of it will be up to us. It will be up to the owner of the field. In the meantime, we should plant good stuff, work with our neighbors to grow good things, and we should make sure to water it all. 

We should also play a little bit more. If not soccer, then something. God created us out of delight and for delight. Not everything has to be so serious, and dire, and urgent, all the time. We should enjoy the wheat and the weeds. We should spend less time cursing the existence of others and our differences of opinion (or even deeply-held belief), and instead spend more time enjoying one another and our differences. 

And no matter where you’d put yourself any given day—either among the weeds or the green grass—remember: all is connected, rooted together. And that is ok. God knows what God is doing. This is not God’s first time working in the field.

When the time of the harvest comes, rest assured, the one doing the harvesting is not going to ask how you voted, or how you felt on this or that divisive thing in the church or nation in the year 2022. Our reactions to the divisiveness may matter. How we loved God and our neighbor; how we loved the wheat and the weeds will matter, no doubt about it. What will certainly matter is that the one doing the harvesting is also the one who, in the beginning, planted the field, watered it, loved it, and called it all “good.”

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