Welcome to this Online Meeting for Worship. Below you will find songs, scripture or poems, and a short message to frame and guide your time in worship. Each week by Friday I will be publishing a new worship outline. The scripture used generally (though not always) comes from the weekly Revised Common Lectionary, connecting the Friends tradition to other Christian traditions around the world. For some of you this worship space may be a place of sanctuary when you are away from in-person worshiping communities. For others, this worship space may help you prepare for your weekly Sunday or mid-week worship.
I suggest that you open each link in a separate window and play through the beginning of the songs to get over any ads, preparing for your worship time. (Though you may want to first check to see if ads play while the songs are embedded in the post. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t!) You may also want to have a candle and a journal nearby. Since this worship is designed in the manner of Programmed Quaker Worship, it includes a period of waiting worship. There are several communities around the world that host online unprogrammed Quaker worship, for which I have included links. These communities worship together at certain times each day and week, so you may want to plan your worship around theirs.
If you would like to set up a regular time to worship through this site or if you have specific prayer requests to be held by my home worshiping community, please contact me through this site. If you would like to leave a message on this page, perhaps a message that rises for you during your worship, please comment below. Messages are filtered to counter spam attempts and it may take me up to 24 hours to approve a comment. Thank you for joining me in this weekly online Quaker programmed worship. May your time in worship be deep and faithful.
Wrestling with Weeds
Centering Silence: Take a few moments to center yourself. Perhaps light a candle, find a comfortable place to sit and put away any distractions. Take a few deep breaths as you center yourself for this time of worship. Feel your body relax as your breaths become deeper. Turn your attention to the presence of the Divine throughout your body and throughout your life. When you are ready let the following worship elements guide your worship.
Scripture: Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.
— Genesis 28:10-19, New International Version (NIV)
Scripture: Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
“‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
“‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
“As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
— Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, New International Version (NIV)
Message: Wrestling with Weeds
My family and I recently moved to Vermont. We are settling into the rural life and beginning to discover the flora and fauna on our land. It’s the start of a year of discovery and we need some grace as we learn everything we need to know about life in a log cabin in Vermont! For example, I don’t know what the previous owners planted in the garden plots. I don’t know the plants and the flowers that edge our woods. I don’t even know what trees are around our new house (that is, beyond the obvious birch and pine that we can see from our bedroom window). Reading Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds, I was reminded of my own garden. I peer through the tomato plants and peppers that I planted and find all sorts of other things popping up and growing. Are they weeds? Are they some plant that the most recent owner planted that came back after the long winter? Are they medicinal wild food that I should nurture and harvest? I don’t know yet.
My lack of knowing even led me to take copious amounts of pictures and post them on Facebook for my friends to identify. I’ve used apps and plant identification books and I’ve learned a lot. But even with this new knowledge, I’ve found that when I have gone to pull some of the “weeds” out, I’ve hesitated. Do I really know if they are weeds? What if I’m wrong and they bloom into something amazing?
Jesus’ parable about the wheat and the weeds is ultimately about discernment and judgment. Jesus teaches that there are people of the kingdom and people of the evil one, but we don’t have the discerning wisdom to know who is who. Different Christian movements have attempted to determine who is who, but in the end failed, costing good people their lives. Ultimately, it is God who knows who is good and who isn’t. If we look for the weeds among the wheat in order to pull them out, to push them out of our lives, we just might be wrong and be discriminating against folks who are God’s chosen people; in those moments, we might be the invasive species needing to be pulled out, not them.
Bringing this into Quaker theology—which doesn’t have an end time theology that waits until the end of time for God to transform the world—this parable poses to us some hard queries:
- When are you the weed and when are you the wheat? In other words: When are you acting from that of God inside of you and when are you acting from that of evil?
- Are there people in your life whom you would label the weeds in the parable? How might your heart be changed towards them if you considered that they might be more like a wild medicinal or volunteer tomato? In other words, what if the people who are most challenging to you are actually gifts and precious human beings in their own right?
- In the parable, the servants are told not to pull up the weeds because they may disrupt the wheat. Are there people in your life that are so intertwined with your life that even if they are toxic to you, you can’t separate from because of other factors in your life? What emotions come up for you when you ask that question? Are there feelings of injustice? Anger? Pity? How do you feel when you consider that God will judge those people on God’s time?
- If each of us has that of wheat and that of weeds inside of us, that is we have the capacity to great good and the capacity to do great evil, what then is the experience of angels burning out the weeds in us? “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” suggests that the process of transformation, of sanctification, and of justification is a hard and painful one. For example, it is not easy for a white person to work on undoing their own racism.
The concept of that of God in each of us is a common Quaker belief. The idea that there is that of evil also in each of us is more controversial. Still, there are several theologians who have contemplated this dichotomy. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about Genesis 2:8-17:
At this point, however, we need to remind ourselves again that this is not a tale about some primeval human being that hardly affects us. If it were only a tale like that, our main task would be to give rein to our imagination so that it would transport us to this fairyland beyond [good and evil]. Every such game of imagination would altogether discount our actual situation; indeed it is possible only in a split-apart world in which human beings suppose that they could somehow still escape from themselves. What is important to understand, however, is that this story claims us not as listeners with the gift of imagination but as human beings who, no matter how much they stretch their imaginations and all their other mental or spiritual powers, are simply unable to transport themselves to this paradise ‘beyond good and evil’, ‘beyond pleasure and pain’; instead, with all their powers for thinking, they remain tied to this torn-apart world, to antithesis, to contradiction. This is so because our thinking too is only the expression of our being, of our existence, which is grounded in contradiction. Because we do not exist in a state of unity, our thinking is torn apart as well. (Bonhoeffer et al, Creation and fall: a theological exposition of Genesis 1-3, 2004, p. 92)
The other scripture this week is the story of Jacob in Bethel from Genesis 28. He has a dream in this passage and anoints the place where he has slept, naming it Bethel. This story parallels the later story when Jacob is sleeping again in Bethel, is awoken by an angel whom he wrestles with, and is blessed. The two stories, both taking place in the same place, show Jacob blessing the land as well as the land, by means of the angel, blessing him. These are stories are both stories of blessing and they are stories of loneliness (Jacob had just stolen his birthright and was on the run) and pain (Jacob is wounded when he wrestles with the angel). There are complications—Jacob isn’t the most perfect of people, yet he’s own wrestling with the good and evil inside of him propels him to be faithful. His quest for unity of soul, for fulfillment of promise, and for complete devotion to God allows him to wrestle with the weeds as well as the wheat.
So as you settle down into your waiting worship, I invite you to consider your whole being—that of goodness and that of not-so-goodness, the things that you do that are right and the things that you do that are wrong, the injustices you fight against and the injustices that your propagate, your deepest faults and your most shining gifts. In theology the term “perichoresis” translates roughly as cosmic dance. It is said in some Trinitarian traditions that if you take the Father/Son/Holy Spirit trinity and spin them together, they appear to be one, yet are actually separate entities in dance. Consider yourselves then in that same cosmic dance, the wheat and the weeds that make up who you are spinning together. Maybe they are doing cosmic contact improv. Maybe they are wrestling. Maybe they are simply doing the waltz. But remember that who you are, who God calls you to be, is beyond those separate parts. You are called to a place beyond good and evil. You are called into unity. You are called into blessing.
Silence-Waiting Worship: This is a time for you to turn your attention fully inward. The songs and passages and the offered message have prepared you to listen deeply to the Divine. Spend at least 20 minutes in silence listening for that still small voice of God. You may want to join an online waiting worship community. A few links for these can be found below.
When you have come to a place of closure in your waiting worship, continue on to bring your time of worship to a close.
Afterthoughts: Afterthoughts are thoughts that rose for you during waiting worship that didn’t completely form into a message. Perhaps you discerned that what was rising for you in waiting worship was a message for you alone, something not to be shared with others or perhaps you only received fragments of a message and it didn’t come together completely during the silence. Take a few minutes to journal these afterthoughts so that you can look back at them another time. Perhaps God is speaking to you through these partial messages and the fullness of their meaning will be revealed in time.
Joys and Concerns: It is traditional in Programmed Quaker Worship to have a time for the sharing of joys and concerns. Take a few moments to write down in your journal a few things from this week that you are thankful for and a few things that you are holding in prayer. Feel free to post these in the comments below as well (though remember that it may take up to 24 hours for them to be available to others to read) so that others can include your requests in their prayers and celebrate your joys alongside you.
Closing: Take another few moments of silence to close your worship time. Breathe deeply and give thanks for your time in worship today. When you feel ready end in vocal prayer, either of your own creation or read out loud the following: “O Holy One, consider the wheat and the weeds that make up who I am and help me reframe from judging the wheat and weeds inside other people. Help me celebrate the good inside me and help me seek grace for the bad. Bring my whole self into the cosmic dance with you, transforming me despite the pain and discomfort that may come. Transform me into a whole person in unity with you. Amen.”