30 July 2020


A couple of Sundays ago, Matt Boswell's sermon at Camas Friends Church looked at the story of the wheat and weeds in Matthew's gospel, chapter 13 (New Revised Standard Version): 
24 [Jesus] put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”
The audio recording of Matt's sermon is only about eighteen minutes, so I'd love it if you went to the Camas Friends Web site and listened to it before (or instead of!) reading my reflections. My thoughts here are not direct comments on his sermon, but they arose as I responded to the queries he gave us at the end:
  • What arises for me as I chew on this parable?
  • What important truth is this parable helping me see?
George Fox and some other early Friends talked about separating the wheat from the weeds as one of their metaphors for evangelism. In their book The Quakers, Hugh Barbour and J. William Frost described the process:
Early Quaker prophetic messages of judgment and confrontation were often given in a marketplace or during a puritan church service. For longer presentations, crowds of noisy but interested hearers were gathered on a moor or daily in a rented hall in an "appointed" or "threshing" meeting. Hearers who were "convinced" by these forms of mission were taken into smaller gatherings in private homes, where they shared their struggles of self-judgment under the Light with other seekers in daily or weekly "gathered meetings" with prayer and messages of guidance as well as silence and tears....
In an epistle from 1652, here's how George Fox distinguished threshing meetings from gatherings of the "convinced": (from Canby Jones, ed., The Power of the Lord Is Over All: The Pastoral Letters of George Fox, number 14)
All Friends, that are grown up in the life and power of the Truth, see that when you appoint your meetings in any open place, in the fields, on the moors, or on the mountains, that none appoint meetings in your own wills. That lets in the wills of the world upon the life of Friends and so you come to suffer by the world. But at such meetings let the wisdom of God guide you, that some may be there to preserve the Truth from suffering by the world, that all burdens may be kept off and taken away. So you will grow pure and strong.

When there are any meetings in unbroken places, you that go to minister to the world, take not the whole Meeting of Friends with you thither, to suffer with and by the world's spirit. But let Friends keep together and wait in their own meeting place. So will the Life ... be preserved and grow. Let three, four or six that are grown up and are strong in the Truth go to such unbroken places and thresh the heathenish nature.
Fox's Pulpit, near Sedbergh. Source.
A sample of his own "threshing" message from that same year: (from his Journal, Nickalls edition)
... There was a great fair at Sedburgh for hiring servants and many young people came to be hired. I went to the fair and declared through the fair day the day of the Lord, and after I had done I went into the steeplehouse yard and got up by a tree, and most of the people of the fair came to me, and abundance of priests and professors [those who profess faith in Christ]. There I declared the everlasting Truth of the Lord and the word of life for several hours, and that the Lord Christ Jesus was come to teach his people himself and bring them off all the world's ways and teachers to Christ, their way to God; and I laid open all their teachers and set up the true teacher, Christ Jesus; and how they were judged by the prophets, Christ, and the apostles; and to bring them off the temples made with hands, that they themselves might know they were the temples of God.
The separation of wheat and weeds in Matthew 13 is not a perfect metaphor for this "threshing" process of Quaker evangelism. For one thing, as Matt said in his sermon,
... We have to be careful about categorizing folks. I think the weed metaphor is a good one, especially if we can be less individualistic about it, more nuanced, more willing to admit that life is messy, that weeds are often subtle, that it's not that I'm a tare and you are wheat, but that in each of us are wheat and tares. And in each system, each community, are wheat and tares.
Along with tales of being beaten and imprisoned, Fox has countless examples of priests, officials, and whole audiences who start out hostile (weeds?) and end up receptive to his message. This threshing work does not not necessarily consist of separating people from each other, but challenging and inviting each person, household, or community into an experience of their own reflection and discernment. For this work, Fox insists that they don't need to be in a special place, or depend on a special person, because Christ has come to teach his people himself.

Eventually, there is a harvest, of course, as Fox and his successors (perhaps you and I) gather the "tender," receptive people together for "prayer and messages of guidance" and mutual encouragement. Quaker ecclesiology in its essence is no fancier than this: people who gather around Jesus, learning how to live with him at the center (including the ethics of that life) and helping each other learn. But there is no tying up the "weeds" to be burned, because nobody is ever judged to be permanently outside. The promise of grace is for everyone.

Are we Quakers still providing access to this experience of being gathered, encouraged, and invited to trust our inward Teacher? How do we offer this access in our own times, 370 years after the first threshing meetings?

Among contemporary Quakers, the term "threshing meeting" has a new definition. From the Historical Dictionary of the Friends (Quakers):
THRESHING SESSION. Originally used to refer to general meetings for evangelizing. Today, threshing sessions are a form of business meeting where only one issue is considered, and, usually, recommendations are brought to the regular business meeting for decision.
Britain Yearly Meeting has published this guide to threshing meetings 2.0.

Alfons López Tena: Authoritarians, populists, nations in decline -- common characteristics, and the case study of Catalonia. Long but fascinating. Is the case study fair?

The journalists who have quit the Russian newspaper Vedomosti have begun a new online publication, VTimes (Rus), dedicated to honest, independent, and responsible journalism.

Next month: the Collaborators Conference for the Flourishing of Nonviolent Christianity.

In place of my normal blues dessert, here's a healthy dose of inspiration: Barack Obama's eulogy at John Lewis's funeral service at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia, USA.

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