What a Mess?

Has anyone ever told you, “You are a mess!” It’s a Southern thing; it is a term of endearment or affection.

I remember telling Linda early on when we were dating that she was a mess. As a Midwesterner she didn’t let on that she didn’t understand what I was saying at the time – it was only years later that she confessed that she didn’t know what I meant and had been asking her friends, what could he mean? Did it mean I thought she was messy or untidy? I was sad that she hadn’t realized it was an expression of fondness – that I was falling in love.

In today’s lessons we find God saying to us, “You are a mess!” We should take it as both an endearment and as statement of fact. We are a bit of a mess in that we are a tangled mix of motives and emotions – we are complicated, and so are our attachments or entanglements.

All the same, God, the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit are present among our messiness making promises and covenant with these messy characters – God’s people.

By the time we encounter Jacob in our reading from Genesis he has already established himself as a deceiver and manipulator – in more polite circles he is referred to as a trickster. Nonetheless this complicated mess of a patriarch finds himself sleeping with his head upon a stone in one of the “thin places.” “Thin places” is a term used in the mystic tradition of Celtic Christiany to describe those places where heaven and earth are so near to one another as to be entangled – a place where one can sense the presence of God.

As Jacob – this trickster – sleeps, he finds himself in the presence of God in just such a thin place as angels ascend and descend between and heaven and earth. Despite his messiness – or perhaps because he is a mess, God loves him and makes a covenant with Jacob.

This covenant resonates with the same quality as those covenants God made with Jacob’s father and grandfather, “… your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, …; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and your offspring.”[1]

“All shall be blessed in you?” When it comes to Jacob I don’t get the loveliness as in “Isn’t he a mess?” that God sees. Clearly God has the ability to look beyond what irks me about Jacob the trickster. Perhaps it’s not my place to see.

Perhaps it is only my place to see God’s love demonstrated for someone I don’t get, and to recognize that place of revelation as a thin place – a holy place – an awesome place – “none other than the House of God, … the gate of heaven.”[2]

Nonetheless, we – as God’s own messes – do from time to time lose sight of God’s love for us and all his creation because we are a complicated tangle of Spirit and humanity. The entanglements that accompany this existence may weary us. And sometimes this weariness finds expression in impatience.

I usually hear two refrains that are in fact opposite sides of the same coin. One goes something like this, “Do you believe we’re in the end times?” In this question you can almost hear the fatigue and anticipation that seems to say, “I can’t take much more. Let me go home now so I can claim my rest.”

The other sounds like, “There is so much wickedness in the world, surely things can’t continue like this.” In these I hear impatience and fatigue with the presence of wickedness and messiness; I hear a desire to tidy up the kingdom now; and I hear, most clearly, a desire to withdraw from entanglement to a tidier or more idyllic order that does not exist this side of the kingdom of the Father.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks directly to the issues of entanglement, impatience, and the desire to withdraw. And it is not necessarily what we all want to hear. The field of the parable is the world in which we live with our roots – and sometimes even our DNA – entangled with those about us that we love and those that we don’t care for. You can guess whom we would see as wheat and weeds.

The slaves to tidiness, orderliness, and withdrawal want to get rid of the weeds now for the sake of the wheat. But Jesus tells us “No!” for in getting rid of the weeds we will destroy the wheat as well. Jesus tells us to leave it to the end times, leave it to those he has charged with the harvest so that none will be lost before their time.

In our humanness, we have a different assessment of what is wheat and what is weed than Jesus and the Father, thus we are to leave judgment to him. Our charge is only to love our neighbor as our self, whether they are wheat or weed.

This week we were blessed to see this played out in wonderful ways through vacation Bible school. Over 60 volunteers from across the community came together for the week to live out the Gospel among of the least of us – 140 children. For many of these children this may be the only exposure to the Gospel they encounter all year.

VBS was a mess! It was loud, it was chaotic at points, it was exhausting, and it was heart-stoppingly lovely. For a week seeds were sown extravagantly and many of them will now grow entangled among the wheat and the weeds. But it is not our place to worry about the weeds. It is our place to lean into the mess with love so weeds can fall in love too and become wheat.


[1] Genesis 28:14

[2] Genesis 28:17