16 Sunday A: Wheat and Weeds




Thomas O’Loughlin
Introduction to the Celebration 

Sisters and brothers, today’s gospel reminds us that we, because we are Christians, have to be like a leaven in our society and our world. So let us begin our assembly as the Body of Christ by re-affirming our identity as those who have died in Christ in baptism, and have risen with him to new life and so stand here today. 


Michel DeVerteuil
General Comments 

We have three more parables this Sunday. The first is the parable about the wheat and the darnel in verses 24 to 30, with an interpretation in verses 36 to 43; this is one possible interpretation – feel free to let the parable lead you in other directions. As always when reading a parable, be conscious of the perspective you are coming from: are you identifying with the wheat that a planter allowed to grow although some enemy had sown darnel alongside it? With the man who had the trust to let both grow together? Or with the servants who wanted to pull up the darnel, even though they might pull images of Mt 13up the wheat with it? Be conscious also of whether the parable is

 - bringing back memories from your past,
 - giving you an insight into what is happening to you now,
 - or inviting you to trust in the future.

The parable about the mustard seed in verses 31 and 32, and the one about the yeast in verse 33, are on the same general theme, but don’t try to meditate on both together; rather, choose the one that appeals to you now. 

Verses 34 and 35 are another summary about parables. Remember with gratitude when you understood one of life’s parables and became aware that what you had learnt was an ancient truth.

Prayer reflection 

Lord, we thank you for those who educated or guided us from youth.
 They saw that we had bad traits as well as good ones,
 that darnel was mixed in with the good wheat they sowed in us.
 There were people who wanted to weed out the darnel
 but they said no, lest the wheat be pulled up also:

 - if they did not let us mix freely with others, we might no longer be open and generous;
 - if we were not allowed to make mistakes, we would never take risks;
 - if we did not feel free to ask foolish questions, we would never learn.
 We thank you for those who let wheat and darnel grow till harvest time,
 and now we have gathered the wheat and can let the darnel be burned.

Lord, forgive us that we write off people as if there is nothing to them but
 - their selfishness;
 - their insincerity;
 - their arrogance.
 We forget that they are good seed that you sowed in the world.
 The evil in them is only weeds that some enemy sowed
 while others were asleep.
 Those sins which colour our judgement about them
 will be tied up in bundles and burnt,
 while you gather them like precious wheat into your barn.

Lord, we thank you for the church today,
 our own community and the world-wide church.
 What a big tree it has become,
 and so many birds of the air come and shelter in its branches.

 We remember that it was once a mustard seed,
 but people of faith took that seed and sowed it:
 Jesus, the apostles, the first Christians, the founder of our community.

We pray today for all those committed to making the world more human:
 - those who are spreading the spirit of cooperation and community;
 - human rights organizations;
 - those who uphold the ideal of chastity.

 They often feel that the seed they are sowing in the world
 is the smallest of all seeds,
 but they do it in trust that it will be a big shrub,
 and will eventually become a tree
 and birds of the air will come and shelter in its branches.

Lord, we thank you for mothers:
 - endlessly correcting and reproving,
 - repeating the old sayings and proverbs,
 mixing them into the daily lives of the family,
 so that today we recognize that their teaching has touched
 every part of our society.

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Homily Notes 

1. During the Year of Matthew we encounter, Sunday by Sunday, a very large range of parables – as commonly de­fined

- as the gospel readings. The repetition of themes can, therefore, be a problem. One solution would be to select top­ics from the second readings, but this cannot be done on every occasion without provoking the question: ‘How does the gospel fit with this?’ Sadly, most people cannot appreci­ate that there is no planned link between the two New Testament readings, no matter how often they are told this. Another solution would be to pick significant topics for preaching, irrespective of the gospel readings. However, apart from this being out of. harmony with the logic of the liturgy, and the General Instruction, it also destroys the greatest gift any lectionary confers: it sets a limit to preachers going off on their hobby horses. So preaching, if it is part of the Eucharist and so part of the supreme ecclesial expression of a community of the baptised, must be linked to the read­ings and, normally, the gospel. 

So we need a more sophisticated strategy to provide homilies for the Sundays on which there are parables, which acknowledges the content of the reading, but does not reduce the homily to exegetical notes on particular snippets of text which would be found only of antiquarian value by those members of the community who are not interested in the study of the gospels as such. What follows in these notes, and those of other Sundays (i.e. on Sundays 17, 19, 27, 28, 29, 30, 32), is an attempt to have a preaching strategy that can over­arch a wide selection of parable, and parable-like, material. 

2. There is a fundamental question that we have to ask ourselves: How do we learn to be Christians? 

3. Is that a silly question? Note two specific elements of the form of the question. First, it is not a question about Christianity, but about people. Second, it is not a question about an individual engaged in learning, but about a community engage in learning. 

4. It is very easy to learning about ‘what we believe’ or about ‘what the church believes’ or ‘what the church teaches.’ There are umpteen books, catechisms, and classes on this topic. You will find little booklets on it at the back of the church and posters in the porch advertising courses. It is also easy to find out about ‘The Church’. Again, there books on its history, structures, its position as a social force in various societies, it art, customs, architecture, and what not. But all this is learning about something. But Jesus calls us to a new life­style, a new way of acting, a new way of life. And one learns how to be and how to live through doing it. Its more like an apprenticeship than a course of studies. 

5. The question is how do we learn to be Christians. Most learning is an individual activity, we just happen to do it in a group because there are not enough teachers to go round. So we go to a group evening class to learn French after we have been on a holiday in France. But we worry that our children’s class-sizes are too large. We think of learning as my learning. But how could you learn to play football on your own? To learn to play football requires slowly building up skills through practice and more practice. But while one can prac­tice one or two little moves on one’s own, real practice needs to take place with the team: because it is learning to play to­gether as the team that is the key to success. One cannot say, except as a joke, that ‘I won the game; pity that my team lost!’ 

6. We hear about ‘the kingdom’ in almost every reading from the gospels. We hear about ‘the disciples,’ ‘the apostles,’ and about ‘the followers’, and in almost every reading from St Paul we hear about ‘the church in this or that place’ or’the body of Christ’. In every case we are talking about the groups: the kingdom is the group who have united them­selves with Jesus Christ, are given life by the Holy Spirit, and have come into the Father’s presence. This is the group we pray for when we say’ thy kingdom come’. The kingdom that is just one individual is a joke! 

7. So we have to learn how to be members of this group, the Christians; and we have to learn how to be this new people, how to live this new lifestyle of Jesus. We have to see our­selves as learning by practice, and working with sisters and brothers (that is why we use these terms about one another) to be ‘the kingdom,’ ‘the church,’ ‘the People of God.’ 

8. Today’s gospel gives some insights into the tasks facing the group learning to be Christians. First, they have to cope with the fact that the group will not be perfect at this stage of its pilgrimage. It would be nice to be part of a perfect group, but it is the actual community that we must work with, learn to act as a group, learn to act with harmony keeping our minds fixed on the lifestyle of generous, peace-making love. Second, we have to learn to act as a group so that we are like a tiny seed that grows to be a great tree. We must be willing to collaborate to take on the great tasks needed so that the Father’s kingdom grows. Third, we have to work as a com­munity to transform situations of injustice and suffering. As yeast turns an unappetising mass of starch into joy-giving, living bread, so must our community act within the society. The world must be a better place because of our community. 

9. Learning about doctrine is easy; Jesus calls his people to learn to be his people.
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John Litteton
Gospel Reflection 

During his ministry, Jesus preached that the kingdom of heaven was near. The kingdom of heaven is the reign of God. Jesus used several images when speaking about the kingdom since it is beyond complete description and explanation in human words. 

Jesus inaugurated God’s kingdom on this earth. We are already living in the kingdom because the Church is the seed and the beginning of the kingdom. But the Church is not itself the kingdom in all its fullness. The kingdom is a more inclusive reality than the Church of Christ and, similarly, the Church of Christ is a more inclusive reality than the Catholic Church. Many characteristics of the Church of Christ are also to be found outside the Catholic Church and various aspects of the kingdom occur outside the Church of Christ in other religions. 

This is because the Catholic Church is not identical with either the Church of Christ or the kingdom. The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) taught that the Church of Christ ‘subsists’ in the Catholic Church. This means that, although elements of sanctification and truth also occur outside the visible structures of the Catholic Church and beyond the wider boundaries of the Church of Christ, the fullness of grace and truth are entrusted by Christ to the Catholic Church. Thus there is an inextricable relationship between the Catholic Church, the Church of Christ and the kingdom of God. 

The fullness of the kingdom is expected at the end of time. Meanwhile, the Church on earth is on a pilgrimage towards that end. The Church, the People of God, always has members who are sinners. Therefore, while unfailingly holy because Christ is its Head, the Church is constantly in need of purification and renewal. Only at the end of time will the Church on earth achieve fully the perfection to which it is called when the kingdom of God is fulfilled in heaven. Then the Church will be free from all sin. 

In that respect, the Church is similar to a field of wheat. The field of wheat ripens slowly, requiring much care and patience from the farmer. Growth may seem undetectable but it occurs as the wheat matures and becomes ready for the harvest. Using the parable of the wheat and the darnel, Jesus teaches two important lessons. First, the Church includes both the good and the bad. Both co-exist. Awareness of God’s reign emerges slowly but surely. Secondly, the good and the bad will be separated at harvest time. Judgement comes at the end.

The Church and the kingdom of God are absolutely linked. Active participation in the Church’s life and mission prepares us well for judgement at the end of time. The parables about the kingdom challenge us to remain faithful to the Church’s teaching and guidance, reminding us that the Church is the seed and the beginning of the kingdom here on earth. The Church, when it is faithful to its vocation, is the primary means whereby the kingdom is brought about.
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1.     Connections: 

THE WORD: 

Matthew’s Gospel has been called the “Gospel of the Kingdom,” containing some 51 references to the kingdom or reign of God.  Three of Jesus’ “kingdom” parables make up today's Gospel:

The parable of the wheat and the weeds:  God’s kingdom will be “harvested” from among the good that exists side-by-side with the bad.  Palestinian farmers were plagued by tares -- weeds that were very difficult to distinguish from good grain.  The two would often grow together and become so intertwined that it was impossible to separate them without ripping both weed and plant from the ground.  Jesus teaches his impatient followers that the Lord of the harvest is more concerned with the growth of the wheat than with the elimination of the weeds.  The time for separation and burning will come in God's own time; our concern should be that of our own faithfulness. 

The parable of the mustard seed:  The smallest and humblest are enabled by the Holy Spirit to do great things in the kingdom of God.  From small and humble beginnings, God's kingdom will grow.

The parable of the yeast:  A small amount of yeast mixed with three measures of flour can make enough bread to feed over a hundred.  In the same way, God's reign is a powerful albeit unseen force.     

Matthew’s Gospel was written some 50 years after Jesus’ death and 15 years after the destruction of Jerusalem.  By this time it is clear to the community of Christians that Jesus is not going to be accepted by all of Israel as the Messiah.  In citing these parables, the writer of Matthew encouraged the largely Jewish Christian community to see itself as the legitimate heir to God's promises to Israel.  They were the “good wheat” existing side by side with the “weeds” that would destroy it, the small mustard seed that would give rise to the great and mighty tree of the Church, the small amount of yeast that would become bread for the world. 

HOMILY POINTS: 

“The wheat and weeds”:  We often approach religion as a deadly serious business; we lose the spirit of joy and the sense of hope that are part of the promise of the Risen Christ.  We become so concerned about pulling out the weeds that we forget to harvest the grain; we become so focused on the evil and abuses that surround us and “threaten” us that we fail to realize and celebrate the healing and life-giving presence of God in our very midst; we become so intent in upbraiding and punishing sinners that our own lives become mired in gloom and despair.  The task of judging sinners belongs to God; to us belongs the work of compassion and reconciliation. 

When we hear Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds, we first think of good people (the wheat) and bad people (the weeds) coexisting in an imperfect world until the coming of God’s kingdom.  But every individual possesses something of both the “good” wheat and “evil” weed.  Every one of us possesses the ability to do compassionate and just things out of love — but there exists within us the same ability to do destructive things out of selfishness and greed.  Discipleship recognizes that struggle existing within each one of us but also embraces the hope that, in seeking to imitate Christ’s spirit of loving servanthood, we may be “wheat” for a world that is often choking in “weeds.”    

“Mustard seed”:  All of us, at some time, are called to be “mustard seeds,” to do the small, thankless things that are necessary to bring a sense of wholeness and fulfillment to our homes and communities.  From such “mustard seeds” is yielded a great harvest of peace and reconciliation. 

“Yeast”:  In baptism, we accept God's call to be “yeast,” to be the bread of compassion, justice and forgiveness to a world which is desperately hungry in its despair and hopelessness.   

My Grandfather’s Blessings 

In her book My Grandfather’s Blessings: Stories of Strength, Refuge and Belonging, physician Rachel Naomi Remen tells of the many unusual gifts she received from her beloved grandfather, an Orthodox rabbi and scholar. 

Once, when she was four, her grandfather brought her a paper cup.  She expected to find something special inside.  It was full of dirt.  Rachel was not allowed to play with dirt. Disappointed, she told her grandfather that she wasn’t allowed to play with dirt.  Her grandfather smiled.  He took her little teapot from her doll’s tea set and took little Rachel to the kitchen where it filled it with water.  He put the little cup on a windowsill in her room and handed her the teapot.  “If you promise to put some water in this cup every day, something may happen,” he told her. 

This made little sense to a four-year-old, but little Rachel promised.  “Every day,” he repeated.  At first, Rachel did not mind pouring water into the cup, but as the days went on and nothing happened, it became harder and harder to remember to do it.  After a week, she asked her grandfather if it was time to stop yet.  Grandfather shook his head.  “Every day,” he repeated. 

The second week it became even harder, but Grandfather held her to her promise:  “Every day.”  Sometimes she would only remember about the water after she went to bed and would have to get up in the middle of the night and water it in the dark.  But, in the end, Rachel did not miss a single day of watering. 

Then, one morning three weeks later, there were two little green leaves that had not been there the night before.  Rachel was completely astonished.  She could not wait to tell her grandfather, certain that he would be as surprised as she was -- but, of course, he wasn’t.  Carefully he explained to his beloved granddaughter that life is everywhere, hidden in the most ordinary and unlikely places. 

Rachel was delighted. “And all it needs is water, Grandpa?” 

Gently, he touched her on the top of her head.  “No, dear Rachel.  All it needs is your faithfulness.” 

Faith is the ability to see the potential in the smallest of things and the courage and perseverance to unlock that potential.  Humanity’s dreams of peace, community and justice will be realized, first, in the everyday acts of such goodness of each one of us.  Such is “mustard seed” faith: that, from the smallest and humblest acts of justice, kindness and compassion, the kingdom of God will take root.    

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Fr. John Speekman

The gospel parable today is about a man and his enemy. 
A man ... sowed good seed in his field.
Notice that? - the seed is good and the field is his.
The man, of course, is Jesus; we all knew that, didn't we?
And we know Jesus doesn't sow seeds, he sows the word of God. This changes the picture immediately.

Now the image of a farmer walking up and down the rows of his field scattering seed is replaced by the image of Jesus tirelessly travelling Palestine sowing the word of life.
Another way of putting this is to say that Jesus is calling to communion.
We do well to reflect that the very foundation of human dignity is that we are called to communion with our Creator; no other life form, animate or inanimate, is called to do that.

The word of God which 'sprouts' in a human life draws that life into communion with the Blessed Trinity; into the same communion shared by the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.
What's more, it draws that life into communion with every other life which has allowed the word to grow within it. Together they become 'subjects of the kingdom'. No wonder the seed is 'good'. 

Jesus is calling us to fulfilment, wholeness, peace and eternal life.
… his enemy came and sowed darnel all among the wheat …

 Notice that? - the seed is worthless and the field does not belong to him. 

The enemy, of course, is 'the evil one'; the devil.

The devil, too, is tireless. He sneaks around the world sowing poisonous seeds called lies; that is why he is called 'father of lies'. 

Another way of putting this is to say that Satan is calling to alienation. He is calling us away from the very foundation of our human dignity, and therefore, from all possibility of happiness.

We already see that the evil one himself is alienated. He came in the dark, while 'everybody was asleep', and then he 'made off.' 

If a man or woman opens themselves to the 'seed' of the devil and it 'sprouts' in their life they find themselves cut off from God and from all those who belong to the kingdom. 

And don't make the mistake of thinking there will be communion among the 'subjects of the evil one' because there will be only alienation and hatred among his followers; even Satan hates his 'subjects'.

'In the beginning' God planted a garden, and then he planted his word in Adam and Eve. It was his word which defined them and, of course, this word was an invitation to communion: … of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you are not to eat. (Gn 2:17)

Obedience to that word would preserve harmony and happiness and lead to everlasting life and, if they rejected the invitation, they would 'most surely die'. 

The serpent was the most subtle of all the wild beasts that Yahweh God had made. (Gn 3:1)

You know the rest of the story. Satan sows his lie in God's field. Adam and Eve fall and become subjects of the evil one. The story should have ended there but God had another chapter to write. 

It concerned another seed which one night, in another garden, surveyed the awfulness of the prison mankind had cast itself into, and was 'sorrowful to the point of death'. (Mk 13:24) 

Knowing well the truth that 'unless the grain of wheat falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain' (Jn 12:24) this seed 'threw himself to the ground' and surrendered to the death which awaited him. 

Three days later it yielded 'a rich harvest'. 

Look again at our parable. We should not ask what is the seed Jesus wants to plant in us, we should ask who is the seed Jesus wants to plant in us? It is none other than himself: his life death and resurrection. 

Only by saying yes can we become subjects of the kingdom of heaven.

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ILLUSTRATIONS: 

From the Collection of Fr. Tony Kadavil:

1. “Your Excellency, your cabin-mate left his valuables with me for the same reason!

A bishop was sailing for Europe on one of the great transatlantic ocean liners. When he went on board, he found that another passenger was to share a cabin with him. After unpacking his bags, he went to the purser and inquired if he could leave his gold watch and other valuables in the ship’s safe.  He explained that he had just met the man who was to occupy the  other  berth  in  his  cabin  and he  was  afraid  that the  man might  not  be trustworthy.  The purser smiled, accepted the valuables and remarked, “It’s all right, bishop, I’ll be very glad to take care of them for you.  The other man has just been up here and left his valuables for the same reason!”   Todays gospel reminds us that we should not judge others hastily.  There is a lot of good in the worst of us and a lot of evil in the best of us.  In other words, the best of us are

still "weeds" in God's garden.

2. Schindler's List

is a 1993 biographical film which tells   the story of Oskar Schindler, a businessman, who saved the lives of more than one thousand Polish Jews during the Holocaust. The film was based on the novel Schindler's Ark by Thomas Kennelly. The film was both a box office success and the recipient of seven Academy Awards.  Oskar Schindler, a successful businessman, arrives in Krakow  (Poland) from Czechoslovakia hoping to use the abundant cheap labor force of the Jews to manufacture goods for the German military. Schindler, a nominal Catholic and an opportunistic member of the Nazi Party, lavishes bribes upon the army officials and Nazi   leaders and acquires a factory for the production of army mess kits. But he is a mixture of good and evil.  Unfaithful to his wife, he certainly knows how to enjoy the so called “good life” -cigars, drink, women. He exploits his Jewish workers as a source of cheap labor. But as he witnesses the horrors endured by the Jews, the good elements in his character wake up. So he starts saving Jews, using his immense wealth and his political influence. At great personal risk he protects his workers from the death camps, thereby showing that he is undoubtedly a courageous man with basic goodness. In today’s gospel, Jesus tells the parable of the wheat and weeds explaining how we all are a mixture of good and evil and why God tolerates evil in the world. 

3. Who created the weeds?

In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth and populated the Earth with broccoli, cauliflower and spinach, green and yellow and red vegetables of all kinds, so Man and Woman would live long and healthy lives.  Then using God's great gifts, Satan created Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream and Krispy Creme Donuts.  Satan said, "You want chocolate with that?" And Man said, "Yes!" and Woman said, "And as long as you're at it, add some sprinkles." And they gained 10 pounds. And Satan smiled.

 And God created the healthful yogurt that Woman might keep the figure that Man found so fair.   And Satan brought forth white flour from the wheat and sugar from the cane and combined them.  And Woman went from size 6 to size 14.  So God said, "Try my fresh green salad."  And Satan presented Thousand- Island Dressing, buttery croutons and garlic toast on the side.  And Man and Woman unfastened their belts following the repast.

God then said, "I have sent you heart-healthy vegetables and olive oil in which to cook them."  And Satan brought forth deep fried chicken, fish and chicken-fried steak so big it needed its own platter.   And Man gained more weight and his cholesterol went through the roof. 

God then created a light, fluffy white cake, named it "Angel Food Cake," and said, "It is good."  Satan then created chocolate cake and named it "Devil's Food." God then brought forth running shoes so that His children might lose those extra pounds.  And Satan gave them cable TV with a remote control so Man would not have to toil changing the channels.  And Man and Woman laughed and cried before the flickering blue light and gained pounds.

Then God brought forth the potato, naturally low in fat and brimming with nutrition. And Satan peeled off the healthful skin and sliced the starchy center into chips and deep-fried them. And Man gained pounds. God then gave lean beef so that Man might consume fewer calories and still satisfy his appetite.  And Satan created McDonald's and its 99-cent double cheeseburger.  Then he asked, "You want fries with that?"  And Man replied, "Yes! And super size them!" And Satan said, "It is good." And Man went into cardiac arrest. God sighed and created quadruple bypass surgery.  Then Satan created HMOs.  

4. "The vine that ate the South."

Kudzu was brought to  the  U.S.  in  1876  to  decorate  the  Japanese  pavilion  at  the  Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. As an exotic import, it became popular as a shade plant, and was seen as a God-given solution to the soil-erosion problem, following the Great Depression. Between 1935 and 1942, government nurseries produced 84 million kudzu seedlings, planting them wherever they would grow. By 1943, there was a Kudzu Club of America with 20,000 members and an annual "Kudzu Queen." So what's the problem? I'll tell you the problem. Kudzu is a vine with phenomenal growth. Twelve inches in 24 hours is not unusual. And 50 feet in a single  growing season is  well within  the  norm. People  in  the  South  have a saying: "If you're gonna plant kudzu, drop it and run." Which explains why some have called it "the vine that ate the South." It can cover anything and choke everything. It can twine itself around fruit trees until it kills the entire orchard.. Which is why the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) eventually demoted kudzu to "weed status" ... with the definition of a weed being "any plant that does more harm than good." The weeds in Matthew's little parable are "darnel." Botanists call them "lolium termulentum." They are members of the wheat family which look like wheat and hide out in wheat-fields, producing poisonous seeds. Darnel is the villain in today’s gospel story of the wheat and the weeds.

5. Weeds in history:

Prior to and during World War II, Jewish persons in Europe were told by the Nazis that if they boarded the trains provided for them, they would be resettled in comfortable, peaceful areas. But the truth was that the trains were headed for Auschwitz and other death camps. Some Jews who knew the truth tried to warn the others, but the majority hushed them up, saying, "That's ridiculous. If you talk like that, you will terrorize people." Today many Christians are being herded aboard another train of false promises called universalism. It is the belief that all persons are bound for heaven whether they wish it or not. Scriptural verses contradicting this false belief are discarded as spurious additions by early churchmen with hearts full of judgment. But real love does not tell people what they want to hear; real love tells the truth. It does not pretend that a train to Auschwitz is a train to triumph. The recent trial of former Nazi officer Klaus Barbie brings to our consciousness the barbarity of that page in human history. The most infamous of the Nazi death camps was the one at Dachau. A monument there memorializes the victims of the Nazi terror. Alongside, a series of exhibits depict Nazi methods of annihilating the Jews, the wretched detention camps, the extermination ovens, the mass graves. A huge sign proclaims in French, German, Russian and English: "Never Again!" We need to be reminded of Dachau. We need to keep thundering in every generation, "Never Again!" Evil within the hearts of men and women: the hatred, bigotry, envy, bitterness, lust, anger, greed, etc. result in more terrible events than Jewish extermination by Hitler.

6. Weeds of pornography and obscenity:

Obscenity, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. With words to that effect more than two decades ago the Supreme Court of the United States of America left the decisions regarding pornography in the hands of local communities. During the intervening years states and cities have struggled with the issue, desiring to uphold the basic rights of freedom of speech  and  expression,  and  at  the  same  time  attempting  to  establish  and maintain what is decent and acceptable to the majority. The latest entry to invade this debate and garner headlines is music. Now, it seems, obscenity may also be in the ear of the beholder. But the issue goes much deeper than "X-ratings" and warning labels on album covers or motion picture posters. If anything, it is symptomatic of a more pervasive problem than simply pornography in theatres or music. So, then, what do we do about the presence of the various expressions of evil in our world – what  Jesus would call weeds? Whether it takes the form of dehumanizing depictions of sexual violence on the screen, of suggestive lyrics, of environmental pollution, or of the tragedies of greed and self-serving possessiveness, the presence of evil rears its head seemingly at every turn. So what are we to do? The weeds comprise all that is contrary to the spirit and work of Christ, of what is good and decent and upright -- in our eyes and to our ears! What are we going to do about them? Can we do anything at all? Historically, the church has attempted to be a weed-puller, zealously trying to eliminate all that is perceived as rotten and wrong in society. The world has, unfortunately, had to face the onslaught of the wrath of well-meaning Christians. It has endured the violence of the Crusades of the Middle Ages and the Salem witch hunts in colonial America. The church has conspired to commit numerous acts of violence and has violated the lives and livelihoods of countless numbers of persons in an attempt to convert sinners and purge society. In the name of pulling weeds and eliminating  evil,  great  harm  has  been  inflicted  on  humanity.  At  the  other extreme, and just as frightening -- perhaps more so -- the church has also been quiet when someone rises to power with a message of hate for those who are different. It has remained on the sidelines while misguided ideas have taken over and wrecked lives and societies.

7. Recording angels to ascertain the weeds:

Michener, in one of his first novels, The Fires of Spring, tells about a couple who are burdened with a load of guilt from their past. They wander into a Quaker meeting. They sit with the others for what seems like hours waiting for something to happen. Finally, an elderly man stands up and speaks. He says, “The most misleading concept in religion is that of  the  recording  angel.  I  cannot  believe  that  God  remembers  or  cares  to remember a single incident of our lives. [Rather] I am the recording angel. My spirit and my body are the record. My good deeds show in me and my wrong deeds can never be hidden. My spirit either grows to fullness or declines to nothing. God has no need of recording devices. We must not think of [God] as a vengeful or shop-keeping dictograph. [God] has created a  better  instrument.

 [God] has made me. [God] needs only to look at me, and all is recorded.” The old man goes on to conclude that with Gods permission we have the privilege of erasing   our   past   mistakes.   God   offers   us   repentance,   redemption,   the opportunity to start fresh and make our lives useful by forgiving our past sin and by         opening         our         lives         to         wisdom. (http://gbgmchurches.gbgm-umc.org/aldersgate-ma/s030713.htm). Missionary and best-selling author E. Stanley Jones said that God does not need to punish us for our sins. Our bodies and souls carry within them the record of our sins. “We do not break the Ten Commandments,” said Dr. Jones, “We break ourselves upon them.”

8. Bad  choices  are  weeds  ruining  our  lives:  

You  may  have  read  about  a 61-year -old  Massachusetts grandmother who ended up  in  a  mess of  trouble sometime back. It was on the first day of her new job as a school bus driver. She took some wrong turns and made some poor decisions as to which roads to take. She got so lost that she wound up in the state of Connecticut. Because she had already picked up ten kids on her route, an all-points bulletin was issued for her on charges of kidnapping, and, since she had crossed the state line, the F.B.I. was called in. After finally locating the lady and interrogating her, the police and F.B.I. agents concluded that she had made some wrong turns and had simply lost her way. So they released her. (http://www.firstpcavillarica.org/Sermon%20Notes/THE%20LAMP%20WITHI N.htm). A few wrong turns. It happens in life. It happens to good people. A few bad judgments and suddenly you are lost, entangled, trapped in the weeds, a golfer might say. Sometimes much is at stake. A marriage. Your health. The safety of others. Pulling weeds is an important part of a successful life. 

9. Good folks sometimes do stupid things:

Fans of country music revere the name of George Jones. Jones has had enough hit songs on his hundred or so albums to make the careers of ten singers. Sometime back, George was nearly killed in an automobile accident. He was talking on his cell phone. When the news first came out, many of his fans probably assumed that George was off the wagon again. Along with George Jones' talent and genius came a dark side. Jones had a reputation for wild living and self-destructive behavior. In the past he had struggled with a serious addiction to alcohol and drugs. His addictions were so severe that Jones would literally do anything to fuel his habit. At one time, George was almost outwitted by his then-wife, Tammy Wynette. To keep him away from the local bar, Tammy took George's car keys. But George's determination to feed his addiction won out. He hopped on his riding lawn mower  and  rode  ten  miles  to  the  nearest  bar.  [Randy  Scott,  Country  Music Revealed (New  York:  MetroBooks, 1995),  p.  60.]  Why  otherwise good people allow  themselves  to  get  trapped  in  self-destructive  patterns  of  behavior  is beyond our understanding. And where does such behavior come from? Can we get off the hook by saying, "The devil made me do it?" Is it genetic? 

10. Weeds among dogs:

An instructor in a dog training workshop in Salt Lake City noted that a dog's disposition can be tested by the owner. If the owner will fall down and pretend to be hurt, a dog with a bad temper will tend to bite him. But a good dog will show concern and may lick the fallen owner's face. Susan Matice attended the class and then decided to test her two dogs. While eating pizza in her living room, she stood up, clutched her heart, screamed and fell to the floor. Her two dogs looked at her, looked at each other, then raced to the coffee table for her pizza. (Associated Press (1-17-91). Cited in Edward K. Rowell, Humor for Preaching and Teaching (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996). 

11. What is it that causes some people to act irresponsibly?

Just a few short years ago, we had a President of the United States who was guilty of irresponsible behavior. He was not the first President to behave badly, just the most recent. But somewhere along the way, the American people made a decision that President Bill Clinton was not an evil man. Most people believed him to have a good heart, but even his most rabid fans have to agree he has a serious problem that he does not seem able to control. What causes some good people to lose control of their lives? Even more important, how can we help these people and even help ourselves when we are drawn toward similar self-destructive patterns? 

12. Weed control: Journalist

Bob Garfield specializes in reporting on the quirky and unique aspects of human nature. When Garfield traveled through Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1992, he thought that he'd hit the mother lode of quirkiness. He met people from all walks of life who were trying to find healing or wholeness through such things as aura-balancing, drum-beating ceremonies, ancient mystical therapies, crystals, astrology, spiritual channeling, and the like. Even in a Santa Fe health food store, Garfield found some highly unusual approaches to medicine. Rather than containing the average mix of vitamins and herbs, this store offered vitamin and herb mixes called, "Luminous Spirit, Positive Attitude, Women's Courage, Emotional Rescue, Clearing Hate, Clearing Greed, Humiliation, (and) Children of Divorce. . . ." [Bob Garfield, Wake Up Screaming from the American . . . (New York: Scribner's, 1997), p. 94] If only we could find emotional rescue or spiritual growth in a pill! But it's not that easy. Where do we turn for help? 

13. Positive view enables us to make positive choices:

Former President Jimmy Carter often reflects on the changes he sees in people's lives because of the work of Habitat for Humanity. "We see extraordinary commitments and lives changed among forgotten people," he says. "A Habitat family that lived near Washington had been living in an abandoned automobile. One of their children was an eight-year-old boy. He was very excited about getting a new house. When the family was chosen, he jumped up and down and said, 'We won, we won.' After the home was finished and the family had moved in, the little boy attended a different school. He  had always been  in  a  slow learners class, but  when  he moved his records had been lost and he was put into a regular class by mistake. No one noticed the error, and at the end of the first half of the year, his lowest grade was a B. Now he is still learning with the smartest of students. This is what having a decent home for the first time in life can do." (From the book Living Faith, by Jimmy Carter, Random House Audio Books 1996.) Now, you tell me. Was it the change of houses that made a difference or did the boy change his view of himself? How we view ourselves is often reflected in the choices we make. If we have a positive view of ourselves, we will make positive choices. If we have a negative view of ourselves, then watch out! 

14. Christian cruelty of searching for weeds:

The English author, C. S. Lewis, in one of his books, points out that when people become Christians, if they are not careful, their sinning often shifts from the overt, outward, visible sins of lying, cheating, stealing, cursing and swearing, to the more inward, hidden, non- apparent, invisible ones ... and among them he lists "a critical spirit" ... a spirit of judgmentalism, a censorious attitude. In fact, he points out that this sin is one of transgression which is more commonly committed by church people than by those who are not. So prevalent is it in churchly circles, that it is sometimes labeled "Christian cruelty." This squares with Webster's definition: "Judging is to criticize or censure, to think or suppose ... by pretending to know the motives of the  person doing the  acting."  The sin of  judging is  dangerous  business and should  be  carefully  avoided  by  those  who  wish  to  prevent  this  sin  from becoming part and parcel of their lives. A pastor, in a teetotaling denomination in a small Illinois town, was seen leaving a tavern at 12:45 a.m. "He was with another man, and both were drunk," swore the informant. When confronted with the  accusation, the  pastor readily admitted that  he  had  left  the  tavern with another man at that late hour, but it was not like it seemed. He, at the request of a distraught wife, had entered the place to persuade the husband, who was squandering his pay check, to go home. His efforts met with success at precisely

12:45 in the morning at which time they both left the tavern. The pastor had not been  imbibing.  He  stumbled  while  trying  to  hold  the  inebriated  husband upright. But the story with all its lurid implications would not die. It grew and spread out of all proportion in that small town. The pastor’s bishop upbraided him for what the bishop considered an indiscretion, and finally the priest was transferred from his parish. This exemplifies the "Christian cruelty" which is frequently practiced. 

15. Seeds for sale:

A woman dreamed one night that she walked into a brand new shop.   Much to her surprise, she found God working behind the counter. She asked God, "What do you sell here?"  "Everything your heart desires," God replied.  It was incredible.  She was talking face to face with God.  "I want peace of mind and love and happiness and wisdom and freedom from fear," she told God.    Then  almost  as  an  afterthought  she  added,  "not  just  for  me,  but  for everyone on earth."   God smiled, "I think you've got me wrong, my dear.  We don't sell fruits here.  Only seeds." (Anthony De Mello, S. J., in Taking Flight”)

16. Here is a weed-gatherer:

A teenage daughter asks her father, "Why don't you go to church?"  He replies, "Because the church is full of hypocrites."  "What do you mean by a hypocrite?" she asks.  He thinks for a moment and answers, "A hypocrite says one thing and does something else." "That sounds like you, Daddy!" she replies.  "I'm no hypocrite!" he responds. "Yes, you are," she says. "You tell me that going to church is important.   You say that I have to go to church, but then you don't go.  You say one thing and do another.  Doesn't that make you a hypocrite?  I wish you could go with me because there is room in the church for one more hypocrite." 

17. A “self-test” for your patience.  

Imagine yourself in the following situation: It’s Saturday at 5:45p.m.  You’re flying in a plane at 35,000 feet. The plane is an hour-and-a-half late.  People are grumpy; some are angry.  Flight attendants are apologizing and offering complimentary cocktails to soothe the raw nerves and roiled tempers.  To top it all off, the meal is late and the passenger on your left has a cold and gives out a big sneeze about every ninety seconds.  What would be your response to these problems?” 

“Or…imagine another situation.  You are at the grocery store; busy evening long lines ahead of you; your shopping cart has a wheel that drags; the fruit   juice aisle is blocked off as two shoppers lean over their carts to chat; you do a u-turn and rush down another aisle; you finally finish and choose a check-out line with only two shoppers ahead of you; the cashier  at the register is new; her hands tremble; beads of perspiration form on her forehead; slowly she begins to tally your total; her cash register tape runs out; she doesn’t know how to change it; she calls for help from the manager. What’s your response? 

18. “Or, how about this one:

It’s dinner-out-with-the family night in that special place.   You have fasted most of the day so that you may eat what you’d like tonight.   You’re shown to a table and given a menu but the restaurant is very crowded and the waiters are extremely busy.   So you sit there, hungry as a wolf with only a glass of water and a menu that you’ve begun to gnaw on. What's your response? 

Swindoll in his book Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life insists that in these relatively unimportant situations, “the rubber of Christianity meets the road of proof."  In other words, it is at such times that our faith is really tested.  Indeed, the best test of our growth as Christians occurs in situations like the ones mentioned above.   Today’s gospel reminds us of God’s patience, leniency and willingness to wait to allow time for the wicked to come to conversion and for good people to overcome their small faults. 

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From Sermons.com: 

Last week we talked about planting seeds. This week we're talking about pulling weeds. The two go together. Every gardener knows that planting seeds is the easy part of having a successful garden. It is much more time consuming to weed that same garden. And it's hard work. As someone has said: "When weeding, the best way to make sure you are removing a weed and not a valuable plant is to pull on it. If it comes out of the ground easily, it is a valuable plant." 

There is a corollary to that truth: "To distinguish flowers from weeds, simply pull up everything. What grows back is weeds."

Some of you can relate to one unknown homemaker who wrote: I don't do windows because . . . I love birds and don't want one to run into a clean window and get hurt. I don't wax floors because . . . I am terrified a guest will slip and get hurt then I'll feel terrible (plus they may sue me.)I don't disturb cobwebs because . . . I want every creature to have a home of their own. I don't Spring Clean because . . . I love all the seasons and don't want the others to get jealous. I don't put things away because . . . my husband will never be able to find them again. I don't do gourmet meals when I entertain because . . . I don't want my guests to stress out over what to make when they invite me over for dinner. I don't iron because . . . I choose to believe them when they say "Permanent Press." And finally: I don't pull weeds in the garden because . . . I don't want to get in God's way, He is an excellent designer! 

I doubt than anyone likes pulling weeds, including God. In today's lesson Jesus tells a 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...
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There comes a time in every child's life when he or she entertains two possibilities. One: your parents are from Mars. Two, you must have been adopted. Usually these revelations occur in tandem . . . after a huge fight with Mom and/or Dad; or after a sibling beats us up or puts us down. It dawns on us that no way could we really be related to such mean, bossy, completely opposite people. 

We must be adopted. 

Remember when adoption was a highly confidential, even secretive, process? That made it a great source for childhood fantasies. "Closed adoptions" were the norm from the 1920s through the 1960s. The birth mother didn't know and couldn't know who the adoptive parents were. The adoptive parents didn't know who the birth mother was. The adopted child didn't know anything - especially if their adoptive parents chose not to tell them. Even if they were adopted. 

In the 1970s, the legalities behind adoptions began to change. A massive shift toward what are now called "open adoptions" took place. In open adoptions all the parties know who they are dealing with. And at least hypothetically, there is the possibility for communication and connection at some later time. 

As with every other social scenario in the last ten years, science and technology have changed everything. Nobody respects a "legal screen." Nobody has to live with no information about their past. The advent of Facebook has allowed thousands of birth parents and adopted children of all ages to search for and connect with their families of origin. The birth of DNA testing enables uncertainty to be eliminated.

In fact, almost all officials in the hierarchies of state and federal adoption laws admit the same thing: "the jig is up." Adoption information and biological identities are no longer capable of being protected in any way, shape or form. For some adopted children and for some biological parents this is a great advance. For others, it is hard knocks and heartbreak.

 Almost all ancient religions and cultures had legal means whereby orphaned or abandoned children could be legally incorporated into a new family. Both the law-loving environments of first century Judaism and the Roman empire had a laundry list of adoption laws, policies, rights, and regulations. Whether it was done for economic, political, or emotional reasons, in the world Paul inhabited, "adoption" was a well legislated procedure. 

So when Paul used the language of "adoption" to describe the startling, new relationship enjoyed by followers of Jesus, he was speaking to an educated audience... 
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 Two Wolves

One of my favorite theologians, Mr. Rogers, used to say: "Have you ever noticed that the very same people who are bad sometimes are the very same people who are good sometimes?" It reminds me of a story called, "Two Wolves." It goes like this:

"An old Cherokee once told his grandson about a fight that was going on inside of him. He said it was between two wolves. One was evil: Anger, envy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, gossip, resentment, and false pride. The other was good: Joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, generosity, truth, compassion and faith. The grandson thought about it for a moment and then asked his grandfather, 'Which wolf do you think will win?' The old Cherokee replied, 'The one I feed.'" (Anonymous)

Philip W. McLarty, The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares 

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Know Your Weeds


I learned more about weeds than I ever wanted to know as a boy in Iowa. Walking through the soybean feels to cut out the weeds was my summer job from age 13. A wise farmer once taught me that all weeds were not the same and could not be destroyed in the same way. A cockle burr had shallow but widespread roots and had to be pulled out to get all the roots. If you hacked it off at the ground level with a hoe it would be back in a week. A milkweed had a very long tap root that could not be pulled out. If you did try to pull it up, three separate sprouts would be back in a week. Milkweeds had to be hacked off with a hoe and would "bleed" and die as the sap ran out. If you didn't handle the weeds right, hours of backbreaking work in the sun would be completely wasted.

Jesus knew his weeds as well. The meaning of Jesus' parable about the wheat and the weeds becomes clearer when we look at the specific kind of weed he talks about. Tares are "bearded darnel, mentioned only in Matt. 13:25-30. It is the Lolium temulentum, a species of rye-grass, the seeds of which are a strong soporific poison. It bears the closest resemblance to wheat till the ear appears, and only then the difference is discovered. It grows plentifully in Syria and Palestine." The problem with taking our hoe to the evil weeds of the world is that good and evil sometimes look so much alike. It only becomes clear later. 

Todd Weir, Wheat and Tares
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Better to Have Weeds than Nothing at All

I asked the people at my last church to imagine what would happen if we adopted a policy of weed-pulling, if we drew a circle around the little town of Wingate, North Carolina, and made a vow that no evil would cross that line, that no weeds would grow within that border. I said, "You know, you and I could spend the rest of our lives protecting that boundary, standing shoulder to shoulder with pitchforks and clubs, making sure that we kept drugs and alcohol and pornography and gambling safely on the other side. I think it would take all of our energy and most of our time. But what if we did it? What if we succeeded? What would we have? We would have a town characterized by the absence of evil, which is not the same as a town characterized by the presence of good. And maybe this is what Jesus was talking about all along, that it's better to have a wheat field with weeds in it than a field with nothing in it at all.

When a church in Wingate, North Carolina, began a ministry to the children of a nearby trailer park, they had to decide what kind of ministry it would be. They could have chosen to root out all the sources of evil in that place-to chase down the drug dealers and the deadbeat dads, to confiscate handguns and arrest child abusers. Instead, they chose to put up a basketball goal, to tell stories from the Bible, to put their arms around little children, and sing songs about Jesus. And two years after they started that ministry, two years of going out there Saturday after Saturday to do those things, the pastor got a note in his box at church with five words on it: "Adrian wants to be baptized." Adrian. The terror of the trailer park. That little girl who had made their work most difficult during the previous two years. Who would have guessed? Instead of pulling weeds in the field where she lived, they just tried hard to be wheat, and somehow Adrian saw that and fell in love with it and wanted it for herself. After she was baptized, there was a little more wheat in the field. And because she was there, soon, there was even more.


 James Somerville, A World Full of Weeds
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 If You Are a Preacher of Grace  

How can you and I live our everyday lives with an awareness of the hiddenness of the good among the weeds, without getting unhealthy in our cynicism, without going crazy? Again Martin Luther offers a profound insight. He put it this way once in a letter to his friend, Philip Melanchthon:

"If you are a preacher of grace, then preach a true and not a pretended grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a pretended sin. God does not save people who are pretended sinners. Be a sinner and sin bravely, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more bravely...."

Mark Ellingsen, Jesus' Vision of a Fun, Free Life, Not Driven by Purpose, CSS Publishing Company, Inc.
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A Line Through Every Heart


I have colleagues who continually want to cull the field, making decisions on the basis of belief ... behavior ... even baptism. As many of you know, my wife is into genealogy. She's traced portions of her family back over 500 years. Just a few months ago, we learned that she had a relative who was burned at the stake in Switzerland. Why? Because he had the wrong understanding of baptism, that's why. They weeded him out. Then they burned him up.


As for me, I don't always know whether I am weed or wheat. Wasn't it Alexander Solzhenitsyn who said: "If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being." Which, I suppose, includes my heart. For all I know, I may even be the weed in somebody else's garden. Perhaps in your garden.

Collected Sermons, William A. Ritter, ChristianGlobe Networks, Inc.
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I Wrote My Books on Tuesdays

There was once a great Quaker leader by the name of Rufus Jones. Jones wrote and published one book a year for over fifty years. He did this while attending countless meetings, making frequent speeches, editing a magazine and taking care of countless other chores that his position required. Someone once asked him how under these circumstances he found the time to write so many books he answered, "I wrote my books on Tuesdays." Throughout his career he set aside Tuesdays as his one "free" day accepting no appointments that could be avoided. He began after breakfast and wrote until dark. He might be thinking about his next project all week long, but he did not put it on paper until Tuesday. By following that simple plan he left behind a great body of work.

You have heard it before because it is true: Those who fail to plan, plan to fail. Jesus talked about the foolishness of those who build towers without first sitting down and figuring the cost. Successful living requires that we give some thought to the future. We have a vision of the beautiful garden we hope to be. Now we sit down and make a plan. What would I have to do to make my dream a reality?

King Duncan, Getting Rid of the Weeds, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
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You Need 100 Points


There is a story about a minister who had a strange dream. He dreamt that he had died and was trying to get into heaven. When he approached the pearly gates, St. Peter told him he needed 100 points to get in. Proudly the minister said, "Well, I was a pastor for 43 years." "Fine," said St. Peter, "That's worth one point." "One point? Is that all?" cried the minister. "Yes, that's it," said St. Peter.

"Well," said the pastor, "I visited lots of shut-ins." St. Peter responded, "That's worth one point." "I worked with young people," said the pastor. "That's worth one point," said St. Peter. "I developed a number of excellent Scout programs," said the minister. "That's worth one point," said St. Peter. "You have four points now. You need 96 more." "Oh no," said the minister in a panic. "I feel so helpless, so inadequate. Except for the grace of God, I don't have a chance." St. Peter smiled and said, "Grace of God--that counts for 96 points. Come on in!"

There will be a final judgment. God's justice and our freedom of choice demand it. Every person will spend eternity in heaven or hell. Our passport to heaven is simple. It's just a matter of saying to God sincerely, "I am a sinner for whom Jesus died. I claim him by faith as Savior and Lord." If you haven't taken that step in faith, do it today! Do it now! 

Bill Bouknight, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com 
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Clean the Glass Shade Daily
 

Pastor Cecil Williams tells of growing up in Texas. They didn't have electric lights in their house. They had two oil lamps with wicks that had to be lit daily. Once they were lit, a glass shade fit over the flame and they glowed.

Cecil's mother kept telling her children, "Ya'll clean the shade before you put it over the lamp. If you don't, you won't get as much light." Young Cecil didn't like cleaning the lampshades. It took a long time and lots of elbow grease to scour off the sticky, gray soot. But when the shade was clean, one lamp would be bright enough to light up the whole living room.

Back then, cleaning the lamp shades was Cecil's job...