When I was growing up, I spent most summers on the farm.
My uncle and my aunt milked a dozen cows each morning and each evening.
My job would be to go to the fields and bring the cows in to be milked.
My uncle was really concerned about what he called a "bitter weed."
A bitter weed grows to a height of about a foot, and has a small, compact yellow flower.
If a dairy cow eats bitter weeds, her milk with taste distinctively bitter.
When I was a boy visiting the farm, we drank milk just like it came from the cow.
There was an old joke that sympathized with some cows who saw a milk truck drive by,
and printed in large letters on the truck were the words: "Pasteurized, Homogenize, and Vitamin Enriched."
One cow said to the other, "It makes you feel downright inadequate, doesn't it?"
Farmers did all they could to keep their cows from grazing on bitter weeds.
If the cows ate bitter weeds, the milk would not be drinkable.
If the milk was to be sold, the bitter weeds would mean a financial loss for the farmer.
Now forget our rural setting and focus on the bitter weeds that grow in the pastures of our lives.
We humans eat them, and the result is bitterness.
Paul Dunbar had been in touch with some bitter weeds when he wrote,
"A crust of bread and a corner to sleep in, a minute to smile and an hour to weep in,
a pint of joy and a peck of trouble, and never a laugh, but the moans can double,
and that is life!"
On his final birthday, at the age of 36, Lord Byron celebrated with the lines:
"My days are in the yellow leaf;
The flowers and fruits of love are gone;
The worm, the canker, and the grief are mine alone."
Exodus 15 is about Moses leading the children of Israel in the Exodus.
They had entered the Wilderness of Shur.
In search of water, they came to Marah where they found a spring, but the water was bitter.
After praying for guidance, the Lord led Moses to a tree which Moses threw into the waters,
and the waters became sweet.
Fields Where Bitter Weeds Grow
One is the field of our hearts.
Like trees, they grow with the wheat of life, but unlike tares, they must not be left until the harvest.
Abuse as a child, discouragement in school, rejection in a romance, defeat in a business, friction at church,
mistreatment in a settlement, disease, the death of a loved one, are things that produces bitterness.
Multitudes encounters similar adversity and process it in healthy ways,
but everyone does not have such resources.
And there are those who curse and cast stones as life's parade passes by.
Some life-styles are programmed to cultivate bitter weeds.
Peter denied his Lord, and because of it, he wept bitterly. (Luke 22:62)
Proverbs 5:34 teaches: "For the lips of an adulteress drip honey, and smoother than oil is her speech;
But in the end she is bitter as wormwood,
Sharp as a two-edged sword."
The question of Abner to Joab is pertinent for us, "Shall the sword devour forever?
Do you know that it will be bitter in the end?" (2 Samuel 2:26)
Families may be bitter.
A husband or wife may become bitter of the other.
Some parents are bitter toward their children.
Maybe they didn't want them in the first place, and they think the children unfairly intrude into their lives.
Many of our emotional disorders are the fruit of children harboring bitterness toward a parent.
Numerous complexities described bitterness that siblings have for each other.
The catalyst for the bitterness may be outside the home, but the fallout contaminates on those one really loves.
Think of the families or friendships in the Bible where bitter weeds soured the relationship.
Cain killed Abel, and Cain was marked for life.
Jacob tricked his father, and betrayed his brother, Esau.
Joseph was sold as a slave by his brothers.
Jephthah made a foolish vow concerning his own daughter.
Saul's madness festered over Jonathan's friendship with David.
David's own son's waged war to succeed to the kingship.
Job resented his friends.
Hosea had to learn to forgive his wife, Gomer.
The prodigal son's elder brother became angry, and was not willing to go in when the father celebrated
his younger son's return.
Today many are caught in the crossfire between warring family members because bitter weeds'
have soured the milk of life.
Bitterness prevails even in the church.
Corinthian Christians served in many churches.
Paul, Peter, and Apollos had their followers.
Diotrophes is alive and well, and people like him today still loves to have the preeminence.
Atmospheres are cultivated which you a church family in terms of "them and us."
Bitterness against God Himself is not unknown.
A part of the grief process is a feeling of anger.
Pastors, teachers, and others who comfort the grieving should be aware that the sufferer
to express anger, even at God.
Jonah became angry because God forgave the Ninevites, as well as the fact that God sent a worm
to afflict his gourd plant.
Naomi said to the people of Bethlehem, "Do not call me Naomi; Call me Mara,
for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me." (Ruth 1:20)
The Response Of Faith To Bitter Weeds
What do we do when we find bitter weeds in the details of our lives.
Sometimes, we must eat them.
There was an occasion in a church where one of the leaders had a falling out with several others
who he thought had wronged him.
He discovered that they hadn't, so at the next meeting, he opened the meeting with these words:
"There comes a time in a man's life when he needs to eat crow, and I come here tonight to eat crow."
In that moment that prominent leader taught all of us a lesson.
It was one that I have never forgot.
There will be Marah's on our journey where there will be no alternative but to drink bitter water.
Occasionally, everyone will have ashes for breakfast.
In Revelation 10:9, an angel instructed John to eat a little book which made his stomach bitter.
There is a second response to bitter weeds.
We can learn from them.
We poison the bitter weeds.
We dig them up.
We put the cows in another field.
We do anything to keep them from being a steady diet to the cows.
A wise person learns from his problems.
Walt Whitman had this insight when he asked:
"Have you learned lessons only of those who admired you, who were tender with you,
and stood aside for you?
Have you not learned great lessons from those who brace themselves against you,
and disputed the passage with you?"
In learning, we learn that God is with us.
He really is Immanuel.
He wants to lead us from bitter pastures to green pastures.
All things are not good, but God works all things for good to them that love Him.
In learning, we learned the power of prayer.
We pray with Jonah in the belly of the whale.
We pray with Paul and Silas in jail.
We pray with the martyrs at the hour of their death.
We pray with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane.
We pray as the Holy Spirit makes intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered.
We respond to bitter weeds by using our circumstances to the glory of God.
In 1984 a new law was passed giving some relief to consumers who bought new cars that were "lemons."
The new law was commonly called "lemonade."
With God's help, we must take the lemons of life and make lemonade out of them, and give God the glory.
I have read that in the town square of Enterprise, Alabama, stands one of the strangest
monuments in the world.
It is a monument to an insect.
It honors the Mexican, boll weevil.
The boll weevil first came to Coffey County in 1895.
The annual yield of cotton there had been 35,000 bales, but the boll weevel cut that production by 40%.
Desperately trying to survive, the farmers began to raise corn, peanuts, and potatoes.
In 1919, the country's peanut crop was over a million bushels annually.
In that year a fountain was built across from the courthouse square in Enterprise,
and on it was an inscription that read:
"In profound appreciation
of the Boll Weevel
and what he has done
as the herald of prosperity
this monument was erected
by the citizens of
Enterprise, Coffee County, Alabama."
The monument is literally a monument to misery.
Times of adversity can become a source of blessings.
R. C. Buckner taught, "Bury all your troubles and plant flowers over their graves."
Bunyan's Pilgrim Progress was written in Bedford jail.
Paradise Lost was written by a blind, John Milton.
Beethoven wrote many of his symphonies after he was deaf.
George Mathieson had been blind for 20 years when he wrote:
"O love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be."
A proper response to bitter experiences is to sweeten ourselves.
We cannot control others.
We can only control ourselves.
Burdens can make us bitter or better.
Some people are victims, not victors,
They never leave the grave side.
They have soured on life.
Others become better, not bitter.
They grow under the burden.
Character is developed.
They mount up with wings as eagles.
They are more than conquerors.
They brighten the corner where they are.
Psalm 84 describes pilgrims enroute to the Temple who anticipate the beauty of God's house
and the joys of worshiping Him there.
Psalm 84:6 describes their journey with the line:
"Passing through the valley of Baca, they make it a spring."
The precise location of the Valley of Baca is not known.
The word, "Baca" is derived from a root which means "to weep."
Baca was a barren, waterless area to which the pilgrims passed.
As they travel through Baca, they made it a spring.
As children of God, we should always find springs resources which enables us to pass through Baca.
We should see heights beyond the valley that others do not see.
We have a Guide who knows how to take us through the valley.
He knows the way.
He is the Way!
Christians can find wells that others never see.
God's pilgrims can hear a still, small voice whispering, "This is the way; walk ye in it."
We must respond to bitter weeds by sweetening ourselves.
When Moses came to Marah, he threw a tree into the waters to sweeten them.
What kind of tree might we use to sweeten our bitter waters?
First, throw in the tree of forgiveness.
Nothing creates more venom and bite, than the attitude of getting even, holding grudges, and settling scores.
The scorekeeper is the loser.
G. Campbell Morgan observed that there is nothing the devil hates more than a man who can forgive.
If we are unforgiving, we cannot sincerely prayed the Lord's Prayer.
Few men have had more enemies than Paul, yet his instruction is:
"And be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also hath forgiven you."
We must take the initiative in using the forgiveness tree.
In your marriage, in your church, in your politics, on your job, take the first step to achieve reconciliation.
William Cowper suggested:
"The humblest and the happiest pair
to find the occasion to forbear;
and someday, everyday they live
To pity, and perhaps forgive."
We must throw the forgetfulness tree into the bitter waters.
Some continue bitterness over incidents that are ancient history.
The mental rehashing of them rekindles their fire.
Perhaps, we will not be able to get bitter experiences completely out of our lives,
but we can quit making idols of them.
Throw the tree of fruitfulness into the bitter waters.
By our fruitfulness the world knows that we are disciples of Jesus Christ.
The godly man is like a tree that brings forth fruit in season.
One of the fruits of a Spirit-filled life is joy.
Bitter weeds produce crop failures.
A life of Christian service produces fruit for an abundant harvest.
Go out and help someone, and many of the bitter waters will be sweeten.
Throw the tree of faith into the bitter waters.
Faith does not make things easy or simple, but it does make them possible.
Alexander Mclaren said that Christianity has fallen into the hands of the church
that does not believe its own gospel.
We need a growing faith.
We need a daring faith.
We need a tough faith to match a tough love.
Kill the bitter weeds, and plant sweet smelling flowers whose sweet aroma will impress the world.
Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:31: "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor and slander
be put away from you, along with all malice.
After all he had been through, Abraham Lincoln taught us to live with malice toward none.
Our supreme example is Jesus Christ upon the cross.
It was only, "Father, forgive them
"Far off I see the goal—O Savior, guide me;
I feel my strength is small—be Thou beside me;
With vision ever clear, with love that conquers fear,
And grace to persevere, O Lord, provide me.
Whene’er Thy way seems strange, go Thou before me;
And, lest my heart should change, O Lord, watch o’er me;
But, should my faith prove frail, and I through blindness fail,
O let Thy grace prevail, and still restore me."
Words by Robert R. Roberts.
Sermon adapted from several sources by Dr. Harold L. White