Sunday, July 23, 2017

Judgement - it is not our Job!

Sermon for July 23, 2017
Proper 11A – RCL Track 1

Jesus put before the crowd another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 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?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 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.’”

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!”

Today we have the first of two Sunday’s in Matthew’s Gospel devoted to parables that start out with “The kingdom of heaven is like….” A question that many over the millennia have tried to sort out.  And sometimes the sorting turns out ok and sometimes the sorting and the dividing ends up being very bad.  Parables are met to instruct and to make one ponder.  They are really not meant to tell us the answers.  They are supposed to make us think.  They are presented frequently as binary objects in a world that is not binary but a world that is multifaceted. 

In his commentary on todays lesson David Lose – a preacher I like to follow, said that "according to C. H. Dodd, one of the great NT scholars of the last century, [parables] are “a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its precise application as to tease it into active thought” (Dodd, Parables of the Kingdom, 1935:16)[1]

Active thought.  Not passive.  They can be like a burr under a saddle or like the song that gets stuck in your head.  They make us think – or at least they try to make us think.  We really would rather have someone explain in vivid detail what the kingdom of heaven is like and also explain to us why evil exists in the world.  In these days of computers we probably want heaven to have a facebook page where we can see who is a friend – and by extension who is a foe.  We don’t want ambiguity.

Which brings us to our parable.  The kingdom of heaven is one where our crazy farmer from the parable last Sunday sows good seed hoping that only good will sprout.  But unfortunately – as every gardener and farmer in the world knows some weeds always manage to sprout up among the good seed that we plant.  And so in life we have good people and we see evil.  And right now with our political climate it seems that you are either for someone, or some political stance, or you are branded as evil. 

All we have to do is read the political commentaries from the left and from the right to know that there are apparently only two sides and the other one is evil.  And we should do all that we can in our lifetime to pursue our view of the good and throw the evil into the fires of hell. 

We ask God all the time if we can uproot the weeds we see around us!  And we know what the weeds look like and how they act right?  And as good Christian people we should help the harvest by plucking out the weeds – after all isn’t that what we do with our gardens? But when the slaves ask the land owner if they should pluck out the weeds they get the wrong answer.  Or at least wrong from our perspective.

The landowner – who in Jesus’ explanation is God – tells the workers to leave the weeds.  For in trying to rid the field of weeds they are likely to disturb and damage – or even kill the wheat.  Leave them be. 

Leave them be.  Let the weeds grow alongside the good.  I don’t want to do that!  I want to rid the world of evil.  Now.  I want to bring God’s radical kingdom of Love and peace to our world.  Now.  I can judge the good from the bad – after all I have been to seminary and trained in the arcane art of theology and interpretations. And some clergy might actually have you believe that their training and credentials make them the perfect person to tend God’s garden and keep the evil out – and yes uproot the evil they see. 

But there is a problem with that theology.  And that is there is ambiguity in our world.  And we cannot always tell what is good and what is evil.  We might well mistake the wheat for the weed – or the weed for the wheat.  Life is not binary.  Life is not all about black and white, good and evil, the saved and the dammed.  And the parable makes it relatively clear that God does not plant the evil.  God plants good seed. 

Jesus is clear.  It is not our job to judge the good and the evil.  It is not our job to throw the evil into the fires of hell where there will be gnashing of teeth.  Jesus is clear that we are not to judge.  That God at the end of times will judge.  That when all is over God will gather up the weeds and burn them. 

Does that mean we do nothing and live with evil?  No.  We should call out evil systems and work to bring justice into an unjust world.  We should work to bring food to people who have nothing – No one should go hungry considering all of the food that is wasted in our world.  So yes we need to work to bring about God’s kingdom of love to fruition – but we don’t do that by being judgemental.

We do that as crazy as it sounds when we nurture.  Not when we tear down.  We bring good into the world when we support the wheat.  When we provide water and good soil in which love can flourish.  And when we remember that we are a people who believe in redemption.  We believe that God can forgive and God can gather the evil that is in our hearts and throw it into the furnace.  Our job is to assist in sowing the good and in the building up of God’s good creation.

I performed a baptism on Wednesday and was struck – as I always am by our baptismal promises.  There are a series of promises that we make every time we witness a baptism and every time we renew our baptismal vows.  We are asked “Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers? Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”  And each time we respond “I will with God’s help.”

We build up the kingdom when we follow our baptismal promises. We are called to exercise our ministry to all people and to call out the injustice in the world.  We are called to recognize that there may indeed be weeds growing in our world but if we nurture the wheat the wheat will outgrow the weeds.  There is no place in our baptismal promises where we are called to judge the world. 

And there is no place in this parable – as frustrating as it can be – where we are told we should judge.  That whole judgment thing is to be left up to God.  Not us.  And how frustrating that can be at times.

This is all good but what does this parable really tell us about the kingdom of God?  It tells us more about how we are to behave rather than painting a picture of some future place where we join the angels, archangels and the whole company of heaven.  And perhaps that is the point.  We are called to build up the community of God and respect all of creation here.  Now.  Not in some future place.  And we do that when we love not when we judge.  

It is the times where we do recognize God’s good seed in all of God’s creation that we glimpse the kingdom of God.  It is the times when we sow goodness and leave the judgment to God that we create God’s dream of a kingdom where we do respect all of creation and love God and love our neighbor.  When we work for justice in our society we build up the kingdom. 

Perhaps this parable leaves us wanting more explanation on what the kingdom of heaven is like – and you are in luck we get more parables on the what God’s kingdom is like next week!  So stay tuned!  Maybe next week we will really learn what the Kingdom of God is like!


Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Crazy Farmer

Sermon for July 16, 2017
Proper 10A – RCL Track 1

Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”
“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

Today is the first of three Sundays where we will hear parables from Jesus.  This Sunday is the parable of the crazy farmer – as I like to call it, and the next two weeks we will hear parables that describe the Kingdom of God.  The kingdom of God is like.... Parables are a form of story that sets two things alongside each other and in many cases have at least a little absurdity.  They are not at all obvious and if we try too hard to explain them we will get it wrong.  It is best to let them speak to us fresh each time we read them.

Which brings me to today’s absurdity!  What kind of crazy farmer is our God!  Just read this parable again.   A sower goes out to sow… and he wildly throws seed everywhere.  Seed scattered onto what any one could tell you was not good soil.  The rocky soil, the hard pathway and so forth.  It is an absurdity!  No one in their right mind would plant a field like this. 

Then and now we plant our fields and our gardens with as much precision as we can imagine.  The planting equipment today is optimized to get the seed planted in just the right place.  The soil is prepared to make sure that it is receptive to the seed.  The seeds are prepared and hybridized to make sure that they have the best yields and are best for any given growing climate.  Nothing is wasted.  We consult the sunset garden book and look at our ecological climate and see if the plants we want will grow in our areas.  We may consult the old Farmers Almanac to see when we should plant and if we can expect a cold or hot year, a wet or dry year, and make our decisions with care.

In Jesus day seed was not cheap so they too took great care in making sure it was planted in the best soil possible and tended with care to get the best crop.  They, like us, took all the precautions that they could to ensure a good crop.

And we do the same thing at church!  We plan carefully.  We look at our resources and figure out what programs we can sustain.  We look at our finances to see what we can afford.  We are good stewards of the gifts we have been given.  To do anything less would not be wise.  But we should not ration God’s love in our planning! 

It is hard to imaging an abundance like that described in the parable.  Or perhaps we can only imagine it.  In our society there is a huge income inequality between those in the top 1% and the rest of us.  We have to be careful and manage our recourses and we imagine what it would be like if we had seemingly unlimited resources.  We dream about what we would do if we won a large lottery prize! 

But God’s economy is different.  God is not in a limited supply!  God wants his love spread recklessly into our hurting world.  God asks us as his disciples not to worry about how and where we spread God’s message of love of creation.  We are told not to worry about where with whom we sow God’s good news.

Which gets us to the second part of our Gospel where Jesus tries to explain to the disciples what he just told the people.  And here we don’t hear about the seed anymore but the soil.  Jesus says that there are people who will be supper receptive to the good news and those that will not be.  That there are people who have shallow roots and will hear and be receptive but will not be ones that will go out and act to help spread God’s love in our hurting world.

But God does not care the condition of our soil!  In this parable we are told not to worry about how we think someone will or will not receive the word of God.  It is not our job to judge.  It is our job to sow.  And even if we were to judge the receptivity of the people we interact with we are just as likely as not to get it wrong.  To misunderstand how that person will receive and how God’s love will grow within that person.

This Wednesday I am performing a baptism at St. Paul’s.  It is for one of our un-homed parishioners.  I am sure that many people would judge that soil as a rocky place for God’s love to be sown.  Many people would look at a small family and their small dog that camp by the river as perhaps in need of help but not as fertile ground that will yield fruit.  But I am not going to judge.  Already his request to be baptized has spread to another young man who attends regularly and now also wants to be baptized later this summer.  The yield may be limited by circumstances but God is telling me not to worry about that.  The Holy Spirit opens the heart in ways that we cannot imagine.  And with the Holy Spirit that seed that will be planted on Wednesday may have a larger yield than we can imagine.  

That is the way God’s economy works.  God takes all kinds of people and grows the kingdom.  Jesus gathered fisherman and tax collectors, women and all sorts and conditions of people to start and to continue building God’s kingdom on earth.  And we are to do the same.

As we continue to reimagine what the ministry of St. Matthew’s will be in the years going forward we should remember to sow God’s love with wild recklessness.  While money may be in short supply and our membership currently small God’s love is limitless.  And the return may end up being bigger than we can imagine!