Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Wheat & Thistles, Good Seeds & Bad Seeds

Preached on July 20, 2014 at Btown Inclusive Mass

Psalm 139
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30
"He told another story. “God’s kingdom is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. That night, while his hired men were asleep, his enemy sowed thistles all through the wheat and slipped away before dawn. When the first green shoots appeared and the grain began to form, the thistles showed up, too. “The farmhands came to the farmer and said, ‘Master, that was clean seed you planted, wasn’t it? Where did these thistles come from?’ “He answered, ‘Some enemy did this.’ “The farmhands asked, ‘Should we weed out the thistles?’ “He said, ‘No, if you weed the thistles, you’ll pull up the wheat, too. Let them grow together until harvest time. Then I’ll instruct the harvesters to pull up the thistles and tie them in bundles for the fire, then gather the wheat and put it in the barn.’” (The Message)
In the Name of God: the One who allows the thistle to grow among the wheat knowing the day will come when evil is no more and peace covers the entirety of the earth. Amen.

Today our Scripture readings fill us with hope and expectation! They share with us the promise of God that a time is coming when peace will triumph, when evil will be radically destroyed with good and when love will rule the land in ever sense of the imagination. Each reading today was literally bursting with the expectation of the manifestation of a godly world. That is a world that isn’t ruled by greed, hatred, malice, strife, jealousy, fear or envy but rather one ruled by patience, goodness, gentleness and self control - in a spirit of harmony, a spirit of unity. This hopeful expectation has been a core belief of both our parent religion, Judaism, and of Christianity since the very start. You will remember our Paschal promise that “Christ is Risen,” a spiritual reality declaring that evil has already lost its foothold and death has been destroyed. As people of faith we are called to live in the present, seeking to bring God’s ways into their midst. We do this while also remaining hopeful for the future age when the promises of God will be radically realized and embraced by all people-kind. A time when the power of the resurrection will not only rule in our hearts but in every segment of society and life. The very misunderstood and poorly interpreted apocalyptic texts, such as Revelation, are all about this hope and promise. They are poetic and colorful symbols and images of the faith-filled confidence that one-day peace will replace war, life will replace death and abundance will replace hunger. St. Jerome, who lived in the late fourth century and early fifth century, conveyed this faithful hope quite well, when he said: “In the end and consummation of the Universe all are to be restored into their original harmonious state, and we all shall be made one body and be united once more into a perfect man and the prayer of our Savior shall be fulfilled that all may be one.”

Jesus referenced this hopeful age or time quite often in his parables throughout the Gospels, while still requiring the listener to be fully present in their daily lives. He did so today in our reading from Matthew. If you remember, last week we encountered the story of the sower of seeds or the farmer. We came to understand that the farmer represents God. And in her unending goodness we realized that God is not stingy with seeds of love but extravagantly sows them upon all the earth, in expectation that we all will arrive at his doorstep sooner or later and all will be forgiven. Today, we again encounter God as a farmer. As last week, an interpretation is given for this parable a few verses later but this interpretation is once again, most likely, not original to Jesus. Rather it is an attempt of the Matthean Community to make sense of the times and events in which they lived. So today let’s approach this parable with open hearts and open minds, seeing what God wishes to convey to us.

Today we hear of a farmer who once again sows good seed in his field. The very same night, while his helpers are sleeping, an enemy comes in and sows bad seed. A few days later the little shoots of wheat (coming from the good seed) and thistles (coming from the bad seed) begin to show up in the field. Everyone stands back and says, “Uh oh – we have trouble!” The helpers, or farmhands, come running to the farmer and first ask him, “Hey, you did plant good seed, didn’t you? And if it was good then where did the thistles come from?” The farmer replies very simply, “ Some enemy did this.” To which the helpers ask, “Should we pull up the thistles and remove them?” The farmer then explains it can’t be done. He says, “No, if you pull up the thistles, you will pull up the wheat too…we must let them grow together until the end of the season. Then we will gather up the thistles and burn it and keep the wheat.”

Like last week, if you have already arrived at the interpretation of the sinner and the damned, pull the break up and cool your jets. Isn’t it tragic how we, who claim to be the loving people of a merciful God, can’t help but seek fire and damnation for our very neighbors? Let’s try and once again listen to what Jesus is saying. This is what I hear in this parable; perhaps you will heat the same or something a little different…

God plants on this earth, the greatest field ever, seeds of goodness, mercy, trust, love, peace, unity, harmony and all manner of good and, if you will, godly things. Like the farmer last week, God does not hold back but richly pours forth these gifts, or opportunities, that they might take up root and change the face of our world. However, other seeds are sown too. The parable describes theses as seeds of the enemy; some Christians might say these are the seeds of the Devil. I tend to think we don’t have need of a devil; we do the work of the devil quite well all on our own! And so in reality, while God is sowing seeds of promise, many of us sow seeds of strife, jealousy, hatred, envy and the list goes one.

All around us we see the good seeds and bad seeds growing and being cultivated and multiplying. We often stand back and say, “What is wrong with this world?” We question God like the farmhands, who are also symbolic of you and I, asking, “God did you plant these bad seeds?” Of course, the answer is no. God plants only that which is love and goodness but in our short sightedness and inability to accept the wrongs we often commit we like to entertain the idea that the bad in the world is on God’s head not ours. So then we ask God another question, “Can’t we just pull the bad up and get rid of it!” Or we might say, “God, why do bad things happen around, and to, good people?” To these questions God answers us, “I love the entirety of this world, I love those who sow good seeds and those who sow bad seeds, I love the saint and I love the sinner, I love the atheist and the theist, I love the gay person and the straight person, and I won’t do anything that has the possibility of destroying either!” God does go on to then promise a time when good will triumph, when evil, the thistles, will be taken away and perfect harmony will be restored. And no the thistles are not people, the thistles are seeds of people’s actions, the actions of evil, which will be as if burned away and found to no longer exist.

What a story of promise and hope. It offers hope that God will not simply invade our world and take over. God will not force us to love as we are created to love. But God will wait patiently as we sometimes very slowly crawl to the place we are called to be. Yes, God allows the good and the bad to grow together but promises us that one day the good will overshadow the bad. We are promised that tears will be replaced with laughter and there will be no more death or sighing. We should thank God the good and the bad are allowed to co-exist or there wouldn’t be much hope for many of us, especially myself. How often I sow as many bad seeds as I do good seeds in my life.

Paul shared with the Roman Church today this expectation of ultimate peace, likening it to a pregnant woman.  He acknowledged that, with us, he witnesses pain and difficulty in the world. He is not some saint walking on “cloud nine” completely disassociated from the difficulties life often brings. Paul is not asking us to become “pie in the sky” Christians who refuse to think or acknowledge anything bad happening and pretend as if every moment of every day is a walk in the park. No, Paul allows for us to admit that things around us are truly awful at times but he also reminds us that these are but birth pains preparing for something better. He tells us the Spirit of God arouses within us a realization that all is not as it should be and it calls us to begin to prepare for a time of harmony and peace. As a people of faith, we are called to accept the brokenness of the world and then to prophetically begin to change it with our actions and love. Far to many Christians, in our time, live for some legendary return of a ticked-off Jesus and refuse to engage the world around them, believing they apart from it or somehow better than it. On the other hand, Paul says we are to be “adventurously expectant,” asking God what we should do next in this world!

We are told to put to death our old ways, those ways that planted bad seeds in our communities and relationships, and now with the power of a resurrecting God inside us, to go places and get things done! We are called to sow the seeds of promise and hope. We are called to expect a time when love is the law of the land and the Kingdom of God is fully experienced on earth as it is in heaven. When the times we live in become almost too difficult to bear: when we see men parading proudly with rifles in grocery stores as some sign of their “rights,” when we see small children being turned away from our borders and sent away to die in the midst of violence, when we see women being persecuted at the hands of ignorant men, we cry but then we are reminded that the present times have no comparison to the good times that are coming, if we will maintain the course. We are reminded that God is allowing the bad to grow with the good knowing that if we heed the command to walk in peace the good will overtake the bad in due time. Truly it already has and we simply cooperate and wait for the full manifestation. We know that creation is groaning and preparing for a period when all will be restored and released into a glorious future.

Do you feel the anticipation deepening in yourself? Do you hear the voice of the Spirit calling you to plant good seeds in cooperation with God’s own seeds? Do you hear Jesus asking you to stop claiming you love your neighbor and actually do it? Do you know that there is no place you or anyone can go to avoid God’s Spirit? God is filling all places; God is filling you and asking you to be the change that has been promised. Allow yourself to grow with the possibility of change, the promise of hope and then bring it to fulfillment. St. Gregory of Nyssa, in the fourth century, said: “For it is needful that evil should some day be wholly and absolutely removed out of the circle of being.” That removal of evil continues with you and I. Jesus began it 2,000 years ago but the work isn’t accomplished yet. We do not seek to be rescued from this world; rather, we seek to be the rescuers of this world with the gifts of God! Let’s get to work! The future is promised but it cannot be fully realized, nor experienced, without our participation.

We did not read the Old Testament passage for today but I would like to take a moment in closing, to do so now. It comes from Isaiah 2:1-5:
“There’s a day coming
    when the mountain of God’s House
Will be The Mountain—
    solid, towering over all mountains.
All nations will river toward it,
    people from all over set out for it.
They’ll say, “Come,
    let’s climb God’s Mountain,
    go to the House of the God of Jacob.
He’ll show us the way he works
    so we can live the way we’re made.”
Zion’s the source of the revelation.
    God’s Message comes from Jerusalem.
He’ll settle things fairly between nations.
    He’ll make things right between many peoples.
They’ll turn their swords into shovels,
    their spears into hoes.
No more will nation fight nation;
    they won’t play war anymore.
Come, family of Jacob,
    let’s live in the light of God.”
Hold on to these words, may they become reality through our actions, let’s live in the light of God!

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