Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Today we are cancelling the Apocalypse! Sermon from 7-20-14

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Savior Jesus the Christ, amen.

The Bible is many things. It is a history book – telling us the story of how God has been faithful to God’s people in the past. It is a poetry and song book – teaching us how to pray and lift our praises to God. It is community bulletin board or blog – sharing the hopes, prayers, and concerns of a fledgling Christian community surrounded by a confusing and scary world. It is a story book – revealing to us who Jesus is and how he lived and died and rose again. The Bible is all of these things and much, much more. But one thing it is not: the Bible most definitely NOT a gardening or farming handbook.

Last week we heard about a sower who went out to sow, who just scattered his seeds around willy-nilly, not really caring where they landed. Now if you have had ANY experience with gardening whatsoever, you know that this is NOT a very efficient way to plant pretty much anything. Most of the time, you take the seed out of the package and carefully read the directions: plant seeds in full sun a half inch deep in loose soil, three to five inches apart. Thin plants when two inches tall. Water often, fertilize as necessary. Germination period sixty to seventy five days.

Here again the farmer in Jesus’ story needs to take some remedial farmer classes. What do you NORMALLY do when you see weeds growing in your garden plot? You get down on your hands and knees and pull those suckers out as soon as possible! Come one Jesus, everybody knows that! It’s just plain common sense.

But this story is not about common sense. It is not a guide to better gardening. And so it has an ending different from what we expect. The weeds are NOT pulled up at their sprouting. Their removal would actually cause more harm than good, so they are left to grow up with the good seed, the wheat. Together the wheat and the weeds are watered by the rain, are nourished by the soil, and shone upon by the sun. It is not until harvest time, many months later, that the weeds are separated out and bound into bundles to be consumed.

But in the meantime, we might imagine the good seed crying out to the master of the field – Lord, there are so many weeds! Look at them all! They are everywhere – right here next to us, sharing our sun and water and soil, their roots becoming intertwined with our roots, their leaves brushing up against ours. O Lord, why must we wait until the harvest day? Why can’t they be weeded out TODAY?

The weeds are with us in our newspapers and on the TV nightly news, filling up space and time with BAD news, of shootings in our neighborhoods and drugs on our streets, corruption within our halls of government and depravity done in the name of religious devotion. O Lord, why must we wait until the harvest day? Why can’t they be weeded out TODAY?

The weeds are with us in our own communities, cutting in line at the supermarket and on the turnpike, bullying our children on the playground and online, they are with us in our boardrooms and even in our
churches. O Lord, why must we wait until the harvest day? Why can’t they be weeded out TODAY?

The weeds are with us even in our own homes…the son who has been to rehab more times than anyone can count, who begs for just one more chance and just one more “loan” of a hundred dollars. The aunt at every family gathering who has nothing good to say to anyone, whose life and children are perfect and can’t understand why you are such a mess. The mother or father or sister or brother for whom nothing will ever be good enough, who will never show you their approval or love.

As the Psalmist writes in psalm 86, “O God, the insolent rise up against me; a band of ruffians seeks my life, and they do not set you before them…. Show me a sign of your favour, so that those who hate me may see it and be put to shame, because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.” O Lord, why must we wait until the harvest day? Why can’t they be weeded out TODAY?

But the weeds are also with us …in the mirror, within OUR VERY OWN HEARTS. The root causes of sin and evil and brokenness has been sewn in our own hearts too, and the seeds of the evil one has all too often found that the soil there is rich and ready. Their roots become deep and stuck fast, and their fruit is the fruit of death. The garden plots of our own hearts have been compromised, and so we cry out with the psalmist, “Give me an undivided heart to revere your name.”

Looking at Jesus’ story from this angle, perhaps our cries for the swift justice of the Lord are a bit premature. We may want to reconsider our eagerness to do our own weeding in the name of the Lord.  For such a harvest of justice in God’s kingdom would not leave any of us unscathed. So perhaps it is a blessing that our God seems rather slow, and is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”

But God only seems slow because we are living in the middle of the story. It probably took Jesus less than ten minutes to tell this parable from beginning to end, but it has taken, and will take, many lifetimes to actually be completed. We are still in the growing time before the harvest. From our vantage point, we can only see the small little plot of land around us, and we see that there are a heck of a lot of weeds growing big and strong around us, and inside of us too. Which sometime makes it hard for us to figure out which is which. And maybe that also means we are not meant to.

God decided that it might be fun to show me what this might mean during this last week when I was away, to be with my family after the death of my grandfather, my mother’s father.  Every part of the funeral service for my grandpa was perfect to celebrate the life of this perfectly flawed but perfectly loved child of God. This was two Thursdays ago. That Sunday we attended my home congregation, but on Monday night we decided to go to the Monday night service back at Grandma’s church. My grandmother belongs to a church that has some different ideas that my own. This time, the vicar, or intern, was preaching, with the aid of his handy power-point outline and his three-point sermon.

As a preacher myself, it is normally a blessing to get to hear others preach, since it is not a blessing that all pastors have. But this particular vicar was making very challenging for me. He began and ended his message by taking a political and religious stance that I don’t happen to particularly agree with. And it would have felt so much better to judge him for it from my only particularly “self-righteous good seed" standpoint, if not for the middle of his message.” Wouldn't you know it, but somewhere in the middle of his sermon was a message about trusting in God in the midst of the hard stuff, a message encouraging us to let go of our fear because our hope is in God. Gosh darn it, it would have been so easy for me to have completely written him off, to have tuned the rest of the sermon out, to have put this young man directly and solidly in the “weed” camp, and felt the better for it.

Well, it’s a very good thing that none of us are in charge of who is in and who is out, who is wheat and who is a weed in the end.

The day of the harvest IS coming. The weeds will be separated from the wheat. The oppressed will be set free. All the wrongs will be righted. Sin and death will be no more. All that is evil in this world will come to an end, and the people of this world who truly are evil will get what is coming to them.

But that day is not today. But today IS the day that we do put our hope in the Lord in the middle of the story, in the midst of the hard stuff. Because that’s where God is too. And in the meantime we, along with the writer of the Eighty-Sixth psalm, ask God, “Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name. I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever.” AMEN.

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