July 19. (Matthew 13:24-30 & Romans 8:12-25) My friends, Jesus does not sugarcoat or shy away from the truth. He does not try to bend reality into something palatable. He lays it out for his followers- there is some terrible evil in this world.
But there is also good news- God refines us to make the good, even better. God does not give up on us, even with all the bad. And it is God’ s place to judge, not ours.
We have another parable about seeds this week- Jesus is the sower same as last week, but now, as we read in his explanation, the seeds are the children of the kingdom- the offspring of the new way God is coming into the world. But there is not only one sower, the sower’s enemy comes to sow also. And the weeds that he sows, some biblical scholars say these are a particular kind of weed, poisonous weeds that look similar to wheat; but if consumed in large quantities can make people make sick, even kill.
The kingdom is sprouting new life, just like in last week’s parable, that’s what seeds do- but now there are seeds that lead to life, to bread that sustains life- and imitations that can harm.
The servants are ready to uproot the weeds but the good sower says no, wait, because by Judging too soon, uprooting, killing, you might hurt what is good and growing and nurturing life. So let them be, for now, there will be a time later for deciding and burning and harvesting. And in the explanation he says and then those good plants, the ones for nurturing life, they will shine brighter than the sun- in other words they won’t be diminished for having been surrounded by all the poisonous look alikes.
In the meantime- and we live in this meantime still- we trust in the abundance of God- for unlike with regular farming where the weeds can choke out good plants (as even Jesus knows, we heard about that from last week’s parable) these plants are able to grow tall and strong even with the weeds there. Tangled in their roots- but the good soil of God’s abundant provision means all can grow. We depend on God to provide for us, whatever we do.
You know as well as I do, beloved that these are divisive times. Even Tom Hanks, easy going, affable beloved my almost all Tom Hanks, has weighed in on the conversation about the politicization that has come with this pandemic. But people’s health and well-being are on the line so on the one hand I receive his message well. It’s simple. We know what can make a difference in defeating this virus so we should just do it, namely talking about those who object to wearing a face covering in public.
Even Tom Hanks spoke truth, good for him. But then he tried to cut a little. Are they even American? He said of those making a stink about their rights in order to not do the simple thing that helps everyone. Of course he has a right to say whatever he thinks- he is just a celebrity after all- but I had to think to myself, okay how does that help the situation? Almost name calling- unamerican- to those you disagree with. I can understand where he’s coming from a little but still. It was an unnecessary phrase to add. It was meant to cut down.
And this parable leaves clear that cutting down is not the job of the plants, not even the servants- at first, the cutting down is supposed to be for the end, one repeated idea in the first testament is- vengeance belongs to the Lord- it is not our place to try to be judge over others in the sense of trying to destroy. It is not our role or even the angels’ role- yet – of cutting down.
Let me be clear here because some take this too far. They say, Oh you can’t judge, and spend their life massaging evil actions into acceptable ones and then there is not right or wrong at all. Jesus never says the wheat is just like the weeds or the weeds are wheat and it just doesn’t matter. Only that the cutting and burning are for God alone.
It is too easy to judge others as wrong- it also too easy to judge ourselves as righteous and good. I have to bring in some Luther now, please don’t get upset with me Methodists- but Luther taught that we are all saint and sinner at the same time. We all have the potential to be holy, to do good and love well- and we also have the potential to be poisonous, destructive, hurt others. It is a paradox- two seemingly opposite truths that are both true nonetheless. Within ourselves, we can be wheat and we can be weeds.
I think this helps me look forward to that day of burning that Jesus is talking about- because then I can understand it more as, God will burn away everything evil, in me, and everything evil in everyone else- to let the good come through like blazing sunlight- instead of trying to think of whole people being burned away. Remember in the ancient world fire was the kind of de-facto way of disposing garbage, what is not needed.
I have a friend from college- the one whose wedding I went to in February, Gloria, I remember when we exercised together once she said her dad always said, “burn the poison!” while working out, jogging or whatever. “Burn the poison!” All that junk food and sugar we had consumed- work out to burn it away. Now I like to think of exercise as a celebration of what my body can do, and way to have a natural high- but yes it is burning away the poison- including of stress chemicals- and making me stronger. Now in terms of our spirits, we are wheat and we are weeds, but we can burn the poison as well. There are ways for us to strengthen our spiritual muscles, reveal to ourselves our own junk, and ask God to burn it away. Our spiritual exercises are gathering in worship (virtually for now) personal devotions and prayer, acts of love and kindness, small groups watching over one another in love. All these are ways to be sure to Have strong roots and concentrate on what nourishes life and recognize God has enough nutrients to feed me so I thrive- even when evil is right there with me.
And like I said before, Jesus makes it plain. There is a lot of evil in this world. It’s nothing new. Paul says that all of creation is groaning for redemption, and if it was groaning 2000 years ago, friends it is groaning even more these days. The planet is heating up the glaciers are melting we are losing species of wildlife every day. Not to make light of any of that- but I think this worldwide pandemic is helping humanity learn to groan alongside creation- to cry out with our spirits, God help us! If anything we are learning to depend more on God again.
In this time of examining our national conscience it is another way to work on burning away the poison. Not to cut down any person but yes cut out what chokes life, yes what hurts black and brown lives, other marginalized lives, we can judge in the best sense our own selves and look for what is truly life-nourishing, what God wants for us, for all people is to be rooted in God’s goodness and grace and live well. Not accepting injustice, not saying oh well it doesn’t matter, remember that is not what Jesus was saying. and Not in fear, not fearing change if it is God leading the way.
And as Paul also goes on to say in this passage, there is always reason for hope with God. Have courage, don’t have a spirit of fear, but the spirit of adoption. Think about that, the gift of being adopted, beloved, known to God as child. And we all have that gift through Christ Jesus.
In that spirit we soak up with our roots all the goodness we can from God our soil, we stand tall and keep our eyes fixed on God, like a sunflower, I think if sunflowers grew where Jesus lived he totally would have made them into another parable- we exercise our spirit with practices to burn away the evil within us, repent and be made new continuously, letting God be the one to judge people (not actions) and always be on the side of life, nurturing sustaining creating life, just like the Creator who has adopted us as beloved children. There is a lot of evil in this world. In the end, God will judge, cut and burn to bring out the best in all of us. In the meantime, God has given to us, as children of the kingdom- abundantly rich soil, infinite love and grace so we can grow tall and nourish life, may it be so, amen.