Monday, September 12, 2011

A Dream for the Future: Proper 19 Year A

The last time I preached a sermon on the events of September 11 2001 was ten years ago. I was a senior in seminary. It was supposed to be about stewardship; y’know, a sermon that would evoke the generosity of each member. In some ways, it was a sermon on stewardship: a call to turn to God in the face of such great tragedy. 

This past week has been full of remembrances. The newspapers, radio and television compel us to re-live that day. I remember two things about September 11, 2001. I remember my run that morning, hours before planes and towers fell to the earth. It was still dark outside and I remember watching the planes fly overhead.  I did this during every run because I was always fascinated by the way their bellies light up. And I remember sitting with my friends, John and Ann, as they talked with their children. I remember being grateful for the wisdom of parents and that I was not a parent. 

In my sermon from 2001, I wrote this: “ I feel that I am now living in a world of chaos. I want, somehow, to make sense of what happened…my heart struggles…I am sad, angry, confused, overwhelmed and I am afraid. What will happen to the world that I knew on September 10th?” I remember feeling all of these emotions and struggling to write that sermon. I remember feeling that the world would never be the same.

And, indeed, the world is not the same. Over the last decade, we’ve seen a lot of change.  For instance, we now have smart phones. There’s also Facebook and every other social networking media. For the last decade, we’ve also been at war. Our literature now focuses on non-fiction, especially about the Middle East and Islam. We watch more news, reality television, and dramas focused on first responders and soldiers.  And there’s no more showing up at the airport 30 minutes before your flight. Instead, we willingly submit to full body scans and carrying small bottles of shampoo, just in case. We cannot deny any of these changes and, even if we expected them, we were not prepared for them.  I never imagined that my seven year old would text me from her father’s phone. I never imagined that I would drive a car that is powered by gas and an electric battery. I never imagined that I would one day try to explain to our son what happened on September 11 2001.

As we reflect on the last ten years, I hope we will begin to imagine the next ten years. How will we explain to the next generation what happened on 9/11, the days and years that followed? How will we be changed and transformed by our experience?  Because it is not only our past that shapes us; our dreams, imagination and vision inspire and guide us into the future.

Matthew’s Gospel, written around the year 100, is more than the telling of Jesus’ life. It is a vision for the Church: a story that guides the Church closer to the kingdom of God. One quality of God’s kingdom is forgivenessMatthew uses the words forgive 47 times in his Gospel, more than any other book in the New Testament. And Chapter 18 offers us the most explicit teachings on forgiveness.  Last week, Jesus directed the Church in the practice of reconciliation. This week he tells us a parable.

Before we get to the parable, let’s take a moment and consider Peter. There are many reasons to admire Peter; one of them is that he always says what everyone else is thinking. Like, in Chapter 15, after Jesus tells another parable. And Peter is the one who asks for understanding: “Lord, explain this parable to us…”, he says. 

And so, I can imagine, the disciples discussing Jesus’ mandate for reconciliation in the Church. They must’ve wondered: how often to do we have to do this?  When do we have to do this? What about when someone does something unforgivable, do we still have to reconcile with one another?  And it’s Peter who asks the question: “How many times do we forgive?”  Peter is the voice of the Church, the voice of our humanity, wondering how we fulfill Jesus’ teaching.

Jesus answers Peter with a number. Scholars have spent reams of paper and hours of study on the number 77 (or is it 70 times 7?). Personally, I think it’s a sign of Jesus’ sense of humor (like when my children ask me how many of their vegetables they have to eat…). If we have to ask, then the answer may be a bit facetious.  We all know the answer. How many times do we practice reconciliation; how many times must we forgive?  We must live this way every time, all the time. 

The one aspect of the parable I want to be sure is clear has to do, again, with numbers. The debt of the first slave is ten thousand talents. Biblical scholar, Eugene Boring, calculated the 10,000 talents exceed all the taxes of Syria, Phoenicia, Judea and Samaria.  In other words, Jesus is being facetious. More than that, the extreme debt becomes a revelation of the master’s generosity. And the master’s generosity is really God’s generosity. Jesus’ hyperbole reveals the intensity of God’s love for creation. 

Jesus goes on to contrast the master’s generosity with the slave’s hardened heart. Despite his own reprieve, the slave harasses and terrorizes another. It is as if the slave was never offered forgiveness or, at least, he never accepted it. And for this reason, he is held accountable: not for his financial debt, for the life of his fellow slave. The parable could be a story of transformation. Instead, it is a tale of judgment.  Because the slave depends on his own righteousness, he is condemned. 

And Jesus says, “So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” The truth is very plain.  To experience the grace of God in our lives, we must offer it freely to one another. 

How often should we forgive? Every time, all the time, no matter what. 

A friend of mine shared with me a story from 9/11.  A reporter encountered a couple whose daughter died in the towers. The reporter, trying to offer comfort, said, “Well, I know that you will be able to go to your place of worship this weekend and there maybe you’ll find some consolation in your faith . . .”  And the grieving mother replied, “No, we won’t be going to our place of worship this weekend ’cause we’re Christians, and we know what Jesus commands about forgiveness, and frankly, we’re just not ready for that yet. It’ll be some time before we’ll want to be with Jesus.”   This story captures the tension between Peter and Jesus today: When do we forgive?  How many times? All the time, every time, no matter what.

This is overwhelming to me. My thinking brain goes into overdrive arguing with myself about how this forgiveness thing works. And this is where I end: I know that I have, that WE have, all been offered a massive amount of forgiveness. Sometimes it is easy to receive this gift and then offer it to someone else.  Most of the time, though, accepting and offering forgiveness is difficult. 

This is why I love our baptismal covenant. The covenant reminds us that repentance and forgiveness are done by the grace and help of God. To know how deeply we are loved by God, we must accept God’s gift of forgiveness and mercy. To be transformed by God’s love, we offer God’s forgiveness and mercy to others.  The truth is: it is not the commandment that is overwhelming; God’s love is overwhelming.

What will the next decade look like? What will our reflections on September 11, 2021 sound like? I don’t know. I do know that we make an impact on the future, we can shape the next decade. 

May we receive the gift of God’s love, grace, mercy and forgiveness today, every day, no matter what.  May God help us as we carry it with us, offering it to everyone we meet, all the time, no matter what. May forgiveness be our dream and vision for the future.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Loving and Living: Facing a New Future (Some thoughts on Grief)

I have an overactive mind.  It’s constantly working: thinking about what I need to do, writing sermons and reflections, thinking about the last book I read, reminding me about friends and family.  Seriously: my mind and heart never stop.

And lately my mind has spent a lot of time on one topic: grief. 

First, (well, really, first we moved across the country and then...) I read a wonderful book by Greg Garret about grief (Stories From the Edge: A Theology of Grief).  It’s narrative theology (theology expressed through story) and served as a well-written reminder of all I believe about God and grief.  Things like: God is in the midst of our suffering and God is bigger than any of our theology boxes.  Most of all, this book brought me back to story and how important it is to tell our story.  When we tell our stories, reflecting on our lives, we are telling God’s story, the ways God works in our lives and our world.

Secondly, many of my oldest and newest friends are experiencing grief.  There are all kinds.  One friend has just moved and she is grieving her old life while embracing the new.  Another friend is grieving the death of a child.  Still another friend is grieving the end of her marriage.  There’s more.  At times, I feel it is everywhere, all over.  Each one is different and, at their core, they are similar.  Each grief is a reminder that our lives are very fragile; we are very fragile.  Indeed, life is so fragile that every life will crack, every life experiences death.  And I find myself yearning for gentleness: that we would be gentle to ourselves and one another.

Thirdly, the tenth anniversary of 9/11 means that for weeks now everywhere I’ve turned there are stories about grief.  And each story, though different, is the same.  They are each stories of loss.  When someone or something dies, we must confront the reality that their future is not ours.  The moment grief begins is the moment when nothing will ever be the same.

As I sat in my car and wept over the 9/11 stories, I knew that I was not only crying for the grief of strangers.  When I sat at my counter and cried over a friend’s blog, I knew I was not only crying with her.  Those tears hold countless stories of my own: relationships ended or gone astray, loved ones who have died, changes in life that mean the future looks different than I thought or imagined. 

I’m always tempted to hide these tears, store them up inside my heart.  To allow them to flow freely means embracing the fragility and vulnerability of life.  And this scares me.  Yet, my faith in Jesus is quick to remind me about the power of vulnerability.  Every time Jesus healed the sick, fed the poor, cared for the weak and neglected, he made himself vulnerable.  His ministry made him an enemy of the Empire and a prime candidate for death on the cross.  And his death, the most vulnerable act of God, led to the resurrection, the most powerful act of God.  When we are able to live authentically, reveal the vulnerability of our hearts, risk the fragility of our lives, we make ourselves available to the power of new life. 

And, oh, it is so hard.  Loving and living; walking into a future that is new and different.   This morning I took a deep breath and decided to try.  I know I’m not the only one.  I heard and tried to echo the refrain: be gentle, live gently.  And I’m grateful, joyful, that we were able to meet each other and risk weaving our lives together.  Because, frankly, I don’t want to live alone; I’d rather do this with you, even if it means I might lose you.

Peace be with you,
Amy

Friday, September 9, 2011

Dramatic Shifting: Proper 17 Year A

Imagine someone who is selfless. In other words, who do you know that gives of themselves all the time?  Maybe it’s a mom or dad who always puts their family first. Maybe it’s a missionary who travels the world serving the poor and lonely. Maybe it’s a teacher who takes time for every student. Often, we use dramatic stories to describe or define selflessness. I remember the billboard with a father pushing his son in a recumbent wheelchair. The son suffered some debilitating disease and, to raise money, they “ran” marathons together.  This is, indeed, a selfless, impressive act. The ordinary, everyday selfless acts are just as important.
  
Today’s Gospel is one where I am quick to nod my head and not really listen: oh yes, I know this one. There is Peter’s blunder, something we’ve come to expect. Then, we have the challenging words of Jesus, which seem to sum up the Gospel. It’s all wrapped up nice and neat with an obscure Jesus saying that is just clear enough to scare me.

As a preacher, I often feel that I have nothing new to say. Think about all the sermons you’ve heard in your lifetime; how many do you remember? This is less a judgment on preaching and more a reflection of our reality: as much as things change, they stay the same. No matter the decade, century or millennium: Jesus’ message doesn’t really change. If we want to be his disciples, we must take up our cross; give up our lives; live selflessly.

(Here I told a joke.  It was really funny.  I practiced it all week.  Bishop Sauls told it first, so I can't claim it.  It's about a man being run down by a squirrel driving a car.  On the third run, the squirrel stops, rolls down teh window and says to the man: "It's not that easy is it?")  

Now, I realize that this analogy will not get us very far. However, “It’s not that easy is it…” could be the tagline for Jesus’ marketing campaign (perhaps a not very successful marketing campaign…) A few weeks ago we heard the story of Peter’s desire to walk on water. He doesn’t get very far and soon Jesus is pulling him out of the water saying, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” I suppose this is Jesus’ kind way of saying, “It’s not that easy is it…” Like the squirrel dodging cars, the life of discipleship, following Jesus, is not easy.  I don’t know anyone who hears the call to “take up their cross” and jumps at the first chance. And, this is what we do. The squirrel dodges cars; we seek to live for someone, something, other than ourselves. 

I think that discipleship was hardest for Peter. I have no doubt that Peter loved Jesus: he was his teacher and his friend. I have no doubt that Peter believed Jesus is the Messiah. It is Peter’s belief and love for Christ that stand in his way. 

Peter knows what it means to find the Messiah; at least, he thinks he knows. It means that Israel will have a new king; they will no longer live under the persecution of the Romans; they will be set free. 

I don’t think Peter hears anything after Jesus begins to describe his betrayal and death. I think he must’ve been in shock or dismay. For Jesus to die, means that Peter’s reality, his belief, his understanding, must make a dramatic shift. 

Now, I don’t know if you’ve experienced a dramatic shift in your life. If you have, then you know they change everything. I remember when our son, Jacob, was born five weeks early. He had trouble breathing, grunting they called it, and they took him away to the NICU. The next morning, the NICU doctor came by.  I was all alone in the room and the only word I understood was ventilatorThat morning began a slow process, where I experienced a dramatic shift. I began to confront everything I “knew” about parenting and love. I had to confront the reality that Jacob, and Elise, are not “ours.” God began to move my knowing from ownership to stewardship; that children are a gift from God entrusted to us as stewards of their lives. This one story is just an example of the many shifts our knowing takes in a lifetime. I hope we all have at least one story like Peters, a moment when we confront our “knowing.” These confrontations or shifts bring us to some deeper knowledge of ourselves and in our faith.  

So, here is Peter, expecting a king, only to discover that God has given them something else, a Christ. Jesus makes it clear: what Peter wants is different from what God is doing. A human king fulfills a human desire for power and control. Jesus has not come to rule human lives. Jesus comes to rule human hearts. 

As Peter rebukes Jesus, he is no longer a disciple, one who follows. Instead, in this moment, Peter tries to claim Jesus as his and mold him to his expectations. Jesus reprimands Peter because his discipleship is at stake.  Jesus knows that Peter is a faithful disciple, the rock.  He also knows that rocks can be stumbling blocks, obstructing the path of discipleship. This is a crucial moment for Peter and the Church. Jesus does not give into Peter’s way of thinking. Instead, he returns Peter’s rebuke with a reprimand and explanation. 

The life of discipleship is not a life where all of our dreams come true, at least not the way we expect. The life of discipleship, the life of faith, is a life of service. This is isn’t only service to others: caring for the poor, feeding the hungry, loving our neighbors.  A life of discipleship seeks to serve God before all others.  It means diligently seeking God’s wisdom and desires for our lives and for creation.  It means looking for Jesus everywhere, all the time, and serving him. We are disciples when our lives are ruled by God’s dream for all of creation: the dream of abundant life. This is hard work. It requires faith and diligence. 
  
The good news is we don’t walk the path of discipleship alone.  We have one another. Together we guide each other as we discern our role in God’s kingdom. And we have God.The final sentences of our Gospel serve as a reminder of God’s faithfulness. Whatever lies ahead, whatever the struggle, God is paying attention and will respond. It may not be the way we imagine and it will reveal the God’s glory in our lives and our world.

I want to end with a prayer from our prayer book.  It is one of the collects for use after the Prayers of the People: it is a prayer that centers us.  It reminds us what and who our lives are about. It guides us as we shift our hearts and thinking from our selves to God’s self. 

Let us pray:
Almighty God, to whom our needs are known before we ask: Help us to ask only what accords with your will; and those good things which we dare not, or in our blindness cannot ask, grant us for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Jesus and the Canaanite Woman: Year A Proper 15

I love stories. This has been true my whole life. From a young age, I would curl up with a book and dive deep in the story. Or I would crawl into a lap and ask for a story. A well-told story has the ability to transfix and transport us. And, even when we use them to escape our world, they offer us a certain kind of wisdom.  A good story provides a framework for meaning and understanding in our lives.
 
This is why I love the Bible: it is story. It is one great story after another describing the messiness of our lives and our relationship with God.

When a good story touches our lives and offers us meaning, we ask questions.  Indeed, good stories leave us with questions.  Why does Scarlet return to the plantation? Why did Elizabeth the First really never marry?  Do we have the stamina and emotional strength to live on a raft for 46 days? The questions call us deeper into the story, understanding of our selves and our lives.

Have you ever felt really alone, scared, or both? Have you ever loved someone so much that you dreaded something happening to them? Have you ever watched someone you love suffer? This is how I imagine the Canaanite woman feels. Her daughter suffers from a brutal torment that she cannot heal.  I can imagine that she sought every method, every cure, because she was afraid of losing her daughter.

When she approaches Jesus, he ignores her, refuses her and, then, she is reduced to begging.  This is why the story of the Canaanite woman is, perhaps, my least favorite Jesus story. This Jesus is the not the compassionate Christ I call Lord. I often wonder if this were the only story we knew about Jesus, what would we think? And, I suppose, the reason I don’t like this story is because it scares me. 

The encounter between the Canaanite woman and Jesus holds great potential for interpretation. When we ask questions about the details of this story, our answers guide us towards understanding.  Questions like: why does Matthew include this story in his Gospel?  What, if anything, does this story have to do with the  controversy over purity? Why does Jesus move from Galilee towards the Gentile region? Why does the woman approach Jesus so persistent and aggressively? And why does Jesus refuse her and then seem to change his mind? What if we feel desperate for Jesus’ help and discover only silence or what feels like a refusal to help?

In first century Jerusalem, there were great divisions between Gentiles and Jews. These divisions grew as you moved into the countryside. This is especially true of the areas between Galilee, Tyre and Sidon. One of the prejudices that drove these divisions was based in the “purity laws.” In other words, there are laws in the Torah that strive to ensure the purity of the Israelite community. The root of these laws is the desire for a deep, whole relationship with God, YHWH. By the first century, the Pharisees and scribes had added stringent laws to those in the Torah.  Gentiles, of course, did not follow any of these laws and, therefore, were impure. If a Jew even encountered a Gentile on the road, they risked impurity (hence the story of the Good Samaritan). These purity laws promoted more than prejudice. By the first century, Jews and Gentiles were enemies.

Matthew’s Gospel was written sometime around the second century for a Christian Jewish community. This community struggled to discern how The Law, being Jewish, and following Christ intersected. The writer of Matthew has several sources from his Gospel, including Mark. And this story from Mark’s Gospel mirrors directly some of their experience: the encounter between Jewish and Gentile disciples of Jesus.  How would Matthew’s community resolve the purity laws and their relationships with Gentiles?

For a moment, imagine that it is first century Jerusalem and you’re Jewish. I know, a bit of stretch, but let’s give it a try. Imagine you’re sitting around a campfire hearing Matthew’s Gospel from beginning to end.  There’s not the time, like we have, to examine each story. What you would notice, in the brief time it takes to share this encounter is this:  Jesus is moving towards enemy Gentile country.  Instinctively, you would agree with his initial refusal. And then, you would be overwhelmed by his actions.

By the time, the storyteller has moved on to the next set of healings, you would be left with this result:  Jesus does more than speak with this woman; his compassion is SO great, he is SO moved by her faith, he heals her daughter INSTANTLY. 

As a first century Jew, the story would shock you into examining your own prejudice and faith.  As modern Christians, the story grabs our attention for different reasons: we wonder why Jesus refuses the woman.  We find ourselves so surprised by Jesus’ initial refusal that we wonder about his character.  Many Biblical interpreters chalk this up to Jesus’ full humanity, the prejudice he was taught as a child.  Others remind us that the Israelites waited for a Messiah to save, first and foremost, their community: to be the next king of Israel. 

Personally, Jesus’ refusal to help the woman puts a bit of fear in my faith. There is nothing I have experienced more distressing than to turn to Jesus for help and find only silence. I feel angry, frustrated and it strikes doubt into my heart.  When this happens, I have to dig deep to persevere, to find hope, to keep turning to Christ. 

The story of the Canaanite woman gives voice to this experience; it wonders about the character of God and our relationship with God. For Matthew’s community, this story is the beginning of healing between Jews and Gentiles. It is a reminder that Gentiles feel suffering as greatly and deeply as Jews. 

The story, though, moves beyond this particularity. It is revelation that everyone, no matter their race, has the capacity for intense and deep faith in Christ. It reminds us of the vulnerability of faith; that faith demands our persistence, even when we feel the absence of God. 

At the end of the story, the woman has asked for no more than crumbs, the smallest act of God’s mercy. This one request brings the instant healing of her daughter. In the face of this healing, so much is changed. The disciples must confront their prejudice. Jesus embraces his full ministry. The Canaanite woman experiences the mercy of Christ. Ultimately, the story is about transformation: the way our lives are transformed when we live primarily in service to God’s kingdom.

I know that God is working in each one of our lives and the life of our faith community. I do not know the specifics (I wish I did). This is what I know: each one of us is daily being transformed by our relationship with Christ. Perhaps it is as we witness or experience suffering.  Perhaps it is as we witness and confront our expectations and prejudices. There are times when God feels very close and other times when God feels silent and unresponsive.  The story of Jesus and the Canaanite women urges us to be persistent, to risk putting our faith in Christ, no matter the circumstance. Jesus’ response may not be what we expect but the story does make us a promise.  It is the promise that nothing will thwart the wideness of God’s grace and mercy.  It is the good news that even crumbs from God’s table are the Bread of Life.  

Friday, September 2, 2011

Sometimes you're the windshield...Sometimes you're the bug

I posted that as my Facebook status today.  A friend commented, "sometimes you eat the bar...sometimes the bar eats you..."  Yes!  Yes indeed!  And that bar for me is perfectionism, getting it right, doing well, making others and myself proud...oh dear!  Why, why, why do I do this to myself...

I posted that facebook status because I am frustrated with the Church (as in the gigantic human organization that is ruled by its own sense of bureaucracy and entitlement).  How did we get here?  Who knew that the priesthood was full of administrative tasks?  Things like making sure the membership roles are in order (when, in fact, it's been 30 years since anyone really spent time on them).  Or organizing the newsletter, proofing bulletins or thinking about the table set-up for Christian Formation.

When I signed up to follow this thing we call "a call" (as if I actually heard God's voice on the other end of the phone saying "You Shall Go To Seminary" (I didn't by the way.  It was more like a subtle voice guiding my heart and mind towards doing ordination)), I imagined moments of prayer, sitting with others as they made difficult and not-so-difficult decisions, studying the Bible and reading some good theology.  I do do these things.  Just not as much as I'd like.  I'd rather invite you to serve on vestry (our governing board) than spend my time determining who is actually eligible to serve.

This leads me to my point: today I'm the bug and I also feel like the windshield.  I feel torn between being an administrative leader, which demands my integrity to the order of the Church, and a pastoral leader who invites others to fully realize their vocation and ministry (whether or not they are actually on the membership roles or not...)  If you know me, you know I'm a rule follower.  You also know that God gave me a subversive streak.  If you don't know me, consider that a confession.  Today I sit wondering how to balance those two and giving thanks that our way of being Episcopal invites us to collaborative leadership.  In other words, ultimately I am never a bug or a windshield by myself.

In the meanwhile, I have a sermon to finish, more sermons to post, a Dorothy Sayers mystery calling my name, a knitting project that needs some TLC and a family who deserve my best more than anyone else.

Like I said, sometimes your the windshield; sometimes you're the bug.  May God grant us courage to be both.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Wheat and the Weeds: Proper 11 Year A

Think back two weeks. I know, I know. It’s almost an impossible task; I can barely remember yesterday. No worries, I will refresh our memories. That week, we heard Jesus praise John the Baptist and utter the comfortable words, “Come unto me all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens…” Those words are part of a long section of Matthew’s Gospel.

The section actually begins with a question from John’s disciples, “Are you the one who is to come or are we to wait for another?”  They are really asking: Jesus, who are you?  Jesus’ answer is not very clear: “Go tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk…etc.”  Matthew’s Gospel, though, is very clear: Jesus is the Son of the David, the king of Israel. We know this because Jesus’ life fulfills the work of the prophets. First, there is his genealogy. Then, there is his ministry in Galilee.  And now, Matthew begins to define who Jesus is through story. 

The stories Matthew tells us are the parables of Jesus.  Matthew tells us, again, that this is to fulfill the prophets. The prophets waited for a Messiah, a Messiah who would “speak in parables; proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world” (Mt 13: 35). Jesus’ use of the parables reveals that He is the Messiah, the One who is to come. 
  
Our lectionary, the Sunday reading schedule, divides these parables across several weeks. They are divided in such a way that we do not hear them in order. This is both helpful and not-so-helpful. It is helpful because there is time to examine each parable on its own. It is not-so-helpful because we can easily forget the big picture. Remember each Gospel was written in a particular way for a particular community. Matthew arranges the parable in a certain way to paint a full picture of God’s kingdom. It is important that as we study them separately we remember their place in the larger story.  

The Parable of the Weeds among the Wheat follows Jesus’ explanation of the Parable of the Sower. When read together, the two parables are linked by images of farming: sowing seeds, the threat of weeds and the inevitable harvest. In my mind, the parable of the sower is the frame; the weeds among the wheat is the image.

For just a moment, let’s return to the Parable of the Sower. We know that it has several themes: the Sower, the Seed, the Soil and the Harvest. Each theme, each character, has a role to play in God’s kingdom.  Certainly, each person who hears Jesus’ word has a role to play in God’s kingdom.

We know Jesus’ ministry evokes dramatic responses from his listeners. Immense crowds, sometimes numbering 5000, follow Him. The Pharisees and Scribesangered by his ministry, are driven by a desire to denounce and destroy Him. The disciplesfaithfully following their teacher, are regularly befuddled and empowered by Jesus. Here we arethe faithful Church, seeking wisdom and discernment for our daily lives and our future.

Today, the Parable of the Weeds among the Wheat, speaks of God’s kingdom again. Only now, we have a different set of characters. There is a landowner, slaves and an enemy.  And there are two kinds of seeds, wheat and weeds, growing together. Today’s parable moves us from the creation of God’s kingdom to the realities of our life. 

And now, finally, we turn to the parable itself.  Here we have a story of bad seed sown among good seed in secret by an enemy. 

In ancient Israel, it was not uncommon for enemies to sow weeds among one another’s seed.  Perhaps this still happens in modern farming: one landowner seeking to harm and embarrass another.  The weeds growing among the wheat implies that the landowner has faulty practices. It also threatens the harvest and the future stability of the landowner. The enemy hopes to evoke fear, anxiety and shame from the landowner and his associates.  In such a situation, we would imagine that the landowner would work hard to remedy the situation. 

The landowner, though, acts in an unexpected way. The advice of the slaves, to immediately pull all the weeds, is not heeded. Instead, the landowner seems neither embarrassed nor anxious. We will wait, he says, until the harvest.  We might read this as a sign that the landowner is beaten or defeated. Yet, there is wisdom in the landowner’s patience. There is no guarantee that, in their haste and anxiety, the slaves would pull the weeds. The landowner knows there is much at stake.  Rather than retaliate or react, taking unnecessary risk to cover the enemies’ behavior. The landowner’s patience reveals hope for the wheat growing among the weeds. 

Our reading today is actually missing a middle section including two small parables: the parable of the mustard seed and the parable of the yeast. They come between today’s parable and it’s explanation. We will hear them next week, along with three others, so I won’t spend much time on them. I do want to point out that these are stories of unexpected results. Can we imagine a farmer sowing a mustard seed among his wheat?  Can we imagine that same mustard seed producing a bush large enough to house birds of the air? Can we imagine one portion of yeast is enough to produce one hundred loaves of bread? Matthew places these parables here to fuel our imaginations: can we imagine what these weeds among the wheat might produce in God’s kingdom? 

Here is what Jesus tells us: that the parable is a story of judgment. The landowner who sows the good seed is Jesus. The devil sows the bad seed. At the end of the age, those who do the work of Christ will unite with God in eternity. And those who participate in the work of evil and sin will not. This is an allegorical explanation for the parable. I do not think, though, that this is the only meaning of the parable.

Remember those slaves; these are the ones who see the weed growing up among the wheat. These are the ones who wish to act: to do something about those weeds. There is meaning for us in their work.
  
Every day we see the suffering of the world. Some of these are natural disasters or outcomes of the reality of how the world works. Some things, though, seem preventable like acts of violence, addiction and poverty. I find that we are often anxious to do something about these.  Perhaps we are quick to judge or anxious to help. Many times, though, our judgments and help are inappropriate or create other difficulties. The reality is that the suffering of the world will never end. The parable asks us: how will we respond?

Today’s parable begins with these words, “The kingdom of God may be compared to…” Jesus then tells a tale that looks and feels a lot like our world. In the midst of this story, Jesus advocates for our patience.  He is the landowner who tells us to wait,  to care for the weeds while we care for the wheat.  


This means gentleness for everyone,  even those we might readily reject. This means compassion for the sick and suffering, no matter who they are. This means mercy, even for those we deem undeserving. This means loving one another, even our enemies. This means serving Christ, rather than ourselves, our desires, our fears and anxieties. 

This is what the kingdom of God looks like: the mercy of God offered to everyone through the power of Jesus, the Messiah.

It is not easy work. And it is the ministry given to us through Christ. May God grant us calm strength and patient wisdom to do the work we’ve been given. 

Ahhh...The Sweet Life...

Vacation...Sabbath...Time spent watching the grass grow while curled up on a porch swing...It has been ages since I gave myself permission to relax so much.  This summer we had the privilege of spending a week on my in-laws 10 acres in Louisiana.  It was pure heaven.  Allowing my soul to catch up with my body brought a level of peace I have missed, a reminder that rest is as important a goal as any notation on a list.

This explains my absence on the blog.  Rest also means necessary time to catch up with the list.  Over the next several days, I'll post some sermons.  And maybe, soon, a real reflection.

For now,
May we know that one of God's many mercies is permission to rest,
Peace be with you,
Amy