Sunday, July 17, 2011

Pardon My Weeds

24He put before them another parable:  “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away.  26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well.  27And 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?’  28He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’  The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’  29But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.  30Let 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.’”
36Then 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.”  37He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.  40Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.  41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.  Let anyone with ears listen!   Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43 (NRSV)
Last week’s gospel lesson was the parable of the sower; this week is the natural follow-up – the garden grows, and then there is a harvest.  Of course the harvest is yet to come.  God will someday invoke the expiration date on time, and we’ll be going home!  But what about the weeds?
There are several questions that surface as we consider this parable of weeds:
What is a weed?
Weeds are those persons who are not meant for the kingdom of God.  Literally (according to verse 38b-39) they are the sons of the evil one, controlled by Satan himself. 
Weeds are as common as crops and lawns – that’s where you will find them.  All you have to do to see this truth validated is look at my front yard!  The “weed” to which Jesus referred was darnel.  Darnel is in every way a lookalike with wheat.  It comes up with the wheat, has a head like wheat; it simply doesn’t have any kernel in it.  It’s useless compared to the real wheat.
Now, if the problem of darnel is simply that it has no kernel, that’s not much of a consequential problem.  But there’s much more – the darnel competes against the wheat for resources; it makes the wheat weaker.  It doesn’t let wheat be the best wheat it can be. 
In the case of the kingdom of God, weeds are not children of God – they only impersonate the real thing.  They are Christian impersonations.  In a church they come to worship, give money, pray – they even preach sometimes!  But they’re empty on the inside; the Spirit is unknown to them.  Which poses another question:
Am I a Weed?
As with darnel, it’s hard to look at the weed and tell it from the real thing.  But there is a test.  Did you ever ask yourself that question – am I a weed?  If you have, there’s a good chance you’re not.  You see, a weed doesn’t have a spiritual clue.  Spiritual things are not understood by people who have no spiritual connection with God.[1]
This poses a further question:
What will happen to the Weeds?
Clearly, God will bring all the weeds under his judgment.  In the Psalm reading this morning we heard how there is no place on earth (or in the universe) you can go to be exempt from God’s hand.  His right hand (the strong one) holds you fast!  This means God is in charge of every aspect of creation, and will bring it all under his righteous judgment.  This is who God is; this is His promise.  He will have an accounting – and we are all accountable; children of God as well as the weeds!
The kind of judgment is also pretty clear.  Scripture says it ends with weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Whatever that ultimately means, it sure doesn’t sound like a picnic!  I would not recommend being a dandelion in God’s lawn!
One final question:
What should we do about the weeds?
This is a real easy one – do nothing!
Now, before you get all self-righteous on me and begin to talk about how bad stuff is done by weeds, and how they’ve mistreated God’s people, let’s take stock.  Do we really want to point fingers?  What happens when you point at someone else?  That’s right – one pointed at them; three pointed back at you.  Weed-pulling is not Wesleyan, or Christian for that matter.  Obedient servants don’t disobey the Master.  In this case, the servants were told to just hold-off until the harvest was ready.  Then the Master would make those decisions.
Now, if the field in which this wheat and weeds grows is God’s church, there are consequences very much in view for us today.  When we get into trying to do God’s job for him, we wind up damaging the church.  If you were listening closely to the Gospel reading, it says that God will separate the chaff (weeds) from the wheat.  That is a job that’s way above our pay grade.  You cannot be God. 
But that doesn’t stop most of us from trying to do God’s job occasionally.  Consider our church building as an example.
·        The comfort system – Over 135 years ago we heated with wood stoves and cooled with Funeral home fans.  Today it’s oil and a/c.  Good? 
·        The windows – Back “once upon a time” the windows were clear and you could see someone sneaking out of church because she didn’t want to play piano.  Today there are apostles and Jesus getting in the way.  Good?
·        The preachers – Along the way the conference has sent you bunches of preachers.  At times you shared one with another church or two.  Lately you have to put up with one all the time.  All good? 
·        The parsonage – In the early days there was no parsonage…or it was elsewhere.  In recent years it’s just over yonder.  Many preachers have lived there.  Not now.  Good?
Any of these issues could serve to be a weed pulling contest.  What’s the problem?  When we tug on what seems so significant because we like this, but not that….we are uprooting real ministry, real wheat that could be growing.  When you fuss over this, or complain about that you are pulling up what seem to be weeds to you, and in the process you’re destroying your own fruit crop.  Negative attitudes and a lack of love destroy your credibility.  How can you say you love people when you criticize the people that are here?  If a visitor to our services discovered that we spent most of our time criticizing everything and anyone, would that person be likely to choose this church to worship?
So…do nothing of judgment about the weeds.  But there are some things you can do for them.  You can love the weeds, win the weeds with goodness and treat them with dignity.  Some will be converted, many will reject Christ.  But that is also not a decision for your pay grade!
Now, while you’re at the business of loving those weeds, make certain of your own life.  God knows there are none of us who have a history that doesn’t include a bit of “weediness”.  Everyone in this room has been the problem.  We are all sinners – and that’s the problem weeds have!
But weeds can be transformed.
Darnel wheat has no kernel of wheat at the top of its stalk….it’s empty-headed!  That makes it much lighter than the real wheat.  At harvest time, when the genuine wheat’s kernel is at its fullest maturity, the weight of the kernel will make the stalk bend over.  It is then the farmer knows it’s ready.  The darnel is easily separated from the crop, because it is standing high and proud with its empty head.  Wheat bent low in humility; Weed standing tall in arrogance.  Along comes the sickle – instant judgment!
So…the transformation – the good news is that we can bow low like the real wheat, in humility we give up that sin and God promises to fill our wheat stalk with a kernel of eternal life that is solid, substantive love.
Would you make that decision?
In the Name of the Father, Because of the Son, Cooperating with the Spirit…Amen!

[1] 1 Corinthians 2:14

Monday, July 4, 2011

Dancing With the Morning Star

16“But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, 17‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” 20Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent. 21“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22But I tell you, on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades. For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.24But I tell you that on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.”
25At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”   Matthew 11: 16-30 (NRSV)
It must have been pretty easy for Jesus to feel like he was the captain of the Titanic.  Those who weren’t hurling insults his way were doubting or treating him with complacency.
His cousin, John the Baptist, was in prison, but sent emissaries to prod Jesus into doing something to prove he was Messiah.  The religious authorities didn’t much like the Baptist (he was in jail); they said he had a demon because of his asceticism.  Jesus was much different –he partied and hung-out with both the despised and the “movers and shakers”.  They called him a wine-bibber (read that party animal). 
Jesus’ friends in Bethsaida and Capernaum were complacent.  They saw miracle upon wonder and remained chilled, unmoved.  “Ho-hum…that was a good trick, Jesus; do another one.”  Jesus shook his head and told them they were like children who couldn’t make up their minds whether to play wedding or funeral, so they sat doing nothing.
Friends, Foes and Followers….they all misread Jesus.  They wanted proof and benefit in hand.  He had come to give them so much more; he had come to give them himself in relationship….and they were surprised when he didn’t act like they thought he should.
In Revelation[1] Jesus is the dayspring.  It’s an interesting combination of pictures of the root of Jesse and the rising star.  The Greeks called Venus the “morning star”.  The imagery points to the coming of Messiah and the promise of His kingdom.  Jesus came to have this dayspring, morning star rise on the relationship of God’s family.
Relationship is a dance.  I’ve never danced much, or well; I’m not very graceful.  And that’s the point – It is He who teaches us to dance. 
And when you begin to dance with the Morningstar some stuff happens…
You get surprised a lot

Surprised by My Fickleness

I get surprised by my own fickleness.  Like Jesus’ followers, friends and foes, we get a little upset when Jesus acts differently than we want.  That’s human nature!  We want things our way, and even when we’re treated better than we deserve, it’s not enough.  Few are ever satisfied.
I heard about a farmer who was so critical of everything that he drove his neighbors crazy.  If it rained he complained the crops would rot; if it was dry that was bad.  None of his farm machines measured-up.  Finally, one of his neighbors decided to shut him up for good.  He had recently bought a hunting dog, and found out the hound could actually walk on water.  He convinced his negative neighbor to go duck hunting with him. 
The next morning when the first shots rang out, the hound ran right out on the water, retrieved the duck, turned around and trotted back without so much as getting damp.  Said the proud owner of the hound, “Well…my dog walks on water; what do you think of that?”  Said the negative neighbor, “Can’t swim, can he?” 
Jesus probably couldn’t have pleased that guy either…or most of us.  But like Jesus said (v.19) wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.  This is like our saying, judge words by the actions. We can be as fickle as we will…we are not going to change Jesus.  He will always love us.  That’s surprising!

Surprised by My Faith Fault-line

And then I also get surprised by my “faith fault-line”.  It’s amazing, isn’t it?  We, like the neighbors – friends really – of Jesus, can see year after year of the miracle of God’s grace on our lives – and remain as complacent as a chair.  It is as if knowing there is an Almighty God who created an infinite universe and is willing to love us, die for us and wants us to come close so he can bless us – well, it’s just no big deal.  It IS a big deal; it’s something to get all excited about and shout and praise and tell others. 
The neighbors Jesus reproached failed to see God’s goodness and repent, or change their ways.  I am surprised at how stubborn I can be in this.  I get really settled in what I like and what I do.  Jesus wants so much more for me.  And that’s good news.  We may be Methodists, but if we’ve got a pulse, we ought to be shouting this news from the rooftops! 
So, in dancing with the dayspring, morning star, you get surprised a lot, and…
You get loved a lot
The rest provided by an easy yoke and light burden is arguably one of the most recognized metaphors in Scripture.  Who isn’t burdened?  Who hasn’t needed rest from it all?  But it is also a commonly misunderstood rest.  It isn’t a burden-free life Jesus offers – he called it his burden.  He just said it was “light”.  The rest Jesus offers is from the inner turmoil that describes life that is self-driven, as opposed to God-led.
We have this new addition at our place. Gracie Cotton was orphaned a few weeks ago.  She adopted us….sorta!  It’s a long story, but, when you’re five and your companion has gone away, it’s hard to get used to a new place, rules and even where to do your business (and which rug to avoid).  We learned that she is fickle when it comes to food, and exceedingly fearful of summer lightning storms.  And we’ve discovered she’s already made her way into our hearts.
Over the past few weeks Gracie (who is bright, alert and a quick learner) has begun to accept the comfort of my yoke.  We call it a leash, but it’s comforting for her.  With that leash I care for her, that she won’t get lost.  I lead her to the right places, and when back in our house, our home, she is released into family fellowship in all the rooms.  In short, she gets loved…a lot!
And that’s how it is in the dance with the Morning Star….in spite of my fickleness and faith fault-line, I get loved a lot. 
And that’s what our table this morning celebrates!
Lord, we pray that we’d learn to run to Your yoke…in the Name of the Father, Because of the Son, Cooperating with the Spirit…Amen!

[1] 22:16