A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

Weeds, Wheat and God’s Field July 24, 2017

This sermon was preached at Bethany Lutheran Church on July 23rd, 2017. You can watch at http://www.bethanylive.org. I personally think that the 10:00 a.m. went better! 🙂

 

Matthew 13:24-30New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Parable of Weeds among the Wheat

24 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And 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?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let 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.’”

Jesus Explains the Parable of the Weeds

36 Then 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.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears[a]listen!

You’ve perhaps heard the saying that “a weed is any plant that is growing where you don’t want it to.”  Such as a rose bush in the middle of your cucumbers, while beautiful, can seem obtrusive and obnoxious. We like things orderly, rose bushes where rose bushes go and cucumbers where cucumbers go. Then we get this parable this morning about weeds that intrude on wheat. I think on so many levels this parable strikes at the heart of our personal fears. How do I know if I am weeds or wheat?  What about the person sitting next to me in the pew, or at work, or on the train, or my next door neighbor or the person who thinks politically differently from me, are they weeds or wheat? We want to know who’s in the correct place!

We like to think that we can discern between who is doing God’s good work and who is not, or we think that we already know, thank you very much. And it’s always the person who thinks differently from us, or what we might call “wrong” and so we don’t want to be around them. Upon first glance, this parable seems to support this kind of dualistic thinking. Those who are wheat will be gloriously gathered to God in heaven and those who are weeds will be sent to be burned where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Those weeds will get what they deserve-punishment. Done. We desperately want to hang our hats on such certainty so that all can be right with the world.  The weeds and the wheat have no business together! God, fix this! Don’t let these weedy people be around me!

It would be very comforting and escapist for us to read this parable with the mindset that this is about some are right and some are wrong. But we know that life and people are not that clear cut and relationships are hard and messy. But mutual relationships with those who are different from ourselves requires us to examine and know ourselves fully. We want or need to believe that God will punish those who deserve it, and if we follow all the rules perfectly, we will be gathered as wheat. Jesus told parables to make the listener of any century do some hard work. But parables are not designed to be taken at face value. The word parable means to “throw alongside.” Jesus throws this parable alongside our daily lives to stop us in our tracks and wrestle with God for a while.

Martin Luther struggled with the dualistic thinking of his time of whom God gathers and whom God throws to the fires. Part of Luther’s genius is his epiphany that we are both wheat and weeds simultaneously and that God will continually forgives us and offers us unending grace. In our Lutheran theology, we proclaim that we are at any given time a weed, or a sinner and wheat, a saint. Sometimes an action that in one setting is saintly, can turn around and be sinful in another setting. And we don’t always even know we’ve done that!  Paul speaks of this as doing the evil he doesn’t want to and not doing the good he wants to do. No matter how we try, we can’t quite hit the mark it seems. But Paul is confident that God will use his (and our) weediness and transform it into wheat.

We desperately want to be wheat and yet, deep down we fear that we are the noxious weed. We project that fear on others-proclaiming them to be weeds, the ones not doing God’s work, the ones not following Jesus, in order to secure our own place in the field as wheat. We fear that if there are too many wheat, that there won’t be room for us. And we do this even in our church community! If I’m using my gifts, then there can’t be room for your gifts, there is only so much room in the field, you know. Our egos like to judge who are weeds and who are wheat. My actions are REALLY serving God, so your actions can’t be. What if there are different kinds of wheat and all can bear good fruit?

We also get hung up on the fire and weeping and gnashing of teeth imagery as some sort of reference to hell but in truth, I think it refers to our inward thoughts on ourselves and others. We can stir ourselves up into a frenzy comparing ourselves to others, judging other people’s decisions and actions, shaking our head at our own decisions and actions that we aren’t proud of and, if any of you have ever been awake at 3 a.m. with all these thoughts going around your head, you know what weeping and gnashing of teeth is all about. It’s that long, dark night of the soul, it’s the constant grudge holding and scorecard keeping that we do with each other. But when you let go of judging, comparing and ego, peace and grace flourish. Not only peace and grace to others, but perhaps more importantly, to ourselves.  We can’t offer others true grace and non-judgment until we can first offer it to ourselves. When we stop holding ourselves up to unrealistic standards of perfection, whether those standards are societal (wealth, health, body image, etc.) or religious (keeping all the commandments, doing whatever religious practices you believe will make you a better Christian) when we let go of that, is when we can truly live in God’s promise that God created us in God’s image and we are enough, more than enough and loved just the way we are. And so is our neighbor, co-worker, and family members even the ones who drive us crazy.

You see, this parable isn’t about who’s in or who’s out. It’s about God and God’s field. God’s field, where all are allowed to grow, no matter what. Weeds and wheat are side by side. What if when we see weeds, God sees wheat? What if we need those who seem planted out of place as we grow in God’s field? In rich diversity, we can hold each other accountable, learn from one another, forgive one another and be authentic community.  Childern’s Sermon: Invite children: cards, change cards, “does it matter who has the label weeds or wheat? Does it matter that we are all together and God loves us? Can we learn from each other, share our mistakes and our learnings to love God and each other even more?”  Explain the sermon notes.

 

The word seminary, means “seed bed.” God’s field, God’s seed bed, is about learning and going deeper into relationship with God and one another. It’s not a fancy theological degree. It’s engaging the world with all the complexity, uncertainty and gray areas through God’s vision.  It’s God’s patience and hope that floods the field, the seed bed, and everyone and everything growing in it, with love, forgiveness and grace freely poured out no matter of our actions, our status or who we think we are, weeds or wheat. We don’t have to worry about judging ourselves or others. God will come to judge, which is different from punishment by the way. Judgement is God’s proclaiming reconciliation of creation and humanity back to Godself in love. Punishment is what we do to ourselves when we try and be God, dividing ourselves out of fear, not looking with love upon our neighbor, judging actions we don’t understand, putting our own needs and wants ahead of others, allowing our ego determine our thoughts and actions.

Jesus understood that this is the human condition. We think that we know more than we do and put more trust in ourselves and our ego than in God. Jesus says, go deeper, go where it’s complex, go beyond black and white thinking, go and confront your ego, your hubris, your arrogance. Go and be confronted by the breathtaking foolishness of God’s love and grace to let weeds and wheat grow together. Audaciously live in the faith and hope of what we cannot yet see, where everyone will be gathered in God’s life-giving kingdom as adopted children of God, unconditionally loved and cared for, where none are left out, all live side by side, and God clothes all in righteousness. Go and recklessly share this reality in whatever part of the field you may live in-give your time and your resources to people not because you think they deserve it, but because God loves them (and you!) and loves the diversity  of all of us growing together in God’s field. Thanks be to God.

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Who’s afraid of a little Reformation? Oct. 26th, 2014, Year A October 26, 2014

I’m going to share a secret with all of you….we live in a fear based culture. Are you shocked? No? Well fear is everywhere (Ebola anyone?) and we know that fear can also be a great motivator.  Fear can make us prudent and propel us to make good and healthy changes. Fear helps us to remember that we should wash our hands more often or that we should wear our seatbelts. We teach our children to not walk into on-coming traffic, or to not get into a car with someone they don’t know. A little bit of fear can be correcting and provide healthy boundaries. But unfortunately, for humans, if a little bit is good, than we assume that a lot must be better! So our fear spirals out of control until, ironically, fear controls everything that we do.  Fear can have power in our lives that changes our thoughts and behaviors and tells us a false story of who we are in the world.

So what are some of our collective fears? Loneliness, disease, financial struggles, unworthiness, war, death, messing up, rejection, etc. While we tend to think that the things we are afraid of are unique, they are universal aren’t they? We put up a façade to try and mask our fears from others, for “fear” of being seen as unstable, irrational or needy. What are some ways that culture tells us to respond to these fears? Buy more, do more, pretend more, dress in a certain way, food, alcohol, excessive exercise, be a certain shape or size, look a prescribed way, make sure you have enough for yourself, drive a certain car, live in a certain house, etc. The story that fear tells us is that we are alone, we don’t measure up, we must try harder and we must be who others want us to be.

This story of fear obviously isn’t new in the history of humanity. Fear has written stories of wars, words of hurt, self centered decisions, prejudice, and labeling. Fear can override every other emotion in us and cause us to act in a way that is not consistent with whom we actually are. So the question arises, what are we to do with the very real presence of fear in our lives? Fear is probably not going away.

This is the core of what a monk named Martin Luther wrestled with his whole life. He knew the story of fear by heart. He was terrified by the thought that he was not and would never be good enough for God to love him. He was terrified that God did see into his heart and knew that he was a fraud, a deviant, a nothing, a worm. Martin was terrified of his inability to control all of his thoughts, words and deeds. He was terrified that his own shortcomings, lack of knowledge, inabilities separated him from God and that there would never be enough self-flagellation, penance, or prayers to put him in right relationship with God. I know that Martin was not and still is not alone in his terror.

So Luther searched. He searched for anything that might relieve him of this terror and how he could make himself right with God. We tend to think this day as the pivotal moment of church reformation and all about Luther nailing 95 things that ticked him off about the Roman Church. But that event was actually not at all pivotal in Luther’s life or what the reformation was about. The Reformation was not about institutional church. It was about so much more than anything human or earthly. Luther’s pivotal moment came while reading Romans 1:17, which in my Lutheran Study Bible is under the heading “The Power of the Gospel.” Paul writes “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”

Those words in Romans at first deepened Luther’s terror as he fixated on the “righteousness of God,” and knew he fell short. He even wrote that this passage made him angry at God, as it made God a bully in his mind, just hanging out waiting to condemn us the second we mess up. But then he was struck by the phrase: “the one who is righteous will live by faith.” Luther had what he called a conversion moment (so yes, as a Lutheran we can have conversion stories!) and he realized that faith had nothing to do with him at all-it was a gift from God. Righteousness, being in right relationship with God, had nothing to do with him at all-it was a gift from God. Salvation had nothing to do with him at all-it was a gift from God through God’s son Jesus Christ. None of this was about Luther-it was all about God. It was a story of love and freedom that God had begun at the beginning of time and was continuing to write in Luther and in us all.

This freed Luther from his fear. It allowed the power of the good news of the love of God to transform him, to reform him and allow him to live his life fully in the promises of God. This is the heart of Luther’s reformation. He had this amazing story of good news that fear has no real power in our lives because God freely gives with love the promises of righteousness, grace, mercy and eternal life no matter what we do or say, and he couldn’t keep it to himself. He was freed in his life to do what mattered without fear of the possible worldly consequences of bucking the system, because he had this truth of the promises of God that are more powerful than any earthly promise or truth.

Today we, too, are recipients of this rich story of freedom, promises and transformation. Reformation Sunday is not about how the institutional church changed 500 years ago or about how the institutional church should change now. But it IS about how God is everyday reforming us-the people of God who are the living church in the world-making us new, and calling us to be free to do what matters in the world, without fear. This is the tapestry of God’s story of freedom, mercy, love and desire for relationship with us that weaves through time to all of those who have heard the story and are rooted in the story. The story of God’s grace wove its way through Luther’s life and is weaving its way into our lives and the lives of everyone today and the days to come. This story has power to transform our lives to free us do what matters.

Arianna is affirming her belief in these promises today and she is proclaiming that she is free to live in God’s story as a beloved child of God.  She is affirming that this power of God’s love and grace transforms her life everyday and for the rest of her life. The verse she chose for today is Joshua 1:9, “I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed; for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Wherever her life takes her, God’s story of love and grace are a part of her story forever.

This is what reformation means. Do not fear, do what matters, God is with you always creating you new. How will you live your life free from fear and transformed by the power of God’s promises? How does your story and God’s story weave together in a way that, like Luther, you can’t keep this transformation to yourself but need to let everyone know that God created us in God’s image, God loves us no matter what we do or say, that God meets us in our fear and says I will never leave you and God will transform us each and every day? There is power in this story: power to transform our fears into hope, power to transform me, you and all of creation for the sake of God’s love being revealed to all. Amen