Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sermon for Proper 11

St Mary's, Robinson--Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, Romans 8:1-25, Psalm 86

If you’ve paid attention to the news over the last month or so, you’ve joined me in being horrified at the slowly escalating violence in Israel and Palestine. Making the situation particularly troubling is the fact that young people—teenage boys—were at the symbolic center of the tragedy, initiating the current round of violence in which so many lives have been lost. First, three Israeli youth were kidnapped and killed by Palestinians. Then, in an ill-considered and illegal act of pure revenge, an innocent Palestinian teenager was abducted and burned alive by Israelis.

That a rational human being could plan and carry out such acts, thinking that it benefits a particular cause, stretches the capacity of our imaginations to comprehend. We are keenly aware of evil in the political order, and a voice deep in our hearts says, “This is wrong! It isn't supposed to be this way! If God is God, why doesn't he do         something about it?”
  
But it is not only political disasters that feed our uneasy feelings. This is tornado and hurricane season. We may have dodged a bullet with Hurricane Arthur at the beginning of this month, but just afterward, tornados touched down in rural central New York and killed two people. You don’t need to turn on one of the cable news channels for very long before you hear about some deadly natural disaster somewhere in the world. It wasn’t too long ago when several were killed by a tornado not all that far from here in Harrisburg. We are keenly aware of evil in the natural order, and a voice deep in our hearts says, "This is wrong! It isn't supposed to be this way! If God is God, why doesn't he do something about it?"

But we don't have to travel to the Middle East, or wait for the next earthquake or plane crash to come face to face with our uncomfortable awareness that something is amiss. Right here within the body of Christ, in our various church communities, we have all confronted that reality. We have all, at one time or another, looked for authenticity and experienced hypocrisy. We have all looked for depth and encountered shallowness. We have all looked for love and sincerity and found selfishness and manipulation instead. We are keenly aware of evil in the fellowship of the church, and a voice deep in our hearts says, "This is wrong! It isn't supposed to be this way! If God is God, why doesn't he do something about it?"

The garden of life is full of weeds—everywhere at every level. Why can't God just make them go away? We're like the author of Psalm 86, in whose words we prayed just a few minutes ago:

                        The arrogant rise up against me, O God, and a band of
                        violent men seeks my life ... Show me a sign of your
                        favor, so that those who hate you may see it and be
                        ashamed ...

And we're like the farmhands in today's gospel parable of the weeds among the wheat, who, as soon as they saw the unwelcome intruders sprouting along with the good grain, wanted their master to do something about it, to authorize them to rip the weeds out of the ground right away. We can readily empathize with St Paul when he writes about the “whole creation ... groaning in labor pains” while it “waits with eager longing” for the revelation of God's finished work of redemption. We are annoyed and impatient with living in this interim time between the promise and the fulfillment, between the engagement and the wedding, between the down payment and closing of the deal.

We're impatient precisely because we've had a glimpse of the finished product. Within the memory of the Christian community, handed on from generation to generation, is the knowledge of the crucified and risen Christ fixing breakfast for his friends on the beach. And within the present experience of that same community, the same risen Christ is sacramentally present, fixing breakfast for us at this table. Within the memory of the Christian community, handed on from generation to generation, is the knowledge of the first Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended with power on the assembled disciples and enabled them to proclaim the gospel with confidence and authority. And within the present experience of each of us who has been reborn in the sacrament of baptism, the same Holy Spirit is alive and empowering us to carry out the ministry to which we have been called. We have these glimpses of the Kingdom of Heaven, of “the    glory that will be revealed,” and on the basis of the little bit that we've seen, we want to see it all! We want God to do something, to rip off the veil and reveal the full glory of his kingdom right now!

It is to such holy impatience that the parable of the weeds among the wheat is specifically addressed. The weeds in this case are probably something called darnel, which is a plant that looks very much like wheat during all the stages of growth, until near the     end, when the actual head of grain appears. The field laborers are impatient and focused on the present. They want to attack the darnel as soon as they see it. But the farmer is patient, and takes a longer view. He knows that if he tries to get rid of the darnel right away, a lot of good grain will probably be lost in the process. There will be collateral damage. He’s confident in his ability to sort the wheat from the weeds at the proper time, and he’s content to have an “ugly” field now in order to maximize his yield in the end.

The farmer reminds us of God's patient disposition toward his work in our world. There are, indeed, weeds in the garden. God knows that. There are weeds in the natural order, weeds in the social and political order, and weeds even in the community of the church. But God also knows that to pull all the weeds right now would put the actual grain crop—which includes us, presumably—at risk. God is patient—a patience, I might add, which may sometimes frustrate us, but which, more often than not, works to our benefit. God's patient forbearance means that we have to live amid floods and earthquakes and wars and everything else that falls short of the glory of his kingdom. But it also means that those of us who sometimes look and act more like darnel than wheat have the space in which to repent and produce the fruit that we know the farmer will be looking for at harvest time. So let us give thanks that God takes a long view, and that he’s confident in his ability to sort the wheat from the weeds at the proper time.

Those who make wine and beer and cheese will tell us that patience—the ability to resist the temptation to rush the process—is what distinguishes a mediocre result from and excellent one. The quality of what we have glimpsed but which is not yet fully revealed, the glory of things as they shall be, is founded on God's patient forbearance with things as they are.

You and I can respond in one of two ways. We can remain steadfast in our impatience—“if it can’t be perfect now then I don't want it at all.” If we make this choice, we plunge ourselves into a lifetime—indeed, an eternity—of bitterness and disillusionment. Or, we can share God's own outlook. We can adopt his patient and forbearing attitude as our own. In doing so, we can rest in the knowledge that we are who we are, and God is who God is. We will, to be sure, continue to “groan” with the rest of the created order as we await the day of the Lord, the fulfillment of all that has been promised. But in the meantime, we live lives of hope and confidence and joy in the glory which we have glimpsed, the glory that will be revealed.
 Amen.

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