Sunday, July 20, 2008

Pentecost 10 - Year A

My wife is the gardener in our house. I actually hate gardening. I don’t enjoy getting my knees and elbows dirty digging around in the luxuriant soil of our backyard. My thumb has more black ink from a good book on it than green chlorophyll from picking beans.

The worst part is pulling weeds. My right hand blistered from yanking out dandelions and my back stiffened from too many hours with a shovel, digging out the unrestrained thistles that threatened to conquer our side yard.

But my wife LIVES for growing plants. We have a whole shelf devoted to gardening books. Books on proper prairie planting, when to plant, how to plant, what to plant. Which plants need lots of water and which need lots of sun. What plants should grow next to which others and which one can’t be in the same city block. Books on how to compost, what mulch is used for, how to maximize efficiency in garden use.

It’s a lot of work just thinking about it. But every October when our freezer is packed with vegetables and fruit from the backyard, I’m glad Rebekah has thought it through so thoroughly. And put me to work despite my griping about weeding.

I’m thinking that, for you gardeners, today’s gospel must make you want to tear up your Tilley Endurables in protest. After all, weeding is as vital to a fruitful harvest as 35 grams of fibre is to a healthy diet.

But the farmer in Jesus’ story tells his workers to leave the weeds alone in case wheat gets pulled out in an over-zealous plantain purge.

And I guessing that people shifted in their seats the first time they heard Jesus tell this story. He may be a fine preacher; he could hold a crowd with the best of them. But maybe it’s best if we keep him out of the garden.

But then again, they probably knew that Jesus was trying to get a reaction from them. But they probably still had a nagging question about this crazy story:

What is this parable REALLY about?

Maybe it’s a story about justice. God’s justice. Jesus tells his listeners to “collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into the barn”

So, weeds and wheat, good and evil, will – at the end – be sorted, the wheat resting safely in the barn and the weeds burning into nothingness. Evil will be destroyed and the fullness of God’s kingdom – God’s reality – will flourish on the earth. And we have to decide whether we’re wheat for God’s barns or weeds fit for the fire. Maybe that’s what Jesus is talking about.

Paul mentioned something about that in today’s second reading, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time,” Paul says, panting with expectation, “are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God…”

God’s justice coming to the word. Evil being destroyed. Suffering morphing into glorious joy. That MUST be what this passage is about.

But if that’s true, then what does that mean for those of us who are still waiting for God? Paul saw that day coming right around the corner. He thought he’d live to see it. He thought he’d see God’s kingdom descend to earth while he was still breathing.

Moreover Jesus himself implied that God’s day of justice was at hand. In fact, he said it’s flowering all around us. God’s kingdom of justice, peace, healing, and renewal were everywhere. It’s within us. It’s among us. All we needed were eyes to see and ears to hear.

But a lot of people went to their graves waiting for that day. A lot of people are STILL waiting, wondering if this God thing is all it’s cracked up to be. They wonder if Jesus really meant what he said.

This is when our Jewish friends might clear their throats, wondering,

“If Jesus is the redeemer, why doesn’t the world look more redeemed? If Jesus is the Messiah, then why isn’t the world bursting with God’s vision of life? Why do children still die preventable deaths? Why do wars still devastate innocent lives? Why do families still break down, diseases still take lives far too early, why does grief still drill holes in our souls?

“Where is the day of justice? When is the morning of renewal? When will the earth be healed? When will evil finally be destroyed under the fist of God’s terrible justice? When will the wheat and the weeds finally reach their destinations?”

That’s what our Jewish friends might ask, and have asked.

And those are good questions. I wouldn’t know how to answer them, except by saying that, maybe this passage is also about patience. Patience for what God is going to do. Patience IS a cardinal Christian virtue. When we’re patient, we think in God’s time not ours’.

After all, we puny humans think in tiny timelines and limited lifetimes. In our ADD world, we demand instant oatmeal answers to hard infinite questions. We insist on a rapid response to eternal inquiries.

In the end, God has a vision of eternity that we don’t have. God’s plan for justice and renewal has a shelf life of, well, forever. And we will see it with our own eyes as soon as God chooses to take off our blinders. Even if those blinders are death. We need only to be patient.

However, others might say, “That’s all well and good. But God makes promises for us TODAY. Why should we ALWAYS look to the future for what God says God has planned for us? Jesus asks us to pray some pretty bold prayers. ‘Let your will be done ON EARTH as it is in heaven.’ Jesus is asking us to pray for God’s vision of life to rain down on us as we watch.

“So, it sounds as if we’re getting some mixed messages here. Either pray for the fullness of God’s kingdom of life and peace to come here and today. OR we wait for the end of the age when God will collect the wheat and burn the weeds.”

Asking for patience, waiting for God to act according to God’s eternal itinerary, sounds, to some ears, like we’re protecting God’s disappearing act, making excuses for divine distractions. And we scurry around, working our finger to a nub, doing what we believe God wants us to do.

But if that’s true, then I wonder if we end up taking the burden of world renewal on to OUR shoulders. Maybe we end up thinking that if God’s timing is too slow, we’ll speed things up, we’ll pick up the slack, we’ll do the heavy lifting. It’s our hands that will blister and backs stiffen trying to yank all those nasty weeds.

However, such hard work often leaves us tired, sore, and bitter, realizing that we can’t pick the weeds fast enough. They keep multiplying while we sleep. So, we’re dismayed, that, despite our aching muscles and sweaty foreheads, evil still prevails; death still grips our throats; life still ends no matter what we do or what we don’t do.

So, then –maybe - this passage isn’t about justice or patience. Maybe this story is about grace, the fancy church word meaning God’s unconditional love. But “grace” means more than that.

Grace is something God gives us – freely – not because we’ve been good people, or have been upstanding moral citizens, or have gone to church or prayed or read the bible.

Grace is something God gives us because that’s who God is. God is the God of life, the God of love, the God who is making all things new, the God who is ALWAYS creating and re-creating– pruning and watering. God loves the world above anything else.

And God knows that good and evil thrive alongside of each other. That’s really what this story is about. When Jesus talks about destroying evil, I don’t think Jesus is talking about the evildoers outside of God’s people. I think Jesus is talking about the evil that resides inside each and every human heart. The evil that rests snuggly alongside the love, compassion, and faithfulness that also finds a home within all of us.

Even the noblest deed isn’t completely noble. We are a stew of mixed motivations, a gumbo of virtue and viciousness. Jesus knew that if God destroyed the evil within us, some of the joy and love would be tossed into the fire as well.

But there are signs. Glimpses of God’s promised future - today. Road signs along God’s path. When compassion and love subdue hatred and violence. When justice and peace tame tyranny and anger. When God is honoured beyond what God can do for us, God’s future reaches back and blesses us. And we wait with hope for the day, when we – weedy wheat – will rest in God’s barn.

May this be so among us. Amen.


Blogger Sean Bell said...

And you thought that you were uninspired... I liked it!

10:32 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home