Saturday, July 16, 2011

Behold I Am With You To The End of the Age

17 July 2011/Proper 11A – Gen 28:10-19a/Psalm 139/Rom 8:12-25/Matt 13:24-30,36-43
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland
Know That I Am With You
Jesus tells this odd little parable of the Weeds Among the Wheat. Odd in that he addresses a largely peasant, agricultural crowd and ignores “best practices” raising grain that is broadcast as opposed to being planted in rows: try to sort out the weeds and you trample the wheat. Odder still in that in the previous parable of The Sower he demonstrates a consummate knowledge of best practices, so we might assume he has a reason for telling the tale in just this way.

This will get people’s attention, since they will be wondering, “Just where is he going with all this?” Keeping in mind that in The Sower (Matt 13:1-23) in an aside to his disciples he makes the comment repeated in verse 43 today: Whoever has ears ought to hear! Ought to hear!

It is crucial to know that at least three times a day Jesus and his fellow Jews recite the Shema Y’Israel, which begins, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one...,” and continues in part, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might…” To which we already know Jesus adds, “And the second is like unto it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Hearing is central to being God’s people. Hearing is central to Biblical faith. Hearing leads to faithful living.

At issue in the parable of Weeds Among the Wheat is the serious problem Jesus addresses in all of Matthew chapter 13: what to do about growing opposition to his proclamation of God’s kingdom which focuses principally on teaching, healing and sitting at dinner tables with all sorts of people – especially those deemed “unclean” by the reigning religious establishment.

So it is easy to hear, to get, that the wheat are those people who buy-in to Jesus’ vision of God’s reign, and the weeds are those who do not. The master’s slaves take a shot at him saying, “We thought you planted good seed. Why all these weeds?” Strangely the master suggests an “enemy” has infiltrated the field and sown bad seeds – later identified as “the devil.” This is somewhat strange in that all the way back in chapter 5 (v 44-45) Jesus himself instructs us to love our enemies, which by and large we do not do. Nor do we turn the other cheek, forgive seventy times seven times, bless those who curse us, share what we have with the poor and put our whole trust and hope in God. That is, we do not tend to take Jesus seriously. To paraphrase him, we ought to hear, but we choose not to. This is a problem.

So are the weeds. The slaves offer to weed the field. The master says no, I will take care of that at the harvest – at the end of the age. Remember, at the end of the gospel I promise I will be with you always to the end of the age. I will take care of it then. The bad stuff will burn in unquenchable fire! For now, it is all about Amazing Grace. Can you hear me now?

We sense a good degree of tension between God's Grace and God's Wrath and Judgment. Someone once said, “The wrath of God is God’s relentless compassion, pursuing us even when we are at our worst.” (Maggie Ross, The Fire of Your Life, p.137)

So the weeds are to be allowed to flourish amongst the wheat. Plucking up, casting out, separating out evil is not our task. Excommunication is not our task. Being gatekeepers for the kingdom is not our task. Being exponents of God's Amazing Grace is our task. As he says way back in chapter 5, “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun shine on the bad and the good, and his rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” Leave them there. Get used to it. Get used to them. Like the poor, they will always be with you. The crowd, we might assume, is astonished at such offensive, radical tolerance!

They shouldn’t be. You would think they had forgotten about Jacob. Remember, the one who stole his brother Esau’s birthright not once but twice! Jacob, after all, means “the deceiver.” He is on the lam, running for his life. Esau is not happy, his mother Rebbeca has urged Jacob to get away. He is a bad brother. On the run he falls asleep and has a vision – a ladder or a stairway linking heaven to earth – yes, The Stairway to Heaven! Angels are ascending and descending. More importantly, however, the Lord himself comes and stands beside him, Jacob, the deceiver, the bad son, a fleeing scoundrel and makes a series of amazing promises: you will have lots and lots of offspring, they will cover the whole earth, all the families of the earth shall be blessed by you and your offspring, I will return you to your home, I will keep you and be with you always! To which Jesus simply adds, “to the end of the age.” He receives God’s special blessing. It is completely God’s initiative. Jacob has done nothing to deserve all this. It is all God’s grace!

Let’s see: Old Testament, God’s Amazing Grace, New Testament Jesus offers to burn all the bad guys. Whatever happened to the notion that the Old Testament is nothing but God's judgment, and the New Testament is nothing but God’s Love? Got to love the tension and paradox!

So what does this all mean? We are not on our own in an otherwise evil world. God himself promises to be with us on our earthly journey home. Even when the way leads through the valley of the shadow of death, darkness is not darkness to God, the night is as bright as the day! I am with you always. Emmanuel – God with us. Do we hear this? Do we believe this?

Oh yeah, and we should love our enemies and pray for those who do not like us. That is, we are to take Jesus more seriously and learn not just to tolerate others, all others, but to befriend them like Jesus does. This is what knowing, accepting, believing he is always with us really means.

A woman came to the office door the other day. She had been laid off by Super Fresh. Shoppers is hiring from within. She has been out of work since May. She has a family. She needs food, gas money, rent money, you name it. I took her down to the Food Pantry. On the way upstairs she says, “I always used to believe in God and all, but since I was laid off I now know that God loves me – he really loves me and is with me wherever I go.”

"Know that I am with you." She knows this. Jacob knows this. As long as the weeds are among the wheat, there is a good chance the weeds will know it too! How about me? How about you? Amen.

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