SERMONS THAT WORK
NINTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR A - Proper 11
Sermon for that Day
Wisdom 12:13, 16-19; Psalm 86 or 86:11-17; Romans 8:18-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-4
by Katerina K. Whitley
Wheat and Weeds Growing Together
Although you are sovereign in strength you judge with mildness and with great forbearance you govern us; for you have power to act whenever you choose. Wisdom 12:18
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now. And not only the creation but we ourselves who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. Romans 8:22-23
It would be better not to listen to the news these days. The word terrorism has become a refrain that obsesses those who deliver and those who consume the news. And anything that obsesses becomes an idol. We need to tear it out and discard it. All this comes to mind as we read today's lessons and try to learn from them, find strength in them, and ultimately gain and live in the hope they give us.
The writer of Wisdom, Solomon, as tradition has it, is convinced about one truth: ". . . for neither is there any god besides you, whose care is for all people." This One God who cares for all people is also the God "whose sovereignty over all causes you to spare all."
The writer of Wisdom had a highly advanced understanding of the Creator as one whose righteousness would not allow him to destroy those he had created.
St. Paul, another writer whose huge brain could enter into an understanding of the nature of the Creator God, reaches this conclusion in his magnificent letter to the Romans: ". . . hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God."
And in the Gospel according to St. Matthew, Jesus is telling another one of his parables, the Weeds in the Wheat. The servants are wondering where the weeds came from, and they ask for permission from the sower, the master, to go and pull out the weeds. The master says, "No, for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest. . ."
There is great comfort and hope in all three of these passages. In the world we live in there is much confusion about right and wrong -- wheat and weeds -- great polarity between Christians and Muslims, Jews and Muslims, Hindus and Muslims. There is great division between fundamentalists of all faiths and those faithful who allow reason to guide them as well as a holy book that is inevitably misinterpreted by those who want to read in it only what suits them. It is not a good time for hope, for reason, for patience to allow both wheat and weeds to grow together. These are not times conducive to understanding St. Paul's enormous assurance that the creation will also be redeemed and become as the children of God. There are voices clamoring for the evil to be punished, destroyed immediately. Many times, the evil in ourselves and the constant tension St. Paul saw between our desire to obey the law and our desire to live by grace are not seen and not understood. So we all flounder.
Confused and frightened, we return to the Bible and search for those assurances that the evil will be punished, and so we justify war, and we justify violence. But these lessons today tell us something else altogether. The writer of Wisdom sees the Creator as full of righteousness; this righteousness, he declares, leads God to mercy, not vengeance.
St. Paul recognizes the futility of trying to live by the law through sheer will power while at the same time acknowledging that it is the law that convinces us of our sin. But then, through the power and light of the Holy Spirit-a force much more powerful than any law-St. Paul sees hope! We groan in labor pains, he says, like nature itself, until we are adopted as children of God, until we are redeemed together with nature. "For in hope we are saved!"
The daily news of terrorism takes hope away and tries to convince us that only human cleverness, spying on the enemies, having the smartest weapons, living in constant fear and suspicion of strangers can save us. The enemy indeed has sown the weeds of fear in our hearts. There is no question about that in our minds any longer, no matter who we think the enemy is. The cleverest ploy of the enemy has been to make us forget that we are not our own, that we belong to the God who created us and has compassion for us. Depending on human power will not save us. Trusting in God, in the hope of adoption as children of God, will save us indeed, both the Old and the New Testaments assure us.
Let us draw hope from the lessons today. It is not our job to pull out the weeds, to wreak vengeance. "The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers," this passage from Matthew tells us. There is certainly an eschatological ring to these words-of the end of time -- but they were written during a time of doubt, of war, of political upheaval, and of persecution -- in other words, during a time very much like our own.
And the words of all three writers are full of hope regardless of the reality of evil around them. The clarion truth that rings forth is that God, the Creator, cares for those God has created, and that even includes our beautiful earth and all of nature. The reality is that we will continue to live together with those who don't trust in God's goodness, that we, believers, are not meant to be the sole inhabitants of this earth -- we are to share it with believers and non-believers alike, with those who do good and those who do evil. God knows all this; let us put our trust in God. We will not be abandoned, we will not be left hopeless.
Let us pray with the psalmist of our lessons today: Knit my heart to you that I fear your Name. Notice that he doesn't say anything about fearing enemies or terrorism.
Let us believe and say with the same psalmist: But you, O Lord, are full of compassion, slow to anger, and full of kindness and truth.
Katerina K. Whitley, who lives in North Carolina, is an active Episcopal layperson with a ministry realized in many parts of the church. She is a writer, a lecturer, and an actress who makes full use of these gifts in her ministry.
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