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Play Nicely, Kids. We’re All in the Same Sandbox (July 23, 2017)

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

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.’ “

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 listen!

Easy to blame the weeds. . .

“I just don’t understand how those weeds can act like that. Why don’t they just get a job or quit using drugs or go to college or learn English. Why don’t they just behave more like us wheat.

“Immigration wouldn’t be a problem if the weeds obeyed our current laws.

“Society would be fine if those weeds would allow us to put the 10 commandments on courthouse lawns.

“Congress could get stuff done if the weeds would vote the way wheat votes.

“Church would be growing like a wee— . . . uhm, wait. The church would be growing like wheat if those weeds would give more money, make a stronger commitment, pray more, show up more often, or otherwise do things that us wheat are doing.”

Wheat can get away with anything as long as we’ve got the weeds among us to blame. It’s easy to judge. It’s easy to separate. It’s easy to call us “us” so we can call them “them.” As long as we have those weeds to blame, we’re off the hook.

Is your life the way you want it to be? Are you blaming someone?

Is our government the way you want it to be? It’s obviously those weeds on the other side of the aisle.

Is your congregation the way you want it to be? Do you know who it is that is keeping it from being that way?

As long as we’re trying to identify the weeds, we’re damaging the whole crop. As long as we’re able to pin blame on someone else, we’re hurting everyone.

I’m guessing that you know I’m going somewhere with this. And you’re right. Jesus understands our tendency to blame “them” (whoever “they” are) isn’t helpful. He says the problem in this text isn’t those weeds. The problem is that we think we can differentiate between wheat and weeds, saving one and eliminating the other. Lifting up one and pushing down the other. Helping one and hurting the other.  The problem is the desire of the workers to uproot the weeds—but that destroys the wheat too.

This whole teaching section in Matthew can be summed up, I believe, by Jesus saying, “Play nicely, kids, because like it or not, we’re all in the sandbox together.”

The way Jesus prioritizes our lives quite simply, “love God, love your neighbor.” There. That’s it. We aren’t to differentiate between us and them, we aren’t to judge others, we aren’t to blame anyone, we aren’t to justify ourselves. We just love, and show mercy, and forgive, and be generous, and show compassion. All without blame, ridicule, or judgement.

I have a friend who is a real jerk. If anyone acts like a weed, it’s him. He’s a bullying, misogynistic, always-right kind of person. Horrible team player. Goes his own way and makes sure you know that his way is the absolute best way there ever was. He can really put people off and he has a lot of enemies. When we hung around he had a way of making things difficult.

As I got to know him, I eventually found out that he had a rough childhood. He was raised by a single mother who had an untreated and rather significant mental illness. My friend, as the oldest of five kids, because he didn’t know any other way, took the responsibility of being the buffer between his mother in one of her episodes and his younger siblings. He took care of things. He managed the family. It was only because of his compassion and perseverance that he and his siblings could grow up and function in society as adults.

He’s not a weed to be pulled. He’s a person in God’s image who has gifts and intelligence. He has a compassion and resilience that have in his line of work had a huge positive impact on lots of people. He’s a jerk, and it would be easy to stand in judgment—and many do. But underneath his weed-like tendencies is someone who ought to be offered compassion and grace as much as anyone else.

One of Jesus’ main points throughout his ministry is that there is no longer an ”us” and a “them.” There is only “us.” All of us. People created by God and in God’s image. That’s it. Everyone has a story. Everyone needs compassion. No one deserves to be judged by us.

Martin Luther wrote something about this, too. In his explanation to the 8th commandment, You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor, in the Small Catechism, he wrote, “We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.”

This is the day we put an end to separating the weeds and the wheat. This is the day we stop judging others because there’s always more to their story than we know. This is the day we recognize that all of us—because each of us is both weeds and wheat—all of us grow together for as long as we’re here. This is the day love will win, compassion will win, kindness will win. For the sake of the weeds and the wheat. For the sake of everyone.

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2017 in Sermon

 

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It’s “Their” Fault (19th Pentecost — Luke 16:19-31)

Each person here has gifts and unique qualities that make them valuable. Each one of us has been created by God in love, and therefore have special characteristics that reveal the image of God.

Biblically, that is all revealed through one’s name. Our character, our values, the essence of who we are, are all depicted in a person’ name.

If you know someone’s name, you know something significant about them. If you know their name, they can no longer be devalued as just one more part of some generalized group that can then easily be dismissed or disregarded. You can ignore, hate, or blame a general group of people who have no names: welfare recipients, illegal immigrants, Muslims, liberals, conservatives, homosexuals, blacks, the poor, the rich, the elderly, the youth, the clergy, the laity, labor, management. “Well, you know that ‘they’ are like”—whoever “they” are.

But when you know someone’s name, when you know who they are, it’s amazing how they no longer fit into a simple category: “Maria is different—she’s not like the rest of them.” When you know someone’s name, they become a real-life human being with real life joys and sorrows, celebrations and pain, gifts and failings. They become valued people that god loves enough to die for.

This is the only parable where a character is given a name; and it’s the poor man who is named. Lazarus. “God helps.” When you hear this parable you suddenly come face to face with the poor, the unworthy, those unfortunates God refused to bless. This man has a name, Lazarus, and the chasm between us and them suddenly disappears.

The rich man being rich isn’t the problem. Lazarus being poor isn’t the problem. It’s the chasm between them that separates them is the problem. The major difference between the rich man and Lazarus is that the rich man can take care of himself and provide for himself. He needs no one. Lazarus is unable to do so. He needs help. He has no means of feeding himself; he doesn’t even have the strength to shoo away the dogs that come licking his sores. The rich man can. Lazarus can’t. That’s the huge chasm between them.

It’s funny, but while they live on this earth, that chasm is merely the gate at the edge of the rich man’s property. Lazarus longs to bridge that chasm at the gate but he cannot. The rich man is able to bridge the chasm but is too absorbed in his daily feasting to even notice.

It seems to me that both Lazarus and the rich man need that chasm bridged. One way or another, now or later, neither one can truly be happy, neither can be truly whole unless the separation between them is removed. In the parable, Lazarus suffers now and the rich man suffers later. But both are suffering as a result of the great divide between them. When there is a chasm, a separation, somebody on one side or the other is suffering. Sooner or later, those on both sides of the chasm suffer. The chasm between us, the separations that keep us apart, have to be bridged for the sake of all of us.

Sometimes, the divide can only be bridged from one side.

~~The rich man, who had all he needed and could take care of himself, is the only one who can cross over his gat to Lazarus. But he didn’t.

~~God, who has all righteousness and holiness, is the only one who can cross over to us. And in Jesus he does.

~~And we, who’ve been given all things, who’ve received forgiveness, who generally have more than we need, are the ones who can cross over to those separated from us.

The poor, the undocumented, the gay, the homeless, the non-Christians,  the picked-on, all who feel separated from mainstream society suffer. And those who fit in and have what they need can never be whole unless they bridge the chasm that separates them from those others. Unless the suffering stops. Those we are separated from are precious, valuable. They have names. For their sake, for our sake, bridge the chasm that separates us. Reach across the gate. Find one person you are separated from—by economics, by race, by national status, by sexual identity, by religion, by politics, by disagreement. Reach out, reach across, know their name. Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came.

It is what God does for us. It is who we are in Christ. It is what will end our suffering. It is what will make us whole.

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2013 in Sermon

 

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