Well, I suppose we do this every week here at church, but I want to be more explicit about it today: we read the Gospel texts through our lens of what’s happening in the news and in our own daily lives.
Mid-20th c. theologian Reinhold Niebuhr once suggested that the preacher preach with the bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other -- not that the two are held up equally, but that the headlines are considered and connected directly with the words of Jesus and the Gospel message of grace and peace. That it’s actually the other way around: we read the news through the lens of the Gospel (not the Gospel through the lens of the news.)
So let me lift up some top stories in our news this week:
- on Thursday -- a passenger plane shot down in the Ukraine.
- on Wednesday -- Shells fired by an Israeli gunboat killed four boys between ages 9 and 11. The Israeli military said the intended target was Hamas terrorist operatives, who had been firing at them. Hamas rocket barrages and Israeli airstrikes continue, and now Israeli ground troops have advanced in the Gaza strip.
- California officials on Tuesday approved statewide emergency water restrictions. Drought is most certainly...
- This week on the Daily Show, Hillary Clinton all but spelled out her run for president in 2016.
- And yesterday -- Protests continue in Murrieta and across the country regarding the bus loads of child immigrant detainees, and the much larger issue of immigration. Murrieta has been dubbed by some Hate Town, USA.
How, in the light of all this recent news, are we to hear this parable from Jesus about the weeds and the wheat?
The sower sows good seed, but during the night--while everyone slept--an enemy sows weeds among the wheat, so that they’re all mixed up together. When the field workers discover it, they run to their master, and ask -- and probably assume that it’s time to get to work on the weeding. At which point the story takes an interesting turn. “No,” says says the patient master, “Let them grow together, for in uprooting the weeds you’ll also uproot the wheat. We’ll sort it out at the harvest.”
And that’s our Gospel message for the day, in light of all this news, in light of whatever is happening in your own life -- whether you agree with it or not, the message of this gospel text, is that GOD WILL SORT IT OUT IN THE END.
It’s not our job to do the weeding. Our job is to KEEP ON BEING FAITHFUL, that is, keep on coming and opening your hands to receive God’s word of grace and peace, AND keep on letting Christ work on the weeds and the wheat in your own heart. [pause]
One Bible commentator I came across this week suggested, don’t make the mistake of oversimplifying this text and just making actual people into weeds and wheat, i.e. good people are wheat and bad people are weeds. She points out, if that were the case, then we’d all be in trouble...because who among us has never done a “weedy” thing or said a “weedy” word in anger or bitterness? Thank God, the master says, “No don’t pull up the weeds yet, let them grow together, and we’ll sort it out in the end.” (Weeds and wheat might better be understood as actions and words, not people.)
What’s interesting as we learn about agriculture in the Middle East and during the time of Jesus, is that -- unlike my front yard where I can tell pretty clearly what’s a weed and what’s not. The weeds and the wheat in a wheat field look amazingly similar.
(Even these English words are similar!) Isn’t that interesting, then, in the metaphor?
How often one’s words or actions might first be perceived as one thing, but they are actually the opposite. [pause] In some cases, how actions seem at first good, only to realize how they may have been actually quite devious. That’s the stuff of great television shows -- so as not to use examples and expose any of my own foibles, I’ll bring up a television show: House of Cards. (an illustration that’s at a safe distance :) Kevin Spacey, who plays rising star Senator Frank Underwood -- it’s a whole show about words and actions that seem very “wheaty” on the surface -- wholesome and good as an upstanding, public servant should be. But in reality, he’s about the most “weedy” character I can think of -- self-serving, back-stabbing, power-mongering. (Great show ; )
So back to our headlines, where are the weeds and where’s the wheat in the news? [pause] My guess is that your first reaction is to answer that question pretty quickly -- without having to pray or think very hard. I could tell you exactly who I think the weeds and the wheat are in our headlines! Making that judgement is easy! It’s easy to condemn one and condone the other, to punish or pass, to abhor or applaud.
But God is calling us down different road today, sisters and brothers in Christ. God is calling us to keep our judgemental-ism at bay, not to uproot the weeds, but to wait patiently and faithfully for God to make the call, at the harvest. [Dani-el]
And that might sound a big break for the bad guys, but that means it’s a big break for us too: a) We’re freed from prosecuting, and b) we’re given more time here too. God is giving us space to grow, before the final sorting. God is giving us all, this whole world, some more time to grow. And that’s good news!
Where in your own heart would you benefit from some more time to grow? [pause] Some more time to get it right? Some more time to let forgiveness work on you? These things don’t happen overnight. Thanks be to God for the extension, here!
And I wonder--with this space and extension of time--if what we thought looked like a weed actually grows into a strong stalk of wheat! [pause] How many stories are out there of kids who were real pains in the you-know-what growing up, but then they grow into these incredible counselors or teachers or coaches helping the next crop of troubled kids, who everyone else considers a bunch of weeds?!
God’s gonna sort this thing out, sisters and brothers in Christ! So together we wait for the harvest. (That’s what worship is: waiting.) Patience is a virtue...that I need help with. So together we slow down and wait. Little Mark’s about to be baptized: You know, Mark was named after his grandfather who died tragically about 10 years ago. One of San Diego’s finest Lutheran pastors, I’ve heard time and again! And here today comes this little seed, who will receive the holy water and continue to grow in life and faith. How will he grow? How will he want to sort things out, I wonder? Will he drive his family and maybe his community crazy, and will we drive him crazy? Isn’t there this incredibly strong urge to want to do the weeding ourselves?--“No, no, I’m not waiting around for God. I don’t think God can handle this sorting out; I’m taking matters into my own hands!” And yet we hear that still, small voice again this day. Little Mark is being baptized into that still, small voice that calls us to patience. God says, “Slow down, wait until the harvest. Peace be with you. Not yet. I will sort this out. Give it some more time. Don’t be afraid. You are mine. And I will gather you into my barn at the last.” AMEN.