Sunday, July 19, 2009

Where's the Wheat?

Here's part of the sermon I preached today, all about God's Kingdom, which doesn't come about with Power & Purity, at least not the way we might thing.

Digging in the Dirt

So, as part of Jesus’ mission on earth, he’s proclaiming the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of Heaven – and one of the ways he does this is to share stories, to tell parables of what the Kingdom of God, or Kingdom of Heaven is like. Now it’s important to note that the concept of Kingdom is something very important to the Jewish people. The establishment of a Kingdom and the blessing of a king goes back to David – God promised that if he remained faithful, God would remain faithful and a member of his family would rule forever. This is where the promise of God’s chosen comes from, the promised Messiah, who will return the people to God, who will reunite the divided fragments of the kingdom of Israel and once again rule a free people, who worship God in Jerusalem.

At Jesus’ time, there are several different ideas of how this Kingdom would come about, and most of them focus on two things – Purity and Power. Some believed that God would simply bless those who were willing to rise up and violently overthrow the Roman oppressors. All they needed to do was seize power by force and God would bless them and the Kingdom would come. The Zealots, akin to present-day terrorists, were the people who exemplified this belief. Others believed that it was impossible to force God’s kingdom into existence by power, and instead believed that God’s kingdom would only be real when it was completely pure – and so they removed themselves from the world and formed small, tight knit communities who would observe the law without influence from their sinful surroundings. These Essene communities pocketed the dessert landscape at that time. And some others believed that if they could just remove enough of the sin, if they could remove enough of the sinful people, if they could just get everyone to keep Moses’ commandments and the laws, by force or by shame – then God would finally redeem Israel, send the Messiah, and remove the oppressive Roman rulers from their promised land. The Pharisees represented this strand of thought.

It is in the face of these and other concepts of the Kingdom of God and how it would come about, that Jesus shares this story, amid others. It doesn’t capture everything about the Kingdom – but it does deal very specifically with two things: Purity and Power.

The story begins with the man planting good seed – which Jesus, a few verses later, explains is the Son of Man, sowing good seeds in the world, who are literally, “sons of the kingdom.” But then his enemy, while everyone is sleeping, plants weeds. No one sees them, no one understands where they came from or how they ended up in the middle of the good seeds, but they’re there, mixed in.

Jesus continues the story with the servants or slaves of the man, as the wheat begins to grow and so too the weeds, recognize that there are weeds among the good seed. They recognize that the planned field of wheat, is not pure, it’s not perfectly good. And they raise the alarm, they tell the farmer, and they ask if he wants them to weed the garden. But, the farmer knows about the weeds. He knows that they’re there, he knows how they got there, and he is unconcerned. He’s not distraught, he knows that the field is not perfectly pure, and his instructions to his servants are wise beyond belief – “while you’re picking the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them – leave them… let them grow, don’t worry. I’ve got it taken care of.” What’s more, “it’s not your job”

Interestingly enough, the plan for the wheat and the weeds has nothing to do with the servants who recognize the problem. In Jesus’ description and decoding in verses 36-44, Jesus has no role for the servants. It is the harvesters, the angels he says, that will harvest the wheat and the weeds. It’s not the servants. Implicitly understood is this: the job of the servant is to help everything grow – because it’s possible that the servants cannot distinguish between the weeds and the wheat. Maybe, what looks like a weed is actually an immature seed of wheat? It’s not the job of the servant to determine the work of the harvester. It is simply not their job to judge. And that’s what Purity and Power are all about isn’t it? Judging?

And judging comes so easy to us, doesn’t it? It’s so easy for me to judge a poor driver (there are tons of them around). It’s easy for us to judge a poorly cooked steak. It’s also easy for us to judge each other. Oh he’s a jerk, she’s a snob. Oh yeah and that person, they’re just plain evil! I don’t want to have anything to do with them. But maybe the next time we’re judging, we can ask ourselves this question – is it possible, they’re not as bad as I think – maybe they’re just not fully matured. Maybe it would be better if I didn’t dig in their dirt.

In this parable about God’s Kingdom, Jesus makes it very clear – Purity and Power are not the concerns of the servants, they’re not our concerns at all. The world will not become God’s Kingdom by the force of our hands – forcefully weeding out the impure from the pure. Our community, the local church, will not become the Kingdom of God by our powerful exertion, by our judging and removing those that are not pure enough from our midst. What is more, we cannot even make the Kingdom come in our own lives by forcibly creating a pure life of our own. The weeds remain, amidst the wheat, the good remains amidst the bad. There’s simply no use digging in the dirt – no use digging in the dirt in the world, no use digging in the dirt of our community, no use digging in the dirt of our own lives. That’s not our job.

This parable doesn’t end in the dirt, doesn’t end with the work of the servants or even with the angels themselves who will complete that final harvest. It ends with the good news of the gathering of all that is good into the barn. It ends with the good work of God coming to completion, the reminder that God is unwilling to let evil win, unwilling to let the bad remain, God is unwilling to allow anything but the good to live on in constant communion with him. Thomas Long, in his Biblical commentary on the book of Matthew, regarding this passage, puts it this way:

“the promise of this parable is that God will finally not tolerate anything that deadens humanity or corrupts God’s world. Whatever is in the world, or in us, that poisons our humanity and breaks our relationship with God will, thank the Lord, be burned up in the fires of God’s everlasting love.”(Thomas Long)

Despite the fact that we’re good at it, despite the fact that we’ve got a long history of being excellent judges of others and ourselves. It’s time we reconceived what God’s kingdom looks like. It’s high time to get out of the power and purity game, stop digging in the dirt, and start reveling in the goodness of God’s grace – until he welcomes us into his great Barn!

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