May 15, 2018- Flowers, Vegetables, and Weeds in the Field – Matthew 13:24-30

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He (Jesus) put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.  So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also.  And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’” Matthew 13:24-30 (ESV)

God created the world good, as we learn in Genesis 1.  We also learn as we go further in Genesis that the perfection that God created was marred and broken by human sin.  Since the Fall, humans have been sowing weed seeds for millennia, so much so that the creation- including humanity- that God created to be good has become thoroughly infiltrated with evil and corrupted.

It gets frustrating for us when we have to work within our broken world and deal with broken and sinful people. It’s hard to persevere in following Jesus and living in a way that honors Him when it seems as if our efforts are constantly being choked off and undermined by all of the evil that surrounds us- and the evil that is within us.

It doesn’t help that we are sinners and saints at the same time, living in the paradox of now and not yet. Sometimes we plant the weed seeds ourselves- when we worry, when we get preoccupied with the things of this world, and when we don’t make time for prayer or for studying the Bible.  We plant the weed seeds when we fail to love God and others- and when we are selfish or vindictive or cruel with our words and deeds.

Those of us at least mildly familiar with gardening know that when one is pulling up weeds that it is easy to inadvertently pull up a vegetable plant or a flower. As Jesus says in the parable, it is better to wait until the harvest and sort out the good stuff then, so that a good vegetable or flower doesn’t get missed.

Often when we study this passage some will take away that the moral that we are supposed to, by our own effort, strive to be “good wheat”- to “straighten up and fly right.” The conundrum we face is that we are only able to be “good wheat” because Jesus has given us the Holy Spirit. In our baptism we are named, claimed and our sins are washed away. Daily we are compelled to confess our sins to God, to trust His forgiveness, and put on our baptism- knowing that God is faithful and He will do what He promises. God does this FOR us because we cannot get rid of our old nature- or of the weeds- ourselves.  As we live our lives believing and following Jesus and trusting that in HIM we are justified, He makes us the “good wheat.”  Our good works don’t earn us a place in God’s kingdom.   Our good works are the result, a harvest if you will, of the Holy Spirit working in and through us.

Sometimes we might be tempted to write off a particularly obnoxious person and consider them to be one of the weeds. But Jesus may have plans for that person that we don’t know about.  We can very well mistake a flower or a vegetable plant for a weed. We can look to the apostle Paul- one of the most influential Christian writers and evangelists of all time- who was once the Pharisee Saul. He was once a man who persecuted Christians and had them killed.  Jesus had other plans for him.  (See Acts 9)

Ultimately we are called to trust Jesus, the Lord of the Harvest. He is patient with us. He is patient with His creatures. He does not want to pull up good vegetables or flowers. He gives us what we need to live in this world of weeds. He prunes back the weeds that we have let grow in our own hearts and minds. We can trust that Jesus will work in and through us for His good purposes, and that His will ultimately is done, whether we understand His work in action or not.

September 15, 2017- Praise God of All Compassion- Psalm 103:1-13

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Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits-who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed.  He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever.

He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.

For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us.

As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him. Psalm 103:1-13 (NRSV)

The Psalms (today’s reading from Psalm 103 is one of many Psalms attributed to King David) are a ready source of instruction on the nature of God, which is a great comfort for us at times when we are struggling with faith and with life in general. In those times when we cannot find the words with which to pray, one can turn to the Psalms and we will find that the various Psalmists have written the very words we need to pray and meditate upon. God has given us great gifts of prayers and praise through the pens of the Psalmists!

We learn in the very beginning of Scripture (Genesis 1) that God created the earth and all of creation to be good. God’s will is that creation is good.  In the Lord’s Prayer we pray, “Thy will be done, Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.”  When we thank God for the goodness of creation we create an atmosphere in which we want to work toward the goodness and restoration that He created us for.

In today’s Psalm we have several points of meaningful prayer right in front of us.

First we are reminded to bless the Lord- to remember who we are talking to when we pray.  God is holy. He commands our reverent awe (which is the meaning of “fear of the Lord.”)

Then we are reminded of all the kindness we have received from God, and to thank Him for it.

We are also reminded that God doesn’t give us what we deserve, but He always gives us what we need to make us good and whole. He separates us from our sins as far away as we can possibly be separated from them. He gives us strength and healing.

God has compassion. He has compassion for us when we are distraught, when we are at the end of ourselves, and when we can’t find the words to pray.

God also has given us a purpose and a place in His story. We all have different roles and we have been put in different places to fulfill them, but compassion is a universal expression of love that we can all display.

How can we reflect the compassion of our compassionate and forgiving God today?