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

flowers

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 14, 2017 – Snakes, Sin and the Son of Man, John 3:13-17, Numbers 21:7-9

The_Brazen_Serpent_(Bible_card)

No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.  And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. John 3:13-17 (NRSV)

 

The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live. Numbers 21:7-9 (NRSV)

Humanity has a fascination with snakes. In some traditions snakes are seen as sacred, in others they are reviled as evil. The serpent is even portrayed as a catalyst to the Fall in the Genesis narrative, though it was Eve’s decision to allow the serpent to succeed in tempting her, and Adam’s decision to follow suit.  The cause of the Fall always comes back to humanity, and our attraction to sin.

Interestingly enough, God sends a plague of snakes to the Israelites as they are wandering in the desert and disobeying Him. In all three of these narratives, (Genesis, Numbers and John) the snakes are symbolic of our sins. Like with the snakes, the consequences of our sins will come around to bite us and bring us death. It’s not so much God’s decision to punish us, but in disobeying Him and going around the boundaries He has set for us, we bring the consequences upon ourselves.

Mary serpent

In Catholic iconography, there is a popular rendering of Mary, Jesus’ mother, standing on a serpent. The imagery here suggests that at Jesus’ conception the serpent (our sin) was trampled and defeated.  The implication is that in God choosing her to be being Jesus’ earthly mother, through her, God gave us the means to reverse the long-ago (bad) decision of Eve in the garden.

It is interesting that John makes the comparison of Jesus crucified on the Cross with the bronze serpent Moses held up. When those who were bitten by snakes looked up to Moses’ bronze serpent God healed them.  If we look up to Jesus, hung from a tree and weighed down with all our sin, we find healing, life and salvation.

Hopefully we all have memorized that iconic verse, John 3:16- For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.

He loved the world enough to put the burden of the whole world’s sin and failure on His shoulders.

How do we respond to the love of God in Christ, poured out on us in His Blood that flowed from the Cross?

May 22, 2017 – Surrender? Genesis 22:1-2, Psalm 139:8-12

Abraham_and_Isaac

“Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he (Abraham) replied.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”- Genesis 22:1-2 (NRSV)

This is one of those passages in Scripture that should make people squirmy. It sounds like just the opposite of what God would ask of us.  God saying to Abraham, “Take your only son –the one you prayed for and hoped to have for so many years- and sacrifice him as a burnt offering,” just doesn’t make sense.

That is more than just a little strange coming from God. That sounds completely crazy.  What if God asked me to hand over my only son as a burnt offering?  I think it would be reasonable, at least today, to seek psychiatric help at that point.

Is this the same God Who would later hand down the commandment, “Thou shalt not murder?”

Where is God going with this?

The first thing God was trying to accomplish with His request was to test Abraham’s trust in Him. How far was Abraham willing to go to be obedient to God?  It’s easy to sing praise to God and say He’s great when times are good and we get what we want, but sooner or later the times of testing come.  Are we willing to do what God asks of us even when it seems too heartbreaking, too hard, too hopeless, too much to endure?  Are we willing to have the same kind of obedience that Abraham had, trusting that God will provide- even to the same point as Abraham when he was asked to give his greatest gift back to God?

The good news in this is even when it seems God is asking way too much of us, He provides what we need to do His will and be obedient to Him. God wasn’t going to let Abraham go through with the killing, but the fact that Abraham was prepared to do what God told him to do even to such an extreme as killing his own beloved son makes us wonder.  Could we do the same thing in Abraham’s place?  Do we have that kind of trust in God’s provision?

There is a saying that is popular with some in the Christian community- “If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it.” That sounds simplistic and even cruel if we think of people who have lost loved ones in tragic circumstances, or when we have to endure painful losses, illnesses or other dire suffering. This saying could be taken to imply that God enjoys our suffering or that He is imposing suffering upon us at his whim or caprice. However, even in its simplicity, and with what may seem to be callousness, this saying is true. God does go with us no matter where or in what circumstance, but it might not be the best consolation for someone who is in the fresh, raw pain of grief or loss. Theologians and scholars have debated the purpose of suffering and death and evil for countless centuries.  Nobody really has a straight answer.  It’s one of those “trust God” issues, at least in this fallen world, for now.

It’s easy to take a dualistic approach and say that God is nothing but good and that evil and/or Satan are the anti-God, but in truth, God is the author of ALL things. Evil could very well be defined as creation rebelling against God, and creation’s rebellion against God is woven into all creation.  The theological concept of original sin (or, the total depravity of man, to borrow a petal from John Calvin’s TULIP,) is explained in the allegorical narrative of the Fall in Genesis 3. It could be said that the root of all sin and evil is pride, when we think we know better than God, or worse, we have the hubris to put ourselves in His place.  Sometimes being obedient to God is counterintuitive and doesn’t make sense at all to us, and it may never make sense to us, because we aren’t God.  We can’t see everything. There is where trust- and surrender- to God enter in.

If we take God on His word and trust that He is omnipotent (all powerful,) omniscient (all knowing,) and omnipresent (in all places, at all times, all the time,) then we have to trust that He is in control even when He asks the impossible from us, and even when the impossible and unbearable happen to us.  We have to know that He has already entered into our circumstances even before we can acknowledge Him, and even if we refuse to acknowledge Him.

“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there.  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast.  If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to You.”- Psalm 139:8-12 (NRSV)

God provides even when we can’t possibly see how. What are we willing to surrender to Him?  Are we willing to trust in His provision?