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Patience and History (sermon)

July 17, 2011

Matthew 13:24-43

Typical of a parable, this is a story about everyday life… but is really about God’s work… It begins, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like…’. And in the end there’s a surprising twist in which we learn something about what it means to live in God’s reign (kingdom).

 

In this particular parable Jesus gives us his own interpretation… pointing us in a certain direction. So today I want to pick up a couple of the clues that Jesus gives us about what he is saying then I want to read it again with those in mind

 

First Clue: “The field is the world” (not the church)… in particular the human world… we are talking about human history, human society… with all its horrors and triumphs. The field is the world.

Second clue: The kingdom is the sower sowing seed… if you want to see what God’s rule is like, what God is doing in history, look to the actions of the sower (who is also the master and owner of the field)

[read story again]

 

What struck you as you listened again to that story?

We are presented with a problem… the world has evil in it… people do bad things. History seems to take wrong turns. There are dictators who rip off the poor and worse. Sometimes it seems black and white. Usually it isn’t. Most of time history is a mess. There are weeds in the garden of the world and the weeds are tangled up with the good wheat. Their roots are intertwined

 

What is Jesus saying? How do we as the people of God deal with evil in history?

Do we stand by and do nothing? Do we respond in kind, seeking to root them out with force and go to war? Or is there another way?

 

Let’s start in our immediate world. If someone does something wrong… or at least something that appears wrong to us. How do followers of Jesus deal with it?

Think about the last time you were offended. Think about the last time someone was rude to you… or the last time some politician did something that really made you mad.

 

What I find very easy to do… is to start to fill in the back story behind it. To think I know why they did what they did…whether it is my neighbour, my relation or the member of parliament. What is very easy to do is to talk about the evil-doer rather than to the evil doer. And very quickly we join together with others who talk about the evil-doer rather than to him or her. Very quickly we distance ourselves from the evil-doer and assume the worst. It makes us feel better. Very quickly we make a plan to root out the evil-doer

 

It’s very easy to think we know exactly what’s at stake, who is evil and who is not? It’s very easy to jump to conclusions. It’s very easy not to check out those conclusions.

 

It’s very easy to demonise those who do wrong … and when we do that we start to assume that the only way to fight evil is with evil, violence with violence. We imagine that violence and threat of violence is the only language the evil-doer will understand. It’s easy to do that… it means we don’t have to think about a creative response…, the kind of response that Jesus would make. We just respond in kind.

 

Some people say, we should ban the burqa because Muslims ban short skirts in their countries, we should ban the burqa in ours. It’s a way of responding in kind (tit-for-tat). Let’s root them out. If we can’t have our culture in their world, they can’t have it in ours. Does that seem fair?

But what’s a Christian response? But what’s a follower of Jesus to do?

 

Well, followers of Jesus bring particular assumptions to all of this. Followers of Jesus believe that the peacemaking God has entered history…that in Jesus, God has come to history, in order to reconcile the world to God and thus to make peace and win victory over the forces of evil.

 

Followers of Jesus also know that the world is still screwed up. That evil still dominates human history, that we are still destroying our planet and that empires still live off the backs of the poor.

 

Followers of Jesus know both of these things. So the perspective they bring is one of living between the times. We live between the new world that Jesus brings (that we know is God’s future) and the one that still persists…

What matters is that we know that the weeds will not last forever… we don’t need to panic about the weeds.

 

So where is the turning point in Jesus story? The Master, the representative of the Kingdom says to his workers, don’t pull out the weeds…. Why? Because the roots of the weeds and the roots of the wheat are all bound up together. That response is much to brutal. If we go in all guns blazing against the enemies of the kingdom, we will do more damage to the coming kingdom than good.

 

Jesus says ‘hang on’. Patience. One of the keys to living between the times, as a follower of Jesus… one of the keys to our life of hope… is patience.

Because we are confident that the God who raised the broken Jesus from death, will complete the peacemaking task we can be patient. Because we know that God will bring the kingdom harvest in, in the end, we don’t need to panic.

I don’t think that means we do nothing… there is a lot to do in following Jesus that isn’t simply pulling out the weeds.

 

So what does it mean for us to be patient?

What does it mean for us, who feel powerless before the might of the multinationals and fossil fuel companies who look to be hell-bent on destroying our planet, mining in southland and off the coast in Otago – luring us with promises of the riches of the fossil fuel industry?

 

Jesus says the beginning of a practical response is patience. We can endure, we can live differently, we can nurture the wheat, the alternative life of Christ, even if the weeds seem to be overwhelming. And we can do so in creative and influential ways. But the message of today’s story is patience. Judgement is God’s… Sometimes good things take time even when time seems to be running out.

 

The ends do not justify the means… I’m not saying we should always stick within the law. I’m saying we should stick within the faith. We need to find means that are consistent with the future, with the way of Jesus Christ. It really tests our patience as it does our creativity

Let me tell you a true story about responding creatively to evil

Late one night, Angie O’Gorman was rudely awakened by the sound of someone kicking in her bedroom door.  She was alone at the time.  Before she knew it, the attacker was in the room and shouting at her.  She could see his outline as he moved toward her.  It just so happened that Angie slept with a handgun under her pillow, just in case something like this ever happened…

Her gun was under the pillow, but she didn’t think she had enough time to retrieve, aim, and fire it before the attacker reached her.  So she shouted out the first thing that came to her mind.

She asked, “What time is it?”

“Uhh,” the attacker stopped in his tracks and checked his watch, “it’s about 2:30.”

“Oh,” she said, “mine says 2:45.  I hope your watch isn’t broken.  When did you set it last?”

They went back and forth like that for several minutes.  Eventually, when some of the tension had eased, she asked how he had got into the house.

“I broke the glass on the back door,” he said.

“That’s a shame, because I don’t have money for new glass.”

He talked about his own money problems.  They talked for a while after that until Angie felt comfortable enough to ask him to leave.  He calmly said he didn’t want to.  Angie said firmly, “Okay, I’ll get you some sheets, but you have to make your own bed on the couch downstairs.”  He said that was fine.  After that, he went and lay down for the night.  In the morning, Angie made them breakfast and the would-be attacker went on his way.

Patience is not doing nothing… [please hear me on this]. We tend to think that anything that is not immediate or violent in response to evil, is effectively doing nothing. It’s not. Patience is witness. Patience is speaking the truth to power… and doing so with our lives.

Because judgement is God’s. What does that mean? Is that the big stick? Is that hell-fire and brimstone after all? It’s not a pleasant image… but notice Jesus interpretation… “the causes of evil and the evildoers” will be thrown into the furnace. The furnace is a place where metal is purified and pots are fired. As unpleasant as it may be… fire, in the bible, is an image of purification. God will ensure that evil will not be victorious.

In the meantime we learn patience in the field of the world.

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