Proper 11 Year A, July 19th, 2020 Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
When our son Hudson was heading off to college a few years ago
a good friend of ours came to congratulate him by saying,
“you’ve graduated, well done! Now you’ll discover, how little you know.”
It may seem like our friend was offering Hudson an insult, but he wasn’t.
He was merely remembering back to when he was 18 years old,
starting college life thinking he knew just about all there was to know,
and realizing only a year into college,
how much bigger and older and complex the world really is.
Hudson, not lacking in confidence himself,
smiled at this remark, because he knew our friend was kidding him
and at the same time, encouraging him.
It was as if our friend had said, Hudson, You are free now to go learn, explore, and discover all you can about life—have fun, relish this time—find your passion and enjoy the journey.
Today we celebrate you, seniors,
on the cusp of your graduation, belated as it is.
We want to send you off with our love and prayers
and with this same encouragement…enjoy the journey, go find your passions.
We want you to look back on these years and be able to say you used them well.
Of course, you’re off to a peculiar start—here we are, worshipping outside, faces masked, staying away from one another to keep our loved ones safe…. no one knows how the corona virus will continue to disrupt this new beginning for you.
2020 will always be remembered as the Year of Covid,
but for you, it is also the year you graduated high school—
a big accomplishment, even in the midst of a pandemic.
I’m sorry for all that you’ve missed, for the abrupt ending to your year,
for the unexpected separation from friends and family,
and for all the cancellations.
You might ask, and I wouldn’t blame you, just how are we to relish this time, to “find our passions” in the midst of this craziness?
It’s a fair question and I can’t tell you how,
but I can tell you this: no one finds their heart’s desire, their passion,
without some measure of sacrifice. The word passion itself tells us this. Passion describes the intense desire or enthusiasm for something wonderful. Passion speaks of the tender matters of enduring love.
Because Passion at its Latin root means to “suffer.”
“Perfect!” you say in your best sarcastic voice, “right?”
“Go find your passion” means “Go find your suffering?”
No, not quite; it means go find that which you’re willing to suffer for.
Right now you may think the world could care less about your passion,
But I hope you’ll not let that stop you.
I attended a webinar this week with the deputies
to the Episcopal Church’s General Convention (deputies is an odd term,
this just means all the clergy and lay persons elected to represent each diocese in our triennial meeting).
The TEC meets to decide upon its business every three years,
yet there is work done in the between years,
ongoing work in preparation for convention; I did that this past week—
met with other deputies on Zoom to prepare for
General convention next summer.
In our meeting we discussed the pandemic
and the church’s place in responding to it.
We talked a long while too about the ongoing need for racial reconciliation in this country.
I left the meeting with lots of notes,
but with one particular line repeating in my head;
asked about all that we’re going through right now, the guest panelist said,
You know, progress doesn’t always work in a single direction. (John Lewis)
Progress doesn’t always work in a single direction.
It’s a great reminder to us:
We often find our biggest moments of growth
in situations that seem to set us back.
In saying this, I’m not arguing away all the pain folks are enduring right now, I’m not calling this pandemic or the protests across this country
a little thing, or a small setback:
there have been too many deaths, too many men and women put out of work — losing income and health coverage; people are hungry in this country and tired of being treated unfairly…
But what I am saying is how we see this moment in time
and how we approach it, will decide our future.
If we let this further divide us, there will be more pain,
and perhaps more death; but if we band together and care for one another,
we may just find a new way of living in unity.
This kind of thinking—is kingdom thinking, a new way of living together– where suffering is turned into joy.
It is the kind of thinking Jesus asks us to consider.
What is the kingdom of heaven like? Jesus is asked over and over.
In Matthew’s gospel Jesus explains this, 7 different ways, in 7 different parables. (Fish)
It’s just your luck, senior class, that we read the toughest of these today.
The Kingdom of God has wheat and weeds growing side by side in a field. “How did the weeds get there,” the servants ask, “if God sowed only good seed?” An enemy has done this, the master replies. So, shall we pull out the weeds, the servants ask? No, for you might uproot the wheat. Let them grow together, wait for the harvest. In the end, the weeds will be taken care of.
Taken care of….It’s the last part of the story that’s daunting: It’s hard to ignore.
The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Even when Jesus adds:
Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father,
we’re too caught up in deciding who is wheat and who is weeds & we’re wondering too much about the part with the furnace and weeping and gnashing of teeth, to rest easy.
This parable isn’t easy. Yet it answers some hard questions!
To start with, “Where does evil come from?”
Jesus says, “an enemy of God sowed the evil.”
We can get all philosophical and use our reasoning to debate
who/what this enemy is, Jesus is talking about, but I like knowing
that evil does not come from God.
When people say, ‘God must have willed it for so and so to happen’
I wince, Really?
God willed a young man heading to college this fall to die from a stray bullet? No, that wasn’t God.
I’ve been kind of waiting for the usual suspects to declare ‘God must have willed thousands of people to die in this pandemic.’ They usually do, even though Jesus teaches us, no, evil is not of God.
We see another hard question in this parable:
why does a good God allow evil in this world to begin with?
Why doesn’t God act like we think God ought to—to cut out every vestige of evil, put an end to all greed, disease, pettiness, envy, murder, hatred, selfishness…You nor I have the wisdom or the power to take tweezers and pry evil and good apart — to pluck up the weeds from the wheat field. So why doesn’t God do it? Well, the truth is, if God did act in this way, Who could stand? Not me. We are all sinners, and it is only by the grace of God in Christ, we stand a chance.
The best news of the parable is saved for last: contrary to what it sounds like, remember, with fire and gnashing of teeth?
All throughout the Hebrew testament, the symbolism of fire speaks to its purifying, refining power. A psalmist sings, for example,
For You, O God, have proofed us; You have refined us like silver.
The Israelites knew that in refining lead, you get silver,
that Copper is smelted from ore. They use this imagery beautifully.
“When God has tested me,” Job says, “I will come forth as gold.”
Jesus tells his disciples that in the end, all will be refined.
The kingdom of heaven will have no sin, no evil,
none of those things which cause pain for us now will be present,
in us or in any part of the kingdom.
There’s some good news!
Do you know why the final days of Jesus’ life are called The Passion of Christ? It’s because Jesus found that which he was willing to suffer for—all of us.
In his death and resurrection, Christ reconciled the whole world to God,
So that we may live into this gift of life God gave us.
So that we may find our own passions and share our love with the world,
even when all around us feels like we aren’t making progress.
Thanks be to God.