The Good News!
Fr. Ken Saunders' Sermon Blog
Trinity Episcopal Church
RCL Year A - Proper 11 - July 20, 2014
Lectionary Readings for Proper 11A
When I was a child, I liked the pretty little yellow flowers that were in our back yard. You know the ones I’m talking about… The ones that after they matured became fluffy white balls of seed that with one blow, would go off into the wind and the wind would carry it off. Of course, I was a child… and as a child I didn’t know this pretty little yellow flower… this plant (this dandelion, - otherwise known as an Irish daisy, a bitterwort, or strangely enough, a priest’s crown) was actually a weed… I didn’t know, until I went to the feed and seed store with my father to get some dandelion killer for our lawn… Weed killer so that it wouldn’t choke out our grass. Weed killer… because those pretty yellow flowers were undesirable… they were a nuisance when trying to grow lush green grass.
It’s easy for us to go along in life thinking we know the difference between weeds and wheat. Judging this or that to be a nuisance or worse yet… this person and that person as undeserving, worthless, or in the way. We are quick and critical as a society to judge – deciding who is in and who is out, based on the color of skin, income bracket, or what school we did or didn’t attend. We think that we are the wheat, and if anything is different from us, then it must be the weeds.
Even in our jobs we come across weeds… We sometimes feel that our jobs are so infested with weeds, that we either hide within them or we let them distract us from our mission. I’m talking about the things that bog us down… e-mail, phone-calls, and those endless meetings… things that can make us look like we are working hard bringing about the kingdom of God, but really, what they really are is indicators of our own souls – torn between the good and evil, right and wrong, normal and not normal.
Jesus uses the parable of weeds and wheat to explain the coming of the kingdom of God, when God will be the final judge between the good and evil of this world, between the weeds and the wheat. He uses the parable to explain a time when there will be no more worry about evil, or death and destruction.
I believe that Jesus’ parable also applies to the church today… it’s an excellent parable for the church to hear, because in the church… in the one body, the church, there are both weeds and wheat. Yes, the gathered church is this crazy mixed bag of destructive weeds and productive wheat.
Destructive weeds that draw the church from the mission of bringing forth the kingdom of God. Damaging evil judging weeds that grow up right alongside the wheat… the faithful, believing, pious, and righteous, children of the living God.
The first kneejerk reaction is do what the servants of the field wanted to do… to do what my father wanted to do… to go pull the weeds, to get them out of there, because they are a nuisance when trying to grow good wheat… when you are trying to make good and faithful disciples, there’s nothing worse than having the evil one around messing up our plan, drawing us from the task that God has given us to do… But that’s not what Jesus says do… Jesus says that if the weeds are uprooted, then the good wheat will be disturbed also, and so we are not to be the judge… the owner of the field… Jesus… the son of Man is the only judge.
Because our propensity is to choose wrongly, maybe it’s more like we are both… both the weeds and the wheat existing together within ourselves, entangled and intertwined in our hearts, in our souls, and in our minds, the balance of evil and good making us both weeds and wheat.
But maybe we are just wheat - because we are all children of God, made in the image of the creator, adopted in our baptism as heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ – inheritors of the Kingdom of God.
Paul gives us a wonderful definition of how we are members of God’s family when he says, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ – if in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”
So… what are we children of God to do in this crazy world of weeds and wheat? We are to do exactly what Jesus says and remain steadfast and faithful and let God be the judge. But that is admittedly so hard to do, especially if you think that you’re the wheat…
The symbolism found in Jacob’s dream in the passage from Genesis gives us a place to begin thinking about our tasks as children of God: “He dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!” What a great dream!
Jacob realized what a powerful message there was in that dream and so he set up a pillar – an altar made from the rock that was his head-rest, and gave it the name, Bethel (which means house of God), setting that place aside as holy and sacred.
Jacob received a message from God in that dream – the promise of a family and descendants that would stretch far and wide, across the centuries and down through the generations. The promise of family was as important then as it is for us today.
All of us are offered a great message and reminder in the reading from Genesis this morning. The ladder! – that ladder connecting heaven and earth is there for us! and - as those angels that were going up and down on that ladder, joining humanity to heaven… so we… we who say that we are followers of Jesus… we must be like those angels.
We must be those people who play a part in joining the world to heaven by the way we live our lives. Now that sounds like a lot of work… But we are human, and living in a very human world full of weeds and wheat… And because we are human, we are guaranteed to have hard days – lots of them – more, it seems, for some than for others.
But, if we are serious about claiming to be Christian... claiming to be the children of God that we are, then we must be willing to accept the angelic role of helping connect heaven to earth. And that activity that sounds like it’s lots of work – is actually our ministry. It becomes our purpose and our passion. It becomes our reason of life.
Each one of us has been given some special talent, some gift of ability or personality or some resource that we can use to help others travel up and down that figurative ladder between heaven and earth. Each and every one of us is called to be a messenger… an angelic messenger of God’s love to others. And our command from Jesus himself is to love ALL… Jesus says in the lesson this morning that we are not to worry about what’s weeds and what’s wheat, but we should let God sort it out.
If we love ALL then we just might break the mold, and we give that person that we initially think is a weed a chance to become wheat.
As a child, not knowing what I was doing, I blew on the dandelion and made the seeds go everywhere… It is with that innocence that we approach love, love of the weeds of this world not knowing the difference between the weeds and the wheat… knowing and trusting that it’s God that plants the “good seeds,” and they grow up, and become healthy and vibrant grains of the finest wheat.
Year A - Proper 7 - June 22, 2014
It is better today to set all the scriptures and the collect we read in context – in a group of explanations. You see – sometimes the readings in the lectionary are all set up for us. So all I’m here to do this morning is help you untie the knots.
Let’s look at the scripture readings today very closely… The first thing that jumps out at me is that I recognize that they all deal with relationship… This is what I think this whole season is about… The season after Pentecost (the long Green season). It's about our growth as Christian people. It's about how we grow in are formed, informed, and transformed in Christ… and about how we live into a relationship with God and each other.
Year C - Proper 24 - October 20, 2013
"I was praying that you would." she said.
In Amos, there are woes presented to those who think that they are better than everyone else because they have security in there beds of ivory, anointing themselves with the finest oils, and drinking wine from bowls…
In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, Paul warns Timothy about the uncertainty of riches, and that because everything comes from God, he should be rich in good works and create a good foundational practice that will lead him to “take hold of the life that really is life.”
Jesus tells us a parable this morning... a story about a rich man and a poor leper, and the consequences that surround their circumstances… as I said last week, wealth was a serious issue during Jesus’ time... The rich often got rich on the backs of the poor. Their "riches" and “richness” was typically the only thing that mattered to them… How they horde the money they have, and the scheming ways to make more, dominated their lives.
Their greed separated them from others, and even from God... Jesus’ parable was contrary to what they thought… Back then (and sometimes today), folks think that their richness was a direct result of God’s blessing on their lives, and that the poor somehow deserve what they get – because of some ill they have done. Jesus takes some more time this morning to unravel this wrong thinking…
Jesus presents us with the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus…
The rich man is as pompous as the folks we hear about in Amos… He is dressed in the fine purple linen that was often reserved for royalty – this was even mandated by Roman law. We get a clear picture in our head of him prancing around with that “everybody look at me” attitude.
The poor diseased man, Lazarus, sat outside the gates of the rich man’s home, longing for something to eat. We can imagine that the rich man passed him every time he left his home to go somewhere. Jesus’ parable tells us that they both eventually died, and the rich man went to the torment of Hades while the poor man was carried off by angels to be with Abraham.
Even from the depths of Hades, the rich man still doesn’t get it…
He thinks that he can appeal to Abraham and have his agony relieved. He pleads with Abraham to have Lazarus sooth his ailment, but Abraham reminds him that he already been rewarded with good things, but despite warnings by Moses and the prophets, he chose not to honor God in his life by caring for his neighbor Lazarus.
He even begs Abraham to send Lazarus to his fathers house so that his brothers won’t suffer the fate that has taken him andAbraham tells him that the fate of his fathers house is up to them… If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, it won’t do them any good to hear from someone that comes back from the dead.
One would immediately jump to think that this parable is about heaven and hell… Perhaps thinking that the poor get in but the rich don’t… But this parable it is more about life, and what we do with what we have in this life, and how we use it to directly honor God.
There is a story about a preacher that had been assigned to a new congregation… He had never met the congregation. Before the Sunday church service, this preacher dressed in the shabbiest rags he had, marked up his face, and rolled around on the ground and got all dirty. Just before the congregation was to arrive, this preacher laid in the walkway at the entrance to the church. The parishioners started coming in, dressed in their Sunday finest, and walked right by him laying there. Some even stepped over the preacher as they tried to enter the church.
Some pretended that they didn’t even see him. No one tried to help him at all, no one even stopped to see if he needed medical attention, they just walked by. After they were all in the church, the preacher jumped up and walked in the church – right down the center isle to the front, where he started to preach –
He preached on the ills of being comfortable, of not wanting to be bothered by someone that they saw as a “lesser” human being.
That is what these readings are about... In Jesus' story, the rich man has it all, what more else could he want? He walks right by Lazarus every day, and doesn’t even have the decency to throw him a crust of bread. He didn’t want to be bothered by this “lesser” human being. The sad part to the story is, that only in death does he realize what he really should have done, then it is too late.
Jesus continues to upset the social order as he travels on his way to Jerusalem. So far this season, we have heard what he teaches about what it means to be a disciple, to move forward in mission and minister to those that don’t have the gracious abundance that we have. We have heard about what it means to be a neighbor, to reach out in hospitality to everyone that you receive, and to be humble.
Now Jesus is warning us about our stuff and our money. He doesn’t want us to give up everything that we have worked for. But he does warn us that our obsession with stuff and with money will make us loose sight of the
Those of you that know me, have heard me comment on the Apostle Paul before. While I may personally feel that Paul has his own struggles and issues that he is working through – Trying to live in the ancient world while spreading the good news of Jesus Christ, Paul always stays true to his message.
In his pastoral letter to Timothy, Paul reminds Timothy to tell the rich not to be self-important, and snooty – not to bank on the “unrighteous mammon” in their lives… but to rely on God, be generous with what they have, and build a foundation for the future and take hold of life that really is life. Paul hits the nail on the head… some may say "this sounds like works righteousness," but it is works that are a result of the love and joy we have for Christ… It is our witness to the gospel.
So – are we honoring God with our life in how we use our stuff and our money? Are we witnessing to our love of Jesus in our daily actions? Our challenge this morning is to look inwardly – to examine our own lives and our mission as a people of God…
We should think to ourselves, are we like the rich man who “passes by” Lazarus laying out by the gate? Are we the church goer that “steps over” the vagrant laying in our pathway? Or are we honoring God with our lives, achieving justice, healing and peace… and witnessing to the love of Jesus Christ with our thoughts, our words, and our actions?