Sunday, July 17, 2011

Lectionary 16A
Isaiah 44:6-8 or Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19
Psalm 86:11-17
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

I will praise thee, O Lord my God, with my whole heart; And I will glorify thy name for evermore.

During Advent we look forward to the coming of Christ, both as a baby and as King over all. At Christmas we celebrate His birth and His life. During Epiphany, we talk about the light He shines to the whole world. In Lent we look at our need for a Savior. During Holy Week we experience His willingness to be obedient to God, even to the cross. Easter is a season of celebration, rejoicing over the resurrection and the promise of life for us. These seasons end with Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was given to Christ’s people, so that they might go out into the world to do the work and share the lessons as they were called and sent by Jesus.

So, during most of the year we center our lessons around the story of God and what He has done for us. During the season of Pentecost, the summer months and into the fall, we focus on the Church and what we can do for Christ Jesus and the world. It is a time for building up the body of Christ, preparing each of us for the work Christ has called us to do. Isn’t it sad, then, that those summer months are when people tend to disappear?

How many churches choose to cancel Sunday school classes during these summer months because they know that the children will be away with families on vacation? Summer worship tends to be less structured, often shorter and more casual. Some churches change their worship times, meeting just once when they normally have two or more services. Holidays, picnics, camping, sports and all sorts of other activities are the priority, and worship is set aside for a season. Yet, it is the lessons we learn during these very months that we really need to hear. We think Christmas and Easter are the most important, and it is vital that we know and understand what God has done in Jesus Christ. Yet, we also need to know what to do with that knowledge. It isn’t enough to believe that Jesus was born, died and was raised. What do we do with this faith once it is ours?

God doesn’t mind that we take a vacation once in awhile. He’s not going to get upset because we miss a Sunday. We aren’t going to lose our inheritance because we go camping. But as we are enjoying our summer vacation, we should ask ourselves where God stands in our life. Is He first? Is He our priority? Are we concerned about doing the work He has called us to do, or are we too busy chasing a soccer ball? When we choose our own activities above those of God, we are putting ourselves above God.

In today’s scriptures, we are reminded that we aren’t above God. “I am the first, and I am the last; and besides me there is no God.” This is most certainly true. There is no god but our God. However, there are lots of false gods, including ourselves. But these gods could do nothing. They had no power. God asks these ‘gods’, “And who, as I, shall call, and shall declare it, and set it in order for me, since I established the ancient people? And the things are coming, and that shall come to pass, let them declare.” Did the gods create the world or establish God’s people? Can they see the future? Of course not. Can we do any of those things? No.

While Isaiah speaks with God’s voice, the text from the Wisdom of Solomon comes from the point of view of the faithful. “There is no god besides you,” are words that should be on the tip of our tongue at all times. When we think we are in control. When we think we know best. When we choose to go our own way rather than the way God has called us to go, those words can keep us going in the right direction.

We look to ourselves, our own power, our own abilities to control our world. Our jobs, our relationships, our homes, our churches and even our own bodies, minds and hearts are like gods to us. We think we know the best way to spend our time and our resources. We make our wants and needs the priority and we forget to worship the LORD. But nothing human can create something out of nothing. Our human flesh cannot predict tomorrow. We won’t find comfort in the things of this world. That is why we look to the Rock for all that we need.

We aren’t God. We don’t know what God knows. We might face difficulties. We might struggle. We might suffer at the hands of another. Yet, we live in hope while we live in this world, knowing that hope is not just a wish or a dream. Hope in the promise of God is worth waiting for, waiting patiently because God is faithful. I’m sure you are tired of hearing about it, but we are in the midst of a drought. Everything is turning brown from the lack of water: everything, except the weeds. In last week’s lesson, we learned that the seeds that grew in the midst of the weeds would be choked. This is true. The grass, already week from the lack of water, are giving way to the weeds, so much so that most of us don’t want to kill our weeds because at least they mean we have green lawns. We don’t like the weeds because they don’t look as nice as a well manicured lawn would look. But in this drought stricken environment, we might think about how those ‘weeds’ are natural to this habitat. Our neighborhoods would take on a whole different look, but we might find the change would be healthy for the land, saving water and providing for the needs of the natural inhabitants.

This is just one of those ways that we’ve decided that we know better than God. We build these housing developments and install crisp green lawns and matching trees, and then work hard to keep them looking the same. We’ve changed what God created into something we want, using valuable resources in a way that might be seen as wasteful for the sake of our own demands. Don’t worry… I will continue to fight the weeds and keep my lawn green as best I can. But it is worth thinking about, don’t you think?

In this week’s lesson, Jesus tells us about a farmer who planted a field. During the night an enemy planted weeds in that farmer’s field. It was not until later that the farmer’s workers realized that there were weeds in the midst of the plants. They wondered if they should remove the weeds. We are the same, automatically wanting to get rid of the weeds, and for good reason. Weeds take important nutrients and steal the water necessary for good growth. Weeds also tend to grow larger than the crops, taking away valuable sunshine. But, it is easy to confuse a weed and a good plant in the early days of growth, they look so much alike. It is not until the crops grow tall that even the most knowledgeable farmer can tell the difference. By then the roots of the weeds are intertwined with the wheat. It is impossible to pull the weed without damaging the crops.

The farm hands might think they know the best way to deal with the fields, but the farmer knows what is right and good, just as we think we know what is good for our lives, but God really knows best. Sometimes the weeds are beneficial to the fields in which they are found growing. Wildflowers serve to give character to fruit like grapes. Vineyards produce grapes that take on the identity of the plants that are grown around them. If you taste wine carefully, you may be able to identify flavors such as mushroom and lavender in the wine. Some plants become stronger because they send their roots deeper into the soil seeking water and nourishment. A landowner knows the plants, the risks and the benefits and is careful to do what is best for his fields. While it might be good to pull the weeds, we don’t always know which weeds to pull.

Jesus later explains to the disciples that He is the landowner who planted the seed and the evil one is the one who planted the weeds. The field is the world in which we live. We learn through this parable that the children of God will be living side by side with the children of the evil one. We may want to do some weeding ourselves; however we are reminded that we do not know what God knows. We might just think someone is a ‘weed’ when in reality they are doing just what God intends, something beneficial to God’s plans that we do not know or understand.

We can’t tell the difference between those who are true of faith and those whose faith is false. We can’t read their hearts. We see the world through a very narrow point of view and have a difficult time accepting the ideas of those who see the world differently. They might be wrong. Their false ideas and false gods might be obvious. But we don’t know how God might take that person and transform them and their work into something good.

Like the weeds in a wheat field, the truth will eventually come to light. We might be tempted to uproot those we see has coming from the evil one, but in doing so we do not always know the damage we might do to someone who is weak in faith. We do not know how they may actually help us to mature and grow strong in courage and faith. God knows what He needs to do. We are simply called to live as God has called us to live, trusting that our God is just and that He will take care of the wheat and deal with the tares. We may just find that what we thought was a tare is actually someone with whom God has not yet to finish His work. We might just find that we are made better by being in their presence. In the end all will be right, because God is faithful.

It may not seem that way sometimes, especially when we are out there in the world facing the actions of those weeds that have been placed in the field by the evil one. We want salvation to be complete today and the evil to be gone for eternity. However, it is not yet time for the field to be harvested. There is still work to be done. There is still growth to be made among the people of God and people to be saved by His Word. It is hard sometimes. We face difficulties; we suffer at the hands of evil men. However, those sufferings make us stronger. By God’s grace, our roots grow deeper and our stalks grow thicker. The fruit that is produced becomes more and more abundant. We may suffer, but in doing so we identify with the One who has brought us into the Kingdom, our Lord Jesus Christ.

One of the most difficult aspects of Christian faith for a non-believer to accept is the idea found in today’s epistle lesson. Paul writes that we are joint heirs with Christ: we like this very much. We like the idea that we have been adopted as children of God, that He is our Abba, Daddy. However, Paul also writes that as joint heirs in the promise we share in every aspect of Christ’s reign, including His suffering. He writes, “…if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him.” People don’t want to worship a God that calls His people into a life of suffering, because for most people suffering equals pain. Yet, it is in our suffering that we find strength, courage and God’s grace. God is not a masochist who seeks to cause His people to be harmed. But to save the world He came in a manner by which He shared in our suffering and by the blood of Christ we are brought through that suffering to something greater.

We think we know best. We think avoiding suffering must be what God intends. We think doing what feels right is what God intends. We think that we have all the answers, that our point of view is right, that our choices are best for our lives. When we get to the point that we put ourselves first, that is exactly when we have to turn our thoughts to God. Are we really better at deciding what is best? Are we really better at knowing than God?

We aren’t God. We don’t know what God knows. We might face difficulties. We might struggle. We might suffer at the hands of another. Yet, we live in hope while we live in this world, knowing that hope is not just a wish or a dream. Hope in the promise of God is worth waiting for, waiting patiently because God is faithful. The day will come when the weeds will be destroyed. Until that day, we can rely on God to help us live side by side with the world because we have been given the Spirit of God. He will bring us through as no other god can do.

It is amazing how we, when faced with difficult situations, can find the strength and courage through our Lord Jesus Christ to get through. Sometimes those difficult situations even make us stronger. In today’s Psalm, David cries out to God in prayer. “O God, the proud are risen up against me, and a company of violent men have sought after my soul, And have not set thee before them.” He was facing a time of difficulty. However, he knew to whom he could turn. He looks to God to teach the right path, to give him an undivided heart. He offers to praise God, but only as God gives him the grace to do so. To David, the Lord is a kind and compassionate God. He does not see salvation as something he can achieve, but as a gift from God as He turns to His people and grants them the mercy to go forth in faith. “Show me a token for good, That they who hate me may see it, and be put to shame, Because thou, Jehovah, hast helped me, and comforted me.” Our help comes from God and God alone.

So, as we go through this summer, enjoying the freedom we have from work to go and play, let us remember that we have been given a most extraordinary gift. Our faith is something that reaches far beyond the lessons about God to the opportunity to take Him into the world. We have faith to share faith, and we have become children of God so that we might invite others into His Kingdom. It might seem easier to stay in bed on that Sunday morning, or cancel those Sunday school classes for the season. It is more fun to be on the beach or kick a soccer ball than to sing to standard hymns in a stuffy church building, but God calls us to grow. He reminds us that He is our priority, He is our God. He is the One that knows best. Let’s not forget to worship Him and grow in faith as we chase after the things of this world.

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