Sunday, July 23, 2017

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Isaiah 44:6-8
Psalm 119:57-64
Romans 8:18-27
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Donít fear, neither be afraid. Havenít I declared it to you long ago, and shown it? You are my witnesses. Is there a God besides me? Indeed, there is not. I donít know any other Rock.

I lived near a highway in my youth. The road was raised and ran over a bridge about a block from my house, but at the end of our dead end street was at the top of a hill that was perfect for playing. Well, it wasnít perfect because the road was filled with cars moving at high speeds only a few feet from where we were playing. We didnít mind; we flew down in our saucers in the winter and used it for ďking of the hillĒ in the summer.

ďKing of the hillĒ is a fun game, usually played under much safer circumstances. One kid climbs to the top of a hill and the object of the game is for the other kids to get them to fall off. The one who gets to the top of the hill and knocks the ďkingĒ to the bottom gets to be ďkingĒ until someone else makes it to the top. It is a fun game because kids end up rolling down the hill, sometimes more from laughter than from knocking each other around.

We donít stop playing ďking of the hillĒ when we grow up. Our adult games donít take place on hillsides, however. They take place in boardrooms and offices. Sometimes we see those who are on the hilltops above us and do whatever it takes to knock them down so we can move up. This is not the best way to get ahead in our careers, but unfortunately it has worked since the beginning of time. All too often throughout history people really became king by getting rid of the ruler through warfare. In todayís world, the ďkingĒ is knocked down through less violent, though no less dangerous means. It doesnít take much to destroy a personís status, position, finances or reputation. For some the object of life is to get to the top of the hill and stay there by any means just like the childhood game.

They want to become their own gods.

In todayís Old Testament lesson, God sounds almost like the big kid who has made it to the top of the hill and is calling out for everyone else to try to knock Him off. This is a bothersome image of God, because it seems like He is a childhood bully or a corporate tyrant that can destroy a personís life with their ambition. However, God is not some bully playing a game. He is God. Who is there that can knock Him off the top of the hill? Did the gods create the world or establish Godís people? Can we do any of those things? No. Yet we spend so much of our time chasing after things that cannot do for us what God has done.

It is said that what you value becomes your god, and unfortunately we let a many things knock God off the top of our hill. We put so many things first: our jobs, our families, our romances, our education, our hobbies, our interests. We set God aside to take care of the business of living. Though He is the One and only, we make gods of so many things. He asks, ďWho is like me?Ē Can money stand up against God? Can our wishes and dreams? Can our opinions really be greater than God? What about our truth? Are our gods reliable? Can they declare their greatness ahead of God? No, nothing stands greater. There is nothing that can knock God off the top of the hill, but we get confused and look to so many things as if they are our gods. We believe them and rely on them above God.

It is easy to get confused. The world plants seeds in our minds and our hearts; Satan twists Godís word and leads us down a wrong path. There are even those in the Church who set false gods before us. A.W. Tozer once wrote, ďOne compromise here, another there and soon enough the so-called Christian and the man in the world soon look the same.Ē We donít want to think that heresy is possible in todayís world; after all, we have so much access to the Bible, good theological references and the apostolic church. Yet, heresy has abounded in the Church from the beginning. The same old lies are repeated over and over again. They come in different wrappings, but they all suggest that God can be knocked off the top of the mountain.

We have to be careful, however, when we deal with those who would lead us astray. We canít tell the difference between those who are true of faith and those whose faith is false. We canít read their hearts. We are fallen, sinful people, too. We make mistakes. We have an imperfect understanding of Godís grace. We might think heresy is easy to see, but it is harder when those who speak it are loved and respected. Good people are vulnerable to the world, Satan and false gods. We all fail and it is not our place to destroy those who seem like weeds in the field.

In this weekís lesson, Jesus tells us about a farmer who planted a field. During the night an enemy planted weeds in that farmerís field. It was not until later that the farmerís 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 donít always know which weeds to pull.

We canít tell the difference between those who are true of faith and those whose faith is false. We canít read their hearts. 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 may think we are protecting them, but we are not God. God knows what He needs to do. He can protect His people much better than we can. 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 to whom God has yet to finish His work. In the end all will be right, because God rules and He is faithful.

Paul writes, ďFor I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which will be revealed toward us.Ē The world looks no different today than it did before Jesusí birth. It is still filled with sinners, suffering and pain. Yet, there is a difference because we now live in a hope that does not disappoint; a hope in the promises of God. Jesus Christ gives us a hope that is real, a hope that is assured. We look forward to the day when we will have true peace not only in our hearts but in the whole world. Even the creation will live to the glory of God. This hope is not something that we can make ourselves; we canít push God off the top of the mountain and expect to experience peace. We can only patiently wait for it to come in Godís time and way. We can look toward that hope in the midst of our sufferings and know that one day we will inherit the promised Kingdom.

It may seem impossible sometimes, especially when we are out there in the world facing the 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 Godís 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.

We arenít God. We donít know what God knows. We will face difficulties. We will struggle. We will suffer at the hands of others. People donít 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 Godís grace. God is not a bully who pushes His people off the top of the mountain or a tyrant who will do whatever is necessary to remain at the top. He shared in our suffering and by the blood of Christ we are brought through that suffering to something greater. He will make things right in the end, and in the meantime, our struggles will make us stronger and more faithful if we keep our God where He belongs: as the King of not only the hill, but of everything.

The psalmist knew how to persevere despite opposition. Although I canít possibly say better than the writer and two thousand years of translators, I like to paraphrase the text of Psalm 119 to see more clearly the Law and Gospel found within. ďYou have given me all I need, so I promise to obey everything you have spoken. I have sought your face with my whole heart; have mercy as you have promised. I have seen my failing and repented according to the evidence of my sin. I will quickly obey all Godís Law. I was trapped by the wicked but I held on to your teaching. I will be thankful for your right verdict. I am friends with all who follow your authoritative rule. The earth is full of Godís lovingkindness; teach me your boundries.Ē

These words show us that God is a kind and just ruler. The life He calls us to live is never easy, but it is the life that will give Him glory. It is also the life where we will find peace. Chasing after the top of the mountain might get us somewhere, but thereís always someone behind us that will threaten our place at the top. Chasing after false gods might make us happy and satisfy our desires, but those gods will never be able to give to us what we truly need. There is no hope in heresy. No matter how hard it is to wait or how fraught with danger that time might be, it is worth holding on to the promise of God because He will be true.

What good is a hope that is already received? It is no longer hope but a promise fulfilled. There is then nothing to look forward to. Our hope rests in the fulfillment of the promises and we can be assured that those promises will be fulfilled because God is faithful. 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 His Spirit. He will bring us through as no other god can do.

A WORD FOR TODAY
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