Archive for July, 2020

“Reckless harvest,” (Sermon, July 19th 2020)

Jesus put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” 28He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” 29But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’
36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’ 37He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43

At some point in our lives, all of us are called to question what we’ve been taught about who we are and what we believe.

There are the usual inelegant moments of self-realization: we hold ourselves to a set of standards and then fail to meet them, realizing that we’re just human after all, bummer. And then there are moments where we realize we’ve actually been misled or lied to, and a whole new world of overturned tables and broken idols follows. It’s exciting and scary and necessary for growth.

Much of my July has been taken up with following the news in Portland, Oregon, a city my husband and I love and where we both have many friends. When the uprisings against police violence and racism began to spread across the US, we kept eyes on both Portland and Seattle, where we also have many connections, and were horrified by the blatant brutality of the police toward unarmed protestors, who specifically targeted street medics and journalists for arrest and assault. Although much of the unrest in Portland has been confined to only a few blocks within the downtown core, in the last week things have shifted dramatically as Department of Homeland Security agents without visible identification have begun to detain protestors and sometimes random passersby on the street, hauling them without explanation into unmarked vehicles and driving away to God knows where. The news first broke on Twitter with videos, but has since been picked up by Oregon Public Broadcasting, the ACLU, the state governor, CNN, and multiple independent news outlets. Most of those who have been detained were released later without charges, but the reasoning is clear: intimidation.

Across the Western world, folks have been re-evaluating everything they thought they knew about law enforcement, governmental authority, and the power and effectiveness of direct action to implement quick and lasting change. All over the world, people are asking, “How is this happening? How is this allowed to happen?”

The human heart is like a field where God has sown all of Her best seeds: the desire for justice, freedom, peace, love, and balance. While everyone was asleep – contented, complacent, naïve, dreaming of utopia – an enemy came and sowed weeds. Not just the usual suspects like lust for power, or greed, or wrath, or pride, or envy. Other things like impatience, the desire for comfort above justice and needed change, self-interest, fear, and idolatry, the tendency to make little gods of institutions like policing and prisons and all other systems that promise stability at the expense of human flourishing and growth.

Galilee, on the road to the Church of the Multiplication, January 2017

Then of course, one terrible morning, we wake up and discover what has grown among God’s good earth. And we become horrified, and turn to God and said, “How did this happen?”

God’s response honestly doesn’t seem proportionate. Does anyone else get the image of the master in this parable as a careworn old farmer, stalk of timothy grass parked in his teeth, responding to the shocked slaves with the languid, “An enemy has done this.” No? Just me? Okay.

We good servants of God, tasked as gardeners from the beginning when all was kind and balanced in the Garden (capital G garden), are ready to roll up our sleeves and work! We’re ready to pull up all them weeds!

And again, God seems unruffled. “Nah, it’s fine. We’ll do it at harvest.”

What?! The real gardeners among you know that’s not how it’s done!

But the human heart isn’t like any earthly garden.

God knows that all of our best intentions have a shadow side. That’s just how this works. It’s how we’re made. A heart compelled to loving action isn’t as beautiful as a heart that chooses beauty and kindness and friendship and love over the alternatives.

No matter how hard we try, we’ll never be able to fully divorce our best from our worst as a collective in this lifetime. This world has always held both defenders and dictators, angels and autocrats, saints and sinners.

Don’t worry about it, we’re told. Have faith in the moral arc of the universe bending toward justice. In the end, God takes the best and worst of the harvest, and makes use of all of it. Even the bad stuff is used in the oven to bake the healing bread that comes of our best.

But what if we can’t wait that long? Is that really all we’re supposed to do – just wait around for God to fix everything? Just expect that everything will turn out okay in the end?

Hard reset: Let’s turn to the story of Jacob for a minute.

As he lies on the hard and rocky ground at Bethel, Jacob finds himself dreaming a strange dream, a dream of angels ascending and descending on a ladder reaching to heaven. When he wakes up, his response is, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’ An interesting response. What prevented him from noticing the holiness of this place while he was awake? Could it be that he wasn’t truly awake until he was asleep?

Maybe there is a sleep that comes upon us when we are content with the world because all is well and comfortable for us. Maybe there is a sleep that comes because we’ve worked so hard to earn safety within these systems that we don’t dare upset them because of the pain we’ve already weathered at their hands. And yet, growing up alongside that, maybe there is a sleep that lets us imagine strange new universes where angels run wild, where there is no boundary between heaven and earth, where Jesus may wrap his wisdom up in parables for the wider crowd, but still offers it freely to them in the hopes that someone outside his inner circle may yet help it take root within.

And maybe sometimes there are times when we can stay awake and prevent the enemy from sowing a few seeds here and there, or support those who do stay awake to shine a light on the field and keep a watchful eye out, giving them what they need so that they can continue their work while we sleep, dreaming of new landscapes of wonder.

“Let anyone with ears to hear listen,” Jesus says. His disciples are given explanations of the parables, because throughout this gospel Matthew wants to show us that Jesus was a good teacher, and a good teacher lays things out clearly for their students. But still Jesus shares the parables, the raw material of the kingdom, with everyone. Jesus knows that some may pick up that raw material and go off to do work outside of his inner circle, maybe even outside of the wider circle of followers. Remember, whoever is not against us is for us. There are people in the world right now guarding the human heart against the weeds taking over the garden completely. Mr. Rogers of blessed memory called them “the helpers.” They don’t always look the way we want them to; they’re not always polite; they’re not always gentle and kind in their demands for justice. But we will know them by their fruits, and we can therefore consider them fellow workers, helping us to dream of a world where angels run wild and harvests are plentiful and feed multitudes.

And in this case, the dream is not an impossible or symbolic reality. It just is, and we didn’t know it. So let’s build the altar, and prepare for the harvest.