Sunday, July 27, 2014

Seventh Sunday after the Pentecost Sermon- 7/27/14

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost-Sermon
7/27/14- Year A

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Have you understood all these things? [Yes.] Good, still jet lagged from my travels this past week I could use a Sunday off, especially when it comes to explicating and exegeting these numerous parables from our Lord this morning. For we’ve had in succession over the last weeks Gospel lesson after Gospel Lesson from chapter 13, the chapter of the Kingdom parables. It has been a trinity of Sundays for us hearing each week from Jesus “The Kingdom of heaven is like…”, but for the crowds and for the disciples it was likely a single day’s teaching from their rabbi. Parable after parable on the kingdom of heaven, that indescribable reality of God and His Christ, which we can only glimpse by illustration and analogy. If this was, as Matthew depicts it for us, a day of parables then this question put forward by our Lord–the question I put forward before you–and answered by the disciples takes a comedic twist. Having sat through many a college and seminary day’s lecture, let me just say that when the professor asks you if you’ve understood everything, you say YES. You do not hesitate in your response and you reply almost with the same haste as the disciples did this morning. Having taught many a confirmation class, let me also tell you that I’ve heard this rapid reply before from my confirmands. In my best guess the “Yes” of the disciples comes not because they’ve understood with Solomonic like wisdom, but rather because Jesus' words makes their brains hurt. They, not unlike me and perhaps even you, are mentally fatigued from wrapping their minds around seed, soil, wheat, weeds, pearls, treasure, mustard, yeast, the dragnet, and their explanations. Unfortunately, they could not be saved by the bell, but rather found an opening from Jesus and took it. Or at least that’s how my cynical mind reads the closing from today’s conclusion to this Thirteenth Chapter. But seeing as you are already here and I am already here let us, as St. Paul commends us, press onward and run with endurance the race that our Lord has set before us. 

It is helpful to us when we study the parables, especially these from Matthew’s gospel as they are all clustered together, to find the common themes and threads that link them all in a chain of parables. There are several books written that seek to do this, to find those red threads that hold the parables together and show commonality between them. This morning I’ve found one that my rural colored lenses have spotted. Is it just me, or has Jesus talked an awfully lot about fields? For it seems to me fields keep popping up throughout these weeks. Again I am aware how my culturally formed eyes might pick this up more quickly then some, because open fields were the very first thing I missed when I moved from Iowa to Southern California. I am also keenly aware that I might not be bringing anything new to your attention as well. You’ve probably already noticed this and are well ahead of me. For those who might not be or maybe weren’t here these last couple of weeks, a quick review might be needed. Today, we heard about the field in which treasure was hidden and mustard seed sown. Two weeks ago we heard about the various soils upon which the seed of God’s word fell, rocky, thorny, hard paths, and good ground. Now the word field was never mentioned, but if there’s good soil and you’re planting in it, well a field by another name would grow as well. Coming from Northeastern Iowa let me also tell you fields can be quite rocky as one of the pre-planting rituals of the northeastern Iowa farmer’s kids, and usually their friends, is rock-picking. Last week we heard of another field in which not only was good seed sown, but bad as well. It was a field filled to the brim with God’s good grain and the devil’s deceitful darnels and dandelions. We’ve heard much about this parabolic field, which Jesus himself finally defined for us and for the twelve as the world, oJ ko/smoƟ, the cosmos.  

The field, the world, the entirety of the cosmos is the place where the good seed of God’s word is scattered graciously and abundantly. The world is the place where that seed grows and bears fruit, showing itself as wheat and shining forth as the sun in the Father’s Kingdom. The world, the cosmos is the place where the mustard seed will grow and become the a tree, greater than any other shrubbery. Birds will come and make a nest in its branches and it will give relaxing shade to those underneath its leaves. It is this world where a treasure is hidden, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Normally we first interpret this parable in terms of us. The Kingdom of Heaven is like we who are the man who finds Jesus and then gives all and does all to purchase Jesus, the treasure, hidden in the world. Yet this seems a backwards interpretation of the parable or at least a secondary reading of our Lord’s word, because it seems to destroy the thread which hold all of these parables in order, that we are not the farmer, the sower, or the finder, but rather that we are the field, the soil, the seed, and the treasure. 

Reading the parable this way, do we not hear echoes of St. John’s famous gospel line, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him?"  

Do we not also hear the words of St. Paul, "you were bought with a price?"  

Or the words of the Catechism, "I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true?   

You my brothers and sisters are the priceless treasure of God, you are the pearl of great price that God has risked everything, sold everything, given everything to have forever and ever. In the parable of the treasure hidden in the field, we see the Kingdom of God not as our ascent to Him, but rather the joy and love with which our God looks upon the world, upon the field, upon His good soil and seed, upon His wheat and gives His all for, that He gives His son for. There we see the true treasure of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not that we have purchased or found or own God for ourselves, but rather that He has purchased, found, and welcomed with joy into His barn us sinners and saints. Jesus Christ is the man who has purchased and won us for God, through His cross and passion, through the forgiveness of our sins. He did so on calvary and He does so each week as we gather around this table and have his life giving body and blood placed in our hands. This is the Good news! This is the Gospel of our salvation! This is the seed of God’s word that has been planted in the world long before its creation. It is the mustard seed which grows ever taller and richer and fuller in our hearts as day by day we cling to nothing but Jesus by faith, holding His word, His life, in our hearts and minds. It is the yeast which permeates our entire lives, leaving no batch of flour, no lumpy parts of our world, our homes, our bodies, and selves unaffected. Rising and maturing in us and in the world by faith. It is that Gospel, the outstretched arms of Jesus upon the cross, crucified for us, which is the dragnet by which the church on earth humbly and faithfully proclaims drawing into its embrace the whole cosmos, fishing for men. 

It is only in knowing this, that God has loved you so very much that He would give His life for yours by faith that we can see that not only are we His treasure, but now He is ours. The Gospel of Jesus Christ received by faith, becomes our treasure in this world that we sinners stumble upon. Christ, together with the Father and Holy Spirit is by faith our pearl of great price whom we seek after in Word and Holy Sacrament to listen, to receive, and to then offer up our treasure, ourselves, our time and our possessions, the very signs of His gracious love to us. Faith in this very Gospel, moves us to continue to mine the Word of God each day to hear his word for us and to hear His Word proclaimed every Lord’s day. Faith moves us to spend our time with Him who moves mountains, forgives sins, and loves us to the end. It is faith alone by God’s grace alone that allows us—even when we struggle, confronted by conflict and pain, dealing with our own sins and brokenness, and even when our heads hurt seeking to wrap our minds around what is going on around us—to say, “Yes, Lord.” Yes, we understand, that at times we don’t understand, for our mind and our will is not yours. Yes, Lord, we understand, because we simply trust that your forgiveness will be always bigger than our sin, your mercy greater than our stinginess, your love more perfect than ours, your truth richer and deeper than we could ever fully comprehend this side of the grave. Yes, Lord, we understand that we can only see Kingdom in glimpses, parables, and shadows, but we know that despite our lack of sight you work all things for our good and at the last will reveal all for all for you love of all. Until that time we simply pray, “Yes, Lord”, your kingdom come, your will be done. Amen.   

Sunday, July 20, 2014

6th Sunday after Pentecost (A)-Sermon

Pentecost 6–Sermon
7/20/14–Year A

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

We know weeds. Growing up in the midwest on the farm in a house surrounded by almost 8 acres of grass one learns the difference of weeds rather quickly. Surrounded by that much green grass and fertile soil, made sure that there were plenty of those little yellow flowers dotting our verdant carpet. Dandelions were the play thing of many days growing up on the farm. Many times they were plucked for a lovely little yellow bouquet for my mom or grandma. Next to gathering them for the important women of my life at the time, the best was when they went to seed and were these little white puffs on a stem. Holding them, we made a wish and like the wind blew until all those little seeds had blown all over the grass. I’ve since learned now why we had so many dandelions. As I got a little older, I remember gathering dandelions with my friends. We’d hold one tightly between our index finger and incant, looking back on it a rather dark and morbid saying, “mama had a baby and her head popped off.” As soon as the word “head” was recited we’d flick our thumbs and pop off the dandelion’s golden mane and watch it tumble to the ground. 

From there play turned to pursuit and mission. The days of childhood games gave way to chores. Dandelions were no longer a toy, but an enemy. An enemy that threatened the very verdant blanket around our house that we prized and cherished. Weeds became pests in need of chemical warfare. From Roundup to other more potent things, the grass would be sprayed until not one little yellow bouquet remained. If chemical warfare didn’t do the trick, then we brought in the heavy artillery, especially around the house. Indeed one of the very signs I knew I had reached manhood was when my grandfather handed over to my care our gas powered Weed Eater! Pulling the trigger the cords of that head would dice up weeds better than any samurai sword. For more strategic and selective targeting, there was of course the harder and less fun work of using the weeding fork and uprooting them by hand. Weeds in Iowa, like I am sure they are in California, were only good for one thing, their removal. We see them, in our grass, in our garden, and we terminate with extreme prejudice. 

In Jesus’ parable this morning we hear again about the farmer, who seems even more careless than last week by allowing weeds to invade and permeate his wheat field. Let them both grow together until the harvest, he tells his hired hands. Farming today, we’d say that’s a terrible idea for protecting your harvest and at the very least it just looks bad with wayward weeds jetting out from a perfectly and strategically lined row of beans. The one thing we don’t do with weeds, is leave them be. Yet that is the order our farmer issues to those who work in his field. Don’t uproot them. Don’t spray them. Don’t pull out the heavy artillery and weed eat them. Let them be. Let them grow. Let them remain in place for now in the wheat fields of Galilee.   

For there is a weed prevalent among wheat fields in that part of the world, very likely the same weed our Lord speaks of today, called the darnel weed. It, unlike the bright yellow dandelion, is a much more subtle and deceptive weed. So much so that while growing it looks no different than ordinary wheat. The plants are so closely related in appearance that it is given another name, “false wheat.” It isn’t until their ears open that the difference between them is revealed. Wheat, ripe and ready for the harvest is as we know brown. Darnel is black. There only at the last, when its fruit is revealed is the wheat so readily distinguishable from those pesky weeds, sown by the evil one. In the wheat fields of Galilee the foolish farmer is shown to be wise and discerning in his patience, in his endurance, in his long-suffering of the enemy’s dirty tricks. For in doing what we would do with weeds, he would lose his precious wheat either mistaken for weeds or because the root systems of the both are intertwined beneath the surface. In removing weeds, He would lose that good seed that He had planted and he would rather suffer the weeds than allow even one ear of his grain to perish. Thus no arial support spray, no weed eater, no plucking just for fun only patience, mercy, and long-suffering for this Lord of the harvest. 

Though He knows about Galilean wheat farming, our Lord really isn’t talking about that today, nor of fields, nor of wheat, nor weeds. He speaks of something much more precious than the clothing of the field, the withered grass, or fading flower. He speaks of His good creation, the world, the people He fashioned before the foundations of the world. Those born anew of water and the spirit and those awaiting their adoption as sons and daughters of God. He speaks to us and of our life in the church and in the world a place of both wheat and weeds. As wheat we know the weeds of the world, the dandelions with their bright and unmistakable displays of sin, evil, and lawlessness. Those who persecute the Church and try to silence the Gospel’s proclamation by force. Those weeds who harm their fellow brother or sister for the sake of their own selfish use. Those who shoot down planes from the heavens and take innocent blood upon their hands. We know the weeds and our weed-like nature knows what to do with them. Yet every generation has encountered such evil from the foundation of the world. So that in every generation it is asked why does the Lord permit this to be so? The answer to that is found in the parable and it was there proclaimed in the psalm. You, O Lord, are gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger, and full of kindness and truth. The Lord is patient, merciful, and long-suffering with his whole people with his whole creation. He suffers the weeds of this world, not only for the sake of the wheat, but for the sake of the weeds themselves. Where we would rush for the spray can or weed-eater, God showers down rain upon both the evil and the righteous, the waters of His mercy and of His forgiveness. Yes, even for those most heinous of dandelions. 

For He can do what we can not, where we see nothing but weeds destined for our attack, He sees the potential for new wheat. Not only does He sees that potential, it is His gracious will that all might come to know His goodness, lay down their evil ways, and receive His forgiveness. It is the very reason He planted His good seed Jesus Christ into the world. By the cross of Christ He forgives all and has forgiven all. It is the work of the shed blood and broken body of Jesus in the flesh, that redeems all flesh both the wheat and the weeds. For the wheat and for the dandelions the Father has offered up His Son, thus our God suffers. He suffers with patience waiting, hoping, and longing for their redemption, the day when they will be wheat and shine like the sun in the Father’s barn.  

As it is for the dandelion so it is for the darnels. Those unassuming weeds that grow hidden among the wheat, those who are like the wheat in every way except for one. One that only the Farmer in his keen and fatherly heart can see, discern and judg: their fruit, their faith. Looking out in the congregation I see such wheat and weeds, indeed looking to my own heart I see such wheat, such weeds. Good seed planted in his Kingdom, nurtured by water and Word, Wheat and Wine for growth, maturing, and fruit bearing for the harvest. Yet more often than not I look not unlike that darnel weed growing its own way, in need of mercy. In need of the patience and long-suffering of a good and gracious Farmer who is swift to forgive and wait, and rain down upon me, up on us all, the salvation of his life-giving baptismal water again. Thankfully He does, restoring we errant weeds to fruit bearing wheat. For He indeed is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger, and full of kindness and truth. He is with the weeds, and he is with the wheat, and he calls his servants to be the same. 

He calls his wheat to show mercy, to be long-suffering, and to forgive. Not to be like our fallen nature and destroy the weeds throughout our life in this field but allow both to grow together. That is the word he speaks to the servants in the parable, interestingly enough though that is not exactly what the word in Greek is. The word is actually aphihmi, the word means “to forgive.” Forgive them to grow together until the harvest. As we live in the Church and in the world we are reminded to be like the wise and good farmer. We are called to forgive as we have been forgiven. For if God can forgive the dandelions and he has by the blood of His Son, and if he can forgive the darnels and he has by the blood of His Son, then surely we too can forgive one another for our weedish behavior and tendencies here in His field, His kingdom. God has forgiven us our sins, surely we can forgive and bear with one another in their weakness as well. Surely too, we like the wheat of the Lord of the Harvest can shine the graciousness, compassion, kindness, patience, long-suffering and truth of the one and only Son to the wheat and weeds around us.