5th Sunday After Pentecost; Year A
Isaiah 44.6-8; Psalm 86.11-17; Romans 8.12-25; Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace and peace to you from the One who has defeated evil in his death and resurrection, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
On Thursday this past week Paul Brandels Raushenbush, a writer with Huffington Post wrote:
What a horrible day. Israel has begun a ground offensive in Gaza, the White House is on lockdown, and a plane has been shot down in Ukraine. Today’s news piles on an already shaking landscape of ISIS in Iraq, immigrant children suffering on the U.S. border, and still missing Nigerian girls. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-raushenbush/ukraine-plane-crash-gaza_b_5596930.html)
I do not think that any of us would deny the presence and power of evil in the world. Most people are tempted to blame someone or God for it, call certain people inherently evil, and desire the weeping and gnashing of teeth for anyone who has shot down a passenger plane full of hundreds of people, most of the ones on board being humanitarian workers and people trying to do the good work of eradicating HIV/AIDS.
On days like Thursday I can feel the whole of creation and my own being crying out for redemption and the setting right of all things. What we see and experience in the world, as well as what we read in Gospel readings like the one today, brings up the topic of evil and God’s response to it.
Pay close attention to what Taylor, a former YCC youth says about evil in this video:
Taylor says she has “…been to hell and back, seen evil, done evil…and I know that I’m okay,” she says. “I’m saved….There’s never no hope for anyone.”
Taylor speaks a powerful Word of good news to all of us, as well as names the complexity of what it means to be a human being living in the world. Taylor is a person who knows the good she is capable of as well as the evil. She holds both within her, not just one or the other.
Unlike some interpretations of our Gospel reading that people are either good or bad, wheat or weeds, I still interpret this text in light of the Lutheran understanding of 100% saint, 100% sinner.
I know these numbers just don’t add up together, but it really means that we hold the potential for both good and evil within each of us, weeds and wheat in our very being. We are created good and in the image of God, and yet we live in a world in which we participate in and perpetuate evil, whether we know it or not.
What Jesus makes very clear in his explanation of the story of the wheat and weeds is that God is not the one who brings about evil in the world, the devil is. Evil is opposed to God’s will, and yet it is allowed to be scattered in the good world God has made. I have always struggled with the allowance of evil in the world and I complain to God about it every day. Yet, I know that I am to blame for some of it and also that there is only so much truth to the line, “The devil made me do it.”
In his article, Raushenbush tries to make sense of all the horrible things that have been happening in the world as he writes:
We, the human race, are doing this to ourselves. These aren’t natural disasters, or “acts of God.” It’s just us, humans, having completely lost our humanity. We are warring, and hurting, and intentionally or unintentionally killing one another through direct assault or indifference and neglect.
We have forgotten that we belong to one another, that we are connected, that we are all sisters and brothers, that we need one another.
Raushenbush suggests that we, as human beings, are the ones who perpetuate and participate in evil when we fail to see the good in others, essentially when we fail to see one another as fellow human beings, sisters and brothers.
Usually the “weeping and gnashing of teeth” part of what Jesus’ says gets people’s attention. We automatically assume it means thrown into hell after death, but that is not necessarily true.
Peder jokes with his kids that there will be much “weeping and gnashing of teeth” when he wants to emphasize that there will be much suffering oh say when having to sit through a meeting all day or something like that. No matter what, we know it is a serious warning and it should scare us a bit or at least make us uncomfortable. It is a call to take a deep look into our own lives and make some necessary changes.
So what is the Good News in all of this for us here today? For one, the good news is that God is the alpha and the omega, the first and the last. No one and nothing has more power than God and God will have the last Word. Judgment is not in your control or mine. Some do not think of this as good news, but I sure do. What is clear in Scripture is that evil will have no place in eternal life, not inside each of us, not anywhere.
Second, we know the One who will judge each of us at the end of time is the one who has already died upon the cross for you and for me. You can trust this One who has always and will always love you.
Third, we can and do participate in God’s good work in the world all the time through caring for others, speaking peace, forgiving, loving, feeding, praying, etc.
Fourth, it is a very good thing that God is not a good farmer, scattering seeds all over the place no matter where they fall, letting weeds grow tall among wheat. God’s work often does not make any sense to us…things like forgiving us when we don’t deserve forgiveness; offering us grace and mercy when we do not earn it; coming to earth and dying on a cross when he could have just taken out all the evildoers at that time.
Again and again, the loving work of God comes forth in the world in small, simple, profound ways each day. The mystery of faith is that we say and believe that evil was defeated in the death and resurrection of Christ and it is to have no power over us.
At the end of Raushenbush’s article he asks himself what he can do in the midst of overwhelming evil in the world. He comes up with this:
It is hard to know what to do, but, even within this dark day, we need to continue to insist on the possibility of peace — and to have that start with ourselves. If all I can do today is pray for peace and the well-being of both Israelis and Palestinians and refuse to accept that war is inevitable or hate is natural, that will be a start. If I can pray for the people in that plane and try not to be swept into a rage calling for revenge, if I can make myself open to being an instrument of peace, then that will be a start. That is one, very small, way that I can respond to this horrible day.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, may the Spirit of God protect you from all evil and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.