Sermon From 7/20

The Rev. Elaine H. Breckenridge
The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 11
Sunday, July 20, 2014
Listen to this….Sermon 2014.07.20 EHB
Once there was man walking through the woods when he came across a strange looking lamp. Hoping that there might be a genie inside the lamp, he picked it up and rubbed it, and, sure enough, out popped a genie who immediately granted him three wishes. “For my first wish,” said man, “I want 5 million dollars deposited into a Swiss Bank Account. Poof, there was a flash of light and the man found himself holding a piece of paper with an account number and directions to the bank. “What is your second wish?” asked the genie. “I’d like a new Ferrari,” said the man. And POOF! A gleaming new Ferrari car suddenly appeared. “And for your third wish?” inquired the genie. The man said “Now, I want to be made irresistible to women.” And POOF! The man was turned into a box of chocolates.
Now what does a genie and a box of chocolates have to do with our readings this morning? Absolutely nothing. I just thought it was important to laugh. How else is one to deal with the end of our Gospel reading this morning– an ending of judgment–complete with a fiery furnace, weeping and gnashing of teeth.
I have never cared for the ending of this passage. Three years ago when this Gospel reading came up, I omitted reading verses 36-43 out loud. The whole passage was printed in the bulletin, but I simply ended the Gospel reading with the words, “Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” In other words, I kept the words of the original parable but dropped Matthew’s interpretation of the parable of the wheat and the weeds. Matthew’s interpretation?
Most scholars agree that Jesus probably told the parable of the wheat and the weeds. But it is almost certain that Jesus did not interpret it as we heard today, equating weeds with evil people and wheat with good people. That was the work of whoever wrote the Gospel of Matthew. It was written by a church that struggled with issues of both inclusion and excommunication. A church that was deciding its rules for membership.

The explanation of the parable hardly sounds like Jesus does it? If we go back to the original parable, Jesus makes the point that just as a farmer allows both weeds and wheat to grow together, so it is also necessary for goodness and evil to live side by side, under the watchful eye of God. This parable of Jesus is an invitation to embrace ambiguity, mystery and discontinuity in life–knowing and trusting that even there, perhaps especially there, God is present. But that point is lost when Matthew has Jesus explain the parable. In fact we find ourselves in dangerous territory, if we take the words of Matthew literally. Literally, it raises the questions, if the good seeds are the children of God, and the bad seeds are the children of the evil one, should they be allowed to exist together? Doesn’t it make much more sense for the elect, the good, and the holy ones, to be separated from the undesirables?
And so I return to chocolate. Or I should say, Chocolat–one of my favorite movies. In the movie, the setting for the story, is a stable Catholic community in France which is disrupted when a single never before married Mother comes to town with her child to open a Chocolate store just in time for the season of Lent. Scandalous. Soon there is a showdown between this woman named Vianne and the town’s mayor. The mayor is a rigid, authoritarian, self-righteous ascetic, one who is determined not only to keep his own Lenten fast but also makes sure that everyone around him does the same. And when a band of gypsies comes to town, he is even more determined to keep the weeds separated from the rest of his town’s wheat. Repeatedly he calls down curses on the woman selling chocolate and on the new resident gypsies. Vianne the so called sinner of the town, is in reality functioning like a pastor, offering a ministry of compassionate listening over cups of hot cocoas, serving as a reconciler in dysfunctional families, providing hospitality to the oppressed.
She’s not portrayed as a perfect person, but to use our parable for a comparison, Vianne’s approach to gardening was to enhance the wheat, offering blessings to whomever she met. The mayor, who saw evil almost everywhere, tried to root it out– both in the town and in himself, and he failed miserably. In fact the mayor in this movie reminds me of what Carl Jung once said, “Remember that the person with the brightest halo often has the smelliest feet!”
The movie has a positive ending, healing and reconciliation in a number of families and households takes place. On Easter Sunday, the local parish priest stands in the pulpit, looks down at his congregation who has been waging war with the gypsies and other town misfits and says, after reflecting on the kindness and tolerance of Jesus: “Listen, here’s what I think. I think that we can’t go around measuring our goodness by what we don’t do, by what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and who we exclude. I think we’ve got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create and who we include.”
What a beautiful summary of this morning’s parable–to understand that the kingdom of God is a place of creativity, a place where life flows from a stance of embracing and including people and situations that we would otherwise prefer to exclude and resist. The movie shows us that there is a bit of goodness and brokenness in everyone, yet the people who are interested in offering blessings and not curses become blessings to others, often effecting change and reconciliation.
Sadly, it doesn’t always seem to work that way in the real world. As we know, history is filled with records of self-appointed prophets and people who believed themselves to be the reaper angels of God, charged with wiping out evil. And such thinking has led to inquisitions, the persecution of women believed to be witches, apartheid, genocide and a penal system that seems to beget not deter crime. The problem of course with separating the good from the bad, is that like the parable of wheat and the weeds, it is not always easy to identify the difference between the good guys and the bad guys. Is it the Palestinians or the Israelis? Russia or Ukraine? Shiites or Sunnis? Americans protecting their border or those who would give refugee children and families asylum?
These are complex issues, with no clear cut solutions and so the parable of the wheat and the weeds is as timely as ever. As we listen to the Gospel, we must listen carefully to words of Jesus and more importantly pay attention to how Jesus lived. We know that Jesus rejected and rebelled again the extremist interpretation of Jewish law based on a theology of separatism, a caste system, where some were in and some were out. Yes, Jesus, turned tables and rules upside down because he was love and grace incarnate. Jesus was God with those people who would have been considered as the weeds of the field of society, making the case time and again that resistance and exclusion are not kingdom values.
And so it is today. God’s kingdom involves the lives of all sorts and conditions of women and men, children and the elderly, the sick and the healthy, people who speak a variety of languages, various tribes and nations and even those who practice different religions. The whole earth is God’s soil.
I pray that someday, we will realize that we draw life from the same soil, that our lives are bound up with each other, that we need each other, and that given a chance we can not only sustain each other, we can actually enhance one other. If only we could learn to value our differences rather than fear them. If only we could learn to put our arms around what we think is ambiguity, mystery and discontinuity, trusting that God is doing the same.
This morning’s parable is a reminder to let God be God. Some day when we discover the center of the universe, we may be surprised to learn that we are not there but God is. It is God who made us and the field we call creation. Some of life’s mysteries, people we are afraid of, situations we resist and particularly the judgments we may render of others, are better left in the hands of God.
Hear the Good News: People, situations and even aspects of ourselves that we may perceive as weeds are in fact beautiful in the eyes of God. May we learn to look on God’s world with divine eyes, with the eyes of love and compassion. Amen.

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