I feel as though all that there is to write about these days is division. I’m not going to list the ways. I’ll let you do that for yourselves. We all know that division is hurting this world. Division is hurting us individually whether we are willing to recognize it or not. The way to describe what is going on might be considered archaic but it is the best we have available. Human sin is seen in our division. Sin is our rebellion against the reign of God and we are paying a heavy price for it.
Jesus is telling about the kingdom of heaven as present and working within the world around us. He tells that it is like a mustard seed which starts small but grows large enough to provide a home for the birds…like yeast that infuses throughout the flour to make the dough…like a valuable surprise that catches us off guard bringing joy…like a treasure that is worth everything we have. Jesus also described the kingdom of heaven like a fishing net that catches all the fish which are later separated much like what will happen at the end of this age when what is wicked is divided from what is righteous. Notice, the angels are the ones doing the sorting not us. This serves as a reminder to us too confident in our divisions and not taking an honest look at ourselves. Is the kingdom of heaven truly a place of joy where all may find a home in its branches?
Looking at the reign of God (kingdom of heaven), the Scriptures tell us of God calling a formless void into an amazing creation where life can multiply and flourish. A creation described as being very good. We are told of a God taking an enslaved group of people and bringing them through an exodus into freedom. Prophets spoke with boldness to the injustice of the leaders against the poor and weak of society. We are told of God in the person of Jesus willing to die on a cross so this good creation could be made new through the resurrection. This is an old story but a treasure because of the love it expresses. Unfortunately, Scripture often gets tossed around haphazardly to support our divisions, our sin. However, if like a well trained teacher about the kingdom of heaven, the Scripture can be used for the treasure that it is to inspire hope in a future redeemed in Christ under the kingdom of heaven’s umbrella.
We all are under the oppressive weight of division and the hurt it causes. Yet Jesus calls our attention to the kingdom of heaven. The reign of God where chaos gives way to life granting creation…the domination of slavery gives way to freedom…death surrenders to the resurrection of Christ through whom all things are being made new. The kingdom of heaven really is a treasure that is both old and new.
I have always heard the phrase, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.” Maybe you have too? A couple years ago, I learned from where it was derived. Years ago when getting water wasn’t as easy as turning the faucet handle, the family would use the same water on bath night. Yuck!! The baby was the last to get washed. So when the dirty water was tossed out the door, you get the idea. Today we use the phrase to highlight the importance of not tossing aside what is valuable when discarding the unwanted.
I think this relates to the parable comparing the kingdom of heaven to a farmer planting wheat. Good seed was used but weeds (planted by the enemy) came up with the wheat. The workers wanted to pull out the weeds but the the farmer stopped them. In the hurry to yank out the weeds, wheat would be pulled out as well. Better to wait when the harvest comes and then sort the weeds out.
We have a lot to learn from Jesus’ parable. We are divided as a people. We argue (and much worse) over something as simple as the wearing of masks. The thought of labelling “those people” as a bunch of “weeds” could be a mild characterization of what we really think about them. This is what Jesus was warning about because of the damage and harm that could be done. We need to understand our place.
Jesus is the farmer planting the good seed. The world is the field. The angels do the sorting at harvest time. Notice, we don’t do the sorting, the judging or the reaping. Our judgment is too tainted by prejudice. Our evaluations are insufficient for the purpose. The risk of harming each other is too high. Those who a part of the kingdom of heaven are simply too valuable to be tossed aside in our rush for human standards for righteousness.
Here the good news gets to be heard. We aren’t judged by others but in the mercy of Christ. Such mercy comes in a love expressed on a cross. This kind of mercy allows life to grow in the world even among the weeds.
The world is divided and we are a part of the problem. Yet with the mercy of Christ, the kingdom of heaven does bring life to its fullest. Remember we live by grace. Something for us all to be thankful. So the next time one of those “weeds” are spotted keep in mind the phrase, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”
We all know a good story when we hear it. The story line connects to a part of life that we can identity with in our own lives. A good story teller knows how to use humour, elicit emotions, draw on our fears or lift up our hopes. A story that connects with our lives is one that will, most likely, stay with us for a while. So in the reading, Jesus is telling about his use of parables. A parable means to bring along side for the use of comparison. A parable can serve to be a good story since it comes along side and connects with life. However a story that compares well to life can just as easily draw us in or if it gets a little too close, may repel instead. The parables Jesus told did both.
The parable of the sower is well known. A sower spreads seed on a variety of soils with mixed results. The seed that fell on poor, rocky soil produced nothing but the seed that fell on good soil produced a tremendous crop. Any gardener or farmer knows that good soil has a much better chance of producing a great harvest. There is nothing surprising here, except for what the parable does as it comes along side our lives, it exposes us. This is precisely why Jesus used parables in response to the disciples’ question.
The grace of God is everywhere. It fills all of creation with life. Jesus showed how that grace enhances life in his compassion, empathy, care for the sick, invitation to the outcast, concern for those walked on by others. His resurrection shows God is a God of life and not death. The love of God is like seed ready to bring life to its fullest. Yet the seed is not always received that way. The question is “Why?”
Some people are simply hard as a rock and the concept of grace just won’t easily take root. Some people have been so beat down that like a well worn path, a seed will have a hard time finding a crack in the hard crust for life to put down roots. Some people like the idea of grace and want more of it but they get absorbed into the life offered by the world. Some people are where life in the kingdom of heaven flourishes.
We all know what a good story is when we hear it by how it compares to life. Parables are like a good story in that they come along side and connect our lives with life in the kingdom of heaven. The parables of Jesus expose our hardness. They can also plant a seed which will bring astounding results produced by the grace of God. As Jesus told the disciples, “He who has ears, let him hear.”
It must be difficult to be a person of science in a culture that ignores facts. Wearing masks is known to reduce the spread of Covid but so many refuse to wear them. The young believe themselves immortal and are now the greatest spreaders of the virus. Conspiracy theories are believed as fact while truth is dismissed as political garbage and therefore ignored. In the assigned reading for Sunday, Jesus was talking about the generation of that day but he was equally describing our modern generation too. He was lamenting the “pseudo” wisdom which was so prominent then and now.
Jesus described the generation as,
But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” Matthew 11:16-19
There is a way the world works. If you can master it, you can become extremely powerful and wealthy by the world’s standards. The trouble with Jesus was that he wouldn’t play the game. He refused to dance to the melody played and what was expected of him. He socialized with tax collectors and sinners. His attention was not directed to polling numbers but to healing the sick and for the poor to actually hear good news for a change. Heaven’s wisdom will not be found in playing childish games but is revealed by the Father. To know this wisdom is to know Jesus; to know Jesus is to know the Father.
Jesus spoke these wonderful words to the disciples and they are for us to hear as well.
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30
There is a weariness that comes from constantly swimming against the culture’s current. There is an exhaustion that comes from caring for our neighbour’s well being…calling out the lies that keep the poor oppressed…repenting from our own and naming the racism that is interwoven in culture…, especially when life could be so much easier in just giving into the childish power games. What we fail to recognize is how soul diminishing a life consumed with hate and oppression can be. So Jesus invites us to learn from him. What we will learn is a wise way of living that re-freshens the soul. The way that follows Jesus is to learn from him and his yoke is easy and his burden is light.
Peace and please wear your mask.
When was the last time you felt welcome from others? It may have been a while. These days of polarization have made the concept of welcoming seem rather rare. Yet, the invitation to join a group, an organization, a family, a club gives the feeling of acceptance and that is a blessing. So as we turn to the reading for this coming Sunday, blessing is the order for the day.
The reading is a continuation of the past couple weeks. Jesus had been prepping the disciples to go out and tell the world of God who loves it. The act of telling about a kingdom where the hungry were fed, the sick receive healing care and the outcast received was to be their new identity in life. What were they going to receive from announcing this wonderful message? They were going to be prosecuted, persecuted and divided against family. There are times when families don’t always get along with each other and those times aren’t good. What Jesus was describing was even worse. In those days a person’s identity wasn’t defined by individuality, it was defined by community, your family. Separated from the family meant you lost what defined you. Jesus was sending them out and they were at risk of losing everything this world offers. Jesus now turns to speak words of blessing and welcome.
Jesus said to them,
Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Matthew 10:40
Remember the importance of community? The “you” is not singular, it is plural. Jesus was saying that those who receive one of the disciples wasn’t accepting only the person but the whole community of those following Christ. To put it another way, the disciples were already a part of a community and that was the followers of Christ and members of God’s kingdom. Even a cup of cool water offered on a hot day to a disciple was an act of welcoming Christ, the kingdom and finding a new identity in Christ.
These days of polarization may leave you (singular) on the outside and feeling very much alone. Daring to speak of welcome and grace in the name of Christ may even leave you feeling more so. This is where Jesus’ words are such a blessing. There is a community that finds its identity in Christ. You are a part of that community. Anyone who welcomes you (plural), welcomes that community to define them well. You may feel isolated but you are not, you are a part of the kingdom (family) of God. This is a blessing.
Fear is a strong motivator. There is a lot of fear these days. We fear getting Covid. We fear change and what is different from what we think is normal. We fear the loss of job and paying the rent. We are told to fear the immigrant and those of a different race. We fear the loss of privilege. We fear exposure as we lose that carefully developed facade of who we think we are. Of course, there is the fear of death. At the core of fear is loss and losing what we own. No wonder that fear is used so effectively in politics. The reading from Matthew has Jesus telling the disciples to not be afraid. If there were a group of people having a right to be afraid, the disciples would be that group. What Jesus was asking of them would lead to loss, a lot of loss. What Jesus also announced to them and to all willing to listen, was their value to God who is concerned about the insignificant sparrow. Obviously we are of greater value than a sparrow. What Jesus was stressing wasn’t just the recognition of what may be lost but the importance of gaining life – life that is found within the kingdom of God.
Jesus was preparing the disciples for a big evangelism effort. He was also warning them of the consequences and what they might lose. He warned that his coming was not for peace but will bring the sword, division instead. They will lose relationships with brother, sister and in-law. They will even face death itself. Why? The message to be proclaimed will bring exposure…what is done in secret will be revealed…the coming of God’s kingdom promises to cause tremendous change with the powerful brought down and the low lifted up. There will be fear.
Jesus repeatedly told them not to be afraid and that is for us to hear as well. The God who raised Jesus from the dead and who will raise us as well, cares for us to know even the number of hairs on our heads. This same Father knows even when a little sparrow falls to the ground and we are of greater value than a sparrow.
The final verse talks about what is gained and what is lost. Those who find their life will lose their life. Those who find life on this world’s terms with tear-gas bombs, photo-ops, violence and fear will lose the life they have in the kingdom to come. Who loses their life for Christ will find it. Those willing to speak to what is done in secret for it to be exposed in the light of Christ are the ones who find life
These days of rallies and protests are filled with fear and anger. Racism and its various forms which have been kept in secret are becoming exposed. As Jesus said,
So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.
Exposure is needed because that leads to confession. With confession, comes the opportunity for healing to begin and for us all to find our life in the kingdom of God.
Summer finally seems to have arrived. Beaches are beginning to open up. Lawns are needing to be mowed. Fans are still waiting for the “crack” of the bat hitting a baseball. Many are yearning for ‘normal’ to return but that normal is not present. “I can’t breathe,” are words refusing to be silent. Will the next wave of Covid-19 be a ripple or tsunami? The presidential campaign is turning into a full out sprint. The worry is how will the connective fibres holding us together as a country withstand the efforts to tear us apart into divisive camps.
Jesus had gone around the area preaching the good news of the kingdom as well as healing the sick. The crowds were large with no one to unite and bring healing to them. He had compassion for them. So the disciples were sent out to continue what Jesus had been doing. The more workers meant more could be done. Jesus told them to do this freely, without payment. He also told them to be shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves. The kingdom of heaven and its reign comes to us freely without a cost. Make no mistake, the cross was costly for Christ but the gift of his kingdom is free. The disciples needed to model this and to be aware of the push back they would face. There were those, like wolves, who profited and enjoyed having power over the sheep (people). These wolves will prosecute and persecute anyone getting in the way of their privileged position. The disciples needed to know this and to also understand that they’ll have the Holy Spirit’s support with them.
The summer season has arrived and the desire for many is to get back to what is considered to be normal. However the political division, racial issues and progression of Covid-19 infections are forcing us to face a world that is far from that normal. Into this world, Jesus is sending us (the church). The message is that there is another way for the world to exist and it comes freely, the kingdom of heaven which comes to us through Christ. This other way is where the sick are cared for and our neighbour’s health is important for us to support and keep. This other way brings healing to injuries formed by racial and political divisions. This other way calls out with honesty the evil that sits at the doorway of our lives, naming it for what is done. Will this cause a push back? Of course. However, don’t forget that the Spirit is present and will give the support needed. A lot of work needs to be done. The more announcing the kingdom of heaven that comes near to us in Christ, the more that good news gets spread.
This has been a rough week. Unemployment numbers are high. Covid-19 infection rates are still climbing in several states and throughout much of the world. The country is embroiled with protest. I find it frightening how the protesters are called to be dominated by military force and cities spoken of as battle spaces. Amazing how the call for racial justice leads to such hostility. Where will this end as we proceed into summer? Will the protests continue? To what extent will force be used in the effort to stop the protests? This has been a rough week and what will next week bring?
The final verse has Jesus telling the disciples:
And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age
These words of Jesus are comforting because we don’t want to be alone in times like this. We want God to be with us. However, what does this really mean? Often we talk of Jesus as being a companion, a buddy, someone supportive of our efforts and goals. Yet, Jesus’ promise to always be with us goes much deeper than simply being a friend or rubber-stamping our political agendas. Jesus told the disciples to go and baptize…make disciples of all nations…teach others to obey the things he commanded. The great challenge in this is that Jesus didn’t teach that people were to be dominated by military force or that cities are battle-spaces. The Roman Empire did this, including crucifixions. Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection are proof that the ways of God’s kingdom are far different. If we are to teach the ways of the kingdom which contradict “might makes right,” then we really do need him…we need him.
Jesus was leaving the disciples and they did two things, worship and doubt. A great summation of the life of faith. The life of faith includes worship which is the easy part. The life of faith that teaches a contradiction to the powers of the world, is one of worry and fear and doubt. We need Jesus with us.
As you go into another new week which looks like a continuation of the last, remember Jesus’ promise to you…he is with you always.
The heading “Coherent Voices” sounds a lot like an oxymoron. Coherence means there is a unifying reference. Yet in the middle of an argument when all sides are shouting there is no coherence. This country is in the middle of an argument about race, I like to call it human dignity. The protests of the past few days are an eruption of it.
Another man of color, George Floyd, has died while under arrest at the hands of the police. This continues to happen and it should not. Protests have happened in thirty cities because this must stop. Yes, there has been damage to property. The other side has labelled the protesters “thugs” and connects “looting” to “shooting” as pointed out in a recent Twitter comment by the President. The argument continues to be fanned for political gain.
This Sunday is Pentecost. Jews from the known world had gathered for a festival when the Holy Spirit came with the sound of a strong wind and tongues of fire settled above the heads of Jesus’ disciples. They spoke and those present, even with different dialects and languages, could hear clearly what was being said. There were many voices but they were coherent in the message which was about the wonderful things that God has done. One of the great things God has done and continues to do is work toward unity of all people.
The Holy Spirit is poured out upon all people with no distinction between age, rank or sex. God is pouring his Spirit on all people. We divide but God unifies. We degrade each other but Christ’s death and resurrection was for all and brings value to all humanity. We destroy but in Christ all creation is being made new.
The Gospel reading for this Sunday (John 20: 19-23) has Jesus breathing the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. He sent them out with the business of forgiveness which is about restoration and the renewing of relationships (with God and each other). The church is being sent out today with a coherent message among the voices. The message is about human dignity that is granted not by us but by Christ himself. The message speaks directly to the division that it must end because the kingdom of heaven is not of this world. The message is about what the wonderful things God has done for us in Christ. It is for all.
Memorial Day weekend has arrived but this doesn’t feel like much of a vacation. The death toll from Covid will be 100,000 in the next couple days. Stores are starting to reopen while others still remain closed because it isn’t worth the risk. Most people are wearing masks while a few defiantly refuse. Churches have become a major point of contention as some pastors go to court in order to have in-person worship while others are still being cautious. The summer begins with us a divided people. The times are unsettled and with this being an election year, politics will likely make the dynamics worse. So regarding the church in the midst of all of this we might ask, “What Now?” For the answer, we look to the prayer of Jesus out of the Gospel of John.
Jesus was about to be arrested as he prayed for himself and the disciples (for us). He had come to give eternal life. Eternal life was to know God and Jesus Christ whom the Father has sent. So this was his prayer for himself,
And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” John 17:5
Jesus then prayed for us. His prayer was interesting because of what was missing. He didn’t pray for us to be powerful. He didn’t pray for us to be politically connected or to adopt the world’s ways. What he did pray for is that we know his joy that comes through our relationship with him. Jesus also prayed that we be protected because we are to be in the world but we are not of the world. The world has different meanings but one point to be stressed is that it is loved by God. Jesus was going to return to the Father but his followers were to continue in the work of letting the world know that it is loved by God. Jesus’ love won’t be known by political games or by separating into our private enclaves but only by an engagement with the world, thus the need for prayerful protection. If the world is to know eternal life, the world needs to know Jesus Christ and the One who sent him. The knowledge of Christ comes through how we reflect him in the world.
This Memorial Day weekend the world is divided and in disarray. It needs to know that it is loved. It needs to know a life that is eternal. It needs to know Jesus Christ and the Father who sent him. This is the work for the church that might be wondering, “What Now?” Remember, always remember, Jesus has prayed for you. He has prayed for you to know his joy. He prayed that you be protected in this truth.