Super fun and light hearted Gospel reading today, right? Nothing like something easy like being thrown into the fiery furnace of hell to preach on my last Sunday with you! If you notice, there’s a chunk missing from the middle of this text. That’s the parable of the mustard seed. A beautiful, traditional text. Great for an uplifting message to leave in all of your minds about me. And instead, we have the fiery furnace of hell.
There are a lot of different directions a text like this can be taken. And there are a lot who will use this text as a way to scare people into believing that if we aren’t good, as they define good, we’re going to hell.
I would like to give a little preface to this message: I will not be condemning anyone to hell today. That is God’s job. Not mine. And more than that, I want to draw your attention to a couple of specific things. The Good seed are the children of God. The Weeds are the children of the evil one. And God is hesitant to risk even one of the children of God. So the weeds grow together with the wheat and everything is sorted later. God – the original and ultimate procrastinator.
There is no risk to the Children of God in this story. We are safe. Who is or is not a child of God is up to God. Not humans.
I was a defense attorney before heading off to seminary. I’m of the opinion that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. And there is no way I’d be selected to be on a heavenly jury (even though that’d be pretty cool). I will leave judgment to God and merely offer that the text is specific that the children of God are safe.
Thank you for indulging my little rant to start today. And now, let the actual sermon begin!
I have a refrigerator magnet that a friend brought back for me years ago from a trip to somewhere in Europe. It says “Look busy, Jesus is coming”. Usually I think of this magnet during Easter, when we read about Jesus chastising the disciples who were repeatedly unable to stay awake while Jesus prayed. Today, I thought of it in terms of this Gospel.
Because if ever there was a Gospel that says look busy, Jesus is coming. It’s this one.
Let me explain.
I’d like to explain using a slightly different translation of the Bible. We usually use the NRSV in the Episcopal Church, and what we have read together in my time here has been from the NRSV. I’d like to use a much less known interpretation for a few sentences, The Voice translation. It’s important to occasionally look at differently interpretations of the Bible because it shines a different light on the words. I offer this translation not because it changes the word slave to something more palatable, but because I think it’s more accurate to modern ears.
The Voice says:
“Once there was a farmer who sowed good seeds in his field. While the farmer’s workers were sleeping, his enemy crept into the field and sowed weeds among all the wheat seeds. Then he snuck away again. Eventually the crops grew—wheat, but also weeds. So the farmer’s workers said to him, “Sir, why didn’t you sow good seeds in your field? Where did these weeds come from?” “My enemy must have done this,” replied the farmer. “Should we go pull up all the weeds?” asked his workers. “No,” said the farmer. “It’s too risky. As you pull up the weeds, you would probably pull up some wheat as well. We’ll let them both grow until harvest time. I will tell the harvesters to collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned, and only then to harvest the wheat and bring it to my barn.”
Here is what I get from this section of Scripture:
God is the farmer;
God does not do the planting God’s self;
God hires, essentially migrant workers, to tend the fields;
God does not inquire about the immigration status of the workers God hires;
The fields are planted with good seed;
When work is done, the workers rest;
While taking an appropriate and well earned rest, something happens;
God does not cause the evil;
God does not freak out nor does God overreact about the evil; and,
God creates a new plan to allow the Children of God to flourish.
I will tell you all, quite honestly, that the idea I started with about this sermon is that we need to be vigilant, we need to stay awake and focus on achieving God’s will. And I think that’s true. But I also think it’s true that God allows us to rest after we’ve worked hard.
God doesn’t get upset that the workers were sleeping. There is no punishment. God isn’t even mad, it doesn’t seem. God stays even, calm, rational. I imagine God was disappointed. Even saddened. Good seed, expensive seed, planted at great expense and with great effort. And at first blush, all seems ruined.
It would be reasonable for the answer to be to start over. It’s also reasonable to attempt to pull the weeds. But at the early stage of growth, it’s hard to tell the weeds from the wheat.
Instead, God decides to nourish and grow the weeds as well. This takes effort and money. And grace. And love.
God decides to offer protection and opportunity at life for all of the wheat. God also offers the opportunity at life for the weeds.
My whole life I’ve heard the saying “everything happens for a reason.” In looking at this Scripture, and in looking back over my own life, I will tell you I do not, in anyway, believe that to be true.
Sometimes, things happen. Bad things. Evil. Things we in no way deserve nor can we predict. There are accidents. Tragedies. These things are unpredictable, undeserved, unwanted, and change the direction of our lives.
I was talking with a priest friend of mine the other day, and he reminded me of something Mr. Rogers said after 9/11. Well, of something Mr. Rogers’ Mother said: look for the helpers. When something evil or sad or scary happens, look for the helpers. There will always be helpers.
Those helpers, those are the workers in the story. And we are all around.
Uncertain at first. Waiting for clarity and instructions from God. But there. And willing to work towards the good, even in the midst of unspeakable tragedy.
Working towards the good of God. Being the hands and feet of God in this world. Cultivating the love of God. In the midst of tragedy and evil.
That’s our work. That’s what we must do.
Our job on this earth isn’t to condemn. It isn’t to try to separate the good from the evil. It is to grow. To nourish. To help.
And that, I think, is what we need to stay alert for. We need to stay alert for what God is doing, and to figure out what we can and should do to be part of that. Remembering that after a tragedy we’re allowed to catch our breath, and to consider before we act. And to rest when we need to.
That is the type of busy I want to be when Jesus comes back. I don’t want to be busy so busy at work that I’m exhausted and unable to do God’s work. I want to have enough left in my tank that when God needs me, I can work for God’s purposes.
That is what I wish for all of us.
Do the work that you need to do. But remember that we are the hands and feet of God in this world. We are God’s workers as well as the seeds. We must nourish ourselves and one another. We must care for ourselves and one another.
That is the type of busy that we should be when Jesus comes back.
That’s also the message I have to leave you all with. We are God’s helpers. We are God’s hands and feet in this world. Nourish what God has planted. Help when help is needed. And when you aren’t sure what that help should be or look like, ask God.