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Children of the kin-dom


When Jesus teaches, he teaches in parables. This is not an innovation in teaching; he comes from a Jewish tradition where stories are told and retold and teachings are given through parables. Jesus used real-world examples in his parables, things that people would recognize. In his teaching, he could have said anything but he chose to tell stories.


And when he told stories, he chose the characters. Sometimes the parables are set in workplaces like vineyards or fields, or familiar spaces like a family home. Sometimes there are people who come from different social groups. Some stories have animals.


The parable for today is about a field full of wheat and weeds. (Perhaps you noticed there’s some verses missing from this story. Weirdly, we’ll read those next week. I don’t make the rules.) Now there’s a landowner, and there are servants—Jesus explains those represent God and the angels. In this parable, who represents the people of the earth? PLANTS.


Does a seed get to self-determine what kind of plant it becomes? Does a weed consciously try to kill other plants? Can wheat kill off the weeds that surround it? Can a wheat plant evangelize a weed and convince the weed to become something else? Can wheat harvest itself? Can wheat advocate for weeds at the harvest time to save the weeds too? No.


How much agency does a plant even have? Did Jesus choose the objects and subjects in this parable on purpose? This isn’t a lesson in agriculture or best practices for farming—this parable is about how God is the one in charge. Even if you think you follow God and you believe you can clearly identify who’s a productive wheat plant and who’s a worthless weed, you still don’t get to decide.


So then we want to blame God: why does God allow weeds to exist anyway? God didn’t create the evil, and in the parable it’s an enemy who sows the weeds in the field. Jesus likens the weeds to “children of the evil one” though I’m not sure the devil has the power to create humans.


Creating humans sounds to me like the kind of work only God can do. So I don’t think the wheat plants are the good and righteous people and the weeds are bad and evil people—I think the weeds are just expressions of evil in the world, like how St. Paul describes sin that clings to us, or being bound to death and decay.


So then why does God allow evil in the world anyway? Jesus has an answer for that in this parable, too: because everything is mixed up together. The kin-dom of God is everywhere, and so is evil, and it’s counterproductive to destroy the good stuff just to get rid of the bad stuff. God loves creation too much to destroy everything.


The real question is whether we humans are willing to be as humble as plants, trusting in God to save us and trusting God to gather us into God’s presence in the end.


Humans are historically bad at this. We’re not great with humility. We love to judge others. We love to be right and to tell others we’re right. This isn’t new, either—humans were built the same way in Jesus’s time too, so Jesus knew about this. He told this parable to remind humans that we’re not in charge, we don’t get to tell God what to do, and our challenge is to trust God and humble ourselves before God. The wheat will be gathered and saved, precious and shining like piles of gold, while the weeds will be bundled together and burned.


The only action for the wheat is keep growing. Keep being what God created you to be. Reach toward the sky, get your energy from the sun, drink in the nourishing rain, and just grow. It’s that simple. It’s too simple.


We never stop wanting to earn God’s favor, to earn our salvation, to remind God of our righteousness and try to edge closer to God’s presence so that we can become God’s advisors and tell God who’s right using evidence like “It says right here in the Bible…”


We have seen the dark side when people use their religion and their understanding of God to assume God’s work of judgment, as if they’re doing God a favor. This is not a new idea, either.


In Jesus’s tradition, the people of Israel didn’t always agree about exactly what God wanted from them. Sometimes there were multiple prophets whose testimonies disagreed—which one among the many speaks for God? How is a faithful person supposed to figure this out?


The New Testament also contains letters between early Christian communities trying to figure out how to follow Jesus in the real world. What we read today from Romans is a letter written by St. Paul, advising about what it means to follow Jesus, but he and other early church leaders wrote many letters, encouraging and teaching, what should worship look like? Which behavior is righteous and which behavior is problematic? Will Christians be known by their love or by their testimony about Jesus or by their adherence to rituals?


The letter writing continues! A couple months ago, this church received three letters, arriving on different days, typewritten address on the front, no return address. That’s a clue, first of all—if there’s no return address, then this isn’t a letter seeking relationship or conversation. But mistakes happen, so the church staff opens the letters, and the letters are typewritten and are unsigned also. The letters were vague in criticizing the church’s welcome of LGBTQIA+ people, using religious language to encourage our repentance and warning of God’s wrath. I don’t remember anymore what exactly these letters said because after I read carefully and found no reference to our specific church building or any individual people within this church, the letters were thrown away.


I was distressed to know someone out there thinks I deserve God’s wrath just because I take seriously Jesus’s call to love my neighbor. I don’t know who sent these letters, they were mailed within the city of St. Louis which means: whoever this is, they’re my neighbor too, so Jesus calls me to love them as well. Ugh. That’s the hard part.


But it’s also the call of the Gospel—to keep loving, even when people are hating. Shrinking away because of fear, striking back out of revenge or hatred—none of this helps. Neither does staying silent, which is why I’m telling you about this now!


There were other letters that showed up. Was it a coincidence or the work of the Holy Spirit? An envelope with a return address: Hope Lutheran Church in Los Angeles, California. I don’t know anyone there, but here are highlights from the letters.

· Read letters from Hope Lutheran Church, Hollywood: Pastor Drew Stever, Bishop Brenda Bos, and other congregants


These are the letters to keep, signed by real people who desire relationship because they also know God. We know God, and we know God’s power to create and God’s power to heal and God’s desire for evil to be burned away in the end—that part is God’s work, and God’s alone.


A couple of postcards showed up this week—typed address, no return address, warnings about our social teachings making us handmaidens of the devil (hard not to take that as a compliment). And I finally started asking around—if this letter is truly as mass-produced as I suspect it is, then who else is getting these? Pastor Meagan McLaughlin at Christ Lutheran in Webster Groves said, oh yeah, all the churches along Lockwood have gotten these. And she laughed. And then I re-read the encouraging letters, to remind me of the truth of our testimony about God’s love.


Shine light, be who you are, and let the good grow. God is paying attention. God knows the difference between good and evil, and evil will not prosper, and evil will not win. We are growing in the kin-dom of God. Let anyone with ears listen.


Amen.

Pastor Cheryl



 



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