Friday, July 18, 2008

Preaching this Sunday

Once a month, on the third Sunday, I get the opportunity to preach and lead worship at the Arthur United Methodist Church, in Arthur, Iowa. During the summer church starts at 8:30 am, which is okay for me because I have been up for a hours by then, and after church there is ALWAYS fellowship time filled with lots of goodies! The Arthur group is like one big family and they are such loving people. As I am working on my sermon for this weekend I thought it might be fun to post what I will be saying on Sunday morning. Granted this is probably not a final draft, I usually edit until I walk into church on Sunday, but I think you'll get the idea.

July 20th, 2008

“Christians Don’t Need Roundup”

A Man was stopped at a stop light waiting for the light to turn green. When the light finally changed, he was distracted by something and didn’t move. The woman in the care behind him honked her horn. Still, he just sat waiting. She honked again. By this time, she was pounding on the steering wheel and blowing her horn non-stop. Finally, just as the light turned yellow, the man in the front care woke up and drove through the light. The woman in the second care was absolutely beside herself. Still mid-rant she heard a tap on her car window. She looked up to see the face of a police officer. “Lady, you’re under arrest,” he said. “Get out of the car. Put your hands up.” He took her to the police station, had her finger printer, photographed, and then put her in a holding cell. Hours passed. The officer returned and unlocked the cell door. He escorted her back to the booking desk. “Sorry for the mistake, Lady,” he said. “But I pulled up behind you as you were blowing your horn and cursing out the fellow in front of you. I noticed the stickers on your bumper. On read “Follow me to Sunday School.” The other, “What would Jesus do?” So, naturally, I assumed you had stolen the car.

We just never know do we?

There was a pastor a year or so ago who began a new ministry in a lovely little church in Atlanta. The building itself was big and brick with a tall steeple and wide front doors. The church sat back from the street on a hill. The lawn began level with the sidewalk, then descended and rose up to the church. This pastor described the church as pretty enough to be on a postcard, or so she thought until the first spring came. She says she was expecting a nice carpet of grass to appear, but what showed up instead was everything but grass. Dandelions, thistles, and crabgrass covered the front lawn. She quickly phoned the president of the property committee and cried, “Emergency, Emergency!” The president replied, “Calm down, when we mow, no one will be able to tell the difference, whether it’s weeds or grass out there. Cut close, it all looks green.”

We just never know!

That is what our gospel lesson was about this morning. To recap, Jesus tells a parable of a farmer who has planted wheat. One day his servants come running in to tell him there are weeds all over the field, and in short the farmer says to leave the field alone until harvest at which time they will burn the weeds for fuel.

To most of us in Iowa this sounds like nonsense to leave the weeds in your field until harvest? Won’t they take over the good plants and kill them? The farmer in this story has realized that this particular type of weed is very hard to distinguish from the wheat plant and so in pulling the weeds it is inevitable you would also pull some or even a lot of the good plants. He decides it is better to wait until harvest and separate the weeds from the wheat at that point.

How does relate to our lives now? Well, Jesus explains that he is like the farmer planting all of these seeds and the field is like the world. Jesus has put all of us on this world, planted the seeds in the fields. Now we cannot tell whether what is growing is a good plant or a weed. All of us “look” the same, we are all humans. The “good” plants if you will, would be those following Jesus and the weeds, would be the sinners. Jesus explains that there will come a time to harvest, we assume this means a judgment of some sort to gather those who weeds and those who are the wheat plants. But just as the farmer does not want his hired hands to go out and weed the fields, neither does Jesus want us to weed his earthy field, this world.

There have definitely been times in the history of this world when the church has been focused more on weeding than on re-planting or even just general maintenance of Jesus’ garden. If we look back at the past two thousand years we can see that the most tragic areas in the church’s life have been caused by this passion for weeding. The Crusades are an example, perhaps the women accused of being witches and were thrown into the fire like weeds to be burned. Those who were deemed bad seeds were excommunicated and cast out of the church into despair. Sometimes being called weeds simply because they were different from whoever was in power.

As a child and even now as we drive by fields I can hear passengers in the car making remarks about how that field needs to be sprayed or they need to do something about that field it looks awful dirty. Now not being a raised a “farm” girl I was not always so involved in these conversations, but I understood what they were talking about that those responsible for taking care of the crops were not taking care of the weed problem and in so doing not taking care of the valuable crops in the field. But God is not some neighbor or farm manager driving by to see how many weeds have grown up in the field. God is far more concerned about the weeds we pull up than the weeds we pass by. For the weeds are always people; people who are pointed at, chastised, condemned, and cast out. Instead of tearing people down or pulling weeds, do like we teach our young people If you can’t do or say something nice don’t say anything at all.

On the other hand, does God really wish us to live among the weeds, or the sinners, shouldn’t we try and fix them, and if they are beyond fix to just get rid of them? Well..have you ever read this thing called the Apostles Creed? In it there is a line that says he descended into hell. Perhaps, Jesus went to hell to preach the gospel of repentance and salvation to those who are already there? No one can no for sure, but if Jesus is willing to go to the depths of hell, maybe we could learn to live with a few weeds?

Let’s remember back to the story I opened with about the lady who was cursing and throwing a fit because someone “forgot” to budge during a green light, I think we can all remember a time when we might have acted in a similar nature? It’s hard to tell who are the wheat and who are the weeds. There are times when we are weeds and there are times when we are considered the wheat. Even for us Christians in church every Sunday there are times when we falter. The real question should be not whether we can live among the weeds or not, but whether we believe in our hearts the weeds can become wheat. I believe we all have it in us, and the Bible thinks so too.

A few years ago in Georgia, a state representative made a speech before the legislature imploring his colleagues to pass a bill that would impose extra penalties for hate crimes committed against racial minorities and gay people. He told the legislature that all his ancestors in the 19th century had owned slaves. His great-great grandfather had fought in the Civil War. His third-grade classmates had clapped when President John F. Kennedy was shot and the news was passed along in the classroom. His college fraternity had ostracized six of its members because they were gay. He told of the African-American woman who had raised him, changed his diapers, and taught him more than anyone else the difference between right and wrong. He told them how one day when he was a boy leaving for school, she had leaned over to kiss him on the cheek. And he had averted his head because he assumed that such a thing was not supposed to happen. An African-American woman kissing a white boy. He spoke of the regret he had carried ever since. “On the day that we buried that magnificent woman, I pledged to myself that never again would I look in the mirror and know that I had let prejudice or hate or indifference negatively impact another person’s life. Then he said, “I have figured out that the only way we are ever going to make progress is when someone steps up and takes a stand. I urge the House to pass this hate-crimes bill.” And so they did. And there it is. Weed to wheat.

Like today this parable is being studied by a bunch of farmers, or peoples who have grown up around farming and agriculture all their lives, this was also the case the day Jesus told this parable. The majority of individuals in Jesus’ day would have also been farmers, they would have understood how crazy Jesus’ words were to not weed the field. It would only make common sense. The object of this lesson was to teach us to not judge others, and to realize the weeds in this world have the opportunity before the harvest to turn into wheat, and if they fail to do this God will judge them not those of us on Earth. It is not fair for us to judge, Jesus planted the seeds, we just live among them.

Let us pray, Dearest Lord Jesus we thank you for planting out seeds and giving us the opportunity to be the wheat in your field. Help us to not judge those who are the weeds, and instead to show our love to them, just as you do. We pray to have more times as wheat and less times as the weeds and with your help we know we can be ever more stronger disciples of your love. Amen.

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