Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Wheat and Weeds Edition

Why? Why does God allow this to happen? Why? 
We probably all have at one point or another asked us this question. A spouse died, a pregnancy ended in miscarriage, we lost our job, million of people die from hunger each year. Why? Doesn’t God care? If God is almighty, why is there evil in this world? Why is there so much suffering? Why doesn’t God do anything? 
The gospel text for today confronts us with questions we probably all carry around with us but which we usually don’t feel comfortable asking. 
Maybe people would find us unfaithful if we ask those questions. Or maybe God would. And so we usually remain silent and continue to carry the why’s around with us. 
Jesus’ answer to our question of why might not be very satisfying either. There is evil, Jesus tells his disciples and us, because the enemy is also active in the world. He doesn’t explain who the enemy is or why the enemy is allowed to do all this. Instead, Jesus tells all of us that the evil in the world is not really our business. Evil, so Jesus, will always grow up together with good. But it is not our job to do anything against it. 
To me that sounds uncaring. And if God is not doing anything against the evil, why can’t at least we do something. We can clearly see where the evil lies. So, God, if you don’t do anything, at least let us do something! Let us weed out the garden and allow us to make it a better place for all! 
But the text reminds us that it is not that easy. In the original Greek language, the word we translate here as weed is not just a generic term for everything that grows in your garden without you wanting it. Instead the word is a name of a specific plant. A weed that when it grows up, looks very much like wheat. They have the same green spears of leaves. They both produce heads of grain. Only when it is time for harvest, can we see the difference. The wheat heads droop while the weed continues to stand upright. 
Since this weed is very common in Israel and Palestine, people would have understood what Jesus pointed at: Good and Evil often look very much alike and it is for us almost impossible to discern the difference. 
This idea probably is as valid today as it was then. 
Our region is in the middle of discerning wheat and weeds right now. 
Will hydro-fracking help our region? 
Will it bring new jobs and maybe even some prosperity to families who  otherwise struggle on a daily basis? 
Or will this new way of harvesting natural gas poison our drinking water and turn our beautiful landscape into barren stretches of land? 
We try to discern between Good and Evil but they look so much alike. So much of what we think is good - but is not - looks so close to what really is good. So much of what we think we need or want looks good but turns out to be bad or evil instead. 
We thought that the most important thing in life was the growth and fostering of individual rights. 
And now we have become so individualized that we seem to have lost at least some of our notions of what it means to live in and be a community. 
Luther points out that this togetherness of good and evil is not only present in the world at large but also in us personally. He says that we are “Saints and Sinners at the same time”. We are, so Luther, saints, because through the cross and God’s grace we have been declared saints. There on that cross Jesus died. And our sins, our brokenness died with him. Jesus, who was without sin, became Sin, so that we may receive his righteousness. Luther calls this a happy exchange. Our sin was exchanged for Christ’s righteousness. 
It was maybe a little bit like the exchange that happened when Mr. Ringel and I got married. I happily exchanged my old little Ford Fiesta for his used but otherwise very nice Mercedes. OK, maybe that wasn’t such a happy exchange…
But what does happen at the happy exchange between Christ and us?  At that time we really become righteous. Or as Luther calls it: we have become Saints. And not only saints on paper. But really righteous saints in God’s eyes. 
At the same time because we continue to be human, we also remain Sinners. People who sin and are broken. 
Until our death and resurrection the saint and sinner, the good and evil in us, will grow and live together. Intertwined - and for us humans difficult to discern. 
And because of our brokenness there will continue to be evil in the world. 
So does this mean that God is inactive? Does this mean that God does not care? 
I believe if we look around we can see where God is active even in our deepest fears and our most painful brokenness. 
We cannot see God in the death of a loved one but we can experience God in the words spoken, cards written and hands extended to us when we mourn. 
We cannot see God after a pregnancy ended in a miscarriage but we can experience God in the compassion of our friends and family. 
We cannot see God when we loose our job but we can experience God when we receive help from our neighbors in times of need. 
We cannot see God in the death of millions of hungry people but we can experience God when people come together to collect money for ELCA World Hunger and other missions. Like our kids just agreed doing. 
And we can experience God, here, today, at this worship service. 
We can taste and feel God there at the table when we meet Jesus and receive forgiveness. 
There at that table we are fed. 
There at that table we receive new life and new hope. The body of Christ … for you. The blood of Christ...for you. There at that table we are reconciled with God and one another. 
There at that table all our brokenness is forgiven and from there we are send into the world. 
We are send, not to root out all evil but to be witnesses to God’s goodness. 
We don’t have to judge one another but are free to love and care for one another. 
We are free to be God’s people, here, today, in this world. 
And even if we stumble and fall, and we will do so, we can only fall into God’s compassionate and forgiving hands. And there is no better place to be anyway!  Amen. 

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