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Sermon for 8th the Sunday after Pentecost

First Reading: Isaiah 44:6-8

 6Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. 7Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen. 8Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.”


Psalm 119:57-64

 57You only are my portion, O Lord; I have promised to keep your words. 58I entreat you with all my heart, be merciful to me according to your promise. 59I have considered my ways and turned my feet toward your decrees. 60I hasten and do not tarry to keep your commandments. 61Though the cords of the wicked entangle me, I do not forget your law. 62At midnight I will rise to give you thanks, because of your righteous judgments. 63I am a companion of all who fear you and of those who keep your commandments. 64The earth, O Lord, is full of your love; instruct me in your statutes.


Second Reading: Romans 8:18-27

 18For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. 26Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.


Gospel: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

 24Jesus put another parable before {the disciples}, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”

36Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.”


Living in a World Gone Wild

Have you ever stopped and considered the effect natural disasters have on people?  Certainly, we consider the physical and emotional problems.  That’s why we invest the resources we do in our Disaster Response program.  However, there is an unseen and often overlooked side of a disaster; many will experience severe spiritual problems that will oftentimes raise deep theological questions.  Isn’t it interesting that when the weather is great and the seas are calm, the sun shines or the rain is gentle, God seldom gets any credit.  However, as soon as a natural disaster hits, things change.  Isn’t it curious that we credit good weather to “Mother Nature”, but natural disasters we call “acts of God?”

Also strange, is how we deal with heinous crimes like murder, rape, and child exploitation, we’ll immediately say, “this is what bad people do.”  Yet in the case of earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, and hurricanes, since people have nothing to do with these, the only place we can look to is God.  Consequently, there are a lot of Christians who might not lose their faith because of human evil, but they find it much more difficult to explain natural disasters.

Just as there are aftershocks after earthquakes, there are spiritual and religious aftershocks after natural disasters that can challenge the faith of us who believe in God and fire-up the cynicism of skeptics and critics.  This is why we in the NALC, and other faith-based organizations, also commit resources to help people deal spiritually with the occurrences of nature.  We recognize that we need to help people understand that there is a loving and caring God who is always present, even during and in the aftermath of disaster.

Not only is there a God who is present with us, but we can also find an explanation for what’s wrong in this world.  And what’s more, while we know that this world is out of joint, we also know that God intends, and promises, to make all things right.  As you’re going to see, we can learn a great lesson from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans.  What’s important for us to understand is, that our trust in God is to be based on His promises, not on our circumstances.  Here is what God, who created this world, tells us about this world’s past, its present, and its future.  It’s found in our epistle reading for today.  And the first thing we need to remember is that God created everything perfect.

But before we look at our Epistle reading, we need to go back to Genesis chapter 1.  When we look back to the beginning, to when God first spoke this world into existence, you’ll find exactly what you’d expect to find – a perfect God who created a perfect world.  Six times in the first chapter of Genesis we read these words, “And God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25).  In these passages, the word good means flawless.  When God finished His work on the 6th day, this world was absolutely perfect.

The streams and the rivers were crystal clear and pristine pure.  The air was so fresh it literally smelled sweet to the nostrils.  There was no need for a weatherman, because the weather was always perfect.  The wind was just a gentle breeze.  It was neither too hot by day nor too cold by night.  Before God put a human being on this planet, the story of Creation concludes with a pristine world in which every blade of grass is jade green, every stream is clean and pure, and every tree is bearing luscious fruit.  Then to top it off, God puts into this world two perfect people.

Adam and Eve were the first perfect couple in history.  They had the first and only perfect marriage.  And in this perfection, Adam never had to hear Eve say, “I could have married someone else.”  And Eve never had to hear Adam say, “Why can’t you cook like my mother?”  The world was at perfect peace.  And to give us something to do, God gave Adam and Eve dominion over the animal kingdom.  In other words, this world was a paradise!  It was literally heaven on earth.  God would even come and visit in the evenings and talk with our perfect couple.  Then comes the big question, “What happened?”

The practical answer is found in Genesis 3, sin came into the world and perfection was corrupted.  Starting in verse 17 we read, “And [God said] to Adam, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.  By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (vs.17-19).  “Cursed is the ground because of you.”  Think about that this week!  Because we sinned, God’s good creation suffers.  This brings us back to our Epistle reading.

In Romans chapter 8, we’re reminded that sin corrupted the world completely.  We’re all familiar with what happened in the Garden of Eden.  Adam and Eve disobeyed the one command that God gave them.  They crossed the one line God warned them not to cross and that’s when everything went haywire.  This is the way St. Paul puts it, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.  The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope” (Romans 8:18-20).  The sad truth is, not only do we suffer the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin, but so does this earth.

At this point some may be asking, “Why was the world also cursed?”  The worst thing that could have happened to Adam and Eve, and all of us who followed them, would be to live as imperfect people in a perfect world.  I say this for two reasons: first, imperfect people living in a perfect world would never see a need for God.  If there were no disasters, no disease, no storms of life, why would we ever look to God for help?  Second, the sins of greed, covetousness, of the desire for power and to dominate others, drives us to exploit not only other people, but also God’s good creation as well.

I was reading an article the other day about why fish are dying in the Gulf of Mexico.  The article explained that as the waters of the Mississippi drain into the ocean, the pollutants in the water create a dead zone that prevents the water from retaining oxygen.  Testing of the water showed that it contained chemical runoff from storm drains, animal farms, and over fertilized crop lands.  It doesn’t take a scientist to deduce where these pollutants came from.  They came from us not being good stewards of God’s gifts, from our desire to find ways to “maximize production” of the land, and from our irresponsible building, all up and down the Mississippi.

In our greed, we have overbuilt the land.  We have overpopulated the grazing lands with livestock, and we have overused artificial fertilizers in order to produce more and bigger crops.  We’ve overused pesticides and herbicides which disrupted the balance in how God designed nature to function.  Instead of being good stewards of the resources in a natural way, in the perfect way God created the land to be used and maintained, we have invented ways to “maximize our profits.”  We’ve turned family farms that were manageable and sustainable into mega farms.  This has, in turn, forced families off the farms into bigger and bigger towns thus the runoff from the streets.  And to maximize the yield, we have synthesized fertilizers that pollute the streams and rivers with runoff.  It’s our sinful actions that continue to harm God’s good creation, and creation suffers because of our actions, and so do we.

Now some at this point might be thinking pastor has lost it, that I’ve suddenly turned into some radical environmentalist.  The truth is, God gave us the responsibility to care for His creation and we don’t always consider our actions and the affect they have on the earth and on others.  Remember original sin is to be selfish, to embrace the desire to be in charge and to place ourselves in the place of God.  The problems we see in the world today are because we sinned and continue to sin, and nature is cursed because man is cursed.  The problems we see in nature are simply a reflection of our moral evil.  Thankfully God is merciful.  Nature isn’t as bad as it could be.

We’ve got rain, but we also have sunshine.  We have tsunamis, but we also have calm.  We have earthquakes, but most of the time the earth is still.  And even though humanity is sinful, because of the mercy of God and the help of the Holy Spirit, we’re not as sinful as we could be, but we’re definitely not as good as we could be either.  Nature is just a mirror of our own hearts.  When Adam and Eve sinned, they dragged all of creation down with them.  The good news is, we have the hope that Paul describes in verse 21: “That the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay.”  Until then, this world is a prisoner because of our sin.

This world is held by the chains of death, disease, disaster, and decay.  It’s literally under a curse.  Listen again to what God said in Genesis 3, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you’, ‘You must not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.  It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field” (vs. 17-18).

I read a story the other day about a man who bought a piece of property that was overrun with weeds and swamps.  This man, with backbreaking labor, cleared the land, turned the swamp into a pond, cleared the weeds and planted flowers and some beautiful trees.  Then he built a house in the middle of it.  A man stopped by one day and asked this gentleman, “Do you own this place?”  He said, “Yes, I do.”  The man said, “It’s unbelievable what God has given you.  He’s given you a pond to fish in.  He’s given you flowers to smell.  He’s given you trees to shade you.  Isn’t God good?”  The man looked at him and said, “Yes, God is good, but you ought to see what this place looked like when God had it all by Himself!”  There is a small bit of truth in the man’s response.

Ever since Adam and Eve sinned, we’ve had to do battle with this earth.  We must constantly tend the garden because every part of this world has been affected.  Go back to Genesis 3 and you will find the animal kingdom was also corrupted.  What we call “survival of the fittest” is really the animal world under a curse.  We’re told the mineral kingdom was corrupted.  Deserts, erosion, and wastelands scar what was once a perfectly beautiful face of God’s green earth.  Pollution of either the sky or the water was never in God’s vocabulary.  The good news is there is still hope, both for us and for God’s good creation.

Paul says something fascinating in verse 22: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”  All these natural and manmade, disasters are groanings.  It’s the earth’s way of telling us that it’s sick, and just as we are sinful and in need of God’s salvation, creation wants to be reconciled as well.  I came across something fascinating as I was preparing for today.  Japanese researchers discovered something in 1999 that’s still hard to explain.

Two Japanese engineers, (Naoki Suda and Kaqunari Nawa), revealed the results of their study concerning a mysterious hum they discovered that’s being emitted by the earth.  They went through a mass of seismic data and discovered that our planet is producing 50 musical notes that are about 16 octaves below middle c.  They said the earth has this low hum that sounds like an endless banging on a trash can.  Our planet is in bondage, just as we are in bondage.  Maybe this is the groanings St. Paul is referring to.  Just as we groan when we’re under stress, so does our planet, which is in bondage, it’s groaning to be restored to its original perfection.  And soon it will be; this is the good news.

Thankfully, God remains in complete control.  When God returns and purifies all creation, we, and all of creation, will be once again returned to the perfection God originally intended and created.  Listen again to verse 19: “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.”  The Greek Word for the phrase “waits in eager expectation” describes the attitude of a person who is scanning the horizon looking for the first glimpse of daybreak.  It depicts somebody standing on their tippy toes looking as hard as they can out into the horizon to see the dawning of a new day.

Deep down we know that God is in control even of natural disasters.  Even unbelievers, when faced with impending death due to a hurricane, or a sudden flood, or tsunami, will instinctively cry out to God to help them.  There is a difference between the immediate calls of a natural disaster and the ultimate calls.  The immediate call of an earthquake is a fault beneath the earth’s crust.  The immediate call of a tornado is an unstable atmospheric condition combined with warm moist air.  The immediate call of a hurricane is when a large air mass is heated and fueled by the warmth of the ocean.  The ultimate cause of all things is God.  The Bible makes that plain over and over and over.

Who sent the plagues of Egypt and the hail and the darkness that drove a nation to its knees?  Who caused the sun to stand still so that Joshua could win a battle?  Who sealed up the heavens during the time of Elijah and stopped the rain from falling?  Who sent a storm to the ship containing a prophet named Jonah, so they would throw him overboard?  The answer to all these questions is God.

The same God that controls this world’s past and this world’s present, also controls this world’s future.  The Bible also makes it plain that there is a better world coming.  Verse 21 says, “The creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”  God is going to create a new heaven and a new earth.  The desert is going to blossom like the crocus (Isaiah 35:1).  The wolf and the lamb will graze together (Isaiah 11:6), and the lamb will not be in the wolf!  God created this world perfect.  Today, it’s a groaning creation, but one day it will once again be a glorious perfect creation.  In the meantime, we live in a world corrupted by sin.

We live in a world that is cruel in the way it treats the people who live in it.  I know the big question still out there is, “Why?  Why does God allow apparently innocent people to suffer at the hands of seemingly random natural disasters?”  To be truthful I really don’t know, and neither does anyone else.  But I do know that God has the solutions to all of earth’s problems.  I do believe there are some lessons we can learn from natural disasters.  The first lesson is that natural disasters remind us of how temporary things really are, and how fragile life really is.  It helps us to see what’s really valuable.

Max Lucado commenting on Hurricane Katrina said: “As you’ve listened to evacuees and survivors, have you noticed their words?  No one laments a lost plasma television or a submerged SUV.  No one runs through the streets yelling, ‘My cordless drill is missing’ or ‘My golf clubs have washed away.’  If they morn, it’s for people lost.  If they rejoice it’s for people found.”  The second thing we learn is that natural disasters also remind us that judgment is coming, and that this world is going to end.  When it does, we’d best be ready.

We must learn to be thankful to God in the good times and we must learn to trust Him in the bad times.  Job 2:10 says, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”  Finally, we need to see all disaster in light of the cross.  Nothing compares to the evil that was done, the suffering that was incurred, or the injustice that was experienced at the cross of Jesus Christ.  The cross tells us that above and beyond every hurricane, earthquake, tornado, and tsunami that God is a loving God, for “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

God appointed us to be faithful stewards of His good creation, to tend it and care for it.  But because of our sin, all creation was cursed and suffers with us.  However, this doesn’t excuse our exploitation and mismanagement of what we have.  We still have the responsibility to care for and properly manage what God has entrusted to us until that time when God will reconcile us and all things to Himself and return us, and all creation, to the original perfection as He intended.


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