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Sermon for Sunday 20 July 2014

FIRST READING Isaiah 44:6–8

6 Thus 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. 7 Who is like me? Let them proclaim it, let them declare and set it forth before me. Who has announced from of old the things to come? Let them tell us what is yet to be. 8 Do not fear, or be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? You are my witnesses! Is there any god besides me? There is no other rock; I know not one.

PSALM Psalm 119:57–64

57 You are my portion, O LORD; I have promised to keep your words.
58 I entreat you with all my heart: Be merciful to me according to your promise.
59 I have considered my ways and turned my feet toward your decrees.
60 I hasten and do not delay to keep your commandments.
61 Though the cords of the wicked entangle me, I do not forget your teaching.
62 At midnight I will rise to give you thanks for your righteous judgments.
63 I am a companion of all who fear you and of those who keep your commandments.
64 Your love, O LORD, fills the earth; teach me your statutes.
SECOND READING Romans 8:18–27

18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, 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

24 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'” 36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

We’ve all heard terms like Domestic goddess as an alternate way of describing a stay at home mom or Sanitation Engineer for those to take off our garbage. It’s our way of spicing up a common term in order to add excitement to a career that some see as routine. I for one believe that there are no unimportant jobs because all are necessary to maintain a well ordered society. In that same light, one of the things I learned writing and editing Enlisted Performance Evaluations in the Air Force was how to take something that was seemingly mundane and make it sound highly desirable or how to take a run of the mill job and make it sound absolutely mission critical. For example, our AGE drivers or aircraft power and service equipment delivery folks were known as Aerospace Ground Equipment supply specialists. Our folks that swept the streets and mowed the grass were known as Civil Engineers responsible for facility beautification and restoration. The guys tasked with mopping and buffing the floors were affectionately known as facility maintenance specialists. I think you get the idea. Well, someone has taken this same sentiment and applied it to people who display a less than stellar cognitive reasoning ability. What they’ve done is made a list of “Politically Correct Ways of Indicating Stupidity.” You may have heard some of these, a few are quite creative.
Speaking of someone who has done something really dumb, we might say: He’s a few clowns short of a circus or a few fries short of a Happy Meal. Or we could say the person is a few peas short of a casserole or possibly, he doesn’t have all his corn flakes in one box. How about, the wheel’s spinning, but the hamster’s dead or his antenna doesn’t pick up all the channels. Here’s a goodie: his belt doesn’t go through all the loops or an old favorite, the elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top floor. He’s several cards short of a full deck and another goodie, if he had another brain, it would be lonely. Or the ever popular, he’s missing a few buttons on his remote control or, the lights are on, but nobody’s home. And none of these phrases surpass the ever popular blond jokes. The problem with all these cloaked descriptions is the tendency to be way too quick to pass judgment on a person or situation based on what we initially see or hear.
In our gospel reading for this morning, Jesus told a parable in which a farmer sowed good seed in his field. But while he was sleeping, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat. When the wheat sprouted, the weeds also appeared. His servants came to him and said, “Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where did the weeds come from?” “An enemy,” replied the farmer. The servants asked, “Do you want us to go and pull them up?” “No,” he answered, “because when you pull the weeds, you may root up the wheat as well. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time we will collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then we will gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.” On the surface the implication of this parable is clear: There are good and bad folks in the world.
The good folks are those who believe, love, and serve God, producing good fruit for the kingdom; the bad folks are those who are self-focused, ones who allow disbelief to rule them, reject God and in essence are the ones who come from the devil. And at a time appointed by God the Father, there will be a day of judgment when the children of God will be separated from those controlled by the devil. All this is of course true and shouldn’t be minimized in any way. We all are given this life to live and we choose who we serve. And from those choices we will all be held accountable one day. Jesus has promised to return and when He returns, judgment will come. These are the facts. But to fully appreciate the parable Jesus told, we need to look deeper into what Jesus was saying here.
The act of sowing weeds in another man’s field was a form of revenge so common in Jesus’ day that there were laws prohibiting it. And another facet of this parable is that it’s a warning about rushing to judgment, which could be detrimental. This is where warnings about not judging a book by its cover come from. In the case of this illustration, wheat and tares look nearly identical until they ripen, at which point the wheat head looks very different from that of the weed. The same is true for people; without seeing the fruit someone produces, it’s hard to know a child of God from one who serves self or satan. If we rush to judgment and try to prematurely separate the one from the other without seeing the fruit, we might do irreparable damage and pull the wrong plant and leave to weed to flourish. Additionally, this parable is not only informative for us about the dangers of premature judgment, but it can also serves as a warning to be careful; sometimes good people do dumb things. Each of us at one time or another has done things that make us look more like a weed that needs pulled, than the wheat that is left to produce fruit for the kingdom. We’ve sewn a few tares in our lives and not lived for Christ as we should and on quick inspection to those around us, we at times look more like a weed than wheat.
One thing we learn as we gain wisdom in this life is that very little in the world around us is cut and dry. Salvation and grace are very straight forward, almost everything else is complex. It isn’t as simple as the old westerns where all the good folks ran around in white hats and all the low lifes wore black hats. Occasionally, what would happen in those old B westerns was that sometimes the folks in white hats would make dreadful choices. But grace was extended by others and soon the good guys were back on the right track and as always good overcame evil. It would be nice if everything in life was that simple, but it’s not. Sometimes the decisions of our past can cause problems for us in the future.
For those who are fans of country music, you’ll quickly recognize the name of George Jones. The Possum has had enough hit songs on his hundred or so albums to make the careers of ten singers. Sometime back, the late George Jones was doing what should never be done while driving, he was talking on his cell phone and was nearly killed in an automobile accident. In years past George suffered from alcohol and drug addiction so when the news first came out, many of his fans justifiably assumed that George was off the wagon again.
Along with George Jones’ talent and genius came a dark side. Jones had a reputation for wild living and self-destructive behavior. His addictions were so severe that Jones would literally do anything to fuel his habit. One time, George was almost outwitted by his then-wife, Tammy Wynette. To keep him away from the local bar, Tammy took George’s car keys. But George’s determination to feed his addiction won out. He hopped on his riding lawn mower and rode ten miles to the nearest bar. Often we ask why is it that otherwise good people allow themselves to get trapped in self-destructive patterns of behavior; it can easily be beyond our understanding. And where does such behavior come from? Can we get off the hook by saying, “The devil made me do it?” Is it genetic? There was a movie years ago called, “The Bad Seed.” Is that the answer? Are there people who are just born bad? The reality of the situation is that it’s simply not that easy to explain.
Early childhood experts tell us, to a certain extent, that we can tell in kindergarten whether a child is headed toward a troubled adolescence or adulthood. The problem is folks jump to the easy conclusion, that the child is bad without looking deeper. Of course the real challenge is to determine to root cause of the problem: is it because of a lack of nurturing, poor potty-training, too much television or violent video games? How much can be blamed on the child’s environment and how much is genetic? It’s so difficult to not have an opinion and rush to judgment. Some say the answer can be found in observing animals.
An instructor in a dog training workshop in Salt Lake City noted that a dog’s disposition can be tested by the owner. If the owner will fall down and pretend to be hurt, a dog with a bad temper will tend to bite him. But a good dog will show concern and may lick the fallen owner’s face. Susan Matice attended the class and then decided to test her two dogs. While eating pizza in her living room, she stood up, clutched her heart, screamed and fell to the floor. Her two dogs looked at her, looked at each other, then raced to the coffee table for her pizza.
What is it that causes some people to act irresponsibly? Just a few short years ago we had a President who was guilty of irresponsible behavior. He wasn’t the first President to behave badly, just the most recent. But somewhere along the way the American people made a decision that Bill Clinton wasn’t an evil man. A lot of people believed he had a good heart, but even his most rabid fans had to agree he had a serious problem that he wasn’t able to control. What causes some good people to lose control of their lives? Even more important, how can we help these people and even help ourselves when we’re drawn toward similar self-destructive patterns?
Journalist Bob Garfield specializes in reporting on the quirky and unique aspects of human nature. When Garfield traveled through Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1992, he thought that he’d hit the mother lode of quirkiness. He met people from all walks of life who were trying to find healing or wholeness through such things as aura-balancing, drum-beating ceremonies, ancient mystical therapies, crystals, astrology, spiritual channeling, and the like. Even in a Santa Fe health food store, Garfield found some highly unusual approaches to medicine. Rather than containing the average mix of vitamins and herbs, this store offered vitamin and herb mixes called, “Luminous Spirit, Positive Attitude, Women’s Courage, Emotional Rescue, Clearing Hate, Clearing Greed, Humiliation, (and) Children of Divorce. . . .” If only we could find emotional rescue or spiritual growth in a pill! But it’s not that easy. Where do we turn for help?
First we need to recognize that life is made of the choices we make. Despite what some people think, people are not born bad or good. Some people are unfortunately born into bad circumstances and they can become scarred for life. This is one reason why we refrain from quickly passing judgment on another human being. We don’t know how our lives would have turned out if we had experienced what they experienced. This isn’t a reason to excuse bad behavior, simply an explanation of tendencies. The reality we must face is that none of us ever lose the ability to choose. At any time, we can, with God’s help, change directions and stop acting like tares and begin producing fruit for God’s kingdom. It’s easy for us to forget, when faced with a tense situation that God has given us the gift of free will and we can choose how we will respond.
One stressful day, Eric Fellman and his sons set out late in the afternoon to do a little fishing. As he backed the boat into the water, Fellman realized that he’d forgotten to unhook part of the trailer from the boat. The boat tipped over and began to fill with water. As Fellman jumped out of the car to survey the situation, he accidentally hit the electric lock, locking his keys inside the still-running vehicle. Everything was a mess! Most of the live bait had escaped into the lake, the boat was almost full of water, and their lunches were effectively drowned. Things that day weren’t going well. Eric’s natural instinct was to get angry and pitch a fit. That’s certainly what his sons were expecting. But suddenly, he wondered what Jesus would do in his place.
He realized that Jesus must have faced a similar situation when he ran into the fishermen who had just come in from a disappointing night of fishing. Although they had given up for the day, Jesus convinced them to go out again. And, of course, they caught a whole boatload of fish. With this thought inspiring his mind, Fellman figured out how to pop open a window and unlock his car. Then he proceeded to unhitch the boat.
Although they only had three minnows left for baiting their hooks, Eric and his sons set out to fish. Within minutes, Eric got a tug on his line. Twenty minutes later, after a fierce tug of war, he reeled in a gargantuan largemouth bass. His sons were ecstatic. Think about it, all the excitement and good memories never would have happened if Eric Fellman hadn’t consciously decided to change his attitude and start all over. It’s a story that should speak to each of us. We have control of the decisions we make and that includes whether or not we rush to judgment.
We’re not puppets who are forever jerked around by our emotions. God has given us free will so we have the ability to take control of our decisions and actions which is the first thing we need to see. Second is that how we feel about ourselves can determine the choices we make. This isn’t some new-fangled twentieth-century psychobabble. If we somehow feel like our life doesn’t ultimately matter–if we allow hope to slip out of our lives–if we believe we’re incapable of improving our situation–then we will make our decisions accordingly. Conversely, if we believe our lives ultimately do matter, and if we do have hope that we can improve our situations, then that also will be reflected in the decisions we make.
Former President Jimmy Carter often reflects on the changes he sees in people’s lives because of the work of Habitat for Humanity. “We see extraordinary commitments and lives changed among forgotten people,” he says. “A Habitat family that lived near Washington had been living in an abandoned automobile. One of their children was an eight-year-old boy. He was very excited about getting a new house. When the family was chosen, he jumped up and down and said, ‘We won, we won.’ After the home was finished and the family had moved in, the little boy attended a different school. He had always been in a slow learner class, but when he moved his records had been lost and he was put into a regular class by mistake. No one noticed the error, and at the end of the first half of the year, his lowest grade was a B. Now he’s still learning with the smartest of students. This is what a change of attitude and having a decent home for the first time in life can do.”
Was it just the change of living conditions that made a difference or did the boy change his view of himself? How we view ourselves is often reflected in the choices we make. Anytime we recognize that we are uniquely and wonderfully made by a loving and merciful creator, we will have a more positive view of ourselves, and in turn we can and will make positive choices. If we have a negative view of ourselves, well we need to watch out! Finally, we need to recognize that there is One who says to us, “you are loved, there is hope and through My grace and strength, you can do all things in Christ.
In a PEANUTS strip Lucy is parked in her psychiatric booth, and Charlie Brown is sharing his problems with her. “Sometimes I ask myself questions,” he begins. “Sometimes I ask myself, ‘Is this your real life, or is this just a pilot film? Is my life a thirty-nine-week series or is it a special?'” In no time at all Lucy analyzes his problem and gives an instant answer: “Whatever it is,” she says, “your ratings are down. Five cents, please!” Jon Tal Murphree in his book, Made to be Mastered, writes, “Without Lucy’s special permission, I want to answer every Charlie Brown in the world. Yes, this is your real life. No, it is not a pilot film. Yes, it is a special–it is very special!” Why? Because Christ died for each and every one of us.
Why do good people do stupid things? Nobody knows all the answers. But we do know this: We always have a choice. The choices we make reflect how we feel about ourselves. There is One who tells us that our lives are special, that the choices we make do matter, that there is always hope. At times it’s hard to tell the weeds from the tares and because of the complexities of life we need to guard against a rush to judgment. Our job is to love and serve God and in turn bare good fruit for the kingdom. How about we concentrate on loving others, helping them through the rough times and leave the judging to Jesus.

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