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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Sermon for July 17

“Growing Wheat and Weeds”
July 17, 2011
Dialogical Sermon between Pastors Aimee Bruno and Greg Lund

Greg: When Aimee and I talked about this day, she said that their themes for Vacation Bible School are the gospel in the World, the Community, and in the Self. So we decided to look at those through two lenses: Jesus’ words in Matthew and Paul’s words in Romans.

The gospel reading is Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Here are Paul’s words in Romans 8:12-25

Aimee: In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus explains, the field is the world. I’m going to remind you that world here is cosmos. The field is the cosmos—all creation. We are living in this cosmos and we look around, as the wheat that we hope we are, and see some weeds on either side of us. Sometimes we are going to see certain people or nations as our enemies or as the weeds. This Gospel points to “all causes of sin” as another way of seeing the weeds—anything that hurts people, any injustice, anything that breaks people down. We’re living in the world of mixed wheat and weeds. Presbyterians and Lutherans, the good wheat and privileged people that we are, are looking at this world and saying, it is full of weeds. There are too many hungry people, too many people living in poor conditions without water and food and basic necessities. Why are there so many weeds—children dying of malaria and women who are illiterate?

Our congregation tithes a portion of our giving to the larger Lutheran Church. That goes to support our staff on a statewide and nationwide level. But much of that goes around the world to where it is most needed. Some of it goes to Action by Churches Together (ACT). They have helped after hurricanes in Nicaragua and with disasters all over the world. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is a part of ACT, too, along with 110 other relief agencies. We don’t do anything of these things alone, but when we partner, we see ourselves not as individual stalks of wheat, which can do a little good, and become part of a field where we become nourishment and relief for a world in need.

Greg: I’m glad you pointed out all the wheat God is planting in the world. It’s exciting to hear about the partnerships between our churches, not just King of Kings and Oak Hills, but the whole Church with a capital C around the world. Sometimes we look at a field like this and see only weeds, even though it’s mostly lawn. And when you look in the news, it’s tempting to say what the field hands probably said in the parable: “Where did all these weeds come from?”

Paul says the whole world groans. In some mysterious way, human sin doesn’t just affect people, it affects the whole cosmos. Let’s try an experiment. On Thursday I bought a copy of the Wall Street Journal. I’ll read some headlines. If it sounds like wheat to you (good news), then say “Yeah!” If it sounds like a weed to you (bad news), then groan. [Greg reads headlines.] So many weeds! Add to that the tsunamis and earthquakes and tornadoes Pastor Aimee mentioned, and it’s almost overwhelming. I find it hard to read the newspaper these days. Sometimes it seems like everything is hanging in the balance.

But Paul gives us good news. These groans are not a death rattle. The whole creation, he says, has been groaning in the pains of childbirth. The groans point to new life. I can’t claim to know what labor pains are like, but I was there for my sons’ birth, and I saw how quickly the pain was forgotten when my wife held her newborn. The joy was worth all the pain. God is leading creation to the new birth. As our Nicene Creed says, “I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.” Suffering will be erased once and for all, creation restored, and we will see God’s glory. “Our present sufferings,” Paul says, “are not worth comparing with that glory.” Every groan is a reminder of the glory. God is still in charge of this world.

Aimee: At least twice a month, I have the pleasure of seeing our congregations working side by side to feed our hungry neighbors. I think of our two communities as two patches in this field.

The more we work together in the community, the more we realize that those who we might otherwise label weeds, are actually good seeds. There is a beautiful purple flower that grows in the gutters in my neighborhood and I’ve contemplated uprooting one and taking it to my house to put in my yard. I pull out dandelions every year and chuck them into the yard waste bin. A friend of ours makes dandelion wine. A neighbor of mine actually planted a blackberry bush a couple of years ago. When I even see a hint of a blackberry bush in my yard, I’ve got that thing out of the ground in ten seconds flat. I don’t mind riding my bicycle down to the blackberry bushes in my neighborhood and picking enough to freeze for pancakes and pies all winter, but I’m not going to allow those horrible bushes in my yard. What is good seed and what is a weed can be subjective. It is a good thing we don’t have to judge. We get to live together in community, good seed and weeds all living together side by side. And I suspect that when God goes to separate the weeds from the wheat, there will be far fewer weeds than we might have thought and that even parts of our own lives need to get thrown out, need to die in that fire, the ashes becoming fertilizer for the next year’s crop—a death and resurrection image that shows that God values all life that God’s created and so can we.

Greg: I had a piano teacher in High School who made dandelion wine, too. She looked at her overgrown yard, and did not see weeds, she saw wine. I liked what you said about really seeing the beauty in this neighborhood as we work together. When people come to receive food from King’s Cupboard, and when we deliver backpack buddy food to Concord Elementary, we see the beauty in the people we serve. And they see a tangible proof of God’s love. A neighbor might argue with our doctrine, but it’s hard to argue with a warm smile and a box of food.

Hope lets us see what is not there. If I said, “I hope the weather will be sunny for the outdoor service,” you could say, “Greg, you don’t need to hope for it. It’s plain for all to see.” But when we see a Milwaukie with no more hunger and with happy children who all know the love of God, that is hope. Not empty hope, but guaranteed by the One who came to live in a community, and died and was raised to redeem it.

Aimee: I hope I haven’t come down too hard on individuals when I’ve talked about community and world. It is just so exciting to work together. But lets not forget that God knows even the number of hairs on our head and the number of stalks in a field of wheat and weeds. Nowadays, our wheat fields are uniform clones. Back in Jesus’ time, and even 50 years ago a field was diverse. Each stalk had its own genetic code. That way if a disease or drought or insect hit, some stalks might be destroyed, but others would be more resistant. Our uniqueness and individuality contributed to a beautiful diversity that was good for the whole. That’s what I see today. Each of us is valuable and unique, God’s good creation. We may worship in slightly different ways. We may have slightly different ways of organizing ourselves. All that contributes to the strength and beauty of this field and this cosmos. Without each of us growing where we’re planted, contributing, sharing, there wouldn’t be any field or any bread to bake, but thanks be to God there is!

Greg: I don’t think you came down too hard on individuals. Most of us can do that all by ourselves. We come down hard on ourselves. We know that Paul tells us that in Christ, we are no longer slaves to fear and sin, but we are adopted children of God. But we still struggle, we let ourselves and others down. We look at our shortcomings and we groan, inside if not out loud. So where is the proof that we really do belong to God?

Again, it’s hidden in the last place you’d look: it’s in the groans. “When we cry out, “Abba! Father,”—when we call on our heavenly parent in our exasperation, our exhaustion, our doubt, our emptiness—that is the proof! That is the Spirit of God taking the witness stand, and giving testimony to our spirit that we are God’s children. Next time you are at the end of your rope, and your heart says, “Help, God!” remember that is God saying, “See? You’re my child. You wouldn’t have called out to me if you didn’t belong to me.” May we rest in that, until the new birth when all the labor pains are forgotten and we see the Abba face to face.

Aimee: That’s part of being wheat—those labor pains. Just think what wheat goes through to become bread: it is crushed and sifted and mixed and kneaded and left to rise and baked and eaten! We don’t have it easy just because we’re Christians, do we? But in the end, the smell of baked bread, the nourishment it provides to others, the table fellowship of a table stretching maybe a few feet, a few hundred yards from one church to another, across the continents, and perhaps across the whole cosmos, makes it all worth it.

Today we celebrate Holy Communion together. But the next time when we are apart, I invite you to remember that we are not only joining hands with Christ, but also with our neighbors just up or down the hill, as well as in the community and around the world.

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