Saturday, July 22, 2017

Year A, Proper 11, Romans 8.12-25, Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43, The good and bad of it.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen
God is gracious and merciful.
And too often, we humans are not.
Today’s Gospel lesson offers a glimpse into a common response of humans to the presence of evil in the world.  Just eliminate those people who you consider to be evil.
Often this has resulted in ethnic ‘cleansing’, otherwise known as Holocausts, the systematic destruction of entire peoples.
The most famous instance of this, of course was THE Holocaust.  An estimated 6 million Jews were killed in places like Auschwitz.
Unfortunately, this is but one example of the horrors of genocide in our world.
Stalin purged the Russian population of those perceived to be dissenters, and though exact  numbers are not available, estimates are that as many as 20 million died, largely in the gulags, or concentration camps.
This one strikes close to home for us because one of the groups that was targeted by Stalin were the German Lutherans that lived in Russia.
Pol Pot in Cambodia killed nearly 2 million.
The list could go on and on.
One of the parts of our own history that we don’t like to admit relates to Native Americans.
That one is more complex.
It was not just a program of genocide carried out by a few rulers, but a massive death toll that was the result of a variety of causes, from disease to war. 
Whatever the intent, a huge percentage of the native population died as the European settlers carved out a place for themselves in North and South America.
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?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’
That there is evil in the world is a fact no one can dispute.
What to do about it is where we and God are different.
To our minds, eliminating evil seems like the logical solution.
And so we have these instances of genocide that occur throughout our histories.
And remember, in each case of genocide, it was viewed as a “solution”, a fix to societies problems.
The Nazi’s called the elimination of the Jews in Europe “The Final Solution”.  They thought they were doing the world a great service by eliminating the Jews, whom they blamed for many of the problems they were facing.
And though we don’t like to admit it, the death of so many Native Americans was a ‘solution’ for us as well, as it made room for the settlement of North and South America by Europeans.
One of my memories from childhood was during the American Indian Movements demonstrations at Wounded Knee in South Dakota.
My boss, at the grocery store where I worked as a box boy, was complaining about the Indian protests.
I replied “Well, we did take their land.”
Her response was that “It would have been a great shame to leave this wonderful farm land to the Indians. 
The solution was to gather them up, and send them away.
We have not entirely overcome this sentiment in our country, either.
We solve our society’s woes by gathering people up and locking them away.
The United States incarcerates people, that is sends to prison, a higher percentage of our population that any other nation in the world.  Race plays a role in that.  And treating drug addiction as a crime as opposed to a disease also plays a role.  Remember, we are still engaged in a “war against drugs”.
The human solution to all evil, continues to be the elimination of the evil doers.
Which is why this Gospel lesson should be so striking to us.
God’s response is grace.
Should we gather up the weeds and destroy them?
And Jesus response was:
“No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.”
When I remember my Grandma Michealson two things come to mind.
First of all, I remember her sitting at the sink pealing apples for apple pie, a particular treat when we came home to visit.
And second I remember asking her about a little saying that she hung on her kitchen wall.
“There’s so much bad in the best of us, and good in the worst of us, that it hardly behooves any of us to talk about the rest of us.”
This is the thing.
The reason you cannot eliminate evil by eliminating “evil” people is that there is both good and evil in all of us.
Luther called this “simul justis et pecattor”.
We are, at one and the same time, both saint and sinner.
And you cannot eliminate the one without the other.
And so rather than risking destroying the good along with the bad, God’s response is to allow both to exist side by side.
Lest the good be eliminated with the bad, God offers forgiveness and pardon.
Of all the images of the judgment, the one I prefer is that of separating the wheat from the chaff.
Chaff is the husks that surround the seeds that must be separated during harvest by winnowing or threshing. 
That’s why farmers use combines.
The grain of wheat is gathered, and the chaff is separated from the grain and blown out the back of the combine.
But what is so appropriate about the image of the chaff and the grain, is that ever plant has both.  Every seed is surrounded by the chaff. 
You don’t have some plants that produce seeds, and other plants that produce chaff. 
And so I believe it will be with each of us at the time of judgment.
There will be a purification.
The chaff will be blown away.
And the seed gathered in.
Still, we struggle.
We struggle in the Church.
Shouldn’t this, of all places, be a gathering of ‘good’ people?
Too often it seems as though it is not.
We have all sorts of disagreements, and the temptation to consider some of our brothers and sisters to be ‘the evil ones’ is great.
We cannot avoid wanting to gather together with those we agree with.
I mean afterall, that’s why there are so many different  Churches.  Purity.  Homogeneity.
And attempts to live together in spite of our diversity often fail.
I got a phone call this last week.
The woman on the other end of the line introduced herself and then inquired:  “Are you Missouri Synod or ELCA?”
“We’re and ELCA congregation.”  I responded.
“Uggh!”  was her reply.  “Uggh.”But then she went on to tell her story of financial hardship and ask if we had any funds to help her.
I have to confess.
I wanted to respond with my own “Uggh.”
Instead, I politely told her that we were a small congregation that did not have an assistance fund and left it at that.
Lutherans have become very divided over the years.
And today one of the things that divides us is whether or not we will associate with non-Lutherans.
Politics divide us.
Social issues such as homosexuality or abortion divide us.
Race divides us.
Economic status divides us.
Our understanding of theology and church practice divides us.
How do we deal with disagreements.
By each going our own way.
Separation is the solution.
“No”, Jesus says. “let them both grow together”.
There’s good and bad in all of us, and one day that will all be sorted out like the weeds from the wheat, or the chaff from the wheat.
But for now, we stand together, in spite of everything.
Can Democrats and Republicans worship together?
Or those who disagree on homosexuality or abortion?
What about different races, or the rich and the poor?
What about the differing theological positions or different practices within the Church?
Must we round up those who differ from us and send them away?
Or is there room for all of us at the foot of the Cross?
Standing together lest we eliminate the good with the bad.
Our human tendency is to seek out those with whom we agree, and to separate ourselves from those we deem to be “evil”.
God’s response is, and always will be grace.
There’s so much bad in the best of us, and good in the worst of us, that God has chosen to love all of us.


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