Object: a kitchen strainer
Boys and Girls, do you know what this is? It’s used in the kitchen. We call it a strainer, or a colander. If I put sugar in here, what would happen? Yes, it would go right through since there are so many holes. So, it isn’t used to hold everything in, but instead to separate things, like spaghetti and water.
Don’t we wish we had something like a strainer that helps us separate the good and bad stuff in our lives? What if we had a strainer that could separate all the sin and the bad habits and the grumpy feelings we have, and just leave the good stuff behind? There is one way we can strain the sin and the bad stuff out of our lives, and that is by giving it to God and asking God to forgive us and help us do better. All we have to do is ask Him. Let’s pray…
Dear Friends in Christ,
Today we heard another parable from Jesus as our gospel reading, The Parable of the Weeds. The conclusion in Matthew’s explanation is that there is going to be a judgment and in the end the weeds will be burned up and the wheat will be saved. If I were a hell, fire and brimstone preacher, I could really use this parable to scare the living daylights out of us today, couldn’t I?
You know I’m not going to do that, because that is not how I understand Jesus. In our Adult Forum last week we learned about the practice of reading scripture through the lens of the gospel, that is the lens of the good news of Jesus. The good news is that God loves us and wants to save us and sent his son Jesus in order to make that happen.
If we start with that lens (instead of the lens of the law that says we terrible sinners must be punished for our wickedness), we certainly can receive this parable as a message of good news, grace and divine compassion. Here’s what I mean…
Jesus is comparing the kingdom of heaven to someone who sowed good seed in his field. What is the kingdom of heaven? Jesus never once tells us exactly what he means by “kingdom of heaven.” Quite a few times he says it is like something: It is like a treasure buried in a field…It is like a mustard seed…the kingdom of God is like a pearl of great price…” Jesus always presents the kingdom as something very positive.
This parable surely parallels the creation of the world. God created a beautiful and perfect world. But then sin entered the picture, as the Genesis account tells us. The parable puts it this way: when everyone was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. When the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slave of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, the, 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?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 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.”
Where is the good news in this story? The one who created us also grieves for us because we do live in a world invaded by sin. Here is some good basic Lutheran theology: every one of us has two natures, good and evil. They co-exist within us and will do so as long as we live on this earth. While some may try to figure out what folks in this world are weeds and what folks are wheat, I like the words that conclude Matthew’s explanation of this parable: Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father! I sincerely believe that God wants each and every one of us here to “shine like the sun” and not be burned up in the fires of hell.
Mr. Rogers told stories to children and he was a wonderful theologian. He used to say, “Have you ever noticed that the same people who are bad sometimes are the very same people who are good sometimes?” It reminds me of a story called “Two Wolves.” It goes like this:
“An old Cherokee once told his grandson about a fight that was going on inside of him. He said it was between two wolves. One was evil: Anger, envy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, gossip, resentment, and false pride. The other was good: Joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, generosity, truth, compassion and faith. The grandson thought about it for a moment and asked his grandfather, ‘Which wolf do you think will win?’ The old Cherokee replied, ‘The one I feed.”
Do I speak truth when I say that we all know what it is like to struggle with the good and the bad in our lives? That goes for our children as well as our youth and adults. Saint Paul expressed it well when he said, “For what I want to do I do not do. But what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:15)
There is a story about a minister who had a strange dream. He dreamt that he had died and was trying to get into heaven. When he approached the pearly gates, St. Peter told him he needed 100 points to get in. Proudly the minister said, “Well, I was a pastor for 43 years.” “Fine,” said St. Peter, “that’s worth one point.” “One point? Is that all?” cried the minister. “Yes, that’s it,” said St. Peter.
“Well,” said the pastor, “I visited lots of shut-ins.” St Peter responded, “That’s worth one point.” “I worked with young people,” said the pastor. “That’s worth one point,” said St. Peter. “I developed a number of excellent Scout programs,” said the minister. “That’s worth one point,” said St. Peter. “You have four points now. You need 96 more.” “Oh no,” said the minister in a panic. “I feel so helpless, so inadequate. Except for the grace of God, I don’t have a chance.” St. Peter smiled and said, “Grace of God – that counts for 96 points. Come on in!”
Here’s some truth: we are imperfect people who live in an imperfect world. Today we gather in this imperfect congregation to hear an imperfect preacher. We may try our best to good, but we at best are a mixed bag. But through the lens of the gospel, we know the outcome of our story. Jesus has been designated to be the judge. And the most amazing thing is that he has already set fire to our imperfections and sin, and looks only at what he has made righteous and we will all “shine like the sun in the kingdom of our Father.”
Thanks be to God. Amen!