Saturday, July 22, 2017

'Poems, Prayers and Promises': Reflections on Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43 (RCL Proper 16A, 23 July 2017)

‘Poems, Prayers and Promises’
Reflections on Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43

RCL Proper 16A
23 July 2017

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church

Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43

                  13.24 [Jesus] 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 [Jesus] 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!”

            Growing up in Colorado in the late 1960’s and the 1970’s it was almost impossible not to have encountered John Henry Deutschendorf, the son of a US military officer, who chose a career in folk music, changed his name to ‘John Denver’ and moved to Colorado.  When I was in university a local radio station would play his song, ‘Rocky Mountain High’ every Friday afternoon and invite every listener to turn towards the Rockies, place a hand over her or his heart and sing.

            Earlier this past week Paula was listening to some music at home.  As I was working in my study, I heard Denver’s familiar voice singing one of my favourite songs, ‘Poems, Prayers and Promises’.  The opening line caught me:  ‘I’ve been lately thinking about my life’s time, all the things I’ve done and how it’s been’.  I think that it touched me because I have been ‘lately thinking about my life’s time’ as I realize that retirement draws ever closer.

            What I find myself pondering is the question of what does it mean to live a successful life, a productive life, a good life.  It’s a question that many if not all of us ask from time to time.  It’s the question that families struggle to answer when a loved one dies and they try to write an obituary or a eulogy that will do justice to the loved one who can no longer speak for herself or himself.  How do we talk about our successes?  How do we acknowledge our failures?  How do we deal with our disappointments?  How do we sing about the poems, prayers and promises that are enshrined in our hearts and in our minds?

            Today Jesus tells us a parable about the hopes and the realities of living our lives.  A man works hard to obtain good seed, seed that will ensure the prosperity of his family and the well-being of his workers.  He and his workers sow that good seed, but when their backs are turned, someone sows bad seed, seed that cannot be used for any profitable purpose, even burning the plants that sprout will only give a short-term burst of heat and light.  And one morning, while the owner is thinking about his life’s time, his workers bring him the bad news:  It’s clear that the bad seed is sprouting in the midst of the good seed.  Some begin to panic, but the owner does not.  When the right time comes, he says, we will be able to sort the good from the bad.

            In the seventy years that this Parish has been in existence, we’ve been doing a lot of planting.  We’ve planted the seeds of the good news that the kingdom of God is not only drawing but is already here among us.  The good news we have planted here is that God gathers us together despite all the forces in the world that seek to divide human beings, whether by gender or by race or by religious belief or by any criteria that human beings use to deny the dignity of their sisters and brothers.  The good news we have planted here is that God transforms us into agents of God’s purposes despite all the forces in the world that seek to convince us that we are powerless before the faceless powers that oppress the human spirit.  The good news we have planted here is that God sends us into the world to share our experiences of help, hope and home despite all the forces in the world that silence us, marginalize us and ridicule us.

            But you and I know all too well the power of ‘the negative’ to divert us, to dissuade us, to distract us from the knowledge that God in Jesus of Nazareth has unleashed a movement that will, in God’s good time, see the kingdom come in its fullness.  When I look at my own life, there is always a subtle nudge at the end of each day to focus on my faults and failures rather than on my joys and successes.  Socrates is supposed to have said that the unexamined life is not worth living, but I often find that the overly-examined life is not worth living either.  One of my professors at Notre Dame told us that he spent more time each night thanking God for the achievements of the day than he did in dwelling on the failures.

            As we move towards the anniversary of the founding of this Parish, my hope is that we will focus on our strengths, on our ministries and on the good work we are already doing.  We can, as some congregations do and have done, dwell on our shortcomings and our disappointments.  But to do so is see a field filled with weeds rather than a field filled with the bounty of God’s grace working in us and through us.  In the coming years we need to travel light and, to my way of thinking, travelling lightly means travelling with a sense of gratitude for what we have been given and for the ministries God is leading us to undertake. 

            God has given us poems that celebrate God’s life among us, prayers that lift us up on eagle’s wings and promises that give us hope in the future.  You see, I’ve been lately looking at our life’s time and I like what I’ve seen.

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