Parable of the Weeds Among the Wheat

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 13:24-30.

In reaction to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, Patton Oswalt, renowned actor, comedian, and writer, shared these words,

But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity where inherently evil. We’d have eaten ourselves alive long ago. So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance, or fear, or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred, or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, “The good outnumber you, and we always will.”

These are incredibly powerful words that provided me with a sense of hope and comfort after that terror attack. They are words that I, unfortunately, continue to recall with each additional act of terror that happens in our nation and in our world.

As I think on these acts of terror – and as I read and reflect upon our Scripture passage for this week – I find myself asking – again – that powerful, haunting, one-word question.

Why?

Why do innocent people suffer? Why do hurt people choose to hurt people?

How do we cope with people – near or far – that seek to do us harm and yet we must grow alongside them? How do we heal from personal behaviors by which we do harm to ourselves?

Why do weeds grow among the wheat?

Why does God allow it to happen?

I do not think God allows it to happen; I believe people allow these sort of harmful behaviors to manifest-er into harmful acts. And I believe we must face these harmful acts caused by hurting people with grace and forgiveness. The Scripture says that we have to grow up together, for to take one from the other would cause damage to both. Jesus holds us accountable to how we treat our neighbors – neighbors that love us and that we love as well as neighbors that desire to cause us harm and, towards them, our thoughts are less than kind.

Scripture also tells us that Jesus is judge. Jesus is adjudicator. In trusting his sovereignty, we trust that he will enact justice. In coming under his lordship, we hope that we will be found among the faithful that responded to his commandment to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbors – all neighbors – as ourselves.

Since the time of the Fall God has been saying, shouting, praying that the good outnumber the evil and always will. I believe God calls us to join in saying, shouting, and praying this statement – not to puff ourselves up as the good – but to offer hope in a world that at times seems all too gloomy.

Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy.

On all. On us. On me.

Prayer: “Come, my Light, and illumine my darkness. Come, my Life, and revive me from death. Come, my Physician, and heal my wounds. Come, Flame of divine love, and burn up the thorns of my sins, kindling my heart with the flame of thy love. Come, my King, sit upon the throne of my heart and reign there. For thou alone art my King and my Lord. Amen.”*

*”An Invitation to Christ,” The United Methodist Hymnal 466.

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The Gospel According to Showtunes: I Know Where I’ve Been

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Proverbs 22:8

This week the Reeves community welcomes several musical guests to worship.  The first is Ms. Delicia Egerton – the director of the Orlando Community Center Children’s Choir.  She will sing our showtune feature for this week – I Know Where I’ve Been from the musical Hairspray.  The second is the Cross and Flame Youth Choir from Trinity United Methodist Church in Homewood, AL.  They will sing several anthems throughout the worship service.  I am so excited to have these talented folks join us this week!!!

An additional treat is that my middle school orchestra teacher – Mrs. Jodi Haskins – is a chaperone with the youth choir from Trinity UMC.  I have not seen her in person in years!  Mrs. Haskins – along with my other music teachers and directors – helped to grow my love for music – a love that I have had since infancy.  She and they taught me music appreciation, instrument fundamentals, and the technicals of music theory.  As I reflect upon the Scripture passage for this week a certain technical of music theory comes to mind – leading tones.

A “leading tone” is a note or pitch that resolves or leads to a note one half-step higher or lower that the original tone.  For example, in a C-major scale the notes are C D E F G A B C;  a leading tone in this scale is the B that resolves in the C.

(Please forgive this over-simplistic theory lesson – but we do not need to go too technical.)

What I appreciate about leading tones is that they are going somewhere.  They are somewhat volatile, reactive pitches.  There is energy behind them.  Anticipation is created within them.  Anticipation can quickly become angst if the leading tone is not resolved.  Progress needs to be made.  Move the piece of music forward.  Follow the leading tone through the next phase of the song.

This week’s Scripture passage contains a leading tone and the leading tone is within the word “will.”  “Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of anger will fail.”  That will indicates that present circumstances are going somewhere.  That will is somewhat volatile and reactive.  There is energy behind it.  Anticipation is created within it.  And anticipation quickly becomes angst if the will is left too long to resolve.  Progress needs to be made.

God says sowers of injustice will reap calamity and that the rod of anger will fail.  Our God is trustworthy.  Our God is the guarantor of promises made.  Our God…does not work alone.  We are caught up in that will with God.  We are instruments of God’s peace with justice in the world.  We are partnered with God in leading tone moments – in our own lives, in our community, and in the Kingdom.

What are leading tone moments?  They are those moments where you come to a fork in the road and resolution is necessary.  Which way will I turn?  What decision will I make?  What outcome will that bring?  It is God’s desire that our leading tone moments further God’s justice in the world, that our decisions give life and reflect the one who created us.

We are all working, living, serving towards our ultimate resolution – the time of complete resurrection.  Every moment until that time, then, is a leading tone moment, where we can act with God’s help to more fully bring about the Kingdom or not.  What leading tone moments are you currently experiencing?  How does God want you to resolve?  What resolution will you bring to the Kingdom?

Prayer: “Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day; earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away; change and decay in all around I see; O Thou who changes not, abide with me.  I need thy presence every passing hour.  What but thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?  Who, like thyself, my guide and stay can be?  Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.  I fear no foe, with thee at hand to bless; ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.  Where is death’s sting?  Where, grave, thy victory?  I triumph still, if thou abide with me.”* Amen.

*”Abide with Me,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 700.

 

Advent Prophet Parade: Malachi

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Malachi 3:1-4

The Rev. Dr. Thomas Long taught my homiletics course in seminary.  Homiletics is a fancy word for preaching.  One of his earliest lectures subjected how a preacher determines the biblical text that he or she will prayerfully discern, exegetically (from the word exegesis meaning critical interpretation of a text) explore, and theologically interpret for his or her congregation.

I thought to myself…wow…is he serious…an entire lecture on how to select a text?!

But it was a lesson that I needed to hear.  Dr. Long spoke of the damage that we can inflict on a text when we lift it up out of its larger context to preach.  He used the illustration of wallpaper (I know…do you remember that stuff?).  When preachers lift up a portion of Scripture out of its larger context it’s like we are briefly removing a piece of wallpaper from the larger whole.  We want the section that we take to preserve the integrity of the whole – we want it to still look like and identify with the whole – while we explore just a portion.  This guards from reading in to the text, which is known as eisegesis.

Yet, we still do damage…once wallpaper is torn it can never be whole again.  Yes, the pieces can fit back together, but the marred edges will remain.

The lasting lesson for me was this: if I am going to do damage to a text in lifting it up, then I want to make sure the marred edges are worth it.

When I consider this week’s Scripture passage, Malachi 3:1-4 looks like a neat little piece of wallpaper taken from the larger whole…but I wonder if the crafters of the Revised Standard Lectionary lifted up this section of Scripture a tad prematurely.

Malachi 3:1-4 speaks of the Coming Messenger of the Lord.  This messenger will be like a “refiner’s fire and fuller’s soap,” purifying all God’s people (3:2).  This messenger will be a physical manifestation – an incarnation – of God’s justice.  This messenger will bring about a new day which will be like the “the days of old and as in former years”…perhaps even like the “first day” when  creation was called “good” (3:4).

And the lection or Scripture lesson ends.

Readers are left with a general image that justice is coming…but for who specifically?  Keep reading.  Malachi 3:5 names them:

“Then I [the Lord] will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.”

I question whether the marred edges of the Malachi 3:1-4 lection are worth it.  Yes, these verses proclaim that justice is coming, but it isn’t specific enough for me…nor do I think it is specific enough for God’s people that I serve.

I can stand in my church week after week and proclaim to my congregation that God’s justice is coming, but I believe what they truly need to hear is the nearness of the justice.  Justice is coming to the broken, the afflicted, the wanderer, the judged, the lonely, and the lowly.  It some circumstances the justice has arrived and been embraced; in others arrived and deflected; and still others awaiting arrival.  Whatever the circumstance, justice is coming and it is coming near.  

This is a proclamation and reminder that they, me, we have not been forgotten.  God draws near to us.  God redeems.  That is the healing that comes in the justice.  That is the gift of the refiner’s fire and the fullers’ soap.

The justice was, the justice is, and the justice is to come.

So the lesson, my friends, is to keep reading.  Don’t start or stop where I say or anyone else says.  Explore the Scripture to the fullest.  Question and discern the marred edges of Scripture passages.  Bear in mind and keep in sight the integrity of the text.  Draw near.  Draw near and be refined.

Prayer: Holy God, Messenger of the new covenant, flaming Spirit, we confess that we are sinners and cannot worship you worthily except as we are purified and cleansed of our sins.  Let your Holy Fire refine our characters, and not merely our appearance, so that our very natures can become true and rich, purged of the dross of our deepest faults and the evil that corrupts us.  Fit both pastor and people to worship you in the purity appropriate to the house of God, through the fire of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.*

(*from B. David Hostetter, Prayers for the Seasons of God’s People: Worship Aids for the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998), 13).