Saturday, July 19, 2008

Sermon

Matthew 13:24-30

24He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27And 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?’ 28He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30Let 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.’”

For those of us who think of ourselves as gardeners, this is a strange parable. Even if we don’t, it seems strange. It just seems to make sense, that we should go in and uproot those weeds while they are still small, before they have taken over the entire field. But, the owner of the field says, “wait, wait, until the harvest, then we can tell what is good and what is bad.” Actually, this parable makes a lot of sense. You see, the weed is probably the darnell. Darnell is a weed that when it first begins to grow looks a lot like wheat. So, pulling it up right away risks pulling up good wheat by mistake. By the time it has grown enough to tell from the wheat, the roots have entwined with the wheat roots. Pulling it up at this point risks uprooting good wheat. So, what at first makes no sense to us, makes a lot of sense.
The workers are anxious to do something. They think they can tell the difference between the weeds and the wheat. And what about us? As we look around, don’t we think we can tell the difference between the good and the bad? Kay Warren, in her book, Dangerous Surrender, suggests that it is so much more difficult than we think. Her book tells the story of her call to AIDS/HIV ministry. At the beginning, she traveled to Africa and other countries to learn first hand about the epidemic and its ramifications. She tells about her visit to Rwanda: She says that she had heard the gruesome stories of the genocide. “Stepping off the plane at Kigali’s small airport, I was sure that Id’ know how to spot them—how to look into the eyes of a Rwandan man or woman and evaluate whether or not they had participated in the genocide eleven years previous. I thought I would be able to recognize past criminal behavior just by talking to someone. . . . How hard could it be to distinguish between the victimizers and the victims?’ ”
She continued to observe how naive she was. “Much to my chagrin, I couldn’t tell by looking. I interacted with men and women—Hutu and Tutsi—and unless they told me their intimate life story, I had no way of figuring out the good guys from the bad guys. This frightened me” she said, “and made me feel quite vulnerable. ‘I could be sitting across the table from a murderer and not even know it!’ “ She thought.
She tells of meeting an official “a nice-looking man” she says “neatly dressed in a suit and tie. He gave us a lavish welcome, served wonderful food under a tent that protected us from the sun, and delivered his official greetings. But as we chatted and got acquainted, he quietly told me and Rick in veiled terms that he had been part of the killings in 1994. He alluded to his role but said it was very small. Normally he would have expected to be punished severely, but he said it was well-known that he was a good man who had made bad choices in the passion of the moment. He was granted leniency and a second chance to prove himself.” Warren recounts that she “instinctively recoiled from him; I wanted to pull away and have nothing to do with him. What was the true extent of his crimes? How cold this ordinary-looking man have been a part of the madness?” She says that he didn’t look like a monster. She continues that as she traveled through Rwanda it occurred to her that there wasn’t “a special class of people for whom torture, rape and murder come easily—but there were a lot of people like me: ordinary people who had gotten caught up in the hatred and passion of the moment and had allowed evil to reign in their hearts for a season.”
The truth then hit her and she asked herself: “Might I, too, be full of depravity, capable of committing the same atrocities if I were ever to allow evil to reign in my heart?” She says that this thought seems too awful for her to accept.
When I was a teenager, I used to day dream about what a courageous person I could be. I would dream about the Revolution and being a fighter like Molly Pitcher. When I read the Diary of Anne Frank, I day dreamed of hiding Jews from certain death at the hands of the Nazis. I dreamed of being a French resistance fighter. Now, much older, I realize what delusions these were. What if I were confronted by real evil, that would call me to action? What would I do? Would I risk my life to save others? Would I be a hero? Or would I try to hide, to save my life, to stay safe? I think I’ve told this story before here. You know that my son and I had planned to stay a couple of days in Nairobi, Kenya in early January before traveling on to Uganda to see gorillas. I fortunately was able to rearrange our flights so that we would fly directly into Uganda. I told my son that I wasn’t afraid that we might be hurt, I just was concerned that we might not be able to get out of our hotel. My son’s reply stopped me in my tracks. “What if, on the way to or from the airport, we were stopped at one of those informal roadblocks?” Those were roadblocks set up by the Kikuyos or the Luos or anther of the ethnic groups. Cars would be stopped, identity cards checked and if you belonged to the wrong group, you would be hacked to death. What would I do if I were forced to be a part of the carnage? I don’t think the answer would be very flattering.
Earlier in her book, Warren talked about the “Kingdom of Me”. Perhaps you know that kingdom. She tells one story from her childhood. Her father had brought her a record of the story of Cinderella. Warren says she imagined herself as the servant girl who becomes a queen. She have she says “vivid memories of making my little friends sit on the couch and watch me dance, twirling to the music of ‘A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes.’.” She points out to the reader that she had written that she made her friends watch her dance. She says “they weren’t allowed to participate at all!”
She continues that not much has really changed since she was a little time. She says “Like may other adults, [I] devote a fair amount of time, energy and money to controlling, polishing, protecting and defending my own private little kingdom. Like a despotic ruler in a mythical story, I can be the omnipotent potentate, supreme authority, oppressive dictator and highly exalted on in the Kingdom of Me. . . Within this kingdom, there is very little room for anyone who doesn’t do it my way, who doesn’t agree that I am the most important person of all. When others treat me as I ‘deserve’, then all is well—we can get along. When others acknowledge that it’s right to serve me and my needs, there is harmony and peace. Woe to the hapless family member, friend, acquaintance, or stranger who doesn’t properly appreciate my status; heads will roll. . . . Not only do I seek completely control of everything around me, but my greatest and deepest love is reserved for me. I am desperately in love with myself. If I am completely honest, I have to admit that there are many times when I want the world to revolve around me—my comfort, my pleasure, my convenience. I desire that others see and interpret everything through my eyes, make me happy, meet my needs, and refrain from offending me, hurting me, wounding me, upsetting me, irritating me. . . . My greatest efforts every day go toward myself.”
My neighbor across the street and I were chatting the other day. She is starting a coaching business. She looked at me and said, “you are the most important person in the world!” I immediately cringed. I retorted, “The homeless man I was talking to at Home Depot is just as important as I am.” Much of our problems are because each one of us believes that we are the most important person in the world. Just look at the drivers on Poplar and you can be sure that is true! But, if we look into our own hearts, and are honest, we can see that it is true. We do believe we are the most important person in the world.
It is easy to point to the evil and sin in others. Not only is it easy, it feels good. One of the reasons it feels so good is because it means we are not looking clearly at ourselves, at our own potential for sin and evil; at our own sin and our own participation in evil. One of the scariest implications of this parable is that perhaps we, each one of us, is the field: that evil lives and grows within us, just as the good lives and grows within us.
Uprooting the evil, cleansing our souls of the bad is not an easy task. First, we don’t want to admit our capacity for evil. Then, we are attached to the self centered self. It is difficult to let go of ourselves. We can only confront ourselves in a safe place, in a community of people trying to follow Christ; trying, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing, but putting Christ and Christ’s kingdom foremost in their lives. Kay Warren’s book is a testament to her transformation by surrendering to Christ, to saying yes to God. Warren did not do this by herself. She had the support of her husband and her congregation. She did not travel, learning about AIDS/HIV, by herself, but in the company of her family and companions from her congregation. Christians through the ages have not been transformed alone, but in the company of fellow travelers with Christ, from the first disciples until today. We need each other on the difficult journey of being the people Christ calls us to be, as individuals and as a congregation. In the fall, I will be leading two opportunities for us to grow as Christians, to weed our lives. One on Wednesday mornings at 9 is a prayer group, where we will listen to what God is saying to us as individuals and as a congregation. The second is a Bible study of Mark’s gospel, again listening to what God is saying to us as individuals and as a congregation. The time for the Bible study has not been decided. I invite you to join me on this journey. Amen.