Monday, July 21, 2014

New Sermons Page on St. Michael's Website

The Sermons page on the St. Michael and All Angels website has been fully updated! It now features five recent sermons by Father Smith, with more to follow soon. Each entry includes a list of the day's readings, and at least one picture that relates to the sermon.

Here is the most recent sermon. Click on the link above to read them all!


Don’t Weed the Garden
A Sermon for Sunday, July 20th, 2014
By Father John R. Smith

Lesson:  Genesis 28: 10 – 19a                                   
Psalm 139: 1-11 / 22-23
Epistle: Romans 8: 12 - 25
The Holy Gospel: Matthew 13: 24 – 30, 36 - 43

When I was a teenager, my mom kept pretty good tabs on me.  When, during the summer, it looked like I was getting bored or antsy with lots of time on my hands, she would say:  “John, go weed the garden.”  Living in the northwest with lots of rain everything grew fast including the weeds.  There were always plenty of weeds in the garden and flower beds.  It had to be done.

I dreaded hearing my mom’s request for me to pull weeds.  I wish I knew today’s Gospel passage where Jesus says to let the weeds grow and don’t pull them out lest the good plants be uprooted with them (which did happen!) so I could show it to my mother and get out of having to pull weeds all the time!

Actually, Jesus is addressing a problem in his day which we continue to have in our own time:  How do you resist evil without adding the evil of your own violent preventative actions and make things worse than they were?  In other words, Jesus is saying that we will multiply evil when we try to identify evil and weed it out.

Why is this?  Because Jesus knows we are not good at identifying evil because we are sinners too.  Like Pogo says:  We have met the enemy and it is us.  As human beings we tend to put everything into an “us” vs. “them” type of life scenario where real people get hurt or killed.

Conventional human judgment says “Let's get the bad guys and teach them a lesson.”  But we do so without any proportion to our human “justice.”  For example:  After 9/11 there was a lot of comparison to the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.  On that tragic day there were 2500+ casualties, mostly sailors and soldiers, but when we dropped the atom bomb on Nagasaki and Hiroshima we caused over 250,000 casualties, mostly all civilians.  And 9/11’s 3500+ dead led to a war that estimates 350,000 were killed, the majority civilians.  And in the current conflict in Gaza and Israel, Palestinian casualties are over 200 and so far only 1 Israeli has been killed.  We are not good at pulling weeds.  The more we weed the more the landscape is destroyed.

The Million Dollar question is:  How can we oppose evil without creating more evil and bloodshed and becoming evil ourselves in the process?

Jesus lived and taught an alternative to our conventional human wisdom.  When the slaves in the story ask the Master if they should pull up the weeds sown by the enemy, he replies,

“No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.  Let both of them grow together until the harvest.”
The word for “let” in the Greek text is aphiemi which can mean “permit”, “let”, or “allow.”  It’s in the command “do this” form.    But the greatest thing for me is that the word aphiemi is the word in Greek for forgiveness, in the sense of “let off the hook!”

For Jesus, the real enemy is Satan, who attempts to sucker us into conflict and to end up creating more and more woe in the world.  Jesus is saying “Don’t fall into that trap.  Step back from the sadness and look how to bring mercy to the perpetrator who has a complaint against you.  What is the complaint?  How can you answer it and make things better?

Vincent van Gogh Harvest in Provence of Wheat Field with Sheaves, c.1888All this said, we still have to deal with Jesus’ words about collecting the weeds at harvest and throwing them into the furnace of fire where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  Doesn’t sound much like forgiveness, does it?  We can go in a couple of directions on this:  Jesus could be saying “Leave all Judgment and punishment to me and my Father.  Wait till we get our hands on the evildoers,” (Jesus’ listeners might like this best because it gives a nod to the conventional wisdom to eliminate the bad guys) or, Jesus is saying that the Kingdom he and the Angels are trying to bring about on the earth will be unsuccessfully up-rooted like weeds by those looking to get rid of them by putting Jesus (The Weed) to death on the Cross.  Jesus himself will suffer the furnace of fire in his passion and death.  Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. were modern day examples of persons willing to suffer violence themselves before they would afflict others with violence.

I wish we could judge rightly, but we are not God.  God is love.  In God there is no darkness at all.  God makes the sun shine on the good and bad alike.  God makes rain to fall on the just and unjust.  God is removed completely from the realm of our human judgment or human morality, our judging or condemning human beings as evil.

So what do we do?  Patiently resist evil, forgive, try not to increase the evil sown in the world by anything we do create even more suffering.  Doing this, we will groan with creation’s labor pains for the Kingdom to finally come.  St Paul shares this groaning experience with us:

We, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.  For in hope we were saved.  Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what is seen?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
This is the experience of the follower of Jesus in the world:  groaning for the Kingdom of peace and justice while being joyful in hope that “Thy Kingdom come” will be a reality in this world.

In sum, I think we can be more useful to God in our patience than in trying to pull up everything we think is a weed.  Don’t we sometimes say:  Is that a weed?  It looks like a flower!  God is the Master Gardener.  Let us cooperate with God’s plan as Jesus teaches us.