A sermon preached at St. George’s Anglican Church Calgary, by the Rev. Clara King, July 23, 2017.
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Jesus put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 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?” 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.” ’
Then he 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.’ He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!’
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be always acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
Today, we have a parable about good and evil – we hear what happens to the good, and what happens to the evil, and we’re left to make assumptions about who the good people are, and who the evil people are.
There’s a story called Caleb’s Crossing (by Geraldine Brooks) about a girl growing up in colonial America, several hundred years ago. Growing up in a very strict puritanical household, she’s been taught all her life that some people are good, and they’re God’s chosen ones; and some people are bad – they are the children of evil. No matter hard she tries, she can’t seem to behave perfectly, to be perfect, and so she lives her life in eternal anxiety about whether she truly is a child of God or whether, in fact, she is secretly a child of the devil. She watches herself endlessly to find out: is she actually good or actually one of the evil ones? The story follows her journey in and out of certainty about what her deepest nature truly is.
Most of us are somewhere on that journey of discovery. Most of us know the parable about the wheat and the chaff (Matthew 3:12): that God gathers the wheat into his granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire; and most of us think about wheat and chaff as being different people: some people are good; some people are chaff. Our religious history has taught us to see people this way.
But each head of grain is made up of wheat and chaff: they grow up together, just like the wheat and the weeds. Evil and good are not like oil and water, separate and apart; they are bound up close together, inside each one of us. It is God who can see the wheat inside each of us, and can help cleanse away our chaff. It is God who can look at a completely jumbled up field, and see, there amidst all the weeds, all the good seed which is growing, and which is beautiful and valuable.
Even in the midst of a complicated and morally compromised world, God looks upon us and can see clearly all the possibility for good, springing up amidst all the challenges we face and all the mistakes and sins that we make.
Every last one of us makes mistakes . Every last one of us makes serious mistakes for which there are serious consequences. Every last one of us has in our lives made mistakes, or mistaken choices, that have serious consequences for other people. It is an inescapable fact of being human: we are a mix of parts, both good and bad, and we affect the world, even without knowing it, in both good and bad ways.
We may like to look around us in the world, and say, “I am better than that person,” or, “thank goodness I am not like them.” We may enjoy dividing the world between those who are “good”, presumably “like us”, and those who are “bad” or “evil” or “monsters”. We may have times when we slip into depression or struggle with self-loathing, and think, “I am a vile, disgusting human being – there is nothing good in me at all.” But God does not see things this way: God knows that each one of us is both wheat and chaff.
God sees that each of us has choices, and God sees how each of us makes our choices, based on what God knows that we know. God sees how we take account of other people. God sees how we choose to balance between our own needs and those of others. God sees the efforts we make to make the world a better place, or not.
And God rejoices at every moment we are more wheat than chaff; every moment we are more wheat than weeds. God dances with joy with every good and wholesome choice that we make, wishing for every one of us to life a life of goodness and mercy and glory.
“Goodness and mercy shall follow me every day of my life,” says the psalmist [ps. 23:6]: goodness and mercy shall follow me, not go ahead of me – that is the prayer: that goodness and mercy shall be the fragrance that lingers behind me in a room when I have left; they shall be the memory of my presence. That is the life God longs for us to live, leaving goodness and mercy in our wake, wherever we go. All of us can work towards this; and all of us fall short.
This year, at St. George’s, we’ve been coming to realize that there have been emotionally abusive clergy here in our past. And many of us may have abusive characters in our own personal past too. There may be in our midst, those who themselves have been abusers, or bullies. And so it’s important to say: these words about God calling each of us to lives of goodness; these words about God looking for goodness in each of our hearts, and God’s endless offer of grace, God’s endless offer of transformation — these are not just pretty words.
These are words of hope for healing: that even while we heal from past hurts, God looks for the good in us, and calls us to live lives of goodness and mercy, and delights with us every moment that we do.
But these are also words of hope for transformation: people can heal from addictions; people can heal from being bullies and abusers. God sees in all our hearts that there is some lingering possibility of goodness, no matter how far we fall, and God keeps calling. God keeps holding out hope.
God knows that we are complicated – God created us this way! God made us to be wheat and chaff all bound up together, trusting us with the journey of learning and choosing what kind of lives we will live. And just as we’re called to choose for ourselves, so also we’re called to trust that God is at work in others.
So what about you: are these just pretty words to you, or do you live them as if they’re true? – as if this is the substance of our faith?
May God grant us the grace to see him working in our lives, and in the lives of those around us; and the character to look at the choices we have to make, and to choose the good, the wheat, just a little bit more.