Season after Pentecost (Proper 11 [16]): The Gospel Passage – Good wheat, and bad weeds

He 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.” (Matthew 13:24-26)

This is a little bit “edgier” a parable. False doctrines have somehow gotten intermingled with the good news, and now there is mixed in the good crop weeds that are not good for anything.

“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?’ “ (Verses 27 – 28)

I have sometimes seen/heard/read evidence of the thinking that I feel is not quite right; not out and out wrong, but off somehow and results in unfortunate outcomes. Perhaps you have too, beloved reader. I have at times tried to correct it but with little or no success. Other times I have remained silent; either because I did not feel it was my task to apply a corrective. Or because I felt it would cause more harm than good. Or, I did not feel I should pass judgment at all.

“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.'” (Verses 29 – 30)

The reason I find this to be an “edgy” parable is because it implies that authentic Christian thinking and actions are carried out along side the cockeyed and imperfect. It also implies that maybe we should not try to judge between the pure and good, and the imperfect and inaccurate. How’s that for a chilling prospect? Maybe no one except the Divine should try to discern between the “good wheat” and the “weeds”. Furthermore, what turns out to be “weeds” is destined for destruction. It could be the very judgmental attitude that some have which may turn out to be “weeds”. And THAT makes me nervous!

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!” (Verses 36 – 43)

The Jesus in this parable in Matthew is very edgy. But I suppose you already knew that beloved reader. It makes even me pause and think. I know I not infallible in my scriptural, faith, and spiritual knowledge; I know I make mistakes and errors. I try to discern rightly, and not proclaim absolutely. I only write what I am as certain as I can be. Perhaps this sort of teaching from Jesus is why Paul has such strict requirements for preachers and teachers. And yet . . . . Paul was very bold and outspoken in his preaching and teaching. I am not judging Paul according to the merits of this parable. I simply mean that it is okay to speak and teach boldly in the Lord. Just make sure you are standing in the midst of “good wheat” beloved reader! Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 11 [16]): The Epistle Passage – Tackling Paul and scripture from Romans once again.

So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh — for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:12- 13)

I am really trying to come with a positive attitude to Paul’s writings to the Romans. It is not that I disagree with what Paul is saying. Nor is it because I do not understand what he means. The difficulty comes in wading through Paul’s style of discourse. Paul’s letter to the Romans has been studied by many. And once the reader gets past the stylized way that the book is written, there really is good theology here. And that might be part of where my struggle comes from; the theology is so complete and so pervasive that there is more that can be said and/or added. And nothing that should be taken away. Since I dislike simply commentating to reiterate the obvious, I find myself left with little to say.

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” (Verse 14)

Should I simply “preach” what I assume you know so well, beloved reader?

“For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ–if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” (Verses 15 – 17)

If I thought you were all new believers (as this year’s RCL is compiled with that in mind), perhaps I could see my way to reiterating and underlying what Paul says. But I have to assume you are, for the most part, established believers. And have already chosen the course of your faith life.

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope
that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Verses 18 – 21)

As an aid to navigating through these passages from Romans I have consulted with my favorite commentator, Albert Barnes. I can always count on him to give my thinking guidance and inspiration. He said of verse 18, “It should be borne in mind that the early Christians were comparatively few and feeble, and exposed to many trials, and that this topic would be often, therefore, introduced into the discussions about their privileges and condition.” He also says of verses 19 to 23, “Perhaps there is not a passage in the New Testament that has been deemed more difficult of interpretation than this Romans 8:19-23; and after all the labors bestowed on it by critics, still there is no explanation proposed which is perfectly satisfactory, or in which commentators concur. . . . . The main design of the passage is, to show the sustaining power of the gospel in the midst of trials, by the prospect of the future deliverance and inheritance of the sons of God. “

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” (Verses 22 – 23)

It is interesting to consider that Barnes feels a more accurate translation of “creation” used verses previous to verse 22 was not creation per see but the new Christian. That the new Christian would have trials and tribulations that could and would only be resolved through the Lord God and Christ Jesus. And such difficulties are upon “the creature” (as referred to by Barnes) because of the fallen nature of the entire world, which Barnes feels is what the term “whole creation” refers to.

“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.” (Verses 24 – 25)

It is part of the indomitable human spirit to believe and hope. Not just in the sure things but the unseen uncertain things. In fact, sometimes the stronger hope is in the unseen and unknown. For there lies possibilities that are far beyond what is in our own comparatively limited experience.

As always, I owe a great deal to Barnes’ careful work with the scriptures. It seems amazing to me that a man who wrote some many decades before me could speak to my heart and open my thinking in terms of scripture passages. But that is no less amazing to me than the way these reflections seem to come together – where my thinking seems so scrambled but than aligns to give a coherent discourse on scripture. I can do little else but step back and praise the Lord God! The same Lord God that Paul wrote about; will wonders never cease!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 10 [15]) : The Psalm Passage – Summing up the theme for this week, and holy scripture in general

I am having a little bit of a challenge trying to figure out what Psalm passage to us. Normally I would use the one that is linked to the Old Testament passage that I used, but I sort of made use of both. (See Tuesday of this week.) I used the Isaiah passage most overtly, and that selection is tied to Psalm 65: 1 – 13. Psalm 119: 105 – 112 is the passage tied to the passage from Genesis that told the story of Jacob and Esau, or at least the story of how Esau put aside his birthright.

“Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion; and to you shall vows be performed, O you who answer prayer! To you all flesh shall come.” (Psalm 65:1 – 2)

You can read/see how this psalm passage relates to the might of the Lord displayed in Isaiah 55.

“When deeds of iniquity overwhelm us, you forgive our transgressions.” (Verse 2)

Yet, you could also make a case for it relating to Jacob’s and Esau’s story, where Jacob tricked Esau into forfeiting his birthright for food. And then later on in the story (beyond the cited passage) where Jacob deprives Esau of the blessing from their father.

“Happy are those whom you choose and bring near to live in your courts. We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, your holy temple.” (Verse 4)

However, as the passage goes on, the tie to the Isaiah passage does make more sense.

“By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance, O God of our salvation; you are the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas. By your strength you established the mountains; you are girded with might. You silence the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples.” (Verses 5 – 7)

The psalms passage – being about the Lord God, passing the Lord God, and praying to the Lord God – are however appropriate for every occasion and event. Verse 7 seems especially appropriate, as the Lord God calms all things.

“Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds are awed by your signs; you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy. You visit the earth and water it, you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide the people with grain, for so you have prepared it. You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth.” (Verses 8 – 10)

Can you hear the echo of the Isaiah passage, beloved reader?

“You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with richness. The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy.” (Verses 11 – 13)

In the Revised Common Lectionary the Psalm passage is often a refrain of praise to God, or a petition whose theme often aligns with the other passages for that week. So it is not surprise when the themes between the passages echo each other. And as we read this week, the themes within each week – that is when there are alternate passages in each of the four types of passage (Old Testament, Psalms, Epistle, and Gospel) – also align. Of course, being that everything is from biblical scripture that has as it inspiration the Lord God and the story of the called people of God, there is always a broad common theme.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to observe your righteous ordinances.
I am severely afflicted; give me life, O LORD, according to your word.
Accept my offerings of praise, O LORD, and teach me your ordinances.
I hold my life in my hand continually, but I do not forget your law.
The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from your precepts.
Your decrees are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart. (Psalm 119:105-112)
I incline my heart to perform your statutes forever, to the end.”

Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 10 [15]) : The Gospel Passage – Growing in and with the Lord God Jesus Christ

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach.
And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up.” (Matthew 13: 1-4)

I have commented a few times about the modern person’s ability to understand basic theological concepts that people back in Jesus’ day may not have comprehended. And in considering this telling of the parable about the sower, maybe it is more accurate to say that people in the current age understand and can perceive the message in parables and stories. It is an easy connection to make when you understand that the seeds in the parable is the good news of Christ, and that the sower is Christ or one of the disciples/apostles. From there one can determine the meaning of the seeds not taking root for one reason or another.

“Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away.” (Verses 5 – 6)

The middle verses of this passage, verses 10 to 17, tell what happened when the disciples came to Jesus and asked him why he told things in parables. Basically Jesus said some people will understand and others wouldn’t simply because they refuse to see what is before them. In essence, the message in the parable about the sower is the reason Jesus used parables, so that those who were ready to receive and understand the message would, and those who were not ready would not understand.

“Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” (Verses 7 – 8)

Jesus explained specifically to the disciples the meaning of the parable – which sort of raise the question as to whether the disciples would have understood the meaning on their own. And if my premise is correct, that our modern system of education readies us to more easily understand metaphors, allegories, analogies, and metaphors – then perhaps the disciples needed the extra help to understand what Jesus meant.

“Let anyone with ears listen!”(Verse 9)

Does this mean our modern society is more able to assimilate Christian understanding and living into their lives? Um . . . no.

“Hear then the parable of the sower.
When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path.
As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away.
As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.” (Verses 18 – 22)

Our modern understanding how parables can teach us does not mean the meaning and the lesson of the parable ‘take root.’ That is, just because we understand the concept or meaning does not mean it has and does influence our lives. This parable, then, talks about how the parable itself might function, or not function, in our lives.

“But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (Verse 23)

I want you to make special note, beloved reader, that there is not the same result in each case. Some bear more “fruit” and some bear less “fruit.” The point is not how fruit or result there is; the point is that there has been growth and development. The Lord God does not insist that all believers grow and mature in the same way, or yield up identical lives. That is not expected; what is expected is that you will make sure your lives and living are futile ground where the Lord’s words can grow. That, beloved reader, is the whole point. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 10 [15]) : The Epistle Passage – Wrestling with Paul’s theology again

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1 – 4)

If you have been following along, beloved reader, with my commentary on Paul’s letter to the Romans, you have read/heard how I have been wrestling with Paul’s theology. It is helpful in my wrestling to read that according to Paul the law has been weakened by the flesh. I am not sure why Paul has this few of the law. From previous comments Paul has made I have understood his perspective to be that the law defines what sin is but is not helpful in determining how would should live. Or perhaps Paul is echoing some of Jesus’ perspective on some of the Jewish leaders of his time, that they have sought to circumvent the spirit of the law and have so weakened it by reinterpreting the letter of the law to the Jewish leaders’ own advantage. The law, neither in it letter nor in its diluted spirit can save us; only the Spirit of God brought to us through Jesus can do that.

Do not forget that when Paul was Saul, he strove to up hold every letter of the law, but it did not set him right with God. His encounter on the road to Damascus might have impacted his theology a great deal.

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” (Verses 5 – 6)

To Paul, then, the law represents things of the flesh – prohibitions and regulations. The Spirit represents life and correct living. It is also helpful to remember that Paul and his teachings were on the leading edge of Christian living; introducing new ideas and concepts that we in our modern time have come to understand and incorporate into our world view of Christian living. That is why I think, and said what I said concerning what Paul might have to say to our modern world. I think Paul would have been savvy enough to know that his world is not our world, and that his message and letters might have been different for our modern age. But some things would have remained the same.

“For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law–indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Verse 7)

Our modern world is consumed with the “flesh”, worldly things and worldly agendas. Not as it was back in Paul and Jesus time, but according to modern definitions. The message to Christian now would still be . . .

“But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” (Verses 8 – 9)

This perspective also relates back to what I was trying to emphasize yesterday, that the definition of lineage has changed and that the determinant of being in the family of God has been broadened to encompass all people.

“But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.” (Verses 10 – 11)

Paul is speaking about which law, the law of flesh or the Law of the Spirit, should be used as the determinant for correct living. That the law of the flesh should not have hold on you, but the law and example of the Spirit should. I add to this that living according to the Law of the Spirit, we are apart of the same family. I do not think Paul would disagree.

Paul’s dividing of the flesh and the spirit (meaning the human spirit) has caused problems, setting the body against the human spirit/psyche, condemning the physical while elevating the mind. We know that the body and the mind are so intertwined that one can not neatly divide one against the other.

Oh beloved reader, theology can be such a mishmash – terms and definitions changing and evolving. Praise to the Lord God that the Divine is a sturdy concept, including all peoples and all ways of living, holding them to the standard embodied in Christ. May the Spirit of the Divine be with you as you wrestle with the issues in your life. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 10 [15]) : The Old Testament Passages – Tying together two themes; tying two lineages together

I have chosen to use the alternate set of Old Testament and Psalm passages this week – not sure of my reasoning but I felt at the time the Gospel and Epistle passages were better suited to the second set. However, I wanted to give you a little update on Isaac’s wife, Rebekah. She is with child after many years of marriage to Isaac. She came to him as a young woman, but her youth is spent. Isaac had prayed to God for a child and the Lord broke her barrenness. But it was not an easy pregnancy, so she herself prayed to God to inquire why it was so difficult. The Lord answered her saying, Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.” When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb.” (Genesis 25:23b-24)

And as I sit here and ponder that, it occurs to me it is a perfect lead in to the other Old Testament passage.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)

The Lord had promised Abraham that he would be a father of a nation. And what better way to start a nation then by having twin grandchildren. Ah! The Lord said, however, there are two nations in Rebekah’s womb. So, was Abraham the father of one nation or two nations? The fraternal twins were Esau and Jacob. And it was through Jacob that the lineage was passed down. Esau was the older and the stronger, but it was Jacob who received the inheritance.

Let us reflect back on the first two verses from the Isaiah passage that I selected for today. The Word of the Lord goes out and does not return empty but accomplishes that which the Lord intended. What was the intent of the Lord? Esau was the stronger and the older, but his nature was not what the Lord intended to build on. Jacob was younger and not as robust. He stayed close to “home”. He was also sneaky, but met his match in sneaky from his uncle Laban. He fled from home and the wrath of his brother, but found the Lord God and confirmation of his inheritance. He was worthy of the Lord God to wrestle with and Jacob also demanded a blessing from the Divine. And this actually ties to the verses that follow in this passage from Isaiah.

“For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” (Verses 12 – 13)

Esau, if you allow, was the thorn – rough and hearty. Jacob was the cypress – growing strong in time and useful in worship. Esau was the brier – wild and impulisive. Jacob the myrtle – sweetly scented and even useful when crushed. But do not let me lead to believe that those who are “rough and hearty”, “wild and impulsive” are not also God’s children. I want to make that abundantly clear. Each of us has our use in the Lord’s kingdom. Esau had a part to play, and Jacob had a part to play. While Jacob’s lineage might have been that which is traced down to Jesus, Esau was also a nation. Two nations, the Lord said to Rebekah. Just as Hagar’s son also had his own part to play in the story of the people of God. Those who came from Esau also have a place at the Lord’s table. Just as we can intertwine scripture passages, the children of the Lord God can also intertwine, bringing glory and honor to our Lord. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 9 [14]) : The Psalm Passage – Being wooed to a new and different kind of love

Hear, O daughter, consider and incline your ear; forget your people and your father’s house, and the king will desire your beauty. Since he is your lord, bow to him; the people of Tyre will seek your favor with gifts, the richest of the people with all kinds of wealth. The princess is decked in her chamber with gold-woven robes; in many-colored robes she is led to the king; behind her the virgins, her companions, follow.” (Psalm 45:10 – 14)

It would seem that the theme for this week is blushing brides coming to their groom. We have Rebekah coming to Isaac; Paul coming willingly but with mixed motivations to Jesus; and the people from the time Jesus walked on earth greeting the Messiah with contrary responses. Well, no one said that marriage and Christian was easy and automatic! There is the newlywed honeymoon period where emotions and starry glow obscure the hard work that needs to be done. The same is true when new believers come to faith, or when established believers go deeper into their faith. But I really do not want to dim the beauty of that moment, coming new understandings.

“With joy and gladness they are led along as they enter the palace of the king. In the place of ancestors you, O king, shall have sons; you will make them princes in all the earth. I will cause your name to be celebrated in all generations; therefore the peoples will praise you forever and ever.” (Verses 15 – 17)

This last portion is not directed to the consort of the king, but to the king himself; that his fame and glory will come from his descendants and not his ancestors. This would lead one to believe, in the context of the passage, that this is a new king, one that does not owe his ascent to previous rulers but has on his own established dominion.

This underlines the direction of the commentary to be towards the understand that the King is the Messiah; and if so, the church is the Bride or consort. And that actually is one image of Jesus Christ and the church which appears several times in the New Testament. But do not let us get side tracked into Christology or theology. We are in a praise passage; and moreover, I not are focusing on the Divine Object of the praise but the one who is praising. The other possible substituted psalm passage fits the direction of my thinking here.

“The voice of my beloved! Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills. My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Look, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice. My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” (Song of Solomon 2:8-13)

We, beloved reader, are precious to our Lord God and Jesus Christ. Jesus and the Lord God sing a love song to us, and woo us with grace and compassion, love and caring, mercy, forgiveness and grace. Let us not forget one of the main reasons that we come to faith. The love that the Divine shows us draws us in, and the faithfulness that the Divine has towards us binds us in that love.

Yes, as Rebekah showed faith and followed what was the Lord’s plan for her; yes, as our desire to follow the Lord leads us to make choices that our human will would not have thought to do; and yes, we are drawn to a faith that does not seem to coincide with the world is now. Many unusual things are done for love. But the most upside down contrary things are down because of the love of and for the Lord. Selah!