07.20.2014 Preaching Text: “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…” (Matthew 13:37-38a)
Have you ever been mistreated? Has an injustice ever been perpetrated on you? Have you been the recipient of abuse, fraud, or theft? Have you ever been hurt by the unkind or sinful actions of others?
Think about that. How did it feel? And how did you respond?
Then consider the manifold injustices and harm done today to countless people throughout our world. We are indeed very fortunate to live not in a paradise but in a place of relative peaceful and calm.
But think about what routinely goes on in the world. There’s the Middle East where ongoing strife is commonplace. There’s Russia and Ukraine. There’s Venezuela, Cuba, the Mexican border. There’s North Africa. There’s suffering and starvation, wars and conflicts over more areas of this world than we have time to name.
Not to mention the egregious sins of the past. In the 20th century alone our world witnessed WWI, WWII, Fascism, Communism, concentration camps, the Berlin Wall, etc.
Yes, the world has always has been filled with much injustice, exacting in the process a horrific toll in human suffering. There’s nothing pretty about it.
Therefore, it would seem that we might welcome both Paul’s and Jesus’ apocalyptic sayings for today. For they speak of God’s displeasure with the suffering of this world. Displeasure is perhaps too mild a term. God hates sin and evil, hates the fact that his creation is subject to violence and abuse. God detests the ways people suffer.
So Paul and Jesus remind us that sin and evil shall not prevail – that it shall be defeated.
But if I’m right, most of us are probably more offended than comforted by their talk of divine judgment and punishment. Yet don’t we all, deep down, not only desire but demand a God who champions the right and judges the wrong?
To cite an oft-used example, if I’m suffering in a Nazi concentration camp in 1943, the idea that God might be indifferent to injustice and evil seems horribly wrong. What I would want is a God who cares profoundly about sin and evil, not the desire for revenge per se, but the righteous rescue of innocent suffering.
Who wants a God who turns a blind eye to human cruelty? Who wants a God unconcerned about right and wrong? Who wants to worship a God who is indifferent if not negligent in promoting goodness and truth?
Part of the problem, of course, is the way this apocalyptic idea has been perverted. In some fundamentalist circles, the threat of hell has been lodged against anyone who deviates one jot from its official, prescribed dogmatism. With this worldview, you’re either “saved” or “of the world.”
This, among other things, trivializes real evil. If we question the Virgin Birth, for example, we’re threatened with eternal damnation. This is, to put it mildly, nonsense on stilts. But when considering those who operated the ovens at Auschwitz, things take on an entirely different hue.
As we find yet again in today’s passages from Romans and Matthew, the biblical witness asserts that the “present age” is under the power of Satan. Christ has been sent to rescue all people from this same Satan’s power, from the sin and evil that mock and defame God’s intention for human life.
But has Christ’s appearance had any effect on our world whatsoever?
In Jesus’ parable of the Wheat and the Tares we are told that God has sown good seed in the field (i.e., good people in the world). But, and this is key, he tells his disciples that during the night weeds were planted among the good seed. Sin and evil, we understand, have intermingled and become a grim reality of everyday life.
He doesn’t tell us how or why this has happened. Which is very much the way evil feels. We don’t know why it exists or how it came to be, but we know it’s real. And it feels personal, as if done to us by somebody.
I myself used to question whether the Christ-event 2,000 years ago really had any effect. I now believe it did, and does.
We’ve talked before about how this same Christ-event established a kind of beachhead on enemy territory, and by dint of the Holy Spirit has spread throughout the world.
Sometimes it’s difficult to recognize this, in part because we live at such a safe distance from the world as it once was. We live in a country that is heir to Christianity and Western Civilization, and thus we are spared the worst of what routinely happens in many if not most places on earth.
To cite just one example, for most of history and to a large extent today, the way to gain wealth was through conquest. Conquest was courageous, manly, honorable. To be a great warrior garnering the spoils of war for one’s people was something to be praised.
Napoleon once disparaged England as “a nation of shopkeepers,” a way of life he thought weak and lacking manly honor. What he failed to realize, however, is that the peaceful exchange of goods and ideas as the means of acquiring wealth and security is an advancement born of a Christian-influenced Western world. Indeed, the very existence of the bourgeoisie is in fact an advancement in human history.
Even today, much of our world agrees with Napoleon, which may explain much of the warfare we see today. Many peoples still adhere to this survival-of-the-fittest strategy of power and conquest.
Yet if we can argue that there has been advancement due to Christ’s efforts why, pray tell, does evil still exist? Why doesn’t God just step in and end it?
The answer may be found in Jesus parable. To root out the “weeds” will destroy the “good” plants. Yet one day, when the good plants are ready for harvest, God will execute his righteous judgment, and no harm shall come to the good.
In the meantime, the faithful are urged to wait patiently for this time when God will act in total. In the meantime, we are to live in hope. And hope is, as Paul points out in Romans, nothing that can be seen. “For who hopes,” as asks, “for what is seen?”
“But if we hope for what we do not see,” he assures, “we wait for it with patience.”
God is acting now to bring about justice and peace. Do you not see it? And are you willing to trust assuredly in this hope? Amen.