Friday, July 18, 2014

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 16, Year A

Our God is an Awesome God

Readings: Genesis 28:10-19a; Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells another parable. A farmer had a field, with deep, rich soil. In the spring he sowed it with his finest seed. He sat back, confidently waiting for a good harvest. Each morning he went out to feast his eyes on the field. He saw the green shoots as they sprang up. What joy he felt watching them sway in the gently breezes!

One morning, however, he got a terrible shock. Growing among the young shoots of wheat were weeds. Not just a few weeds here and there, but weeds everywhere he looked. Weeds in his best field where he had sowed his best seed! It was the last thing he had expected to see. And it was a terrible blow!

"What did I do wrong?" he kept asking himself. Yet he knew that he was not responsible for what had happened. He concluded that an enemy must have spread the weeds during the night. But what could he do about it? They were ruining his chances at a good crop. He would have to get rid of them. But how?

Get his field hands to pull them up? That seemed a good solution. But they looked so much like the wheat. And they were growing so close to the stalks that pulling them up would mean uprooting the wheat as well. Plough up the field and start again? Tempting, but it was too late in the season for that. "No!" he concluded. The only thing to do was to look after the wheat as best he could, to coax it, to encourage it to outgrow the weeds.

When the harvest came he was able at long last to separate the wheat from the weeds. What satisfaction it gave him! What was even more surprising was the fine harvest that resulted from all of his hard labour. It proved more than adequate to meet his needs and the needs of his family. And bonus, he was able to use the weeds as fuel.

Once again Jesus takes an example from the world around him in order to illustrate a truth about the spiritual life. As with all parables, we can look at it as a ‘nice’ story or we can allow ourselves to reflect on it until we come to that ‘aha’ moment when we see what Jesus is getting at in our particular context.

I have a love-hate relationship with weeds. When I walk along the path through the ravine near my house I see their beauty. I know how important, for instance, milkweed is to the butterfly population. I see and hear the birds and frogs around the pond. Every time I take a walk I enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. And then I go back to my garden and take a look at yet another crop of dandelions, crab grass and creeping Charlie taking hold of my lawn. When I moved into my brand new house in a brand new subdivision I knew that the soil would not be the best for preparing flowerbeds. So my first Spring I bought what seemed like a mountain of topsoil to spread around the garden. I mulched and reseeded, and yet two years later, although the garden is beginning to take shape, I am still battling the weeds. So for me personally, this is yet another good Gospel for the time of year, as plants and weeds continue to grow.

As I look at the weeds thriving in the garden and wonder how to tackle them without destroying the plants around them, I consider God’s problem with us as humans. Does God deal with the weeds and risk damaging the crop, or does God allow us to grow together and perhaps even change one another for the better? I do sometimes feel surrounded by “weeds”, the negative and even evil influences around me. We live in the world, and it is a world where there are harsh realities. It is a world in which injustice and oppression abound. At such times, I can honestly thank God that it is God who is ultimately the judge. I do sometimes wonder at whom God chooses, but then I remember that God chose me with all my foibles and that rather changes the picture for me.

When you come to think about it, God does choose some unlikely people. Take the Old Testament reading for example. Jacob is running in fear, and I cannot say that I have much sympathy for him. His difficulties are of his own making. He swindled his brother out of his birthright with a bowl of soup, and tricked his father Isaac into giving him the blessing of the firstborn. Despite all that he has done, his mother, Rebekah, who favours him over his brother Esau, talks to Isaac, persuading him that since it cannot be undone, the family line should be secured. He should be sent to visit her brother Laban to find himself a wife. Isaac gives him a final blessing, this time a sincere one and he is sent off to Haran.

As night falls, Jacob finds himself in a desert place with no shelter. He takes a stone to put down under his head and falls asleep. There in that forsaken place he has a dream in which he glimpses the divine. He dreams of a ladder, a “stairway to Heaven”, with angels of God ascending and descending on it. And God gives him a promise; not just any promise, but the same promise that God gave to Abraham and Isaac, the promise that his legacy will be a great nation and that God will keep him wherever he goes and will bring him back to the land. This person, hardly an upstanding model of faith, is shown the grace that God has in store for him.

He awakens from the dream, a dream in which he has glimpsed the divine. It fills him with both fear and awe. “This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of Heaven!” he exclaims. He takes the stone on which he has been sleeping and makes it into an altar. And he makes a vow with as many conditions as he can possibly dream up. “If you’ll be with me,” he demands of God, “and if you’ll make certain I have enough to eat and clothing to wear, and if I can return safely to my father’s house, then I will believe in you and tithe what I have.”

After all, this is not a fairy tale story with a perfect ending. Jacob does not act much better than he did before his encounter with God. But God remains faithful to the promise made to Jacob. God remains faithful to us. And those spiritual awakenings, those ‘aha’ moments in our lives, call us back into relationship with God.

Life is sown with such moments of grace. They are moments of sheer bliss, moments to hold onto when the weeds seem to be taking over. There are such moments of grace scattered throughout my life. When I need to feel that sense of closeness to God, that Spiritual presence, at times of Spiritual dryness I call them to mind and find myself once more transported into God’s presence, where I can say, “How awesome is this place!”

Perhaps my favourite ‘moment of grace’ is a real place. I visited it only once, but have gone back in my prayer time over and over again. I was visiting a friend who lived out in the country on the Credit River near the Forks of the Credit. She suggested a walk, and said that she would take me to a very special place. We walked along the river until we came to a grove of trees. There was a path through the wooded area that led up a hill and then back towards the river. I could hear rushing water, and yet the river remained quite calm. We walked once again along the bank of the river until we came to a bend. The only way forward was to take off our shoes and wade in the water. The bend opened up into a large cave. Beyond the cave was a lovely waterfall that extended across the river. Water was cascading into a pool. There was a huge rock out in the centre of the pool. We climbed up on the rock. We spent a lovely afternoon sitting there, bathed in mist and sunlight, praying, listening to God, renewing ourselves spiritually.

Like Jacob our journey of faith may be filled with moments of loneliness, fear and despair that are transformed by the presence of God standing beside us. It is in looking back that we see where God was at work. Then we are able to say as Jacob did, “Surely the Lord is in this place – and I did not know it!” Amen

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