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Weeds and Wheat, Is God an Irresponsible Farmer?

The recent years in the Anglican Communion have been filled with strife, and schism. We argue over liturgy, we argue over women’s ordination, we argue over gay marriage…Are you sensing a common theme here? We argue. And more than argue, we split, we schism, because we can’t have THOSE PEOPLE, whomever you define those people as, with us, infecting us and corrupting us. Yet the Bible has something important to say to this. I was moved to write this sermon as a challenge and a response to all of our bickering based on the parable of the weeds. It is my hope that this sermon will provide encouragement, and exhortation to greater love and charity with those we disagree with.

Proper 11 Year A, Gospel according to Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ 28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’” 36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. 40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear. (Mat 13:24-30,36-43 NIV)

Is God an Irresponsible Farmer?

How many of us in here are farmers? Hmm I would venture to say here in urban South Florida that few if any of us have ever farmed. Some of you may have some plants or a garden, however. Today’s gospel lesson from Matthew 13 comes from a series of parables in which Jesus describes what the ‘kingdom of heaven is like’…The particular parable we heard this morning is often called the parable of the weeds.

In it Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like a man who sows good seed, but an enemy comes in the night and sows weeds among the wheat. In the ancient world that Jesus is living in there is no grocery stores, and there are no fast food restaurants. People’s lives depended upon their being able to successfully farm. There was some industry where you might trade in the marketplace for things you need, but by a large the people either raised crops or livestock to support their household. So Jesus here is using an analogy for the kingdom of heaven that everyone would have understood. Yet, we as urbanites in South Florida do not raise our crops, so in to understand what Jesus is saying here we need to know a little bit about farming.

Farming is all about maximizing your yield. You want to get the most crop as you can, in order to support your family and to have surplus to sell at market. So to get the most food possible you want a good seed. Farmers would carefully sort their seed so that they had as few rocks and weed seeds in them as possible. You wanted the purest seed possible. In modern farming we plant our seeds at the best possible depth to ensure the right amount of soil moisture and sunlight and we do this using heavy machinery, back then the farmer would sow, or scatter seed along the ground. Some might get eaten by birds, and some might not sprout, but the farmer trusted enough would take root and grow. Then the seeds sprout and the farmer would send workers into the field to pull weeds, why? Because weeds compete with the wheat for water, sun, and nutrients. So you want to pull them up as soon as possible before they have a chance to grow deep roots that will mix in with crop.

Here however Jesus tells a parable that flies in the face of every farming principle. Even though the enemy has come and sown weeds, the farmer tells his workers to not go and pull the weeds, why? “because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them.” (Mat 13:29 NIV) It seems here that God is being an irresponsible farmer…Why would he allow weeds to grow until the harvest?

Some of you may no longer be thinking about the gospel but are instead asking by now, how on Earth does Tracy know so much about farming? That’s not what we’re sending her to seminary for is it? Few of you know this, but I’m originally from Indiana, and my family lived on almost 2 acres up until I was 7 years old, and when I was still a small child we had ¾ of an acre for a garden. We had a peach tree, 2 apple trees, and every year we planted a few rows of corn, green beans, carrots, and tomatoes. We would plant in the spring and then we’d harvest and can enough in the fall to last us through the winter. It was a wonderful, except for one thing, the weeding. My Dad has really bad allergies to weeds, and so he would send my sister and I out into the garden to weed, and again you wanted to get the weeds out early before the took over and choked out your other crops. But imagine if you will a 5 and a 10 year old out in the hot sun weeding…We just wanted to get done, so sometimes in our haste we pulled the wrong thing. To a five year old dandelions are a lot prettier than pea plants, so I would leave dandelions and pick pea plants…I’ll tell you a secret. I also didn’t like peas. Now eventually my parents caught on and we were taught better on how to weed, and supervised, but I still remember a time as a small child when a dandelion was a pretty flower, and a pea was icky, and I wonder if this isn’t at the heart of why God allows the weeds.

Later in the Gospel lesson, Jesus takes his disciples aside and they ask him to explain the parable of the weeds…What does it mean? And Jesus tells them…The sower, the farmer as we would call him is the Son of Man. Son of Man is a title Jesus uses to refer to himself. He is the new Adam, creation made new and restored. The seed is the people of the kingdom. The seed is the people of God, and the weeds are the people of the evil one, and the field is the world, and the weeds and wheat will grow together until the end of the age when the angels are instructed by Jesus to harvest. First the weeds will be pulled, bundled and thrown into the fire where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Verse 41 tells us that at the end of the age the angels will finally weed out everything that causes sin and all who do evil will be destroyed, and the righteous will shine like stars in the heaven (verse 43 now).

Again it seems God is not a very good farmer, why would he allow things and persons that cause sin and evil to persist mixed into the world, mixed into his kingdom, and mixed into HIS CHURCH until the age? We in the church occasionally attempt to do a little weeding ourselves? We are wary of THOSE PEOPLE, those other people, who sin. They’re doing crazy dangerous stuff and we don’t trust it, it’s not good it’s not Godly, and so what do we do? The initial impulse is to beat them with doctrine and Scripture, and tell them all how they are Wrong, Wrong, Wrong….and if such a gracious truth in love approach doesn’t convince them of the error of their ways we do one of two things: we kick them out, or we leave. Because we can’t be in fellowship, we can’t be in Communion with THOSE PEOPLE. They’re wrong, and they could corrupt us…Why would God allow this? Why would God seemingly encourage this mixing of wheat and chaff, wheat and weed to remain?

I think back to when I was a child and sent out into the garden to weed. Even in my sincere efforts I occasionally missed a weed, but also in my youth and immaturity I mistook things I didn’t like for weeds. I sought to get rid of peas which were good for me, and kept the dandelions because they were pretty, and I liked them. I think we in the church are equally in danger of this. Because we don’t see things through God’s eyes we sometimes mistake things we don’t like or understand for being sinful and weeds. In the Episcopal Church great verbal battles have been fought over whether you should use the 1928 prayer book or the 79 prayer book, whether rite I is better than rite II, whether we should only sing hymns, or allow that heathen sounding praise music in.

Far more serious battles have occurred recently over the ordination of Women to Bishops in the Church of England, and we continue to battle over the ordination of homosexuals, and same sex marriage. The progressive wing of the church is all for it, the conservative wing is adamantly opposed, and many have even left the church. Then the rest of us are left in the middle trying to make sense of it all. Regardless of the sin, be it homosexuality, pride, or anger sin seems to abound in the church and in the way we treat each other. We have ceased speaking with charity with the people who disagree with us, because we know we are right.

Yet God tells us, and allows sin and sinful people to remain, and instructs the workers NOT TO weed them out because the wheat might be damaged when you pull out the weeds. Why is that? The farming metaphor breaks down a bit here because we are not a stable crop. Wheat is wheat from the time it is a seed to the time it sprouts to the time it is harvested and ground to make flour is still wheat. A dandelion is a dandelion from seed to sprout to flower. Yet we in the church know the kingdom of God is not so rigid.

As the old song goes, Amazing grace how sweet the sound, I once was lost but now am found! Dear friends I stand before you as a solid Christian, God willing I will one day a priest, yet I tell you truly…I was once a weed in the kingdom of God. I was a sinner extraordinaire. For a time, I had an excuse. I wasn’t raised in the church and didn’t know any better. But then in college I started attending a church regularly. Yet I was still a weed. I was bitter and angry over hard life experiences in childhood. I swore, smoked, drank underage and had a tattooed, pierced and purple haired body that screamed out of my rebellion. Yet, I was graciously welcomed. I continued on as a weed among the wheat until slowly day by day I saw myself transformed. I saw myself conformed into what it means to be a Christian. I wish I could tell you that when I was baptized in college I heard the angels sing, and the old me transformed immediately. In reality, I was happy and I was wet. Yet, the old me didn’t die right away. Yet something happened in my baptism, and in my life in the Christian community because gradually, the old me died away and I became dedicated to following Christ. Eventually I ended up here, to be one day a priest…and I thank God for his incredible grace shown forth in that community.

It would have been easy to see me as a bad influence, a weed, a person too wounded and too broken by the world, but my friends I tell you this…The good seed sown by Christ doesn’t just grow into fullness and get harvested, it also has the potential to infect and utterly transform the weeds. By the power of grace a weed can become wheat, a sinner can become a saint, and flesh can be conformed to the Spirit. In the church we are tempted to conform to the world’s ideals of farming, where the crop must be protected at all costs. We weed out the garden with regularity, and as a result have become a fractured and broken church. Let us instead trust in the graciousness of the Father who created the world with goodness. Satan has sown evil and sin into the world, yet the Father loved us enough to send his Son Jesus to sow good seed again and to restore creation by taking on flesh living and dying as one of us. Most of all let us not succumb to the temptation to judge and to weed ourselves, instead let us live in the tension of being side by side with weeds in the field. Let us pray for those we would weed out, that instead the Holy Spirit may come into their lives and transform them from weeds into wheat. So that at the last day we may all shine like the stars. Amen.

Jesus was not a meat puppet-Incarnation

I posted a few weeks ago about a philosophy I call “meat puppetry.” It is the idea that our bodies are machines simply being utilized and driven around by our minds. The mind/soul is the control, and the body is subservient. This way of thinking about the mind/body connection is wrong, and leads us into some pretty wrongheaded theology. You can read more about that in my initial post on Meat Puppet Theology. But today, I want to talk about the ultimate example of why bodies are important: JESUS HAD ONE! Jesus was Incarnate.

Not only was Jesus, Son of God, begotten by the Holy Spirit, He was knit together in Mary’s womb. Jesus was a man of flesh and blood, as well as God from God, light from light. I’m not going to do an exhaustive study of all the verses pertaining to the Incarnation (you can look at one such list here), John 1:14 will be sufficient here to illustrate my point:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (Joh 1:14 NIV)

The Word, present from the beginning became Incarnate, or put on flesh, to live and die as one of us. The reason God came to live among us as a human was eloquently stated by Gregory of Nazianzius: “What has not been assumed has not been healed.” (Ep. 101, 32: SC 208, 50)

Christ could not redeem humanity without assuming it fully. At the same time, he would have had no power or authority to extend salvation to us were he not fully God. The blessed miracle of Christ being fully human, and fully divine was necessary so that his death for us was sufficient.

By his taking on flesh, Christ redeemed flesh. Yet, the scandal of God in flesh does not end there…

Every year we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension, this year’s was a few weeks back on May 29th.  The ascension of Jesus is described by Luke 24:50-53: 50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.

I’d like to point out to you, Jesus did not shed his body! His saving work complete, Jesus did not leave behind his body to return to heaven. He ascended, STILL INCARNATE, still in flesh to return to heaven.

What does this mean for us? There are a lot of profound implications here, but the first and foremost is that flesh is important to God.

Flesh is not scandalous, inherently sinful and worthy only of use as a vessel to be quickly discarded after its purpose is finished. No, Jesus’s flesh is worthy of ascension into heaven!

It also means that when we pray, we pray to a God that understands flesh. Jesus knows our limitations, our aches, our pains. He also knows what it means to have a glorified body. We are assured that at the resurrection we too will attain glorified bodies. 1 John 3:2 tells us ” 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. “(1Jo 3:2 NIV)

For my next few posts I’m going to be talking about the mind/body connection within all of us, and how we are to treat our bodies as followers of Christ. We are an Incarnation people! This is a topic near and dear to me as I’ve sinned against my own flesh and God many times in my past. My healing has come only as I’ve learned to value the wholeness of my humanity, my own incarnation. I hope I can share that healing with you in my next post: Confessions of a Priest on Plastic Surgery.

Blessings,

Tracy (The Young Anglican)

I am not a meat puppet- Incarnation Living

Have you ever thought of yourself as a soul taking your body for a drive? I call this “meat puppet” theology, and it isn’t healthy.There is some incidental foul language in my post this week because of an embedded link from a popular science website. 

We spend much of our time and effort trying to “put things in perspective.” The problem is that a perspective is not objective or universally true. There are always a variety of perspectives to choose from.

Perspective, according to Mirriam Webster, simply means a particular attitude or way of viewing something. Sometimes we can choose the wrong perspective and it can have a profoundly negative impact on our life. The above example, viewing humanity through the lens of “meat puppets” or “ghost driving meat covered skeletons” has been liked by over 60,000 people on Facebook and shared over 20,000. This perspective is clearly popular! But it is a harmful perspective.

IFL, I F**king Love Science is a page full of “sciencey coolness,” and interesting discoveries.  I know the language may offend some of my readers (I apologize but I cannot censor the direct link embeds). It is meant in the exuberant exultant, this is so cool, science is amazing way. I follow this page because science is AWESOME!  I love learning about the wonderful things we can observe and learn about creation. IFL is a catchall for some of the coolest innovations as well as the merely fascinating like The Science of Why Bacon Smells Good. The blog also posts scientific studies that address critical issues such as mental health. I particularly liked this post about the negative effects of mental illness; mental illness is more likely to cut your life short than heavy smoking.

The problem is that IFL is not just dedicated to showing the coolness of science. They are also promoting a worldview that embraces rationalism. Rationalism is a belief or theory that opinions and actions should be based on reason and knowledge rather than on religious belief or emotional response. The problems that stem from rationalism are not immediately apparent. After all, reason is good thing and so is knowledge. Yet the idea that reason and knowledge can be divorced from our emotions and our body is made absurd in the practice of human life.
What’s wrong with this post about ghost driving meat covered skeletons made of stardust? It promotes the idea that we are meat puppets. Meat puppets are machines that our consciousness drives around. Why is meat puppetry bad?
There are several things dangerous about thinking humans are meat puppets:

  1. Meat puppetry rejects the true incarnate nature of humanity
  2. It promotes viewing the body as a machine, and detracts from holistic living

 

I will address each of these in the coming weeks as I’ve chosen to devote quite a bit of my blog this summer to the topic of Incarnation, but today I will focus on the incarnate nature of humanity.

What is Incarnation?

Incarnate means not just having a human body (a meat puppet driven by a brain), Mirriam-Webster Dictionary defines incarnate as being invested with both human form and nature.

Incarnation then is

1 a (1) :  the embodiment of a deity or spirit in some earthly form (2) capitalized :  the union of divinity with humanity in Jesus Christ

To put it simply Incarnation is the union of mind, or consciousness (or ghost as the IFL meme puts it) with the body. The fullness of being human requires both the mind and the body. The mind depends upon the body, and the body depends on the mind.

The Word was present at the beginning of creation. In him was the light  of all humanity, yet the Word, became incarnate and put on flesh, to become Jesus Christ to live and die as one of us. Then he was bodily resurrected to continue his teaching, before ASCENDING STILL INCARNATE, still in flesh, back into heaven. Jesus Christ, incarnate is present in the Godhead, the Trinity, the 3 in 1.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it…14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth…15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and[b] is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

 Incarnation vs. Meat Puppet View in light of Scripture

If we were meat puppets, or ghosts driving meat covered skeletons, why would the second person of the Trinity, come down from heaven, and take on flesh. Flesh is IMPORTANT to God. What’s more, human flesh now sits enthroned in heaven. If the only important thing were our human consciousness then surely Jesus would have shed his body to ascend into heaven.

Our bodies are important to God, and they are important to us. I look forward to delving more into what it means to be more than a meat puppet for God. If you have any topics, questions or thought about what it means to live incarnate, comment below.  For the next post I will be talking more specifically about the Incarnation of Jesus, “Jesus was not a meat puppet.”

 

Christian Response to The God Delusion

Richard Dawkins Straw Man

Every Christian needs to be ready with a Christian Response to The God Delusion. Why? Richard Dawkins’ name is often invoked as the reason why Christianity has been debunked. In The God DelusionDawkins constructs an elaborate argument to put social pressure on people to become atheists. Yet his whole argument rests on a “straw man” version of Christianity that bears little resemblance to Christianity. If we are equipped with a Christian Response to The God Delusion, not only will our faith not flag, we may plant a seed that weakens an atheists antagonism to the gospel. That is, after all the heart of what apologetics ministry is.

Richard Dawkins Straw Man ChristianityToday’s posting features my debunking of Dawkins’ argument with liberal aid from Alister McGrath and Johanna Collicutt McGrath’s, The Dawkins DelusionI encourage you to read on. You, dear reader, will one day face the challenge that Dawkins has shown God is a megalomaniac, jealous, fanatic who is ridiculous to believe in. This post will equip you to answer that charge.

Continue reading

Love is an Open Door: theology from Frozen

What do apologetics, evangelism and Disney’s “Frozen” have in common? Love! Most people would say fairy tale love has nothing to do with the gospel love of Christ, but as I jammed out in the car to the Frozen Soundtrack with my, soon to be 2, little girl, I picked up on some words in one song that sparked this post.

The song can be viewed in all its quirky glory here:


Love is an Open Door – Frozen Clip on Disney Video

Spoiler Alert:

Hans is not her True Love! In fact, he’s using her to get to the crown. So should we just chuck the song as the dreams of a naive girl soon to be dashed…No

Check out this particular lyric:

“Say goodbye to the pain of the past, We don’t have to feel it anymore…Love is an open door”

The Love described here is a healing love. Perhaps that’s why we as a generation are all chasing love like crazy, at earlier and earlier ages. We are looking for a romantic love to complete us, and heal our pain. But as Anna found out, and our divorce statistics reflect, rushing into this kind of romantic love isn’t working! It’s not healing us! It’s causing further harm by stealing childhoods, early and unsupported pregnancies, quickie divorces etc…

Does that mean a true healing love doesn’t exist? On the contrary; it does! It was exemplified by Jesus’s actions on the cross. God scandalously came to live and die as one of us because HE LOVES HIS CREATION. God wants us to be in right relationship with Him, to “Say goodbye to the pain of the past, We don’t have to feel it anymore…Love is an open door.”

A romantic relationship that is quirky, wonderful and healing does exist. My husband and I have been married for 5 years. We met working for Disney and have survived my losing my mother to a quick battle with Pancreatic Cancer, separation due to military service, and general family dysfunction. But we thrive because we recognize that our love is only a reflection of the love God has for us. The triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is an inherently relational God.

We hunger for relationship because we are created in God’s image. Right relationships are founded in sacrificial love, as Jesus demonstrated to us.

Thomas Long: The Witness of preachingTaking this ethic of “love is an open door” deeper into apologetics and theology…

Thomas Long in his book The Witness of Preachingtalks about sermon illustrations as being more than just a window to look in at the gospel. Unfortunately, if the window is dim, dirty, poor, or opaque people focus on the window and not the view beyond. A sermon illustration should not seek to be not a window to glimpse the biblical text and truth through. Rather, a sermon illustration should be an “open door” which invites our hearers into the biblical text.

I’m going to amplify Long here, and say that not just for preaching but for apologetics and evangelism, our whole lives should be open doors which invite people in to the biblical truth that Jesus’s death on the cross means that love really is an open door.

To read more about living a love that invites people to know God you can go back to my previous post Love/Hate Relationship with Faith, Hope, and Love.

For some more reflection about the theology of Frozen you should check out these other blogs:

This one reflects on some of the more problematic theological elements from Elsa http://epictheology.com/2014/05/12/faith-and-film-frozen/

A reflection on the transfiguration that occurs from love http://abroadplace1.wordpress.com/2014/04/13/love-is-an-open-door-why-i-love-frozen/

This one highlights the sacrificial love of the sisters as a type of Christ’s love http://marianninja.blogspot.com/2014/01/do-you-want-to-build-snowman-sanguines.html