Can You Hear Me Now?
“Let anyone with ears listen!” Reminds me of the cell phone commercial … “Can you hear me now?” Jesus goes on to tell other parables about seed and sower, good soil, and weeds. Stay tuned, because next week, Jesus will ask us again… “Can you hear me now?” Perhaps just as the fellow on the commercial roams from place to place asking, “Can you hear me now?”, so Jesus moves from the boat on the Sea of Galilee, to the hillside of mountains, to beaches where fishermen repair their boats and mend their nets, to rural villages, market places, and towns, telling stories about the Kingdom of God, explaining their meaning to followers, asking them, “Can you hear me now?”
Today’s Gospel parable follows directly upon the parable of the seed and the soil. It is another parable drawn from the agricultural community of Jesus’ day, this time focusing on the final judgment. We’ve heard journalists, writers speak of the end times through articles and books, many declaring that human civilization is threatened with total devastation by a nuclear holocaust, that there are end days predicted, and drones to spy, and threats of missiles being shot off in Iran, the very land where Jesus is preaching and teaching. Meanwhile, we live in an age in which farmers handle the problems of weeds among the wheat and other crops with herbicides that raise serious concerns on the part of environmentalists. We are alerted regularly to the presence of chemicals that perhaps not only endanger the weeds among the wheat but the wheat, all vegetation, and the very cells of our bodies. One environmentalist wrote that our planet has no life insurance policy. Infants born today, he asserted, may experience more changes in their lifetimes than the planet Earth has since the birth of civilization. I think of those reaching their 90th or 100+ birthdays and living into their 90th decade of life and beyond, the many changes since World War I and II, the Great Depression, horse and buggy to cars, hand-planting and hand-picking crops to planters and combines that can plant and pick a whole field in a matter of minutes rather than days. I think about ink wells in school desks to computer labs, from gravel roads to freeways, covered bridges to suspension bridges and tunnel bridges that go underground. There have been so many changes already; it’s hard to imagine what changes are ahead. What will we be called to do as we live as responsible tenants of God’s creation? We’re encouraged to “go green”, and our children often know more about recycling than we do. It’s our responsibility as stewards to care for all that has been given to us. Much has to be done if we are to preserve creation as we know it.
Jesus did not approach the subject of the final judgment like the doomsday prophets of our day. Certainly he would encourage good stewardship of the creation, and makes it clear that we will be held accountable for the way in which we respond or don’t respond in concern for the creatures and land of the creation, and in our own giving back. Jesus said in the parable that the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. In the previous parable Jesus had explained that the seed was the word of God. When the good seed is sown into the ground, it will yield good crops. The parable suggests to us God sows the seed out of good grace. In a later explanation to his disciples, Jesus identifies himself, the Son of Man, as the one who sows the seed. What is important to note at this point is that the seed is sown as a totally gracious act on the part of God.
It is just as certain that as God, out of good and perfect grace, works on behalf of the people, someone is sure to work to counter that divine activity. In this parable’s interpretation offered in Matthew, the enemy is none other than the devil himself. We can see those demonic forces at work every day. Just as a church is planted and built to the glory of God and to be a place where God’s Word takes root in our lives, a meth lab is discovered or the heroin or opioid use that wreaks havoc on people’s lives as the chemicals alter their potential to be all God created them to be. Our defense industry spends millions of dollars to build a smart bomb, but our schools get far less than that per year to create one well educated child. One does not have to be very perceptive to see something demonic about the tremendous amount of waste in this country while a good percentage of our population lives below the poverty level, adequate medical care comes at a premium and is not accessible to everyone, children are hungry, so many are homeless. Immigrants continue to come to our nation and our community seeking safety and opportunities to build a new life.
The demons are at work among good people. The devil is an expert at using the mask of religiosity to tempt people. God’s work is often hindered by people passing themselves off as upright and holy. The exposure of TV evangelists who peddled their religious wares makes this clear. However, many have not been exposed until they have bilked millions of people. The enemy is clever in deluding people inside and outside the church. I want to point out the ministry done by those who make visits to our homebound and shut-ins, those who are in care facilities, as well as the card ministry that is done; many write notes to our shut-ins, to those homebound, in assisted living facilities, or nursing homes, and now prayer shawls, wrapping them in our prayers. It is important to keep those connections with those who are ill and in need of ties with their church family. I remember candidly the year I spent at home with Shari because of her medical needs. My church services for the most part were Sunday TV evangelists or the stories of The Lutheran Hour. How I longed for liturgy, hymns and communion. Robert Schuller was quite a churchman, but always with a sales pitch besides the gospel, always something to buy. My aunt spent hundreds of dollars sending money to Oral Roberts for people to pray for her as she grappled with cancer, when she could have asked her own congregation and pastor to pray for her simply out of love for one of their own, even though she had long fallen away from regular church attendance.
Just think, we open our doors for worship and prayer, actually every day of the week in some way, but specifically on Sundays, and there’s no charge; we do it out of love for one another and love and trust in God’s grace and mercy. Perhaps you think our stewardship program is also a sales pitch, but it’s not; it’s about our relationship with God and what God has first given us, and our response back to God. It’s about God’s mission getting done with our first fruit response, not our left-overs. It’s about spiritual health; how we give or withhold has everything to do with our spiritual wellbeing.
We hear about God’s tolerance with the weeds in the field, to wait until the final harvest. God’s in charge. We often forget that and want to be the ones who run in and make judgments that may not be accurate or for the best reasons. God gives people time and an opportunity to repent and to bring forth the fruits of repentance. We may get discouraged and feel like evil is winning, but God is patient, willing to wait for us to grow in faith. The time until the harvest is the time God allows for people to come to the knowledge of God’s love and grace for all; we may not be aware of those who respond. In fact, we may be troubled at times because we see nothing happening. It may be we who are asleep and indifferent to the hand of God in people’s lives.
This parable demonstrates to us that God is extremely patient with us. We can thank God for exercising extreme patience with us then and not moving in to weed us out as evil ones! Likewise we are challenged by God’s example to demonstrate the same kind of patience and charity with our neighbors. God’s love includes everyone; bigotry, racism and intolerance will never do. As we have experienced the patience of God, we are asked to deal patiently with others in love. A tall order, but we can do this through the strength we get from prayer, worship, communion and fellowship in nurturing our faith to hear God’s will for us. Jesus reminds us that God promises to walk with us on this journey. He came as the Word made flesh, calling us, reminding us, urging and encouraging us. “Let anyone with ears listen!” “Can you hear me now?”
Isaaih 44 : 6 – 8
Psalm 139 : 1 – 12, 23 – 24
Romans 8 : 12 – 25
Matthew 13 : 24 – 30, 36 – 43