Grace to you all and peace from God our creator, and our Lord and savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
In our first reading for this morning, we encountered the words of the prophet Isaiah, speaking to the Israelites. Now, whenever I hear about the prophets of the Hebrew bible, I am quick to imagine people who could predict the future, almost like fortune tellers. But the role of prophets in the Hebrew bible was less focused on telling what the future would be, and more of what the future could be. The prophets were people who spoke truth about the world they were living in, and they advocated for the world as God desired it to be.
Isaiah prophesied God’s promised redemption saying,
“Do not fear, or be afraid;
have I not told you from of old and declared it?
You are my witnesses!
Is there any god besides me?
There is no other rock; I know not one.”
For the Israelite people who were living in exile in Babylon, there was a need for all of the hope they could get their hands on.
In addition to being over 900 miles away from their homes, the greatest impact of the Babylonian capture of Jerusalem was the destruction of the Temple. While one might be quick to say that a congregation is not a building, but the people that gather in it, that reasoning would not have made sense to the Israelites living at this time. Because even though there were local synagogues, there was only one Temple, and it played a central role in the lives of all of the Israelite people. To lose their temple, and to be displaced from everything else they had known was a massive trauma to endure.
In our gospel reading, the disciples and others who had gathered around Jesus were the descendants of those who had experienced the trauma of being pulled away from their religious and geographical center. With the parable of the wheat and the weeds, one can sense the shock that the disciples have hearing that the householder says to leave the weeds among the wheat. Even though the translation we heard today has the disciples asking Jesus to “Explain” the parable, it could easily be translated as “Tell us!” It was not a question, but a demand.
The disciples, like the householder’s slaves, wanted to quickly remove the weeds. They recognized the evil, the sin, the pain that surrounded them and desired to root it out.
In the last few months, there are ways that humanity has had to come to grips with a new trauma that surrounds us, and that has impacted every facet of how we live our lives. The Coronavirus that has spread across the world has had an impact that few of us could have predicted back in January. As of yesterday, there have been 141,000 deaths in the United States. And while that number on its own can be hard to grasp, annually there are only around 55,000 people who die from influenza and only 83,000 who die from diabetes. The coronavirus has had, and continues to have a massive impact on the lives of people across the world.
Yet in addition to the loss and grief many feel for those who have died, there are other ways in which our lives have been changed by COVID.
I think of those who live in assisted living, whose connection with family and friends outside has been severely limited. Rather than being able to sit together and share memories in the comfort of one’s room, conversations are held through a window or only over the phone.
I think of students who have worked hard for years, looking forward to sharing a graduation where they can celebrate their accomplishments in the presence of their friends and teachers. Rather than being able to walk across a stage, graduates sit at home and watch a graduation ceremony that despite the best intentions, doesn’t feel “real.”
I think of Faith, a congregation filled with people who have consistently worshipped for years. Even after the congregation has been able to return to safely worship in this sanctuary today, worship is not the same as it used to be.
Each of these experiences: visiting family, graduation, and worship, have been changed in ways none of us could have predicted. And experiencing pain and grief over that change is natural, and a human response. Like the disciples in our Gospel, we might want to pull up every weed that seems to be causing this pain, grief, and distress.
But as the Householder in the parable told the slaves, it is not their job to pull up the weeds that were sown. The Householder says “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.” Jesus further explains this parable saying that despite the presence of evil and weeds in creation, the wheat and God’s will for humanity on earth can, and will continue to grow.
There are times when, as the Israelites in exile, God’s people feel distant and separated from their creator. Yet it is in those times when creation is groaning that hope can be made manifest. A hope that envisions a day when the dominion of God is made clear on the earth. Paul wrote that “if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
That patience Paul speaks of is not to be confused with apathy however. The slaves of the householder knew that even with the presence of weeds that they still had work to do. They were still to care for the field as a whole until the time of harvest at the end of the age. The wheat still needed nurturing.
In this time of coronavirus, it is easy to worry about the future. Yet, like the Israelites and the disciples, God continues to remind us that we need not be afraid, because God is our rock, the firm foundation upon which we place our trust.
In these past four months, Faith has continued to be a place where the gospel, the good news of God’s redeeming love for the world, has been proclaimed in both word and deed. And joining together for worship on Sundays, we will continue to place our hope in the God who is with us. Our worshipping, our serving, our caring for all of creation may have a different appearance than it used to, but we are still called to care for the whole field. We are still guided to generously live into the call that God has placed upon our hearts as followers of Christ to care for the least among us.
Caring looks like providing a clean, safe space for the Red Cross blood drive so that all people who need transfusions receive the care they deserve. Caring looks people wearing masks and observing social distancing as a way to show love and care for the people around them. Caring looks like the church council and committees writing policies that allow Faith to live more fully into our mission of giving a wide welcome more intentionally.
Entering into Faith as a new pastor, one of the first things I have done is to reach out to the leaders on the church council and the various committees to have conversations about hopes and dreams for this worshipping community.
Though I have only just started these conversations, I have been filled with joy learning about the fertile ground that is present here. As we labor together in the months and years to come, I am sure that we will encounter new and unexpected challenges. Thanks be to God that through all that we encounter, God will continue to be present here in this place. We can have hope and keep living into our call as followers of Christ loving all people, because there is no other Rock. Thanks be to God. Amen.