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July 19, 2020 – sermon

Posted by on Tue, Jul 14, 2020 in Season after Pentecost, Sermons

The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

July 19, 2020

Things are not always as they seem. The vacant pews before me seem to say the church is empty and we are not together. Yet against all appearances, because of you right now, the church is full! Our initial read of a situation can be wrong; we trust our eyes, but we draw conclusions that may not be true. I know we have a parable today, but I also have a story for you.

About the time Michael and I married, his grandfather, Elmo Cook, died leaving his wife, Ruby Lee, to do many things for herself she hadn’t done before. I know many of you can relate! He’d always replaced their car (a safe boxy Cadillac) at regular intervals, and the time came and went because Ruby Lee had never bought a car. She thought and worried about it for months not letting on. Finally one day, after harvesting some paper-shell pecans out back and digging, weeding and raking in front, this hardy courageous 80 year old great-grandmother decided she was through worrying. Still in her oldest clothes and hat for gardening, and with dirt on her knees and leaves in her hair, she got right into her car and drove to the dealership. She walked around looking at all the cars and saw one she liked, but had no help because none of the salesmen figured she was really a customer, having caught sight of her alone and looking dirty and disheveled. She couldn’t even flag one over to help when she was ready. Finally a young woman came outside and saw her. The men waited to watch the waste of her time. Ruby Lee pointed to the sticker price and asked if it included tax. Then she wrote a check for the whole amount and drove her new car home. Appearances are deceiving, and she was not at all what she looked to be, and the salesmen’s snap judgement was a mistake. I will add that because she lived to 103, that was not her last car purchase.

Theologian Walter Brueggemann is famous for having written about how “God is in the interruptions”, and I often find that marvelously true. When I heard him speak one time, he began a story by saying, “God is in…the mistakes.” Not what I expected, and then the truth of it shone like bright light. We all make plenty of mistakes even if we usually own just a few. Ruby Lee’s story and our parable today are (among other things) about mistakes and appearances. The new growing wheat is now full of weeds which also looked quite similar to grain. it was likely darnel, an indigenous weed which looks very much like wheat. At first look they mistakenly assume that the sower didn’t plant good seed, until they learn the truth that ‘the enemy’ sowed seeds of weed among the wheat. The men who worked the field offered to pull the weeds, but the householder said not to, knowing it would be hard to tell weed from wheat and that it would all be uprooted and ruined in the process. Mistake averted by one who knows about more than appearances.

It’s easy to misread a situation and act on it, and we often don’t know until weeds show themselves. At some point we’re faced with deciding what to do — stand by and wait until the best time to act, or jump in with what we think is right and risk being wrong or doing damage. There’s no one right answer; both deciding to act or to wait and discern takes courage. Weeds and wheat may seem a small thing, yet the same question arises in the big life-changing choices. Think back to critical choice moments like that in our lives. What is yours? When we’re you able to see it clearly, right then or long afterwards?

Our first read on something is often mistaken; we are sure it’s the best moment to act, and it may turn out to be disastrous. Or we might see something before us as certain catastrophe, and find in the long view it worked out in just the right way. The field workers were ready to act, and in Jesus’ parable the householder tells them it’s hard to tell wheat from weed, and to wait until the harvest, what one might call the fullness of time. Things might look very different as we watch. We see our big decisions differently in the rear-view mirror, and perhaps we never thought that moment would reveal such change. We look back and maybe find what seemed a mistake was an instrument of incredible growth – even if humbling. We might see a choice as an awful mess and then discover the reckoning to be incredibly freeing, releasing us from a judgement of ourselves or another, from doing things we thought we ought to do. The personal nature of this comes home to us in deeply spiritual ways and we can feel emotion welling up when it does. Something inside us is moved, changed, maybe challenged. One can feel major shift beginning.

When it’s happening in a whole country such shifts feel quite out of control. Things are occurring which none of us could have expected, and it’s not one big thing over and done, it’s ongoing and numerous things. The allure of acting on our first judgement has grown stronger and stronger. Things are posted online in a rant, guns are pulled in fear, violence erupts from rage, —the urge to leap to action before understanding is stronger than ever, and yet so often we’re enormously frustrated by not knowing what we can do to right the wrongs. We wonder how things would be if each of us and each leader took a step back to look again, to reconsider our snap judgement and self-certain remedies in the interest of the greater whole. When weeds threaten to choke out our wheat, when evil threatens to overcome good, what guides our decisions? Do we rip it all up now or wait until we can tell one from another? And just as we decide today, we find how quickly we can soon re-diagnose the problem, rewrite the prescriptive remedy.

I think we want to see things clearly and act with wisdom and courage, and yet we can only see what we can see, today and in our history. Reading the moment for decision and action is both truly hard and necessary, so know this; we can never be absolutely sure we’re not making a mistake. We have to be brave and act, using our best intentions and perceptions, gleaning truth from Christ, courage from the Spirit, and even so accept that we will be wrong far more often than we’d like. God is not only in our most generous actions and greatest deeds, God is also in our mistakes. When the moment comes and we must make a choice of import, when we feel it in our bones, it is less about being sure we see it all correctly, or foresee all the implications, and far more about trusting the presence and prompting of the Spirit. We are human and fallible, existing in this time and place, shortsighted at times, and so our greatest hope is not what we ourselves can do or imagine, not in winning or being right, rather it is in pausing to invite the Spirit to guide us. As the Lord says in Isaiah, “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.”

We all know how hard it is to say those three little words, “I was wrong.” or own up when our perceptions were all skewed, and yet that’s the great reveal; those powerful growth moments happen when we’re in that breathtakingly vulnerable place. When we do not know if we ourselves are weeds or wheat. I’ve felt each to be true of myself at different times. Fear of being wrong or weed-y should not keep us from acting in courage, because the humility of discovering our error or shortsightedness can become a gift of grace we didn’t see coming. With the Spirit’s indwelling we do the most loving giving thing we can see to do at that decision point, and live the responsibility for it. For God is with us in both the interruptions and the mistakes, in the victories and in the disasters  —for there is none greater than God and nowhere outside the divine reach. From Isaiah again, “Is there any god besides me? There is no other rock; I know not one.”

We try to navigate the enormity of our times, of Covid-19, economic disparity and uncertainty, an upcoming election — while we also try to understand how acts of racism and prejudice, attitudes of superiority and discrimination, have shaped the lives of so many children of God. We know decisions are in front of us, individually and as a nation. Some things will fail, others succeed, and still others we may not live to see. All we can really do with certainty is trust the Spirit to call us forth in love and in courage, be present with us in action, discernment, and in humility. May we do this especially in deep faith, and even amidst our mistakes.

Amen.

© 2020 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.


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