July 31, 2016 – Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Proclaimer: Rev. Dennis W. Foust, PhD
Summer Sermon Series: STORIES TO LIVE BY
Sermon: Keep On Keeping On
Scripture: Gospel of Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Are you acquainted with any attorneys? If so, you know some extremely brilliant people with distinct personalities. I once ministered to an attorney who loved to tell stories. He would often say, “I am sure I have told you this story; but you need to hear it again.”
What I am about to say to you in this message is not new. It is my hope that each of you already knows what I am about to say. However, you need to hear it again.
In 1927, Dr. George Buttrick became Senior Minister of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, in New York City. Almost immediately, the Economic Depression settled in and Buttrick said it was “irreconcilable with Christianity that 10 percent of the American people owned 95 percent of the nation’s wealth.” He told his wealthy Madison Avenue congregation what they knew; their membership was mostly 10 percenters. Offering pastoral compassion, he called their diverse membership to live beyond political affiliation or socio-economics by pursuing the heart of Jesus. Their church budget declined during those years, but they served many families with food, clothing, housing and work. Some people came to Buttrick asking him to ‘just preach The Bible and let the politicians fix the problems.’ He said, “Trying to fix society through politics alone is like trying to fix a leaky roof by rearranging the broken tiles.”
We are now past the Republican and Democratic Conventions. (AMEN!) Thank you for being a united church in a divided nation. We are able to be a united church because our major commitments are to God, to being the body of Christ to one another and to continuing the ministry of Jesus. Our minor commitments are to political parties and candidates. Let us be actively faithful in majoring on the majors while minoring on the minors.
We journey together, living honestly in relationship with God while affirming the legitimacy of diverse political views. I will continue to live in community with you, expressing my views on significant issues of our time while seeking to honor this pulpit as a sacred desk? For almost a century, The St. John’s Pulpit has proclaimed sermons promoting grace, peace, hope, love and justice: racial integration of our schools, ecumenical partnerships and religious freedom for all citizens, women in ministry, compassion for the poor and abused, hospitality toward immigrants, and inclusive healing for those who have been victimized as social outsiders by a majority of churches. We are careful to preach these sermons based on Jesus’ revelation of God and upon the written word of God, not based upon political platform positions?
Jesus ministered in the midst of competing political parties with opposing religious views and loyalties. There were Zealots, intense Jewish patriots working to overthrow Roman rule; Pharisees, a collection of progressive scribes and rabbis; and Sadducees, priests and wealthy Jews who twisted laws to protect one another and keep themselves in power. The Essenes adopted Persian beliefs and practices such as refraining from marriage, living in social communes and teaching about angels. The Herodians pushed for a restoration of the Herodian dynasty. The Nazarite Brotherhood proclaimed a vision for a militaristic deliverer, a messiah who would reinstate Israel as a national power. Jesus refused to align with any of these groups or subjugate his vision of God’s mission to any other perspective.
Matthew’s Gospel includes a parable of Jesus that is not included in Mark or Luke. In this parable, Jesus speaks to people he saw living amidst various political systems and religious structures. Jesus tells a story about a farmer and describes the difficulty of discerning between righteousness and evil. Although God’s love is perfect, there are no perfect political platforms, social views, governmental systems or religious expressions.
During my teenage years, farmers in McLean County, Kentucky allowed me to learn from them by working alongside them. They taught me how to work with crops, livestock and weld a straight bead. One of the life lessons I learned was this: weeds grow alongside your crops; you don’t plant them – they just appear.
Jesus’ parable tells of a farmer sowing good wheat seed in his field but later finds weeds growing alongside the wheat. The original hearers of Jesus’ story knew the name of the weed as Bearded Darnel, which LOOKS LIKE wheat; but IS NOT wheat. Bearded Darnel looks like wheat in the early stages of its growth. But, when the full grain appears in the head of the stalk, you can clearly discern the difference. However, by that time, the roots are intertwined and to separate the wheat from the darnel damages the wheat. In Jesus’ story, the servants ask, “Do you want us to go and gather the weeds?” The farmer replies, “No, in gathering the weeds, you will also uproot the wheat. Let it go till harvest time.”
Jesus’ hearers knew about Bearded Darnel; it did not grow as tall as wheat. So, the reapers would cut off the tops of the wheat and then burn the field to destroy all of the remnants of Bearded Darnel so it could not spread. In other words, Jesus taught evil is intermingled with good and you will not fully know ‘which is which’ until harvest time.
During my youth, one farmer made a deep impression on me. He was father of three school-aged children and living with multiple sclerosis. An only child, Dalton Howard farmed over two thousand acres with his father who was ill with heart disease. His mother was living with dementia. Riding beside him on a tobacco setter one day, I asked him how he kept such a positive attitude with all of the challenges he faced. He said, “I know that God knows me. So, I just keep on keeping on.”
As in the days of Jesus, weeds are mixed in with our ministries in daily life. Disease, violence, estrangement, racism, terrorism and political exploitation are rampant. Now, these are not what we plant. They just grow. Jesus acknowledged their existence and pronounced they will be addressed by God at harvest time. So, you keep on worshiping God, investing in spiritual growth, focusing on being a gracious community of faith, practicing generosity, witnessing joyfully and being a servant church. Every day, you go forth to serve through your Ministries in Daily Life knowing your influence is more than religious, political, educational, legal, economic, medical or social; your ministries in daily life are spiritual because you are planting God’s love in the world. You are doing more than rearranging tiles on a leaky roof. You are nurturing the mission of God.
So, ‘Keep on keeping on’ sowing the seed of God’s love revealed in Jesus. And, be careful what you pull out of your seed bag to drop into the soil of this world. Just like in the days of Jesus, Bearded Darnel is readily available in our cultural, political and religious context. When it comes to your commitment to follow Jesus, major on the majors and minor on the minors.
Jesus finished interpreting this story and said, “Let anyone with ears listen.” Amen & AMEN!