Sermons

pastorEric aug2014Sermon for 7th Pentecost

Dealing with Evil
By The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer -
 

Growing up, I never had a garden.  So, I was pretty excited when Kris and I decided to plant a garden at the back of the large yard we had at our parsonage for my first call in Catasauqua, Pennsylvania.  I even convinced my Dad to come up from Reading to help me.  We turned the back of the property into a large garden, planted the seeds, and waited for everything to grow.  We even purchased a new freezer, counting on a good harvest of vegetables to be preserved.
 
 
 
And everything grew, well and quickly.  But, so did weeds.  A lot of weeds.  I was not a happy gardener.
 
 
 
One day, while Kris was away, I decided to act.  No evil weed was going to survive my action!  So, I took everything out of the soil, vegetables and weeds alike, threw out the weeds, and started replanting the vegetables without the weeds.  Kris came home to find me mid-project.  And told me that such a drastic action was not likely to work very well, that many of the replanted vegetables, now shocked by being ripped out of the soil and replanted, would probably die.
 
 
 
My attempt to rid our garden of those evil weeds did not go well.
 
 

I was reminded of that experience when I read today’s Gospel lesson from St. Matthew, Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds. 
 
 

In Jesus’ parable, an enemy plants weeds among the wheat in a farmer’s field.  When the farmer’s field hands realize what has happened, when weeds grow up amidst the wheat, the farm hands offer to pull out the weeds.  The farmer refuses their offer, stating that by doing so they will also destroy the wheat since everything is growing closely together.  The farmer suggests they let everything grow together and make the separation at harvest time when the wheat will be gathered and the weeds burned.
 
 

Jesus continues by explaining his parable – the wheat represents good people, the weeds evil people, the enemy is the devil and the farmer and good seed represent God and God’s word.  The wheat, good people, and the weeds, evil people, will coexist in this world until the end of time when judgement will come.
 
 

This story is one of the more challenging parables in Matthew’s Gospel. But perhaps it seems more challenging because we want it to do more than it was intended to do.
 
 

WheatAndWeedsThe parable of the wheat and the weeds is not an explanation of evil, nor is it an invitation to divide the world into “wheat” and “weeds,” nor instruction to do nothing until God comes in judgment.
 
 

Most likely, the parable of the wheat and the weeds was written by St. Matthew to help the early Christian community make sense of the good and bad happening all around them and, perhaps particularly, to help them understand why folks in their midst had begun to “fall away” from the faith.
 
 

Thus, we need to interpret this parable in light of Matthew’s time nearly 2,000 years ago and our time, today in 2017.
 
 

This is a text that can help us understand evil in our world.  It does not, however, answer satisfactorily, or fully, the question of “why evil exists?” 
 
 

No, this text simply acknowledges that evil does exist in this world.  Our communities, churches, and households are not what they could be.  There is a lot of hurt and frustration that we would like to do something about but do not seem able to do anything about.
 
 

The experience of the servants in Jesus’ parable – frustrated that things have gone awry, that weeds, evil, have appeared and eager to make it right even to the point of risking damage to something important, losing both the wheat and the weeds in an early weeding – we can understand this.
 
 

Think of the times when it seems like “an enemy has done this” in our lives.  When the cancer returns, when the job goes away, when the relationship ends, when depression sets in, when addiction robs a loved one (or ourselves) of life, when a loved one’s life is cut short, when war forces thousands to flee as refugees, when the world turns its back on people in need.
 
 

At these times, the sense that this world is not what God intended can be almost unbearable, and you don’t have to believe in a red-suited devil with a pointy tail and pitchfork to name the reality of sin, brokenness, and evil in the world.
 
 

Sin, brokenness and evil are real. 
 
 

And, here is where this parable may be most helpful - sin, brokenness and evil are not God’s design or desire.
 
 

Sin, brokenness and evil are real and they are not part of God’s design or desire for this world.
 
 

It is always very tempting to try to explain evil by assigning it to some greater plan God supposedly has for us. “Don’t worry, it’s part of God’s plan,” someone says to another after tragedy. Or, “Don’t worry, God never gives us more than we can handle.” Or, “God’s purpose for this will reveal itself in time.”
 
 

While these explanations may sound helpful, they are not.   They are actually hurtful for they say or at least imply that God might want bad things to happen to us.
 
 

Some things are just not part of God’s plan.  Evil is not part of God’s plan.  Sometimes we are overwhelmed by terrible things in our lives.  There is often no purpose at all in evil things that happen to us.
God does not will evil for us, not in any way, shape, or form. Our tragedies are not part of God’s plan. God never, ever wants us to suffer.
 
 

Rather, according to St. Paul, “God works for the good in all things” for those God loves. That’s you and me.
 
 

The chief example of this for me is the cross itself, the death of Jesus, God’s son, on the cross.  Again, some assume the cross was always a part of God’s plan, but I do o’t think so. Rather, I think the cross offers supreme testimony that evil happens and yet is not strong enough to defeat God’s love, that God is committed to staying with us through even the most difficult of circumstances, and that God can and will work through – but does not wish or will – even the worst of situations.
 
 

As today’s text says referring to an evil deed in the parable, “An enemy has done this.” Not God, but the enemy.
 
 

And, in the end, it will be up to God to sort out the wheat and the weeds, good and evil.
 
 

Of course, we do need to acknowledge that evil exists and even runs through each community, each household, each person. We can – and are encouraged – to work against evil and for the good in ourselves, in our communities, and in the world.
 
 

However, ultimately, sorting out good and evil is and will always be up to God.  And things can and will go terribly wrong if we try to sort out good and evil ourselves, if we try to stand in judgement of others.
 
 

History tells us the truth of that statement – sorting out good and evil is and always will be up to God and needs to be up to God.  Every time Christians have tried to sort out evil here on earth, disastrous things have happened – think of the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Salem witch trails.  Disastrous, just like my long-ago attempt at gardening.
 
 

This has two important implications:

• The final judgment of others is left in God’s hands. We rarely know what motivates other people to speak and act as they do, and while we may oppose their words and actions, we cannot and should not remove them from the power of God’s redemptive love by taking judgment into our own hands.
 

• Trusting that God will redeem the world frees us to take responsibility for caring our little corner of it. You do not have to defeat evil and death yourself – that’s God’s job. But you can care for your neighbor, speak out against injustice, support those in need and you can do these things right now, right where you find yourself.
 
 
 
Waiting for God’s final acts of judgment and redemption is hard. Sometimes there is so much pain. But, in the meantime, and confident of God’s judgment, mercy, and redemption, you and I can nurture the wheat and strengthen what is good all around us.
 
 

For while the enemy is powerful, our Lord is more powerful still.
 

Amen.
 
 

(Thanks once again to the Rev. Dr. David Lose for his Bible work used extensively in this sermon).
 

The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
July 22-23, 2017


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