7TH  SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST | Lessons & Meditation

7TH  SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST   07-19-2020

FIRST READING:  Isaiah 44:6-8

For a second consecutive week, a lectionary from the second part of the Book of Isaiah, often called “The Book of Comfort” (comprising Chapters 40-66), offers comfort and hope to Jewish exiles in Babylon around 540B.C. In these verses, we can envision a courtroom scene and part of a trial (see also Isaiah 43:9ff, which offers a courtroom scene). God is at once prosecuting attorney, witness, and judge as God confronts other nations or their gods. The passage begins with God’s exclusive claim, “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.” God then challenges the defendants to demonstrate how they are like God or to produce evidence testifying to their ability to predict and control the course of future events. In verse 8, God declared that Israel is also a witness for the prosecution, for Israel’s own history would reveal God’s great power to direct future events in fulfillment of the messages announced through the prophets. The Sunday lectionary ends with much encouragement and reassurance to the people in exile and God’s courtroom verdict that there is no other god, no other “rock” worthy trusting in.

Beyond today’s lectionary, in 44: 9-20, God mocks and rejects the making of and worship of idols: “All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless.” If it’s made by hands and can be melted or burnt up… if it cannot see or talk or hear or think… then it cannot not be much of a god worth your trust and hope. There is ONE GOD, there is ONE ROCK!

Suffering people sometimes find faith and hope to be a real challenge. Several decades into exile – now “strangers in a strange land” to quote one of the Psalms – the people to whom Isaiah 44 is addressed might have wondered if their God was too small and too weak against Babylon and its divinities. They might have doubted that there would ever be deliverance, freedom, and a return to their home. They might have wondered if God genuinely cared… if God could actually do anything… or even if God had willed and directly caused all the suffering. Right now, in our own time, people all over this world are also suffering both a sense of physical displacement – “exile” – and a sense of emotional disruption – “defeat and despair” – because of such things as the COVID-19 pandemic, racism by individuals and widespread systemic racism, political polarization, increased economic inequality in a materialistic and unjust world, continued violence, and destructive climate change. Don’t we too need a message of reassurance, an injection of hope?

Sometimes you will see on a cardboard pizza box this phrase: “You’ve tried all the rest… now try the BEST!” Some of us have sometimes wondered and also wandered in our daily lives in our search for such things as relief from our present struggles and sufferings and disappointments… peace and joy and meaning in our journey… and strength and hope that will carry us forward. What idols have you been tempted and tricked by in your life’s journey? We do not need to try every false, phony idol that we can see or imagine… we do not need to chase after every fading treasure or fleeting pleasure that the world pimps – there is ONE GOD, ONE REDEEMER, ONE ROCK! Forget the rest and go directly to the best!

SECOND READING:  Romans 8:12-25

In this portion of Chapter 8 (sometimes called one of the greatest chapters in the Bible), Paul continues to talk about “life in the Spirit” – new life which has been gifted to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – as opposed to “life in the flesh” – mortal human life with its sinful nature.

In verses 12-17 Paul uses the metaphor of adoption to speak of the Christian’s new relationship to God. Roman adoption was always made more serious and more difficult by the Roman patria potestas. This was the father’s absolute power and possession over his family: the father could kill his child, sell his child into slavery, completely control his child in any way he wanted… no matter how old the child was, and even into adulthood!  As one might guess, this made adoptions more complex, for a child would need to pass from one patria potestas to another. Adoption in the Roman involved two steps. The first was mancipatio, which included three symbolic sales from one father to the other… twice the original father bought the child back, but the third time he did not so that the original patria potestas was considered broken. The second step was a ceremony of vindicatio, a legal court proceeding that resulted in official approval of the adoption. Once adopted, a child had a new father, a legal inheritance, a complete break from old debts, and a new identity.

Paul is saying in verses 12-17 that we are, through Jesus Christ, emancipated (set free) and vindicated       (legally pronounced free)… we are now children of God, heirs of God, brothers, and sisters to Jesus… the past is canceled, the debts are wiped out, the old life has no more rights and control over us. Jesus has brought us into the right relationship with God, into the family of God, by delivering us from ourselves, from our “human flesh”.

Now we are led by and live “the Spirit”. And the sum total of new life in the Spirit is hope – hope in the present and hope in the future, something Paul will discuss in the rest of Chapter 8.

Hope in present times is important because Paul is honest in acknowledging that being a Christian here and now often involves suffering. No Christian reading this sentence has been without challenges and struggles and pain and suffering, and sometimes because we are Christian. Paul says that the whole creation is groaning. And in verses 18-25 Paul suggests that “present suffering is not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us.” We cry out to a Father/Mother/Holy One who has adopted us, who loves us, who hears us, who will not fail us. We wait patiently. We wait with hope

Sometimes our prayers are a form of “groaning” for a better day, for life, for the future, for God. How do you, how can you, open yourself in longing toward God, in trust and expectation and hope?

GOSPEL READING:  Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

This Sunday a small town carpenter turned traveling preacher – teacher – healer is still sitting in a fishing boat and talking about – of all things – farming. Last Sunday’s parable, word-picture, portrayed one sower and one type of seed, but different soils produced mixed results. This Sunday’s parable is about two sowers – one good, the other evil – and two seeds – one seed is “wheat”, the other “weed” – with soil that is the same, ground that is good. Jesus speaks of an unusual agricultural situation here, where an enemy person has deliberately sabotaged the owner’s field by sowing seeds of weeds among the seeds of wheat in secret at night. When both types of plants begin to grow above the ground and when the difference is noted, when the crime is detected, the slaves of the householder want to know if they should pull those weeds out. But the householder, the Master, says, “No, because the roots are all tangled together. We don’t want to risk losing the wheat by pulling the weeds when the roots and the shoots are tender and fragile and still developing. We’ll wait patiently until the harvest time, and then we’ll separate what has grown up together, we’ll collect all those weeds and burn them up. That way we’ll still have plenty of wheat to harvest. It’s just a matter of time, of being patient.”

Some botany notes. The plant in the parable that was considered a weed was probably darnel, and it looked just like wheat in its early stages, and it also grew at the same rate. It was only when the ears of grain began to appear that you could tell the difference, that you could clearly distinguish between the two. The darnel plant began to turn from green to black when mature instead of wheat brown. The darnel plant produced fewer, smaller, more slender, and not useful grains. The ears of the darnel would stand straight up, while the heavier ears of the wheat would droop. The darnel plants were apparently susceptible to develop some sort of fungus that could infect the wheat, and possibly their grain was poisonous when eaten by human beings, certainly distasteful and harmful if mixed in with the wheat grain. Here’s something else – something that makes the parable unusual. Apparently, the darnel, the weed, was usually pulled up, removed from the field, once it was detected, as soon as the difference was noted. So, in the parable, the servants are ready to do what is normal, what seems right. But the Master says, “NO, let both of them grow together until the harvest time.” That’s unusual patience in that decision, even some risk.

For the crowds, the kingdom of heaven is to be perceived as including the protection of good sown seed. Some among the crowd would probably discern that the goal of the kingdom of heaven is in producing abundant fruit, not in producing weed-free environments.

For the disciples, the parable explained speaks of the origin of evil and the end of time. The one who has sowed evil in the beginning was the devil. As long as there are disciples there will be “children of the evil one” in their midst. But at the close of the age, when the Son of Man comes to judge, his angels will gather all causes of sin and evildoers into the fire. Jesus wants his disciples to understand that there is a judgment time coming, that there will indeed be a time of separation and a time of punishment and reward, of weeping and rejoicing. The time is coming. But it’s not here and now. “Let both of them grow together until the harvest.”

It is an age-old question: “Why is there evil in the world? But here’s another important question: “How do you always properly identify who is the wheat and who is the weed?” Here’s another important question: “Who makes that decision about who is good and who is bad?” Here’s another important question: “When is the right time to make that decision?” Here’s another important question that relates to this parable: “Why do I have both wheat and weed in me?”

Do you understand yourself enough to be able to admit that you will find both wheat and weed in you? Sometimes, LORD, I have been good, or at least better… sometimes I have been far worse. Sometimes, LORD, I have been good soil… but sometimes I have been hard, shallow, or choked soil. Sometimes, LORD, I am faithful and productive… sometimes I am sinful and suitable for burning. This is over the course of a life’s journey. And sometimes, LORD, as Martin Luther said about me and you and all of us, I am “simul justus et peccator”, that is (translated from the Latin), “at the same time righteous and also a sinner” – tangled together, like roots in a field… growing side-by-side at the same time, inside of me. So I am not always 100% good, nor am I always 100% bad. In that process called “living my life”, WHICH is winning? Doesn’t it vary, time by time? Wasn’t it just two weeks ago that we reflected on St. Paul’s words in Romans 7: “The good that I want to do, I fail to do. The bad that I don’t want to do, that’s what I find myself doing. Wretched person that I am! Who will rescue me?”  Are the words of Paul the voice of wheat or a weed? Sometimes you don’t know, in a given situation or at a given time – DO you? – if you are really thinking, saying, and doing the right thing or not. You are trying your best… or are you… do you really know for sure? Are you always so positive that your faith is alive and real and strong and that you are bearing fruit? Aren’t we all IN PROCESS? Aren’t we each ON A JOURNEY? Don’t we, every one of us, have both high and low moments in hearing and responding to God’s Word, good and bad times of living right? I know I do… how ‘bout you? Would you want to be judged by God only in your bad moments?

A MEDITATION

Is it foolish of God – or a real blessing – that God waits, that God is patient and slow to anger… and that God gives everyone, including me and you, enough time? In the days of Matthew and in our own time, let us Christians beware the “weeding” frenzy which makes us so certain that we know the difference and know exactly what to do about it. God, in God’s way and God’s time, will do the judging of us all. And thank God that Jesus is God’s #1 Judge… and also God’s #1 Savior. Member or visitor, baptized or not, may you be and become good and productive soil. “Lord, let my heart be good soil, open to the seed of your Word.”

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