Saturday, July 22, 2017

7 Pentecost Proper 11 Yr A July 23 2017

(Photo credit - Vaudeth Oberlander)

7 Pentecost Proper 11 Yr A July 23 2017 Audio

The two biggest Minnesota Viking fans of all time, Sven and Ole were up to no good again. They went to Wisconsin to try to sabotage the Packer’s locker room, so the Packer’s would get trapped in there and wouldn’t be able to make it to the big game on Sunday. Well, as it turned out, Sven and Ole’s plan failed, and they were both suffocated to death themselves, while trying to crawl through the ductwork.

Sven and Ole went up to the pearly gates where St. Peter was waiting for them. St. Peter just looked at them and said, “Don’t even think about it. I’ve been hearing about your shenanigans for years now, and quite frankly, I’ve been waiting for this moment.” Sven and Ole were puzzled by St. Peter’s outburst, but they soon found themselves in a very unpleasant place called hell. The devil approached them and told them to shovel 15 tons of coal into the blast furnace in 8 hours, or they would be in big trouble. They did it, 8 hours later Sven and Ole were relaxing on the pile of coal, and the devil came back. The devil asked, “How do you two like hell?” And Sven said, “Vell, it vasn’t too tougha job. The temperature isa bout right. It feels like Minnesota in June, don’t ya know.”

This made the devil very angry, so he turned up the furnace and gave them another 8 hours to shovel 20 tons of coal. The devil came back and there were Sven and Ole relaxing on the coal pile again. The devil asked, “How do you like hell now, does the heat bother you yet?” Ole answered, “Vell, it feels like Minnesota in July, or maybe even August fer sure.”

The devil became so outraged that he turned off the furnaces completely, and opened a cavern that led straight to the North Pole. The devil told them they had 8 hours to shovel the 40 tons of snow that came blowing in. The temperature soon fell to 60 below zero. Time passed and the devil came back. Sven and Ole were reclining in their homemade igloo. The devil could not believe this at all. He asked Sven and Ole how they like hell now. Sven and Ole said that it felt yust like January in Minnesota.

Then they asked the devil what the score of the game was. The devil was bewildered and said, “Why do you ask?” “Vell,” said Sven, “Da Vikings must’ve surely won dat dare Super Bowl, seein’ as how dis here place is frozen over.”

I tell you this Sven and Ole joke, partly because it illustrates so well the plight of a Vikings fan, and partly because it illustrates something important about common speech. Much of our conversation and our written words are in a kind of form. I just told you a joke; most of us recognize the form of a joke. And, I just told you a particular kind of joke, as soon as I said “Sven and Ole” you knew what to expect. It would be stupid, it may make fun of Minnesotans, the details may change from joke to joke, but the form and the characters stay the same. We are familiar with other forms of speech and story telling. When I say, “Once upon a time….” You know I will follow with a fairy tale. If I start with, “A priest, a minister, and a rabbi walked into a bar” you know that another kind of joke is to follow. If I began with something like, “My grandfather always told me…” you may recognize that as an object lesson or a teaching story. If I begin with, “Be it resolved that on this day, the twentieth of July, two thousand eight…” we may be hearing some sort of legal document. Well, you get the picture.

Scripture is full of literature forms, the lists of who begot whom is a form, the beginning of the gospel of Luke, we often call the prologue is a form, its purpose is to set up the status of the one the story is about. The Beatitudes are a form; they set up a list of virtues, and then a list of vices.

The parables are a form. Any Jew of Jesus’ time, as soon as they heard “The Kingdom of God is like….” or in Matthew, “The Kingdom of heaven is like…” would know that a parable would follow, and would know that the parable is left up to the interpretation of the hearer.

The use of irony, idiom, metaphor, is all dependent on context and even delivery. No wonder we have such a difficult time with parables.

Another thing about parables is that Jesus told them to effect a response in his disciples, and in you and me, who are also disciples. That response may be surprise, it may even be shock. If you aren’t shocked by a parable, you need to take a closer look.

Let’s take a closer look at this morning’s parable. The farm hands of the householder have discovered that someone has come out in the dark of night, and sowed weeds in the wheat, and they are beginning to grow alongside the wheat. The farm hands want to pull the weeds, but the householder tells them not to because pulling the weeds would destroy the wheat as well. The householder tells them to let the weeds and the wheat grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time collect the weeds first and burn them, and then gather the wheat. Not too much shocking there, but that’s because we are not insiders, we don’t get the irony, we don’t know the idiom, we have to learn some things and then take a closer look.

The wheat and the weeds grow up together. To remove the weeds is to kill the wheat. These are a particular kind of weed. The weed, or tare, in our gospel parable is a specific plant—darnel—a grass that grows in the same zones where wheat is produced. Darnel looks very much like wheat when it is immature; its roots intertwine with those of the wheat and its toxic grains are loosely attached to the stem. The problem of what to do with an infested field does not have a simple solution—pull up the shoots and you pull up the wheat; wait until the harvest and you poison the grain and contaminate next year’s crop with failing seeds.

Parables elicit many interpretations, today I would propose two. The first one has to do with judgment and mercy, the second with death and resurrection.

It is reported that the one who is responsible for the weeds is an enemy. But instead of attacking the enemy who put the weeds there, the householder let the weeds and the wheat live together until harvest. If the householder is like God, the field hands are disciples like you and me, the weeds are those who we may consider bad, or evildoers, or even merely those with whom we disagree, and the wheat is those who we may consider good, right thinking, or merely those with whom we agree. At this time in Jewish practice, two different things were never to touch each other, that resulted in impurity, and purity along with holiness were the two most important concepts in Jewish life. But Jesus brings this new thing into the world, new life, new love. I think the point is that Jesus’ disciples, you and me are to let the wheat and the weeds grow side by side and leave judgment to God.

Now, that is shocking. Judgment is up to God. Not up to you or me. God’s judgment, God’s righteousness, God’s perfection is perfect love and mercy. Blessings of sun and rain fall upon the righteous and unrighteous alike.

What has happened here is that Jesus has removed the burden of judgment from our shoulders. Jesus went to the cross and absorbed and contained the evil of the world, the evil of his tormenters. Jesus has freed us to give in to love. Don’t be afraid of those weeds, don’t give in to fear. We are not called to serve as judge, judging will only make us more anxious as we try to maintain constant vigilance, always eyeing our neighbor to try to pick out the enemy.

Our vocation is to love, as God first loved us. Jesus is the merciful judge; we don’t have to worry about how to do his job. Jesus is the merciful judge, and so we have access to an unshakable hope, the blessed assurance that we will be judged with the same infinite mercy, as will our enemies.
The wheat and the tare are intertwined; to pull the weeds is to kill the plant. It’s a desperate situation. But we know from this side of the story that Jesus is in a desperate situation. We know that his life leads him to suffering and death on the cross, and we also know that ultimately God inaugurates the new creation in Jesus’ resurrection, but not without the suffering that precedes it. Another way to experience this parable of the wheat and the tare is to let it teach us about death and resurrection. Maybe the householder is wise in letting the wheat and the tare grow up together because the householder knows something about suffering and death. The wheat will die because the tare kills it off. Maybe this parable is about dying to that which is killing us so that we may rise again to the new life that God has in store for us. What is it that is killing us? What is it that we need to die to so that we may have the new life that God promises? What is it that we need to die to so that the clutter is cleared and we may hear God’s call to us?

What is it that our church needs to die to, so that we may hear God’s call to us? Maybe this parable is about dying to that which is killing us so that we may rise again to the new life that God has in store for us.

Maybe this parable is about justice and mercy, maybe this parable is about dying and rising again, maybe this time, this parable is about you. Maybe, this parable is about us.

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