Last Sunday was my first opportunity to preach for the services held in Keenan Chapel at 11:30 in the morning and 6:00 in the evening. In keeping with the more informal feel of those liturgies, I preached without notes. What follows is a reasonably accurate reconstruction of my sermon, based on my outline.
A Sermon Preached on the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, July 20, 2014
by the Rev’d Canon Dane E. Boston, Canon of Trinity Cathedral, Columbia, South Carolina
Texts: Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Each day I drive from my home in Rosewood to my office here at the cathedral, I pass a Baptist church on Rosewood Drive. They have a large, marquee-style sign out front, and change the message from time to time. This week, the sign announced “God’s glory shines through his creation.”
What a beautiful, powerful sentiment. Driving past that sign each day this week made me particularly aware of the ways that God’s glory does indeed shine through his creation. As I saw the bright faces of our children gather for Vacation Bible School, I saw God’s glory shining through his creation. This morning, as I saw parishioners gathered to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, and to love the unloved, I saw God’s glory shining through his creation. On a couple of evenings this week, when we felt the first faint promise of relief from the heat and could enjoy time outdoors watching the sunset, I saw God’s glory shining through his creation.
But this week has also made me aware of something else at work in God’s creation—something working to dim and denigrate his glory. We saw that other something at work in the destruction of yet another airliner. Three hundred people killed not in a tragic accident but, apparently, through calculated malevolence. We saw that other something at work in our world in the renewed violence between Israel and Palestine in the Gaza Strip: children murdered while playing at the beach; rockets fired into unsuspecting communities; whole families killed in the sudden destruction of their homes. It’s hard to see God’s glory shining through any of this.
Or what about closer to home? The State newspaper this week carried stories about a cash settlement for a homeless man who was beaten mercilessly in the Richland County Jail last winter. Or the headline about the bizarre case of a local man kidnapped and held for ransom as part of a drug deal gone bad. Or most disturbing of all, the story of a person in our own community arrested for the possession and distribution of child pornography. In all of these things, we see something contrary to God’s glory at work in our world.
And if we are honest, we see that “other something” at work, not only in the world around us, but in our own hearts within us. A few weeks ago, we read Chapter 7 of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. There the Apostle declared, “I do not do the good things I want to do, but the very things I hate, I do.” I want to honor and obey God’s commands, but I find within me an overpowering drive to do the very opposite of what God intends and what I know is best for myself and the people I love.”For the good that I would, I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do.”
Who among us doesn’t know this dilemma? Though we are creatures made in the image of God—made to shine and reflect God’s glory into the creation around us—nevertheless we know that so often we find ourselves gripped by a power that denies and denigrates God’s image in us and in those we meet. Yes, “God’s glory shines through his creation.” But there’s something else in his creation—something else in us—that can make it hard to see that glory.
That tension—that dissonance—is why I am very glad we have heard this strange and difficult parable today. Today, our Lord Jesus tells the story of the wheat and the weeds (the wheat and the tares, in older translations). He tells it to people who believe that God made this world in love but who nevertheless see that something has gone wrong in this world. He tells this parable to people who are longing to be wheat but who recognize the weeds growing up in their own hearts. Beloved, he tells this parable to people like you and like me.
You see, what Jesus tackles in this parable this morning is what theologians call the problem of evil. If this world was created by a good, all-powerful God, then how can there be such evil in it? This is no idle riddle. It has been one of the greatest challenges to a living faith in the hearts of people down through the centuries—perhaps especially so in the wake of the 20th-century with its many horrors. Why would a good God allow such suffering? How can we believe God really is good if such bad things happen?
But Jesus’ purpose is not to answer these difficult questions. His purpose is to reorient the conversation. And he begins with an unflinching affirmation of God’s goodness in spite of the evil we see around us. “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” The servants of the master put to him the same question that we ask of God in our anguish and frustration. And the master replies, “An enemy hath done this.”
“An enemy hath done this.” Jesus carries his hearers back to the primordial history contained in the early chapters of Genesis. In love and goodness, God made the world. In love and goodness, God formed humankind out of the dust. In love and goodness, God set men and women as his image-bearers over creation.
But something went wrong. Something went awry. Something caused human beings to turn away from God’s good and gracious will and to follow, instead, the devices and desires of their own hearts. Something caused weeds to spring up among God’s wheat.
“An enemy hath done this.” We need not delve into the details of the Fall. Suffice to say that Jesus’ parable refuses to make God the author of evil. The things in this world which corrupt and destroy God’s creatures are not in accord with God’s will. The things in us that pull us down and hold us back and cause us to use and abuse the creation and other creatures: those things are not part of God’s purpose for us. “An enemy hath done this,” declares the landowner, and in those words we hear God’s utter rejection of the evil that has invaded his creation.
But there is more and better news than simply God’s exoneration from the evil in our world. For what Jesus goes on to say is not that the landowner turned away from his field, or that he abandoned his field, or that he resolved to let his field run to seed. What Jesus promises, instead, is that the owner of the field has a plan for the harvest.
“The harvest is the end of the age.” The time is coming, says Jesus, when God will put to right what has gone wrong in his creation. The time is coming, says Jesus, when the weeds shall be swept away. The time is coming, promises Jesus, when all offences, all causes of sin, all evil in the world around us and all evil at work within us, will be brought to an end.
God has not abandoned his beautiful, broken world. Nor will he abide evil forever. The harvest is coming, and behold: it is already upon us. For in Jesus himself, we see the beginning of God’s great in-gathering. In his birth at Bethlehem, we see the assurance that God has not given up on his creation. In his death upon the Cross, we see God’s judgment upon evil. In the bright light of his resurrection, we see the first fruits of the good field being brought into God’s harvest-home.
And beloved, that harvest light shines on us as well. Because we are people who have been reborn by water and the Holy Spirit, we now share in that Resurrection life. This does not make the evil in this world or the evil in us any easier to bear. Quite the contrary. As St Paul tells us today, “the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not the creation only, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we await adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” We groan, dear people, along with all of creation as we await God’s final triumph. But the promise of our Scripture today—the assurance of our faith each day—is that that final triumph is coming.
Our Baptist brothers and sister are right. “God’s glory shines through his creation.” May that glory shine ever brighter within us that, by the mighty working of the Holy Spirit, we may bring forth an abundant harvest of righteousness. May that glory shine ever brighter in this world of wonder and of woe. May God, in his good time, reveal that glory in the consummation of his kingdom, where “the righteous will shine like the sun in the glory of their Father.” Let those with ears to hear, listen! AMEN.