(The image above is a portion of the famous painting by Hieronymus Bosch titled “The Garden of Earthly Delights”, painted approximately in the year 1500. This section of the painting portrays a “hellscape”- humans are both attracted to, and punished for, their evil ways. This painting is in the public domain.
While we might scoff at the fantastical scene, how much are we influenced by such depictions?)
July 23 2017
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 (full text at end of message)
A very long time ago, so long ago that my tall son who is in the pew was small enough to hold in my arms, the Westboro Baptist folks came to our church on a Sunday morning. Do you remember the Westboro group?- not as active as they once were. Westboro Baptist Church is a Baptist church (not affiliated with any national denomination) from Kansas
City Kansas , who travel around the country picketing and harassing those they believe to be sinners, especially LGBT people, Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Muslims & Jews.
I have no idea why our church was on their hit list. But there they were, on our front sidewalk which parallels a busy street- probably why we were chosen. They waited, on either side of the sidewalk, as a we exited the sanctuary on a beautiful summer day. It was quite intimidating.
The protestors carried signs, with slogans so nasty I am not going to repeat them, and they yelled and screamed. I was carrying Sten, who was a toddler at the time, and as I hurried down the steps, crouching to cover Sten with my own body, some Westboro protestors scuttled over to us, and screamed in Sten’s face- a little boy! “Your mother is a horrible person! She is going to hell! And you are too”.
I’m hoping Sten remembers none of this, as you can tell, I still do.
Wow. Well. We would never do anything like that, right? I have not, so far, screamed at anyone and told them to their face they are going to hell. But,with shame, I have to confess that I have at many times felt some people were more likely to be Christians in name only, not in any other way, shape, or form.
There’s a problem in all of this, when we make judgments- viciously and public- like Westboro, or in the privacy of our own mind, like polite Lutherans- that someone is not heaven-worthy. This sermon can be summed up in 1 sentence: It’s not our job to decide the after-life location of other people.
I don’t know where we got the idea it ever was our job. Just like Adam and Eve- we go beyond our boundaries and we attempt to play God. A lot of times it’s natural; we want to speak up for the oppressed and the victimized, and when we condemn those who contribute to a terrible situation, and decide they are on the wrong side of God , somehow feels as if we have done something.
That’s one of the reasons it is important not to fall into the condemnation game: we see sin, we name it in a public forum, we call out the oppressors as God-less, done. With the ascendance of social media, there can be a tendency to pile on with the rest of the world in a Facebook shaming of an obvious evil-doer. And when our flaming prose is posted, we lean back, ah- now that’s settled. No,it’s not. All that has happened is lots of people have been screaming at each other in capital letters, with badly spelled messages, that the other side is on a fast track to hell.
It’s not settled at all- getting complex social problems solved, especially national problems that require time, compromise and thoughtfulness, are not solved by accusing others of being Satan’s spawn.
It’s not your job- remember? It’s God’s job. And to remind us, here are some passages from Scripture:
Rom. 2:3 Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God?
Rom. 14:10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.
1Cor. 4:5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God.
What then is our job? Loving others, even the not easily loved. Especially the not easily loved.
And what then about judgment? Judgement gets a bad reputation these days. Young parents will talk of how they monitor their children’s diets, minimize exposure to un-natural chemicals, carefully investigate the circumstances of a playdate, and then say “I don’t judge”. Of course you do!, and that’s a good thing- it’s called discernment: working out the values, choices, and stands we hold for ourselves and our families. This kind of judgment is what Paul speaks of in Philippians 4:
Phil. 4:8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
One more thing about this passage, that comments upon our life together as a congregation. Jesus is quite clear that in the community of faith there are those who are actively working towards the kingdom of heaven, and those who are not. Perhaps in the same week, one person could be both! We are not quite so quick as Matthew, writing in the ancient world, to declare a person all-evil, or all-good. But it is true that at any given moment our actions are honoring either God or the forces which oppose God, and it is also true that often we can’t tell the difference at the time.
IN some ways, Jesus is saying: give the benefit of the doubt, because you don’t know. Yet also, be wary, because you don’t know. We know less than we think we do- a lesson I am constantly learning.
Those Westboro folks on the church sidewalks so many years ago- the remembrance has the power to get me all riled up again, probably in large part because I felt my child was threatened. I have the ability, and the right, to call them out for demonstrating a lack of Christian ideals, but I do not have the right to say they are beyond the kingdom of God. That is in God’s power only, and frankly, I’m glad- a religion with me at the head of it – or any of us -would be small and much pettier than God’s free-flowing grace. Praise the Lord we live in the majesty of God’s grace, much bigger and broader than any of us can imagine.
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
24 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, “An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’ ”
36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!