Proper 11A Sermon (1999)

Proper 11 (July 17-23)
Texts: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43;
Rom. 8:12-25; Is. 44:6-8

CHRISTIAN FAITH: A RESPONSE TO EVIL

We’ve had our attention and our hearts drawn by two tragedies: one local, the Miller Park tragedy, and now yesterday what looks like yet another terrible tragedy for the Kennedy family. We wonder: How can one family endure so many tragedies? And our hearts go out to all the families involved in these two accidents this week.

I think that today’s lessons might help. They speak to us in a crucial way about Christian faith, especially faith in the face of tragedy, in the face of suffering, in the face of evil. I’d like make a suggestion, in fact, about how we might define our Christian faith: namely, that Christian faith is a way of responding to evil, and to the tragic suffering it causes. Faith is a way of responding to the evil in this world. I like for us to reflect on at least three ways of faith that our scripture readings show us for responding to evil.

The first way of faith in responding to evil is the one that will take the most time to reflect on, because it involves what I said about Jesus’ parables last week: that they often have to jolt us into unlearning some things before they can really teach us something about God’s ways. What we have to unlearn is our human way of responding to evil, which is to jump right in and try to eradicate it. Fight fire with fire, we say. Anything is justified in doing God’s work of ridding this world of evil.

You see, our typical way of responding to the evil in this world is represented exactly by the servants in today’s parable of the Wheat and Weeds. Notice that the parable doesn’t really explain the existence of evil very much. But it does try to teach us about the response. The servants represent our human way which we must unlearn, and the farmer represents God’s way of responding to evil.

But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 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.’ (Matthew 13:29-30)

  • [Extemporizing] A clear example from recent weeks: Benjamin Smith, the son of a doctor and product of Chicago’s most elite schools, a follower of Matthew Hale who started his own racist church, the World Church of the Creator.
  • Understand that Mathew Hale believes in god, but it is a god who backs our usual human way of trying to expel evil.
  • Before we get too high and mighty, what is our response to someone like Matthew Hale or Benjamin Smith?

You see, this is so tough to unlearn.

Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth to speak in parables; I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 13:34-35)

What has been hidden since the foundation of the world? Our usual human way of dealing with evil is exactly that of the servants in this parable. What is God’s way? Forgiveness. Let both of them grow together until the harvest. “Let” is the same word translated as “Forgive.”

  • Accidental or natural death vs. evil. We now think of evil as having to do with human agency.
  • Are the Kennedy’s cursed or something? Dan Rather talking about the myth of Camelot.
  • We need to realize that in ages past any kind of tragedy was linked with evil.
  • AIDS as a punishment for gay people and drug addicts. Miller Park tragedy as somehow connected with “evil” powers.
  • If most of us think differently about such things, I think that we need to realize the influence of the Christian faith.

“Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them–do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” (Luke 13:4-5)

If the first of God’s ways of responding to evil is forgiveness, a second which we can point to in today’s lessons is hope.

  • On the canoe trip, seeing the movie Simon Birch: Highly recommended
  • It’s about two twelve year-old boys, Joe and Simon, best friends, growing up in a small New England town in 1964. It begins with Joe all grown up, standing before the grave of his friend Simon, as he tells us the story of his friend Simon Birch.
  • Talks about faith from beginning to end, and it very much shows us Faith as the Christian way of of responding to evil. Joe tells us that if it weren’t for Simon’s faith, he wouldn’t have any. Simon and Joe both face a lot of evil in their lives:
  • Simon was born a midget, with lots of other physical problems, like an undersized and weak heart. His parents don’t know what to do and basically try to ignore him, try to forget he happened to them. Joe’s mother is the only one who really loves him as a son. In 1964, He is constantly taunted and teased for his size and physical handicaps. He is also ridiculed for his faith. He is convinced that someday
  • Joe also faces a lot of evil. His mother had him out of wedlock and never married, so he is ridiculed as the town bastard. Then, in that fateful year of 1964, both Joe and Simon lose Joe’s mother in an accident, without her ever having even told Joe who his father is. Yet Simon continues to have faith that God will use him as an instrument to help other people.

Romans 8: The rest of creation is looking to us, the children of hope!

    • When we don’t forgive, when we lose hope, our bitterness becomes a part of the problem of evil in this world.
    • Forgiveness and hope, two of the ways of Christian faith in responding to evil. This isn’t an exhaustive list today. We’ve barely scratched the surface on forgiveness and hope, and we won’t get to the most important way of all: love. But I’d like to conclude by simply pointing to a third way of Christian faith in responding to the evil of this world: prayer.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. (Romans 8:26)

Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at Emmaus Lutheran,
Racine, WI, July 17-18, 1999

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