One of biggest questions I have always had for God is: what are you doing with us now? I don’t just mean, what is God doing with me, or with you as an individual. What I mean is what is he doing with everyone and everything that he has made? You see I don’t believe in what, in ‘theology speak,’ is known as a watchmaker God, or more formally, a Deist God who makes everything and then stands back and lets it unfold. That’s not the God of the Old and New Testaments who is and who promises to be ever present with us. That’s not the God who sends his Son into the world to become one of us, and in whom His Holy Spirit gathers us to our adopted Father. The God who does this is the God who is with us in the most exuberant joy and in the most excruciating, exhausting moments of our life.
In our Old Testament reading from Genesis we hear this: “These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham's son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived.” Recall God’s words to Isaac’s father, Abraham, “your descendants shall be more than the stars in the sky, many will be blessed through you.”
We hear God telling us what he is doing with those whom he created. He chooses this people Israel, beginning with Abraham and stretching out across generations with a sure promise: I will give you offspring for the purpose of going out and spreading across the world so that other people may receive me; so that they can be restored to relationship with me; as our reading puts it, so that they can be blessed: coming to know me, their maker so that they can find their purpose and place. But of course our reading leads us into foreboding territory: Jacob and Esau, twin boys struggle so much in Rebekah’s womb that she cries to the Lord, ‘why do I live?’ God’s answer is not simply about the pain and discomfort of pregnancy but speaks to the deeper truth of human pain and anguish: of separation from God and the ensuing envy and jealousy that often erupts into familial, social, cultural, and racial violence; a violence grounded in knowing oneself to be naked like Adam and Eve; that is: exposed, consumed by the fear of not being loved, of not mattering, of being left out, or shortchanged, of another taking your spot, your place, your birthright, which is nothing except relationship to God. Sin filled human I am, who will save me from this endless cycle of human anguish – whether ignorant or not – at being separated from God?
Then we hear Jesus – who can trace his adopted lineage back through Isaac and Abraham – retelling this story of how he will gather his people to him through Abraham, fulfilling his promise to his followers:
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 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?' He answered, 'An enemy has done this.' The slaves said to him, 'Then do you want us to go and gather them?' 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.'"
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." He answered, "The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man;” this retells God’s words to Abraham we see being fulfilled, even through generations who have turned from him. God is the planter or sower. God will tell one of the new born twins, Jacob, that his offspring are like the dust, or like seeds that are carried in the dust by wind; they’ll spread out from where he plants them to all the ends of the earth and not only Jacob’s offspring, but many others will be blessed through him. Jesus recapitulates those words in his parable saying: the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom. These are to be like Jacob’s offspring, the means through which God can bless those outside the Israelite nation.
But of course we know what happens with first with Esau and Jacob and then, as God foresaw, with Jacob’s offspring: so many of them go astray from relationship with God. We hear of wars, violence, betrayal, rape, murder, idol worship, fear, anxiety, loss, disease, all making it so hard to hear and see the fruit of God’s people; a reality that we see over and over through the centuries of human history. And Jesus says of this: the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the children whom God made are turning from him and living into the figure of Adam, into the flesh of Adam as Paul calls it.
Paul following Jesus challenges everyone who has been adopted into Jesus Christ through baptism: “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace." Now this is interesting. Let us pause here for a moment: In chapters 7 and 8 of Romans Paul is essentially pressing one point: my friends, you have been set free from death by Jesus Christ who suffered your rightful death for you. So don’t live into death anymore. One of the things that Paul identifies as living into death is covetousness – precisely what occurs with Esau and Jacob – a covetousness that suggests that one doesn’t really believe that they have a relationship with God, that they are loved, that they have a place and purpose; so instead they turn to the things of the world and the measures the world provides, to give them the feeling of being loved and desirable. This, says Paul, is living into death; of living into fear instead of living by faith. And living into fear tears you and those around you down; not just your personal life, but your families, your work relationships, people who aren’t like you, and potentially your entire culture.
I think we remain rather deaf and blind to the reality of how fear warps our perceptions of the world, even our faith. You see I think we spend a good deal of time, and I think this is particularly true for men who have traditionally not been allowed to express fear, covering up that fear with anger, or withdrawal, or at an even more complex level, being judgmental and condemnatory of others; especially those ‘not like us.’ There are so many ways this plays out in various relationships: at a social level this fear can result in racism and socially stigmatizing people who don’t ‘fit’ into however we expect them to fit; at the personal level, fear can drive us to withdraw from our children, grandchildren, partners, and even from not pursuing relationships with others, or alternatively, to judge our friends and family, our co-workers and neighbors as lesser than us; at a social level it can lead to murder, genocide and war.
At the heart of this fear, I think, is the fear of rejection. I’ve said before that God has written on our hearts and minds a pathway, a knowledge, an inclination and a deep desire for his love alone. It’s an all consuming sort of love, a perfect love, which as Hebrews says, casts out fear. We live in a world though, where our relationships are fragile, imperfect, and easily distorted by a fear that has not yet been perfectly cast out. We still live in a world where our relationship with God is not yet realized. So we live, as Paul says, as a part of creation that is still groaning in labor pains, we ourselves, who even in Christ, having received the Spirit groan inwardly, while we await the fruits of our adoption in Christ, to be truly manifest in the world. We await that is, the perfect love of God. We long so deeply, Paul says, that we groan inwardly. Augustine, a great Western theologian says that God is more inward to us than we are to ourselves. So we know deep within that we were made by and for God; made to, with Abraham, then Isaac and then Jacob and the Israelites, go out into the world to show not ourselves, but God to the world. To become like a catalyst, through whom God himself might be seen.
And yet when, like seed, we are put out on the path, or spread out like the dust on the field, sent to all corners of the earth, or even to the corners of our neighborhoods, the corners of our families, of our changing towns and cities and countries, we often look out with fear because we do not see a world brought to fulfillment by God. We see a world, we see relationships with our friends and families and new people moving in and older people moving on, children failing to live up to potential or frustrating us in their unwillingness to do this or that, with a virus that has touched every corner of the world and brought economic and social shock, we see it with fear as if this is all there is; as if God does not rule over all these things.
We see our struggles and they become the focal point of our lives and we shout to God: where are you? You have planted me and left me to wither amongst these weeds. And perhaps in fear we lash out in anger or frustration or even withdrawal and dismissal and in so doing, shrivel ourselves from fruitful plants into weeds, or as Paul puts it, fall back into slavery to sin.
One of the things that we are tempted to do when fear is at the root, is to protect ourselves like Adam and Eve who, after breaking their relationship with God hide themselves and their nakedness, their obvious shame, guilt and fear. We do this in physical ways and in emotional ways. Often out of fear, we act as if we are the superior fruit or the very bad fruit. Either we are superior and can judge others, or we are inferior and unworthy and so we can withdraw ourselves from the lives of others. Both are mistakes, Jesus and Paul tells us. We were set free from the bondage of sin – from living as if our interpretation of events and of other people and our control over them, is all there really is.
We were in fact, given the Spirit to help us bear witness to God as his adopted children. And what this means is that we cannot succumb to our fears when we come before Christ and open ourselves to him. For he makes of us what we are; he makes us into the harvest. This is why Jesus tells his disciples in parable that they should not go and collect the weeds to burn them: for not one of us knows whether we or anyone else are wheat or weed just now. Not one of us knows what God is doing with us or has done with us, or will do with us as our lives unfold. So too, we don’t know this about anyone else’s life. We know it is God who made all of us, planted us, tends to us in Christ by his Spirit, growing, pruning, testing, pressing us out of fear and into his grace by faith. Testing us. Yes. This is true for all of us. But testing is not condemnation; it is sanctification; it is being pruned of those fearful forays into broken ways of living with God and one another so that we might grow into visible fruits along God’s vine. We are tested by other wheat and by the weeds alike; with this testing, however, facing our fear by facing into grace with hope and perseverance, then we shall receive the promise of adoption given to Abraham; Isaac and Jacob, and we might be made in this testing, a blessing to others as we go out into the world God has planted. AMEN.