Sermon: A Fiery Faith that Changes the World

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[Given on Sunday, July 20, 2014 by The Rev. Fr. Marcus Halley – St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church – Kansas City, MO]

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.
Let it shine! Let it shine! Let it shine!

May I speak to you in the name of our Great God who is Creating, Liberating, and Sustaining. Amen. +

If you would, allow me, this morning, to speak to you from the broader literary context wherein we find our Gospel text this morning. Matthew 13:1 says:

“…Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables…”

The beginning of Matthew 13 suggests that Jesus walked out of a house and as soon as he stepped outside so many folk began gathering around him that he had to get into a boat.

So with a captive audience he began to unfold to them the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, but he spoke to them in the coded language of Parables. Parables were not children’s stories about a warm fuzzy Messiah who planted seeds, gathered sheep, and hosted lavish parties. Walter Brueggemann suggests that parables exemplify “the subversive voice of scripture”[1] which sought to present a counter-narrative, an alternative, to the false claims to truth presented by the world.

In suggesting over and over that “the Kingdom of Heaven is like…” Jesus was making a statement that the world as it exists is not like. He was offering a social critique that the way things currently are do not align with the values of the Reign of God. This dichotomy between the human condition and the heavenly dream, later taken up by St. Augustine in his magnum opus entitled The City of God which presented two cities “the earthly [formed] by the love of self… the heavenly by the love of God,”[2] reflects a “striving, ever marching onward” implicit in the Christian witness. It suggests that where we are going is not where we have been. There is a forward momentum that is part-and-parcel to our faith.

Beloved, this is good news to me. This is news that makes me happy. This is news that gives me joy. It lets me know that no matter how bad the world gets, no matter how dark the storm, that because God is up to something in our world, we are still pressing towards higher ground. As one of my favorite hymn-writers puts it:

I’m pressing on the upward way,
New heights I’m gaining every day.
Still praying as I onward bound.
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

Lord, lift me up, and let me stand
By faith on Heaven’s table land;
A higher plane than I have found,
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

The world as it currently is does not reflect the fullness of Reign of God. That’s why we ought be very careful when we grant sacred canopy to the value systems of this world.

When we bless “Capitalism without a Conscious” we forget that the “Kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner who went out early to hire workers for his vineyard.”[3] Later on, as he was stopping by the Hy-Vee, he brought a few more workers to work in his vineyard. Early in the afternoon while he was eating lunch at Gates BBQ he brought a few more workers to work in his vineyard. Finally, that evening, just before he closed his vineyard for the day, he was walking down Troost Avenue and hired a few more workers. And guess what? When it came time to pay them, he didn’t pay them hourly. He paid them all the same living wage. I didn’t make it up. It’s in the book.

When we bless “Accumulation of Stuff at any Cost” we forget that the “Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. When he found one very precious pearl, he went and sold all that he owned and bought it.”[4] All the stuff that we can accumulate in this world cannot compare to the beauty of our God.

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
I’d rather be His than have riches untold;
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands;
I’d rather be led by His nail-pierced hand

Than to be the king of a vast domain
Or be held in sin’s dread sway;
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.

And so in saying that the “Kingdom of Heaven is like…,” Jesus is issuing a social critique that the world is not.

It is in this context that we find our parable this morning, also known as the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares.

Like many of the Parables of Jesus Christ, it is possible to draw buckets of life from these bottomless wells of truth. But today I want to focus our attention on the slaves, or as the Common English Bible calls them “servants.”

When they went out into the field and found the wheat and the tares growing together, they wanted go out into the field and pull up the weeds.

Now, what you need to know is that the New Revised Standard Version translates the Greek Word ζιζανιονgenerically as a “weed.” [I’m sure churches in Colorado are having a good time preaching about this text today]. But ζιζανιονwas not a generic “weed,” but rather a weed that so closely resembled wheat that it was called “bastard wheat,” wheat that, according to Jewish Midrash, was contrary to nature and had lost its purpose. Whereas wheat has a purpose, it produces fruit, a grain that can be harvested, ζιζανιον, the tares, looked every bit the part, but were useless. They were only distinguishable after the harvest when the grains from the Tares, which are black, had to be removed from the grains of wheat by hand.

Sandwiched in between other parables that talk about the importance of “bearing fruit,” it is clear to me that Jesus is making a point about the importance of fruit bearing in Kingdom.

Earlier we talked about the fact that when Jesus says the “Kingdom of Heaven is like…” he is making a statement that the world is not like.

The harsh reality that we all must face is that there are a whole lot of people running around the world calling themselves wheat, but in fact they are tares. Let me say that another way. There are whole lot of folk who call themselves Christians, but who aren’t bearing the fruit thereof.

A whole lot of folk walk in and out of church every Sunday, but they always leave the same way that they came.

There are many people who will kneel down at the altar and receive the Body and Blood of Christ, but who never leave incarnate the Body of Christ out in the world.

And what the Parable of the Wheat and Tares teaches us is that it is often very difficult to distinguish between the two.

Oh we all know the right prayers to pray, the right time to kneel. We know the flow of the liturgy. We know when to cross ourselves and when to genuflect and when there are typos in the bulletin.

Don’t get me wrong. Thank you for coming to Church. Thank you for coming to worship. The Finance Committee will thank you for paying your pledge.

But what we do in this place is not enough if it does not meet the deep need of a desperate people helplessly awash in a hurting world.

Martin Luther King says this. He says, “For so many Christians, Christianity is a Sunday activity having no relevancy on Monday, and the church is little more than a secular social club having a thin veneer of religiosity. Jesus is an ancient symbol whom we do the honor of calling Christ, and yet his Lordship is neither affirmed nor acknowledged by our substanceless lives.”[5]

We have too many fruitless, substanceless, feckless Christians wearing the badge of the redeemed, but denying the power thereof.

Creation is waiting “creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.”[6] What the world needs are Christians who aren’t satisfied with Sunday religion in a Monday world. We need Christians who have been set on fire by the incandescent and explosive power of the Holy Spirit who can’t help but bust out of this place and change the world.

Let me give you two examples.

Last week I was wrapping up a week-long trip to Philadelphia to attend the triennial “Episcopal Youth Event.” Over 1,100 youth from all over the Episcopal Church gathered under the theme “Marked for Mission.” After several days of workshops, worship, a missional pilgrimage through the streets of Philly, and some good Philly Cheesesteaks, the 1,100+ youth were commissioned by the Presiding Bishop as missioners under a mandate from Bishop Michael Curry to “Go” out and change a hurting world. As we left almost 400 youth stayed behind to engage in 3 days of Urban Mission. Next week, almost 100 youth from this Diocese will gather at St. Paul’s for a week of mission, fellowship, worship, and formation called Missionpalooza. That’s a fieryfaith that has caught fire and will change a hurting world.

Let me give you another example.

Last week during our Vacation Bible School, our littelest ones learned about what it meant to be “Kind.” A week of song-singing, craft-making, game-playing, and friend-making culminated in the creation of over 30 blankets and pillows made by our children to be donated to sick children at Children’s Mercy Hospital. “…and a little child will lead them.”[7] Friends, that’s a faith that has caught fire and will change a hurting world.

Deliver us, O Lord, “from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not renewal.”[8] Deliver us, O Lord, from a cold faith that does not illuminate the dark places of our world.

And don’t just deliver us, O Lord, but set us on fire. Set us on fire to go out from this place and set the world on fire with a witness to the Love of Jesus.

Set us on fire with a zeal to love the Hell out of the World.

Set us on fire with a passion to love our sisters and brothers out of nightmare of this world and into the dream of God.

Set us on fire with an unquenchable and insatiable desire to go out and bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, liberation to the oppressed, healing to the sick, dexterity and mobility to the lame, a shout to the silenced, a praise to the downtrodden, to see the manifestation of God’s favor in this world right here and right now.[9]

So when you come up to this table, and when you receive the Body and Blood of Christ, I dare you to catch on fire. I double dog dare you to do something about the problems that plague our city and our world. I dare you to catch on fire and let that light shine. Let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine!

 

[1] Walter Brueggemann. Truth Speaks to Power (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 6.

[2] St. Augustine of Hippo. The City of God, Modern Library Ed.(New York: The Modern Library, 1993), 477.

[3] Matthew 20:1

[4] Matthew 13:45-46 (CEB)

[5] Martin Luther King, Jr. “How Should a Christian View Communism.” In Strength to Love (New York: Harper & Row, 2010), 107.

[6] Romans 8:19

[7] Isaiah 11:6b

[8] Book of Common Prayer, 372.

[9] Isaiah 61:1-2

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