Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 23 July 2023.
• First Reading: Genesis 28: 10-19 (Jacob’s flight to Haran – dream of the ladder to heaven, God’s promise of descendants and of the land)
• Epistle: Romans 8: 12-25 (Obligation not to live according to the flesh. By the Spirit, put to death the misdeeds of the body)
• Gospel: Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43 (Parable of the weeds. Judgment deferred)
He was on the run from a bitterly vengeful brother, who had always despised him and now was out for his blood.
The journey was long and uncertain but provided he kept the rising sun on his right, the midday sun at his back and the setting sun on his left, then he was going in the right direction.
But at an early point in his journey, in a state of exhaustion, he lay down to sleep.
And then the dream came. A vision of God and a promise of a hope and a future. He would have children and they would inherit the land. And so the devious Jacob came face to face with God and he was never the same again, no matter what trials lay ahead.
But this was a wondrous place, fey and where the barriers between this earth and the realm of heaven were quite thin. There are such places in the earth. Iona is one. I believe that the sanctuary here in All Saints is another.
But no matter. The point was that in a place of personal dereliction and despair, where there was no prospect of anything, this was where God met Jacob and made promises to him.
And so, perhaps for the first time in his life, Jacob stopped thinking about himself and started to worship the Lord, without reservation. He had seen the vision and heard the voice of God and life was never going to be the same again.
Now change the scene to Jesus’ parable of the weeds.
The field is there and the crop is expected. A good harvest, to feed the people and provide an income.
And then it is spoiled. Compromised with weeds, which look very much like the intended crop, but not only useless but poisonous.
The impulse is to go in and rip it all up and start again, but this would lose the whole crop and there was still enough there to be worth saving and harvesting. The rest would have to be gathered up and burned in due course.
But this time we are the servants of the landowner. We are the ones who are confronted with a compromised crop, in an uncertain and even hostile world.
We desire the simple acts of justice and judgment.
As we see it and for the whole to be restored to its original fertility and usefulness, but the Lord says, ‘No, wait.’
‘If you act too soon and too impulsively then you will harm what is sown as good seed. You will rip up the genuine grain in your enthusiasm and rush to judgment. And you do love judging. Don’t you?’
But the Judge is the Lord and this is His field and His crop.
And we are not equipped with the discernment, not only in identifying the harmful seed but in treating it as well.
Now the image has changed from a field of grain to the work of the church. The harvest in view is the fulness of salvation of the world, in which the message of Jesus Christ must be proclaimed without qualification or reservation. It is a message of the things of God, His initiative and His purposes. No other agendas.
And this is where Paul’s letter to the Romans is important.
We live in a world driven by its appetites and demands. For some the needs are those of day to day survival.
For others it is the comfort of life, the little luxuries, not really extravagant but they do make life easier.
And for others, it is the desire for advantage, to be at the top of the heap and not the bottom, to be able to lord it over others and to find such pleasure in doing so.
But Paul sees the whole of creation labouring to be free.
It is a creation, ordained of God and yet compromised in sin. Its fruitfulness appropriated to the demands of power and greed.
As we see the effects of global warming it is easy to assume that the blame lies with wealthy capitalists, preferably Americans, and other western interests, but any wealthy bodies will do.
We forget that our private pensions are invested in the trade and manufacturing of the world, and that our health and social services are all funded from taxes levied on a trading economy.
In other words we are all part of the same compromised world trading system and our expectations of security in the home, in our health and in the land all rely on those streams of income.
But when powers take it on themselves in the name of total war to destroy the gain that is needed to feed the hungriest in the world then we are indeed in a place of creation itself groaning to see the fulness of the Lord.
So yes we also are seeing in vivid detail the groaning of creation as the whole of fallen humanity has its effect on it.
It is one thing for the earliest industrialists to vent their wastes into the air and waters of the world; quite another for others to see the examples to be avoided and then to repeat them.
And we also watch with dismay. But then the harvest of salvation is the Lord’s. His crops. His fields. His right judgment.
Perhaps we need to look to the harvest of His message and pray for the workers to go into the fields for His purposes.