Saturday, July 19, 2014

God’s judgment

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

A couple years ago, BJ Upton was the center fielder for the Tampabay Rays.  He had an amazing talent for catching fly balls and saved a lot of games with his ability to snag them at the fence. When he was on, he was a great hitter, but some days he just watched the ball go by, and struck out in three pitches.
One day, he allowed runs to score while he ambled toward a ball that got past the infield. He apparently didn’t feel like hustling. When the inning was over, team captain Evan Longoria confronted him in the dugout for his lack of hurry. From then on, he played better, most of the time.
Jesus tells a parable about some weeds intentionally planted among a field of wheat. There is a plant named darnel which resembles wheat until the plants are almost fully grown, when it is easy to see which plant is which. The workers are told they should not try to pull out the darnel because doing so would disturb the wheat. It is better to wait until harvest time to do the sorting.
The disciples aren’t sure what this parable means, so they ask Jesus to explain it. The short version of his answer is that there is some evil in every heart, because that’s how the world is. They should let God do the judging of people, and trust that God will judge people in God’s time.
In the early days of human life, the ability to judge other people was essential for their safety. The Maoris still perform ritual dances with movements and faces intended to scare off those who would harm them.
Even today, we need to be able to make judgments about whether someone just looks odd, or could actually be harmful to us. We tend to distrust many people who simply look different from us, or make decisions we believe we would not make, and judge them as less valuable than us. We even believe some people are more sinful than we are.
Martin Luther said we are “simul justus et peccator;” simultaneously justified (made right with God) and sinful. We all have the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other, and we don’t always listen to the angel!  
We all have days when we feel like BJ Upton – we just don’t have the hustle that we need, even though others are depending on us.
We all have days when the cookie or cake is a whole lot more tempting than the apple.
We all have days when it’s easier to shout at each other than to talk with each other.
Some days and some issues are more complex, and it’s harder to separate the right from the wrong.
The people of Ukraine are trying to make better lives for themselves. They want enough to eat, good education for themselves and their children, meaningful jobs, decent housing – all the same things we want for our families. The problem is they are divided in how to acquire what they so desperately need. Their desperation leads them to violence.
The mothers and fathers of poor families in Central America want their children to have enough food, a good education, a good job, in a place that is not torn apart by warring drug cartels, and have despaired of getting them. So, they send their children away, to America. Can you imagine ever sending your children a thousand miles away, to perhaps never see them again, in the hope that they can have a better life? Do you love your children enough to send them away? It was just such needs that populated this country in the past. Desperate need leads to desperate acts.
Palestinians are tired of having their land stolen, extremely limited access to health care, jobs, education, and decent housing. Once in a while, their frustration boils over and they respond to Israeli invasions with violence. Desperate need leads to desperate acts.
What is God saying about these situations? There is both good and evil here. What is God calling us to do? How are we to respond? Certainly with prayer. Certainly with political messages about peaceful negotiation instead of violence in Ukraine. Certainly with compassion for Central American children, who are the victims of decisions made by adults. Perhaps with US efforts to support Central American nations in their efforts to improve lives there. And with more US support of the Palestinian people against the Israeli intent to eradicate them.
At least we can respond with the recognition that there are no easy answers, and that perhaps there is little we can do as Americans beyond prayer. Yet, prayer is powerful.
Through prayer, our leaders may be able to discern a right path in our relations with other countries.
Through prayer, we may begin to choose the apple instead of the cookie.
Through prayer, we may be able to talk family issues out, instead of yelling at each other in anger.
Through prayer, we may be able to find our own hustle, even though we just don’t feel like hustling.
Through prayer, we may be able to trust God to guide the future, to bring peace to war-torn regions, to help us in our own decisions, and to forgive what needs to be forgiven on that ultimate day when we are judged.
Please pray with me. Lord, you know that we are filled with good things and evil desires. Guide us in choosing the right paths for our own lives. Guide the leaders of this nation to make compassionate and just decisions as we relate to the people and leaders of other nations. Judge us all according to your loving-kindness and mercy. Amen!