On 20th July 2014, the 5th Sunday after Trinity, Helene Milena preached this sermon in the Anglican Cathedral on Epiphany Island in Second Life. The readings were Psalm 28, Genesis 28:10-19a and Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.
The suffering and violence in the world not only deter people from watching the news but also from believing in God. How could a loving God allow such terrible things to happen? Jesus addresses this issue in his parable of the wheat and the weeds. If God were to correct everything now he would not only root out the evil in the world, but would probably damage those who are his followers also. Instead he is prepared to wait to the end of time to correct the situation.
Reading the news or watching it on TV is something that some people simply can’t face doing. I don’t think that’s too difficult to understand. A quick look at the BBC news site revealed further deaths in Gaza as Israel continues its offensive. There’s a special report on the ISIS group in Iraq and Syria which is trying to set up an Islamic state. More people have been killed by car bombs in Baghdad. Gunmen have attacked a bus in Kenya. There is fighting in Libya. 20 soldiers were killed at a checkpoint in Egypt. The situation in Ukraine has become more complex as investigations continue into the crash of the Malaysian plane. A town in northern Nigeria has been attacked by Boko Haram. More refugees have died on a dangerous sea journey. And so it goes on. So much bad news, so many tragedies, and that is just one quick glance at the news on one day in the year.
Many people are deterred from believing in God because they see such terrible things going on in the world and cannot conceive of a God of love allowing them to continue. Why doesn’t he intervene? Why does he let evil continue? Does he really care? Is he powerless? Does he really exist?
Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds seems to address this issue. The parable illustrates the kingdom of heaven, the reign of God in the world. Jesus is the one who came to earth to preach the good news, to usher in the kingdom of heaven. His teaching is taken to heart by the good seed, the ‘children of the kingdom’. They acknowledge God as creator and Jesus as Lord. They seek to follow the ways of Jesus, to copy him and be transformed by him.
I realise that not everyone is happy with the idea of a devil as a personality although Jesus seemed to have no doubt about the devil’s existence. However you choose to frame it in your mind, it’s hard to escape the fact that there is evil, an enemy, in some form around in the world. Those people who allow this evil to determine how they behave are called ‘children of the evil one’ by Jesus. In the parable they are described as weeds, plants that were never intended to grow in the field and which occupy space supposed to be for the wheat.
As the parable explains, although the first impulse of the householder’s slaves was to go and pull up the weeds, trying to get rid of the weeds would also dislodge the wheat plants so that they would die too. Likewise, if God were to set about getting rid of all those in the world who kill, maim, wage war, rape, torture, steal, cheat, blackmail, and so on, in the process there would be what the military tends to call ‘collateral damage’. The good guys would get taken out with the bad guys.
God is not indifferent to what is happening in the world. However, he has a plan to rectify things at the end of time. Jesus is sure that ‘all causes of sin and all evildoers’ will be separated out from those who are righteous. Once again, this is a very difficult teaching for many. How can a God of love destroy those he made? I don’t think we can have it all ways. We can’t complain that God does nothing about the wrong in the world and at the same time condemn him if he does something about it at the end of time. Moses had a similar conversation with God, only he was concerned that the righteous would suffer with the wicked when God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah: “Far be it from you to do such a thing–to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Like Moses, we simply have to trust that God, the Judge of all the earth, will do right.
Although the final solution to the wrongs on the earth will have to wait until the end of time to be dealt with, that does not mean that God is absent and impassive until then. God still answers prayers as the psalmist affirms. We know that from the many prayers which have been offered here which have been answered. Where God can act without causing problems we are not aware of, I am sure he does.
God not only answers prayers, but at times he surprises us as Jacob found out in the Old Testament passage for today. Jacob was fleeing for his life. Coming across evidence of God and his care was probably the last thing on Jacob’s mind. In fact, as things had apparently gone badly wrong in Jacob’s life, he probably felt totally abandoned by God. He might even have been questioning whether God existed. Yet, in the midst of his problems, Jacob had a vivid dream in which he met God and received the promise that God had also given to Abraham: that the land would be given to his offspring who would be as numerous as the dust of the earth and would be a blessing to all. God promised Jacob that he would keep him and be with him wherever he went.
We can tell from Jacob’s reaction that he had not expected anything like this: ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’ An ordinary camping place for a night’s rest in the midst of Jacob’s flight to safety was ‘none other than the house of God, the gate of heaven’.
I think we can take heart from this in the midst of our own troubles. Whether we have evidence or not, God is in this place, wherever we find ourselves. He has not left us alone, abandoned. Even if for some reason he cannot change the circumstances we face, he is there for us. And one day the Judge of all the earth will put everything to rights.