On 23 July Helene Milena preached the following sermon in the Anglican Cathedral on Epiphany Island in Second Life. The readings were Psalm 139:1-11, 23-24, Genesis 28:10-19a, Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.
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 news of eight out of thirty-eight people found dead in a truck in San Antonio, suspected of being left without water or air conditioning by people smugglers. North Korea continues to test weapons, with a claim that it can reach the US and other parts of the West with a successful warhead. The people of Yemen feel forgotten by the world as they suffer cholera and starvation. Thousands of survivors from areas previous ruled by IS are dealing with trauma as a result of their experiences. Kidnap victims in Afghanistan have been killed by their captors. Relations between India and China, Russia and the US, Qatar and other Middle Eastern nations, the UK and Europe are strained for various reasons. Israelis have died in an attack on the West Bank. An 11 year old girl was stabbed to death by her 18 year old neighbour in the US. Venezuela has been hit by huge inflation with people struggling to survive as their currency becomes worthless. The situation in Syria is still perilous despite work on a ceasefire. The family and medical staff treating baby Charlie Gard are receiving death threats. And so it goes on. So much bad news, so many tragedies, so much that doesn’t seem right, 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 prepared 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 knows the heart of every person, whether good or bad. He listens to the yearnings of our hearts as we express them in prayer and he answers. 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. As the psalmist states, God was not unaware of Jacob or what he was doing: ‘You mark out my journeys and my resting place and are acquainted with all my ways.’ As a result, 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 during 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 when faced with 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 indeed do right.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor