"Holding On While Letting Go"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - July 20, 2008
Psalm 139:1-18; Matthew 13:24-30
to this day, I delight in doing things that have a distinct result that
I can see. After weeding a row of peas, I could observe what I had
done. The plants could thrive without having weeds choke them in
addition to having their ravenous appetites consume the very nutrients
these vegetables needed to mature.
In our lesson this morning, Jesus was clearly talking about people, not a wheat field. Jesus was discussing what living in the Kingdom of God is like. Once again he placed his unique orientation toward life in a story with which his listeners could identify.
A farmer’s field had been properly cultivated and sown with excellent wheat seed. An enemy of the farmer, under the cover of darkness, secretly spread the seeds of a notorious weed in the farmer’s field--a weed that has a striking resemblance to wheat. The farm hands discovered the treachery when the plants had sprouted. They came to the farmer and asked, “What shall we do?” The farmer told them to let the plants grow together until the harvest.
Jesus’ story really captured the essence of what we find in the world. As we discussed in last week’s message, some people get it and others do not. Some people grasp the God-consciousness that is possible for humans and flourish in their attitudes and spirit. Others believe what the beer commercial communicated a number of years ago, “You only go around once in life and you had better grab all the gusto you can.” Of course, “gusto” has a broad definition, one that could easily suggest, “Whoever dies with the most toys wins.”
Jesus’ parable reinforces what we experience today when he instructed his farm hands, “Let the wheat and the weeds grow together. I will tell the harvest workers first to gather up the weeds for disposal and next to gather the wheat and put it into my barn.”
We can grow rather arrogant when we look at ourselves as being the wheat. From a spirit of self-righteousness, we can look at others armed with a new label for them. They are weeds growing in our midst. Jesus’ was telling his listeners what living in the Kingdom is like. He was not giving us a new tool for judging others.
We live among people who have no idea where we get our energy, why we are so hopeful when everyone’s 401(k)’s have lost value or why we are not constantly complaining about the price of groceries and gasoline. We have a different vision about life that is not dependent on the availability of commodities, the cost of living or the potential long term solutions for our nation’s energy needs.
We know that we have to make adjustments and change our priorities as we have had to do all our lives. The problem for others is that when the conditions of our physical world are all that they know, they can easily be manipulated by their fears, engage in panic buying and selling of their investments, put their financial assets under the mattress, or hoard commodities as though preparing for a total melt down and collapse of our economy. They do not know how to live without remaining under a cloud of doom that follows them everywhere.
Since Jesus was really talking about people and not grain, he knew that people could change. Jesus’ mission was to teach people how to change what they think. His message was one of teaching people how to broaden their vision above and beyond the problems that held them prisoner.
Our perception of what is happening around us and to us can warp our values, corrupt our character and destroy our vision. We do these things to ourselves by the way we perceive and think. Most people will never accept the fact that they are doing this to themselves but it is true nevertheless. The way we interpret life’s circumstances can cause us to become weeds or wheat.
A young boy was born in Harlem, New York. His parents were poor immigrants from Jamaica who worked in the garment district. His mother was a seamstress and his dad was a shipping clerk. The pair was not earning enough money for the family to survive so their son and his sister entered the job market as soon as they were old enough.
When it came time to go to college, the young man went to City College in New York for $10 a year. He became a full-time student while also working a 40-hour week at a bottling factory that paid 90-cents an hour. He wanted to work on the bottling machines but was told that blacks were not eligible for those positions, so he mopped floors. He became well known among the employees because his floors glistened with a luster superior to all others in the building.
His employers liked his attitude and they promoted him. He was the first black man to be assigned to work on the machines. The pay, however, was not equal to whites who did the same job. It never dawned on him to complain. He was grateful for the privilege of being able to work on the machines and to learn how to be an excellent mechanic.
Since he started working, he was given jobs that no one else wanted to do. However, every job was always completed with great pride and dignity as though it was the most important task in the world. His role model for perfection was Jacob’s son, Joseph, after he had been sold as a slave to Potifer, the Egyptian. Joseph had taught him how to hold on to who he was while letting go of any negative attitudes about his circumstances.
To make a fascinating story short, after distinguishing himself as an officer in the United States Army, he was called by President Ronald Reagan in 1987 to become his National Security Advisor. Two years later, President George Bush called him and said, “I have a new position for you. You are the kind of person this country needs. General Powell, I want you to be the next Chairman of our Joint Chiefs of Staff.”
So much about the quality of our lives depends on where we take our cues for who we are. Colin Powell was one of those seeds in the farmer’s field. Was he going to be wheat or just another weed? He never took his cues from his circumstances for what and who he wanted to be. He polished his stone every day regardless of what his world reflected back to him. Jesus was teaching that this is what living in the Kingdom looks like. Young Colin Powell could hold on to his identity while letting go of interpreting and personalizing his life’s circumstances.
It does not take much for our environment to gain control over our zones of routine comfort. For example, a couple who attended our church on Capitol Hill used to discuss the worship experience on their way home, particularly the sermon I had delivered. One would take a point that I had made while the other took a counter-point of why what I had said could not always be applied to everyone.
As they were driving home one of their front tires had picked up a nail and had gone flat. They were not too enthusiastic about changing a tire in their Sunday clothes, but they did it. Their attitudes dropped considerably when they realized that they had neglected to check their spare tire pressure during routine maintenance. The spare was also flat. Remember, this episode took place in a day when there were no cell phones or On Star. As far as any spiritual nurturing that took place during their worship experience earlier, well, it had vanished into the ether. How would we do under similar circumstances?
Each time we have one of life’s many lessons surface in our midst, it often comes packaged in a situation over which we have little or no control. Such moments provide our best opportunities to be wheat. The bumps in our road are moments when we can polish our stones. They invite us to use some of our more dormant skills that are waiting within us to be used. All we can do is control the spirit in which we extend ourselves during those times.
It was a hot August day when I was driving on the beltway in my VW Bug, one of the cars I brought to St. Matthew’s when the bishop appointed me to come here. Suddenly, I began to lose power and I managed to get off on the shoulder. My first thought was, “I’m dead. No one ever stops to help drivers on the beltway, not when they are traveling at break neck speeds planning their next lane change.”
I managed to chase that thought from my mind and decided to get out and see if I could diagnose the problem. As soon as I popped the hood in the back I discovered that my fan belt had shredded. I had a spare belt. I struggled to get the belt over the pulley that drives the engine and found the task impossible. I thought, “What am I going to do?” I was standing there in a white shirt and tie having just left Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park.
Suddenly a car pulled in behind me and stopped. To my surprise a woman got out and walked towards me. She was dressed like she had just come from a corporate executives’ meeting. I thought, “What can she tell me?” She told me that she used to own a VW Bug and that her dad had taught her how to fix them. After noticing that the problem was my fan belt, she instructed me step by step on how to change my fan belt. Everything she told me worked. The pulley split in half. I put the fan belt on, tightened the nut that drew the pulley back together again and I was ready to go.
As I turned to thank her, she had already gotten back into her car and was ready to re-enter the rat race of 495. I mouthed, “Thank you!” as she drove past me in her air-conditioned BMW. I had just met a stalk of wheat, one of those angels in the flesh who helped a brother in distress.
When we think we have seen the worst that can possibly happen, something new will confront us putting our spirits on trial again. Only by remembering who we are can we teach others who they are. We must remember to hold on to this understanding, this orientation toward life, this way of expressing our spirits while letting go of judging our circumstances and others. God will do the rest. What God does not do, God has already equipped us to do. If nothing works, help will come. We have to be prepared to receive.
We give off a very different vibration when we are angry at being inconvenienced, visibly disappointed, anxious, frustrated and disgusted. Remember, those are the symptoms of the weeds who have allowed their circumstances to define them. Those who know they are angels in the flesh can become the Chair of the Joint Chiefs, or stop to help a stranded motorist.
Our question is: are we weeds or wheat? When we know about our potential that will unfold when we choose to live in God’s Kingdom every day, the choice is obvious. Our task is to remember how to respond when our next adventure enters the stage as just another episode in our spiritual evolution. When we remember that, miracles will happen all around us.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Eternal God, we thank you for the refining and defining aspects of life. We have learned that habits are nothing more than our making the same choices over and over again. We have discovered that attitudes, values and the established patterns for understanding our faith have developed by repetition as well. We are thankful that Jesus taught us how to change the way we think. He invited us to live in Heaven now. Help us to be persuaded to seek peace over remaining frustrated, over our need to be right and over our need for people to meet our expectations of them. The world is filled with people whose beliefs, values and loyalties lie in a different universe from our own. In spite of their presence, grant us peace as we remain faithful disciples of Jesus, the Christ. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Loving God, as our faith continues to be refined within each day’s events, we thank you for constantly being in relationship with us. We are not completely sure what it means to be created in your image, but we trust that you have given us the ability to walk with you through the fog generated by our responses to so many distractions within our world.
We do experience peace when we authentically allow our cares and concerns to dissolve in the sands of your unconditional love. Equally, we experience the instant judgment the moment we choose to swim against the currents of life, when we place our faith in worrying, as though fretting will deliver for us the outcome we would prefer, or when we use the threat of withholding our love as leverage for motivating others to conform to our wishes. There are moments when we forget who you created us to be and what living in your Kingdom looks like.
Guide and teach us, O God, to let go of the words and actions of others that have hurt us because we personalized them. We forgot that others have the right to be who they are just as it is our right to be who we are. Clearly there are differences. Perhaps as we become more like you in never being offended by human frailties, we will learn better what it means to be created in your image. May we remember that Jesus’ invited us to be among people who are not like us so they might experience what we have found from being disciples of Jesus Christ, in whose spirit we now pray . . .