The Wheat and the Tares - St Bride's: Reflection

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St Bride's: Sermons

The Wheat and the Tares

Christianity is not an optimistic religion.

You might think that statement says rather more about me than about the faith but I'd like to suggest otherwise. 

It was Jane Williams, theologian and writer, whom I heard make this observation recently.  We proclaim Emmanuel, God with us.  Our creator stooped to share this human existence, its joys and tribulations; and we executed him. 

I emphasise 'we' executed him.  It was not some 'other' group, whom we can pin this on, be that 'the Jews' or any other community that we might want to scapegoat, although God knows we keep trying. 

Christ stands in solidarity with those that suffer but he also bears the cost of our falling short.  Thankfully the worst that we can do is not the end of the story.  Christianity is profoundly hopeful since we trust that God will bring life out of death.

The Christian life provides assurance of our forgiveness and that frees us to appreciate and to acknowledge the depth of our debt and to extend compassion to others. 

Our Gospel reading this morning makes a clear division between people.  The parable of the wheat and the tares as it is traditionally known draws a distinction between the children of the kingdom and the children of the evil one.

Jesus explained the meaning to the disciples: The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil.

In last week's Gospel we heard the parable of the sower and Alison reflected on the call to make our hearts, and our lives, good soil in which the word of God can bear fruit.

Today's Gospel employs similar motifs but emphasises that forces are at work in this world that are contrary to God's purposes.  It prompts us to consider where this might be the case and to examine our own lives, whether we might be intentional or unwitting accomplices.

As we ask that question we are led to the recognition that we ourselves are not righteous, but Christ is.  The free gift of salvation is open to all but the acceptance of that gift and of its transforming power in our lives is crucial.

The satirical prayer of the Reverend Eli Jenkins in Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood might be  surprising insightful here:

We are not wholly bad or good,
who live our lives under Milk Wood,
By thou I know wilt be the first,
to see our best side and not our worst.

We are not children of the kingdom because we are wholly good whilst others in our world are wholly bad, rather we are children of the kingdom because we do not choose to blind or bind ourselves to our failings but rather accept that our lives are in need of healing and transformation.  We have no rights, no entitlements or achievements to assert.  All that we have is a gift from God.  We belong to Christ and he chooses to see our best side.

Our reading from the Hebrew scriptures told of Jacob's dream at Bethel, of a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.  It is an image that has long inspired reflection on the nature of the spiritual path and in particular, recognition that it is in humility that we ascend to God.

The Christian path does not infer on us an optimal life.  In the light of Christ's life we recognise our own darkness but our hope in God's victory brings joy.

As Sister Mary David, a Benedictine nun, puts it - Christian joy seems to flourish and grow upon what might seem the least favourable soil.  She reminds us that Jesus speaks of true joy being like the joy of a woman whose travail has passed and whose child has come.

It is not a question of loving suffering for itself, but of seeing the acceptance and overcoming of it and even the choice of it, as proof of love. 

As Rowan Williams reminds us - the test of a genuine faith, as opposed to bad religion, is whether it stops you ignoring things. The test of faith is how much it lets you see and how much it stops you denying, resisting or ignoring aspects of what is real. 

Whilst we have seen an easing of restrictions imposed in response to the Corona virus pandemic in recent weeks, we recognise that there is more suffering to come and stark injustices are apparent in our world.  As these flames rage around us we may take courage because we stand on scorched earth, we know the victory that Christ has already won. We see what is wrong in our world but our hearts are filled with hope.  Our epistle this morning makes the point very well - I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.

Those words carry a particular significance for me because my father would say them in moments of distress.  I have come to recognise over time how significant my father's influence was in my formation in the faith when for many years I'd thought otherwise.  My father would share the consolation that he had experienced during the darkest days of his life.  I, like many in our age, found that I needed rather more conceptual defence of the faith than that but as I have gained more experience of life's trials I have come to appreciate the strength of his faith.

Christianity may not be an optimistic religion, but it is certainly joyful, and hope filled, one that strengthens us to face and to tackle suffering. 

So in the words of St Paul:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit.


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