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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Sinner/Saint Intern.


Gospel: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 - Parable of the Wheat and Tares.

As a teenager in Jamaica I volunteered with a school outreach program that visited a government run home for the elderly.

We traveled to the golden age home piled into an archaic mustard-brown VW van. A very elderly nun went with us. With whatever few dollars she had we would stop en route to buy a few biscuits and bananas. Nothing fancy.

Then we visited. We went from room to room, from bed to bed, offering a biscuit or two, giving hugs, sometimes clipping finger nails or toenails or feeding those who needed help – we did little things like that to help out. We talked, prayed and sometimes we sang together. We built friendships. Residents got to know us, and would check up on us about exams and the things of our lives. That was our ministry.

Through these friendships we learnt about the things the residents experienced. Through these friendships I learnt that cockroaches could bite hard enough to draw blood, that mice and rats would bite living people. From these visits we learnt first-hand about people who would break in, stealing from,  assaulting and abusing the helpless people who lived there.

I never ever felt like what we did was enough. we could not fix things. I asked:
- what kind of a God allows this kind of pitiful existence?
- What kind of a loving God allowed their lives to be like this?
- What was the point of us going if we could not fix things and make things better?

I was reminded that we go to share companionship and love. We did not go to “fix” – we went to walk alongside, we went to be in relationship with each other.
It was disturbing to keep visiting, but we did.
With our biscuits in our old VW van, we kept at it.
Injustice continued.
Friendships deepened.
Love grew.

Today’s gospel reading reminded me of this experience in my life. Jesus tells a parable about good seed and weeds. An enemy sows the seed of weeds in amongst the good seed. They grow up together. The slaves of the master who owns the lands offer to go and “fix” the problem, to “uproot” the weeds. But the master says “let both of them grow together until the harvest.”

Jesus explains the parable saying the good seed are the children of the kingdom – sown in the world. The weeds are the children of the evil one sown by the devil. The harvest is the end of the age. The good seed and the weeds are to grow together until the harvest time when the angels will do a grand sorting out by fire.

This is a very juicy parable:
-      it identifies the children of the kingdom
-      It includes the devil, and talks about evil.
-      it instructs us to accept that we grow together: good and evil until harvest time – until the end of the age.
-      It talks about hellfire; of weeping and gnashing of teeth
-      It instructs us to accept that we grow together until harvest time – until the end of the age.

In other places in the gospels Jesus gives the disciples gifts of healing and instructs them to go out and fix, heal, repair. But today’s gospel instructs us:
-      to accept,
-      to grow together;
-      evil and righteousness … growing together until the end of the age.

Within ourselves, certainly within my own self, reside both weeds and wheat.
Martin Luther identified that we are, at the same time, sinners and saints.
Simul iustus et peccator.
At the same time that we are justified into righteousness by Jesus,
we are also sinners.
If you think of us as coins: one side is wheat, one side is weed. Good and bad is in each of us.

Likewise in the world:
good and bad,
righteousness and evil abide together.
We are invited and called to work towards righteousness in the world – and wherever we can we do well to try.
But we cannot always fix. We are not always supposed to fix.

When we are unable to fix,
perhaps especially when we are not sure of whether to fix,                or how to fix,
we are in today’s gospel also invited to accept that we grow together in one field: weed and wheat together.

In one body, in one person: sinner and saint together.

In a way it is the ultimate mark of relationship – to accept the good and the bad together and grow alongside. To accept this about our relationship to and with ourselves, to accept this about our relationship with others is the stamp of God’s own grace upon us.

Which of us can find everything in ourselves good?
Which of us can find everything in the other good?
Which of us can find everything in ourselves bad?
Which of us can find everything in the other bad?

Accepting the sinner/saint reality of being human can make us feel like there is no point in trying to make things better. But on the other hand, it frees us completely to enter with courage and faith into accepting and loving relationships without being all caught up in the outcomes. What a freeing gift of love.

And this is how Jesus loved us:
he entered completely into our human reality and frailty
he entered with courage and faith,
he came to us, accepting us and loving us
he joined us without depending on us for a good outcome.
In fact knowing the outcome would be the cross.

Today I am six Sundays away from the end of my internship. When I started internship I had some ideas that I would be some kind of pilot project in how to fix the Lutheran relationship with First Nations neighbours.
I knew that our indigenous brothers and sisters had experienced a cruel history at the hands of Christianity. And I had hoped to be a person who could come along and make it better – pull out the weeds of bad theology, destroy the bad seed of prejudice, stamp out the seedlings of judgment and cultural differences. I came hoping to fix. I had hoped to be a bridge builder and a way-maker. No messiah complex here J I’m just being honest with you. I thought this internship was going to be about fixing things that had gone wrong.

The Holy Spirit has been a wonderful companion, a wise counselor and an advocate indeed over these months of internship. With the Holy Spirit, I encounter time and time again my own bad theology, my own prejudices, my own judgment and my own palette of cultural differences. I encounter my own desire or need to fix, when Jesus has told me to grow alongside – to trust in God to do the fixing.

If nothing else, I have certainly learnt about myself as sinner and saint. I am weed. I am wheat. We are weeds. We are wheat. We are sinner and saint together, called not always to fix, but invited always to grow together in love, mercy and right relationship under the graceful watch of the author of it all.

Let us grow together in love. Amen.

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