By Pastor Steven Molin
Dear friends in Christ, grace, mercy and peace, from God our Father, and His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Several years ago, a mother and her young son were driving to our worship service and the little guy asked his mom who created God. “If God created the earth, and me, and Adam and Eve…well, who created God?” I loved her answer: “When we get to church, you can ask Pastor Steve!”
So just before the 9:30 service, I have this kindergartner sitting in my office and we’re engaged in a theological conversation. I told Nathan that nobody created God; that God has always existed, and he will exist forever.” “But who made God?” “Nobody made God; he always was.” “But before that, who made him? Somebody had to do it.” I had to get to worship but Nathan was unwilling to settle for my answer, so I finally said “You know what Nate; I don’t know. I don’t know who made God.” And as he got up, he turned and said “Yeah, my mom said you probably wouldn’t know anything.” And he walked out!
Several years ago, a pastor by the name of Frank Harrington of Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta Georgia posed that assignment to a number of young children in the Second Grade Sunday School Class, and these are the responses he received:
• Dear God, is it true that my father won’t get to heaven if he uses his bowling words in the house?
• Dear God, did you mean for the giraffe to look like that, or was it an accident?
• Dear God, I read the bible. What does “begat” mean? Nobody will tell me.
• Dear God, I went to a wedding and they kissed right in church. Is that okay?
• Dear God, thank you for the baby brother, but what I asked for was a puppy.
Questions! They’re easy to ask but sometimes hard to answer, and once in awhile, the only one able to answer our questions is God. And that’s what this sermon is all about today.
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As I was being considered to be called as your pastor six years ago now, a woman asked me a question through a member of the call committee, and the question was this: “Who will be saved…and from what.” The way it was asked, it seemed like she already knew the answer. It was a test to see if I agreed with her. I think I failed the test because I couldn’t say for sure.
The gospel lesson today is really about who is being saved, and from what. Jesus was standing before crowds of people, trying to explain what the Kingdom of God would be like, and as he often did, he used parables in describing the Kingdom. “The Kingdom of God is like a man who had two sons…” or “The kingdom of God is like the farmer who had 100 sheep and lost one…” Or “The kingdom of God is like the man who was going from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves…”
Understand the parable, Jesus said, and you will understand what heaven will be like.
But today, Jesus is prompted to tell a story about judgment. Perhaps people were being harshly critical of those who were not religious enough or righteous enough or perfect enough to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Something prompted Jesus to say to that crowd “The kingdom of God is like a farmer who planted wheat. After a time, weeds began to appear among the wheat. And the slaves offered to go out and pull the weeds but the farmer said ‘no.’ At harvest time, when the plants are mature, when its easy to tell the wheat from the weeds, then they will be separated. But not until then.”
In that simple story, Jesus told the disciples two things; first, that in the Kingdom of Heaven, people should not be judging one another. And secondly, in the kingdom of Heaven, God’s fair and just judgment will come about in the end.
You and I live in a world where judgment and criticism are a way of life. A day never passes when we do not make a negative comment about something someone else has done. We criticize people for the way the dress, for the way we talk, and for the things they do.
I can remember watching the summer Olympics from Athens and becoming irritated by the commentators of women’s platform diving. Nothing was ever good enough! On each dive something was wrong; the toes weren’t pointed, or the back wasn’t arched, or the splash was too big. Imagine if I were the diver! Even dives that scored a perfect 10 from the judges were criticized by the broadcaster. Now, in reality, that was her job; to dissect each performance and describe the flaws that she saw. But the sad reality is that we dissect peoples’ lives on a daily basis, and we tell anyone who will listen, about the flaws we have seen. And sadly, this is also more prevalent in the Church than we care to admit.
The woman who sent her question through the call committee wanted me to do that. She wanted me to decide who were the weeds and who were the wheat of this world. Probably the next step was to strategize what we’re going to do with all these weeds. We can’t let them stay here…in the church, so perhaps it was time to weed the garden. Pull out the undesirable weeds…pull out the divorced weeds…pull out the alcoholic weeds…pull out the overweight weeds and the homosexual weeds and the unLutheran weeds. If we just figure out who the weeds are and get rid of them, then we’ll have the perfect church.
Several years ago, there was a wonderful film entitled “A River Runs Through It,” and while I remember little about the story, I recall one line from that film word for word. The narrator was quoting his father when he said “I only know two things for certain in this life. First, there is a God, and second, I’m not him.” That’s why it is so unfair of us to make judgments about peoples’ lives. We’re not God. We don’t know the baggage they carry. We don’t know the scars upon their hearts. All we know is what we see on the outside, and according to the gardener in the parable, that’s not enough information to start pulling weeds.
Could it be that even in the weeds – even in the weediest people we know – could it be that God has sown some wheat? Could it also be true that, in time, God will carry out his weeding process in their lives, so that good wheat will begin to grow where only weeds were once visible?
I recall the tiny blue and white button that people were wearing in the 70’s that said PBPGIFWMY. I tried to read the word and it made no sense to me, and then I found out that was an acronym for “PLEASE BE PATIENT; GOD ISN’T FINISHED WITH ME YET.” You know that’s true. Because you know, like I know, that even in our own lives there are more weeds than we care to admit. Our secret weeds of which we are ashamed and embarrassed. Oh, we keep those weeds well-hidden so that no one will see us and judge us, but we know that they are there, and so does God.
People, all of life is a process where God, by his amazing grace, thins out the weeds and makes us wheat once again. He never gives up on us…ever! God would never say “Oh, that garden has gone to the weeds, so I think I will just ignore it and let it die.” I am so thankful that when I was a 15 year old rebel, God didn’t go “WEED!” and pluck me out. But rather, he gave me time, and nurture, and surrounded me with people of grace. And that’s the point of this parable; that neither should we give up on one another.
Loving the sinner and hating the sin means being tolerant of those who are different from us. Loving the sinner and hating the sin means calling people into accountability for their actions, but always being willing to forgive. It means affirming the good in people, instead of always looking for the bad…and of all places, this ought to be true in the church because it is so seldom true in the world.
It occurs to me that the Kingdom of God – here on earth – is actually comprised of people who have known the enormous grace of God from experience. That’s why we’re here! It’s people like us, who are deeply aware of our sin, and equally aware of the God who has chosen to forgive those sins. We ought to be people of grace, willing also to forgive one another. I know it’s not always easy to forgive. I know it’s not always simple. But I also know that it is exactly what Jesus has called us to do. To be gracious forgivers, because he has been gracious to us.
I’ve been thinking about that woman who asked me that question, and the little boy who asked me his question; they weren’t inappropriate questions, they just asked the wrong person. God knows the answer, and someday, so will we. But until then, we are not so much people who know answers, but people who know grace. Thanks be to God. Amen.
— Copyright 2005, Steven Molin. Used by permission.