The Kingdom of Heaven Is Like…

Gospel Reading

By the Rev. Darren Miner

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus uses a rather disconcerting parable to try to explain the inexplicable, namely, the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven. I call this parable disconcerting, because the main character, the landowner, doesn’t act rationally. Any rational landowner would pay his workers according to the hours they had worked. But this guy does something quite different. He pays everyone a full day’s wages, even if they had worked only one hour. Why would he do that?

Well, consider the fact that the workers in question are day laborers. They typically earn one denarius a day, barely enough to feed their family for one day. So if they don’t get hired for a full day’s wages, their family goes without food. The landowner’s payment scheme in Jesus’ parable isn’t rational. But it is merciful. The landowner knows what’s at stake for these day laborers, and he makes sure that their families will all eat, no matter how few hours the laborers had worked.

Even so, the landowner’s actions are not “fair and equitable.” Presumably, the early workers could have been given a bonus. And if they had, we would have no complaint with this parable. But there is no bonus!

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We are left with questions. What are we meant to learn from this parable? And how are we meant to go about interpreting it? Well, as is often the case with the Bible, the answers to these two questions vary widely. That being said, most interpreters understand this parable to be an allegory of some sort.

Some Church Fathers understood the parable to be an allegory about the salvation of the Gentiles. In this interpretation, the Jews are the workers who were hired first, while the Gentiles are the workers hired later. And they all get the same reward: salvation. The problem with this interpretation is that, when Jesus told the parable, there were no Gentile disciples.

Others have interpreted this parable in a more individualistic manner. The first-hired workers are people who have been faithful servants of God all their lives, while those hired later represent people who converted later in life. This makes a bit more sense. But it has its problems, since it encourages folks to defer the burdens of Christian discipleship as long as possible, in the knowledge that, in the end, the reward will be the same.

Moreover, this interpretation is contradicted by other teachings of Jesus. Elsewhere, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus encourages his disciples to pray, fast, and give alms, so as to store up treasure in heaven. The implication is that good works do count for something in the afterlife, even if the Kingdom is not a strict meritocracy.

The problem with these allegorical interpretations, I think, is that they push the parable past its intended limits. Perhaps it is better to abandon the search for an allegorical interpretation that ties the whole parable together neatly and instead to be satisfied with learning a few disparate lessons.

I think it safe to assume that the landowner in the parable represents God; after all, Jesus says that this parable is a teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven. If that one assumption is correct, we learn several important facts about the divine nature. We learn that God is a free agent, unencumbered by our limited human standards of fairness and equity. We learn that God is merciful and generous, giving to those who quite frankly do not merit his generosity. And most importantly, we learn that God is responsive to the needs of the disadvantaged.

But, if you ask me, Jesus also means for us to learn something about ourselves. That’s why, in this parable, the landowner does not give a bonus to the early workers. This so-called “unfair” and “unjust” behavior on the part of the landowner is meant to get our attention and to make us question our own attitudes. The landowner responds to the grumbling of the disappointed laborers by accusing them of envy. The charge, of course, is really aimed at Jesus’ audience—in other words, at us! The point of that one disconcerting element of the parable is to make us aware of our own tendency to feel envy, to covet the blessings of others.

Jesus ends his teaching with a saying: “The last will be first, and the first will be last.” Well, with all due respect to Jesus, I think there is another saying that works much better as a finale to today’s parable (and as a finale to this sermon): “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need” (song lyric by the Rolling Stones).

Amen.

© 2020 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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You Need to Forgive

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

Last week, the Gospel reading dealt with the discipline of troublemakers who sin against other members of the church. Today’s Gospel reading deals with forgiving those same troublemakers.

It starts out with Peter asking Jesus a question: How often do I have to forgive a fellow disciple who keeps on sinning against me? What a telling question! It tells me that things haven’t changed much in 2000 years.

If you have ever served on a parish committee or volunteered for a church fundraiser, you know what kind of little sins can happen. One person seems a little too bossy. Another person seems a little too temperamental. Yet another just won’t stop talking. And the next thing you know, tempers flare! And if left unchecked, such little flare-ups can grow into large wildfires.

Jesus’ answer to this problem is quite simple: forgiveness. Now, Peter imagines that he should forgive someone no more than seven times. That seems like a reasonable limit to him. But Jesus responds that we should forgive one another seventy-seven times. In other words, forgiveness has nothing to do at all with being reasonable.

Figuring that Peter won’t understand this teaching, Jesus tries to explain it with a parable about a rich king and his slaves. The king forgives a huge debt to a slave who cannot possibly repay what he owes. By rights, the king could sell the slave and all his family in order to recoup a tiny portion of the debt. But when the slave pleads for mercy, the king shows compassion and forgives the entire debt.

Now, you have to realize just how large that debt was. Ten thousand talents is almost eight billion dollars! Unfortunately, the slave whose huge debt was erased does not himself learn forgiveness. He accosts a fellow slave who owes him around thirteen thousand dollars and demands payment in full. When he doesn’t get it, he has that slave imprisoned!

When the king gets wind of the first slave’s behavior, he reinstates the entire eight billion dollar debt. And he sentences the unforgiving slave to be tortured until such time as he can pay back the entire amount.

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Just in case Peter still doesn’t understand, Jesus comes right out and tells him the moral of the story: “So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” In other words, God has forgiven you a huge debt that you could not possibly have paid off. But there is one condition: you have to forgive others their debts to you.

That ought to shake us up a bit. We tend to act like God’s forgiveness is both unconditional and free of charge. But evidently, that is just not the case. We are supposed to “pay it forward,” as the saying goes. God forgives us our sins when we cannot possibly pay the price, but then we are expected to follow up by forgiving others their sins against us.

Now, people are sometimes confused about exactly what forgiveness is. But first, let me say what forgiveness is not. It is not forgetting. It is not denial. It is not even reconciliation. Forgiveness is fully acknowledging that someone has wronged you and rightly deserves punitive consequences, but then excusing them from those consequences.

Now, the main reason we should forgive is because it is God’s will for us. But there is another good reason. If we hold onto our grievances, it changes us over time. It makes us bitter, resentful, and angry—so bitter, resentful, and angry that we are walled off from God’s grace. So, you see, we don’t forgive because the people who wronged us deserve forgiveness. More often than not, they don’t! We do it for God, and we do it for ourselves.

Now, I sometimes wish that the Gospels included a complete course on how to forgive in ten easy steps. But they don’t. So here are three not-so-easy steps that I have come up with to get you started:

1)    Refrain from replaying the incident in your mind. That only keeps the hurt fresh.

2)    As best you can, practice forgiveness toward the offending party, even if you don’t feel much forgiveness in your heart. (Practice makes perfect, after all.) And

3)    Pray! Pray for yourself, and pray for the person who wronged you. Such prayer, if sincere, can be life-changing.

Amen.

© 2020 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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September Incarnation Radio Hour

Please join us for our next monthly radio hour on Wednesday September 9 at 4 p.m. The program will feature two plays – “Remember Caesar” by Gordon Daviot and “Yesterday” by Colin Campbell Clements.

Date & Time: Zoom call on Wednesday September 9, 4 p.m. Pacific Daylight

For details on the zoom call, please e-mail comebefed@aol.com

Josephine Tey, pseudonym of Elizabeth Mackintosh, (born 1897, Inverness, Inverness-shire, Scot.—died Feb. 13, 1952, London, Eng.), Scottish playwright and author of popular detective novels praised for their warm and readable style. A physical education teacher for eight years, Tey became a full-time writer with the successful publication of her first book, The Man in the Queue (1929). She wrote some novels and the majority of her plays under the pseudonym Gordon Daviot. Among the plays is Richard of Bordeaux (produced 1933), a stage success in London and New York. (Source: britannica.com)

Colin Campbell Clements: Playwright and Broadway Actor known for his Broadway play “Harriet” which starred actress Helen Hayes as Harriet Beecher Stowe, Clements was born and educated in Omaha, Nebraska.  Many of his stories and plays were co-written with his wife, Florence Ryerson.  Clements and Ryerson would periodically mail copies of his plays to South High School in Omaha asking the school to produce one of his plays. (Source: nebraskaauthors.org)

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The Confession of Saint Peter

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

The Gospel reading today has a name. It’s called the Confession of Saint Peter—not because he confesses his sins, but because he confesses his faith in Jesus Christ.

The account starts with Jesus asking all of the disciples to tell him who folks think he is. The answers are various, but wrong. He then asks them who they think he is. Only Peter is brave enough (or rash enough) to respond. So, we will never know what the others were thinking.

Saint Peter’s answer is right, as far as it goes: Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. The problem is that Peter’s understanding of the Messiah is flawed. Just a little later in this Gospel, Jesus rebukes Peter for trying to steer him away from his destiny. I have the impression that Peter, like most Jews, expected a Messiah who was a mighty warrior and a conquering king. But as it turns out, that’s not the kind of Messiah that God had sent to save the world.

Even though Peter’s answer was only half right, Jesus blesses him and praises his faith. The interesting thing is that Jesus does this by means of a pun, “the lowest form of humor”! You see, “Peter” is Simon bar Jonah’s nickname. It corresponds to the English nickname “Rocky.” In other words, Jesus is saying, “Your name is Rocky, and on this rock I will build my church.” Now, it may be a pun, but it is still a sincere declaration of Jesus’ intention that Peter be a unifying leader among the disciples after Jesus’ death.

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Jesus goes on to promise that the gates of Hades will not prevail against the Church. Here, “Hades” does not refer to Hell, but to the domain of death. Jesus is not saying here that the Church will prevail against Satan (although he does say this elsewhere), he is simply promising that the Church will never die.

Jesus finishes his proclamation by promising Peter the keys of the Kingdom and the ability to bind and to loose. These words have a technical meaning in Judaism; they refer to the power to teach authoritatively and to oversee the discipline of a community. Later in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus gives this same authority to the rest of the disciples. And a generation later, the Church would claim the authority to teach and to discipline for the bishops who took over after all the original disciples had died.

I would like to distill just two points from today’s Gospel account. The first is about the true identity of Jesus. One purpose of the story of the Confession of Saint Peter is to reinforce the point that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of the living God. But as we find out at the end of the Gospel, he is not the kind of Messiah that most Jews expected. He isn’t even the kind of Messiah that his own disciples expected. In the eyes of the world, Jesus was a loser. He quite literally lost his life, and he did so in a particularly humiliating and painful way—death on a cross. But for those who are able to see with the eyes of faith, Jesus was the ultimate winner. For by his sacrifice on the cross, he conquered sin and death and opened the way to eternal life to folks like us.

The second and final point that I would like to make today is this: the Church will survive! I cannot guarantee that this parish will survive—although I hope and pray that it will live on for many centuries! I cannot guarantee that the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Communion will survive unto the end of the ages. But I can guarantee that the Universal Church, the Body of Christ on earth, will survive to the very end of all things. I can guarantee this, because Jesus promised it. And right now, with our little outpost of the Universal Church locked up tight, Jesus’ solemn promise gives me some measure of hope and comfort. I pray that it gives you hope and comfort as well! Amen.

© 2020 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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Nevertheless, She Persisted

Gospel Reading

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Today, in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, our nation is in a state of racial unrest. And it was not too long ago that the “Me Too” movement was in the news, protesting the shabby treatment of women. Given current sensitivities, today’s story about Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman is particularly problematic. Even so, we need to hear it and to wrestle with it. After all, Saint Matthew included it in his Gospel for a reason.

The incident begins with Jesus heading off to Gentile territory for some well-deserved rest at the seaside; there he is confronted by a woman with a sick daughter. The woman is identified as a Canaanite. In other words, she is not only a pagan, but the descendant of Israel’s ancestral enemies.

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Despite that historical enmity, and despite cultural norms that forbade a woman from addressing a strange man, this desperate woman seeks out the help of this foreign healer, begging him to help her sick daughter. But Jesus’ initial response is stony silence.

Nevertheless, she persists. And her persistence is such an annoyance that the disciples ask Jesus to send her packing. He tries to convince her to give up and leave, by explaining that his healing mission is reserved for the children of Israel.

Nevertheless, she persists. She prostrates herself at Jesus’ feet, crying, “Lord, help me!” Seemingly unmoved, Jesus responds, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” The upshot of Jesus’ graphic metaphor is that his ministry (and God’s grace) are not intended for Gentile dogs, not even the “little dog” who happens to be this woman’s sick daughter!

Now, I don’t have to tell you how harsh Jesus’ words sound to us today. Well, it sounded even worse then. In biblical times, the term “dog” was an epithet reserved for those who were dirty, nasty, and disgusting.

Nevertheless, she persists. The Canaanite woman turns Jesus’ epithet on its head, arguing that even dogs eat the bread crumbs that fall from their owners’ table. In other words, she and her daughter would settle for even a scrap of God’s grace. With a wit fueled by desperation, this woman turns Jesus’ own words back on him, and Jesus stands defeated. Admitting his defeat, Jesus praises the woman’s faith in God (or perhaps her faithfulness to her daughter—the Greek is ambiguous). He declares the sick girl healed, and it was so.

Now, what are we to make of this difficult story? Well, first, let me be clear—I think that Jesus was in the wrong, at least at first! He may not have been guilty of the sins of racism or sexism, but, as one biblical scholar put it, “Jesus is caught with his compassion down.” One wonders then why Saint Matthew preserved this story. It was, after all, an embarrassment to the early Church (not only because Jesus’ behavior toward the woman was harsh, but because Jesus was bested by a mere woman!)

Well, this embarrassing story was preserved, I think, because it marks a critical turning point in the ministry of Jesus and in the history of salvation. Jesus starts out with the perspective that his ministry should be limited to God’s chosen people, the Jews, but he is forced into a new realization by his confrontation with the Canaanite woman. Jesus starts out with the perspective that God’s grace is somehow limited, as if there were only enough to minister to the children of Israel, but he is forced into the realization that there is enough grace to minister to everyone in need.

And from this point on, Jesus continues to perform healings as he travels throughout Gentile lands. As a result, these pagan Gentiles are said to have glorified the God of Israel. Moreover, by the last chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ attitude toward Gentiles has changed to such an extent, that he orders his followers to make disciples of all the Gentile nations.

Now, just about everyone in this parish is a Gentile. And in large measure, we owe our membership in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church to the actions of a single desperate Canaanite mother who loved her daughter beyond the bounds of propriety. Her faith in the power of the God of Israel and her faithfulness to her daughter sparked the opening up of Jesus’ ministry, so that Gentiles like us might be welcomed into the household of God. So, let us give our heartfelt thanks to that nameless woman who persisted.

© 2020 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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The Lord Will Come to Us

Bible Readings

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Today, we get two epiphany stories, two stories of God revealing himself, first to the prophet Elijah and then to a boatload of Jesus’ disciples some 900 years later.

Let me start out by setting the scene for the epiphany to Elijah. Elijah was self-isolating in a cave on Mount Horeb—not because of a pandemic—but because he was under a death sentence by Queen Jezebel for lynching her priests.

There, in that cave, Elijah hears the voice of the Lord asking him why his prophet is hiding in a cave. Elijah complains that he is the last faithful Israelite left in the land and is now under a sentence of death. He has had enough. The Lord then instructs Elijah to go out onto the holy mountain and await his appearance. They need to talk face to face.

Here is where things get really interesting! Instead of instantly obeying, Elijah waits in the cave for a sign. First, there is a great wind. Elijah stays put. Then, there is an earthquake. Elijah stays put. Then, there is a great fire. Elijah stays put. In each case, we are told, the Lord was not to be found in these terrifying phenomena. Last but not least, there is the faintest of whispers, the merest of murmurs. At long last, Elijah leaves the cave to meet with the Lord, rightly discerning that the Lord has finally arrived. And the Lord solves Elijah’s problem by letting him retire from his risky profession.

I don’t think I would have got the timing right, if I had been in Elijah’s shoes. I would have assumed that God was manifesting himself in those rather flashy events: the storm, the earthquake, and the fire. And by the time the silence ensued, I think I might have already turned around and gone back to my cave. But Elijah got it right! He knew how to discern the presence of God in the most unexpected of events. And he had the patience to wait for God to make himself known.

In today’s Gospel reading, we hear about another epiphany: Jesus walking on water. Now that’s a sign of God’s presence that you would think even the most obtuse of disciples could discern. But no! They are all so afraid that they refuse to believe their own eyes. Peter goes so far as to demand a miracle as proof. He asks that Jesus give him the ability to walk on water as well. Peter gets out of the boat—and for a moment he does walk on water! But then fear overwhelms him, and he begins to sink. Only after Peter and Jesus get into the boat, only after the other disciples can reach out and touch Jesus, do they recognize him, both as their beloved master and as the Son of God!

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Now, I would like to imagine that, if I had been a disciple on that boat, I would not have let fear blind me to the presence of the Divine. But if I’m going to be completely honest, I have to admit that I would have been scared out of my wits! And the last thing on my mind would be trying to discern God’s presence in the moment.

Jumping forward a couple of millennia, here we all are in a terrible pandemic, with over 700,000 people dead worldwide from COVID-19, and like Elijah and Jesus’ disciples, we are afraid. (And understandably so!) And like them, we are looking for some sign that God is truly with us.

Today’s readings remind us of the many ways that God may come to us in our time of need. He may come to us in the silence that follows the storm—if we are patient enough not to turn and walk away. He may come to us in the darkest hour and invite us to walk with him over the stormy waters—if we are not too afraid to take his hand. Or he may come to us even as we cower in the back of the boat, paralyzed by fear, to reassure us with his presence.

One thing is sure: the Lord will come to us, if we but call upon him. In some unexpected way and in his own good time, he will come to us. So, stay calm, be patient, and do your best to recognize him when he comes.

© 2020 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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Incarnation Radio Hour – August 13, 4 p.m. PST

Please join us for our second Incarnation Radio Hour that will be dedicated entirely to music. Featuring Hannah Chu on the piano, performing works by #Mendelssohn, #Debussy, #Grieg, #Gershwin and a selection of favorite #ChineseSongs shared by Joyce Wong.

Please check your e-mail for the zoom connection information. If you would like to join us please send an e-mail to join our e-mail list to comebefed@aol.com.

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Come and Be Fed

Gospel Reading

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Today we heard Matthew’s account of the feeding of the 5000, a story that has particular importance for Incarnation. After all, our parish motto is “Come and be fed in body, mind, and spirit.”

This miracle is perhaps the best attested of Jesus’ miracles, and yet it’s been a stumbling block to some over the years. People can get so stuck on the question of how this miracle could have happened that they forget to ask a much more important question: What does this miracle mean?

And there are layers upon layers of meaning here. This story of a miraculous feeding harkens back to the time of the prophet Elisha. It looks forward to the End Time. And it very much informs our present.

You may remember the story of the prophet Elisha miraculously feeding 100 men on 20 loaves of barley bread. In contrast, Jesus feeds 5000 men on 5 loaves of bread—and that’s not even counting the women and children. If you do the math, you’ll find that Jesus’ miracle is more than 200 times more miraculous! The clear implication is that Jesus is much more than a prophet from the past. (But then you already knew that, didn’t you?)

The feeding of the 5000 also looks forward to a future event, the messianic banquet on the Last Day. Like the Eucharist, the feeding of the 5000 foreshadows that future meal when the faithful will be resurrected from the dead to sup at the table of our Lord.

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But what does the feeding of the 5000 mean for the present? Well, in a word, it serves as the perfect paradigm for Christian discipleship. Let me explain.

After a long day of Jesus’ healing the sick, the disciples urge him to send the crowd away into neighboring villages to fend for themselves. Now, I imagine that the disciples did care about the physical well-being of the crowd, but they despaired of being able to do anything about it themselves. The problem seemed too big.

Instead, Jesus orders the disciples to feed the people. Understandably, the disciples feel a bit put-upon. They complain that they don’t have sufficient resources to succeed. So, why even bother trying? But Jesus has something else in mind. He does not, in fact, intend for the disciples to do it all by themselves.

Jesus goes on to instruct the crowd to sit on the grass and prepare for a meal. He takes the meager offering of food, blesses it, breaks it, and then gives it to the disciples to distribute.

Presumably, Jesus could have performed a miracle without the raw materials provided by the disciples. He could have created food out of thin air. But he didn’t! Instead, he took what was offered by his disciples, and he multiplied it.

Presumably, Jesus could have distributed the bread and fish to the people himself. But he didn’t! Instead, the people are fed by the disciples, who serve as mediators of Jesus’ love and compassion.

How does the story end? With overflowing abundance! Both the hungry crowd and the hungry disciples are fed to their heart’s content—with 12 baskets of food left over.

In this time of pandemic, when our church doors are quite literally chained shut, we too may despair that we have very little to offer this needy world—just a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish, metaphorically speaking. Well, brothers and sisters, today’s Gospel story encourages us not to give up on our mission to feed the world in body, mind and spirit, for we are not in this on our own. It teaches us that no offering is too small for the Lord to use and to multiply. And it reminds us that the Lord intends for us to be his hands in this world.

So, take heart! Give what you can for the Lord’s use. Do what you can to serve his people. And then trust that the Lord will do something wonderful and amazing.

Amen.

© 2020 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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Nothing Can Separate Us from God’s Love

Bible Reading

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Once again, I find myself drawn to the Epistle, instead of the Gospel. Not that I have anything against any of Jesus’ parables! But in this terrible time of pandemic and forced isolation, Saint Paul’s words of comfort and encouragement seem particularly apt.

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He starts out by reminding us that the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness, by which he means our inability to put into words the innermost longings of our heart. And he is right! All too often, we don’t even know what we really want. How often have you thought that you wanted something, or someone, and then realized later that it wasn’t what you really wanted after all? But the Holy Spirit not only knows what our heart wants, he knows what our heart needs. And when we falter in prayer, the Spirit intercedes on our behalf with the Father. Sometimes that prayer of the heart is wordless, consisting of no more than a sigh or a groan. Sometimes it is utterly silent, consisting only of tears streaming down our face. In those moments of utter weakness and vulnerability, the Holy Spirit is with us, offering up prayers to the Father that we cannot express.

I find this quite comforting. For recently, I have experienced times when I found it hard to pray my regular daily prayer. Sometimes, because of sheer inertia. Sometimes, because I was feeling down. Sometimes, because there was so much to pray about that it was daunting to even begin. I suspect that I am not alone in this. Many of us may be feeling overwhelmed by the isolation and loneliness. Some of us may even be beset by depression. And with those terrible feelings, there may come a sense of isolation from God and an inability to pray. Well, no matter what we may feel in those moments of despair, we are not, in fact, cut off from God—not at all!

Saint Paul asks the rhetorical question: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?” The answer to the first question is that no one can separate us from the love of Christ—not even we ourselves! And the answer to the second question is that nothing at all can separate us from the love of Christ, nor from the love of the Father and the Holy Spirit. Saint Paul elaborates on this claim with a sentence that ranks among the greatest expressions of human hope. He writes, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This assurance from Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is often read out at Christian funerals. And it is certainly appropriate to hear this when we are bereft. But I think we all need to hear this assurance right now and to take it to heart. Never doubt that God loves you. Never doubt that God is with you. Never doubt that God can hear the prayers that you are unable to utter.

That being said, it still behooves us to pray as best we can for the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven—for a world where there is no COVID-19, no poverty, no violence, no racism, no hate, no suffering, no death. In a sense, this prayer for the coming of the Kingdom is the mother of all prayers, for from it is born every other worthy prayer that we might pray. Remember this truth when you pray the Lord’s Prayer later in this service. Remember this truth every time you pray the Lord’s Prayer.

© 2020 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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The Parable with a “Hollywood Ending”

Gospel Reading

By the Rev. Darren Miner

This week, we get another agricultural parable about the sowing of seeds: the Parable of the Weeds. Its purpose is to explain why there are so many wicked people in the world, and just as importantly, how we are to cope with the situation.

In the Parable of the Weeds, an enemy deliberately contaminates a wheat field with weed seeds—darnel seeds, to be precise. Now, you need to know that darnel looks a lot like wheat until the ears develop on the stalks, and even then, only an experienced reaper can tell the difference. Knowing this, the farmer refuses to let less-skilled workers weed the field prematurely, lest any wheat be lost along with the weeds.

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Like last week, we have the privilege of listening in as Jesus explains the allegorical meaning of his parable. The farmer represents Jesus himself, and the enemy represents the Devil. The soil represents the world, and the two kinds of seed represent the children of the Kingdom and the children of the Evil One. The reapers are angels, and the harvest is the Day of Judgment.

As Jesus explains, the children of the Evil One crop up everywhere, just like weeds. And what is worse, they often thrive, just like weeds. You can find thoroughly evil and despicable people who are healthy, rich, and powerful. (Conversely, you can find genuinely good and pious people living lives of great suffering.) But, according to today’s parable, there will be justice in the end! On the Day of Judgment, Jesus Christ will send his angels to do a final sorting. The good will be rewarded with eternal life in the Kingdom of God. The evil will be annihilated, just as weeds are rooted up and burned.

There is little nuance in today’s parable! There are no shades of gray, only black and white. In the end, we are told, you either follow Jesus or you follow Satan. We should be careful not to interpret this parable too literally, however. Here, as he often does, Jesus uses hyperbole for rhetorical effect. Elsewhere, Jesus freely acknowledges that there are, in fact, those who dwell in the gray zone, those who are not actually “of the Kingdom,” but then again “are not far off” from it either.

We are left with the question of what to do as we await the Day of Judgment. Well, Jesus’ parable gives us some guidance: it tells us what not to do. We are not to do any premature weeding. In other words, we are not to take it upon ourselves to destroy those whom we deem to be particularly unworthy of life. For we might make a terrible mistake and uproot the wrong plant, mistaking wheat for darnel. So, in the meantime, like it or not, the wheat and the darnel are left to grow and develop side by side, each according to its nature, until it is time for the harvest.

In a way, Jesus’ Parable of the Weeds reminds me of an old-time Hollywood movie. For once upon a time, it was the case that by the end of a movie, the bad guy had been punished, and the good guy rewarded. Now, I openly admit that I like a “Hollywood ending.” Artsy postmodern films in which the bad guy wins out offend my sensibilities. And I feel the same about real life. I hate seeing evil people thrive. But, all too often, real life seems like one of those artsy postmodern films that don’t end well. There is an important difference, however, between living real life and having watched an art film with a bad ending. In real life, we haven’t got to the ending yet!

Jesus’ parable is meant to be a kind of spoiler. He is, in effect, giving away the end of the movie, while the movie is still going on. Normally, I might object. But in this case, Jesus’ spoiler makes it possible to relax a little, in the knowledge that there will be a very satisfactory “Hollywood ending” to this particular movie. With that in mind, let’s all try to enjoy the show!

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© 2020 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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