So. What do you do?

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Genesis 29:15-28
Psalm 105:1-11, 45b
Romans 8:26-39
Matthew 13:31-33,44-52

Imagine you are Jacob. The father of the woman you want to marry says you must work for him for seven years before the wedding. You do. Then he tells you his eldest daughter should marry first. You may marry her (you don’t really want to) or work another seven years to marry the daughter you love.

So. What do you do? Work another seven years? Is the woman you love worth the risk of another seven years of your life? Why would you trust the father to keep his word when he knows he can get away with cheating you?

Imagine you are John Lewis. You have forgone an ordinary career in the ministry in order to secure black Americans the right to vote and participate equally in society… rights promised by white Americans nearly 100 years earlier. In your work, you have been arrested over 40 times and beaten on multiple occasions by police and/or white supremacists, once nearly to death. Friends, mentors, colleagues and allies have been murdered, their murderers walking free. And there is little evidence that the heart of white America is changing on the issue of race and white supremacy.

So. What do you do? Work more years of your life in the struggle? White America knows it can lie and steal from black Americans without consequence. Is it reasonable to believe that white America will ever change?

Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  He was paraphrasing the abolitionist Theodore Parker who said in 1853:

“I do not pretend to understand the moral universe;

the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways;

I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure

by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience.

And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”

St. Paul’s version, in the reading from Romans, was: “We know that all things work together for good…”

God’s people have been watching that arc for a long time.

It can be difficult to hold onto the long vision. Jesus offers encouragement in the parable of the mustard seed. The efforts we make to advance the cause on a daily basis — though small – are not insignificant. They are like seeds which may take root in someone’s heart or mind or imagination or conscience and grow. Perhaps they grow into great and famous lives like King’s or John Lewis’, or into great and nearly unknown lives like Viola Liuzzo or Septima Poinsette Clark, and so many others. All of them, known and unknown, like the great, tall trees of the parable.

On any given day, our task is not to fully achieve the arc. Our task is to hold on to the long vision so that with Jacob, John, Martin, Theodore, Paul, Viola, Septima and so many others, we can say “yes” – we will work on. And then plant more seeds.

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Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Ignore the weeds?

Pr 11A

Genesis 28:10-19a
Psalm 139: 1-11, 22-23
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30,36-43

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“Ignore the weeds” does not sound like good advice.  Gardeners know that if you leave the weeds alone, they will overwhelm the grass. One wonders if Jesus-the-carpenter had been misinformed by his fisherman disciples on agricultural matters.

Probably not. Read here and here for accessible word studies* on “weeds,” “enemies” and “evil.”  What these word studies suggested to me was that Jesus was talking about plants which were difficult to tell apart until they were mature. “Wheat” looked like “weeds” until harvest time. So, the moral of the parable was “be very careful” or “judge not…” as Jesus says elsewhere in Matthew (Mtt.7:1.)

“Judge not…” does not mean that we should never decide or discern. It does not mean that we should let the fox into the hen house and just hope for the best. It means we should be careful when making decisions about other people. Before we judge a friend or fellow-worker or fellow-believer we should remember that we may not know them or their lives as well as we think we do. Our “judgment” of them may be wrong.

How do we know whether or when to judge? Matthew’s Jesus offers two guidelines:

(1)    Be sure you know others well enough to know their fruits, (Matt. 7:16) and

(2)    Use a standard that we would want applied to us. (Mtt.7:2)

This teaching fits well with Paul’s vision in Romans: “All creation groans… and we ourselves groan inwardly…” Paul says we have God’s spirit in us, but not perfectly. So even when we are doing our best, we can miss the mark. We want to avoid “missing the mark” in a way that would hurt or injure a friend or other innocent person.

I am glad for these reminders about when and how to judge. This week I and a group of six other white people are beginning a month-long on-line conversation based on the book Me and White Supremacy.  I expect it to be an experience which calls for insight. But it may also give rise to an awareness of shortcomings, wrongdoing and feelings of regret or worse. Most likely none of us will be in a position to judge one another, and I at least will be hoping that I can bear better fruit before whatever “end of the age” judgment might come my way!

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Photo by Matt Seymour on Unsplash

*At the time of publication, WorkingPreacher.org was temporarily off-line. I will keep checking and refresh the links the the word studies when the site comes back on-line.