Friday, October 29, 2010

The Swift Justice of Jesus

The following is a transcript of my homily preached Friday, October 29th during morning prayer at Shepherd's Heart Fellowship in Pittsburgh, PA. The homily is based on a reading from Matthew 13:24-30.

I wish that I could tell you all this morning that I can explain all the suffering in the world. I wish that I could offer you an immediate solution, some sort of good versus evil strategy that would rid our world of evil. You’d like to hear that, too, I bet, if it didn’t sound so much like a fairy tale. Like a comic book fantasy where the superhero cleans up the mess and everyone goes home happy. I can’t offer that kind of a story this morning, because the gospel of Jesus Christ is more than a story with a happy ending. The kingdom of heaven is more than a nice idea—it’s lived out in the midst of the messiness and even downright nastiness of human life.

In our reading this morning, Jesus tells a parable about God’s kingdom. A man plants wheat seeds in a field, but then an enemy comes along at night to plant weeds in the same field. When the plants finally grow, the wheat and the weeds are growing right alongside each other, competing for nutrients from the soil and water and sunlight from the sky. The man’s servants report this to him, asking whether they should root out the weeds for the wheat’s sake. He instructs them to let both the wheat and the weeds grow alongside each other until the harvest, until all the plants will be collected and sorted—wheat will go to his barn and weeds will be burned by fire.

What’s going on here? How do we understand this story Jesus tells us? We’re lucky, because just a few verses after our reading Jesus explains what he meant. The one planting the wheat is the Son of Man—Jesus—and the field he’s planting in represents the whole world. The wheat seeds, he says, are the children of the kingdom. That tells us first that the kingdom of heaven is about Jesus growing good in the world by placing his followers in it.

The enemy, no surprise, is the devil, and the weeds he plants represent his followers. Not just devil worshipers either—you don’t have to seem like a follower of satan in order to be one. Remember the old saying that the greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing people that he doesn’t exist. If the devil is responsible for planting the weeds, then we know that evil and evil people are not God’s will. They weren’t planned or put there by Jesus.

The servants question the fieldowner, “Where did these weeds come from?” I think this question is common to every person who has believed in a good God. We look at this world we live in and wonder—where did all this evil come from? Why are people so terrible to one another? It bothers us, it affects our lives. Where did these murderers come from? Where did these racists come from? Where did these greedy people come from? Where did these hateful and abusive people come from? The devil has been planting them in the world since man left the garden of Eden.

Like the servants, our first response is “Get rid of the weeds! Get them out of here!” We want justice to be swift, ruthless and clean. We want to wipe out our enemies in war, to eliminate our villains in the electric chair. But Jesus, like the fieldowner, restrains us, because in attacking our enemies we end up attacking ourselves. “In gathering the weeds,” reads the parable, “you would uproot the wheat along with them.” We cannot be God’s good for the world and also serve as judge, jury and executioner of the evil. Rather than a decisive victory today, we’re waiting for the harvest, that day when wheat and weeds are both gathered up and the good go into Jesus’s home and the bad are burned in the fire.

Jesus promises in verses 41-43 of chapter thirteen that

"The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!"

Listen, everyone. Jesus is coming back, and he’s coming back as a good king with swift justice. He’s sending his angels to take out every oppressor, every murderer and rapist, every greedy person, every man or woman whose words or actions have turned people away from God. This is good news. And it is good news for we who believe and trust in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, because his mercy protects us from the judgment we deserve.

If this message makes you uncomfortable this morning, maybe it’s because the swift justice of Jesus Christ doesn’t sound like good news to you. All of us here have reason to fear God’s judgment except for the mercy and grace of Jesus. Maybe you’re here this morning and you fear the swift justice of God because you know you don’t have the protection offered you by Christ. I say to you today, repent! Believe the good news that Jesus has been raised from the dead and is coming back as a good king to rid the world of evil. Confess your sins to him, put your trust in him and he will forgive you. If you want to make him your Lord and Savior today, please say the following prayer with me:

Lord Jesus, I believe that you died on the cross and were resurrected by God after three days. I believe that you are the Lord of the world and the only one who can save me from sin and suffering. I confess to you that I have led a sinful life and have hurt myself and others, I ask you to forgive me my sins and receive me as your child. Have mercy, Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

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