Sunday, 20 July 2014

The world as it is, the world as it should be

This sermon was presented at St George's Barcelona on Sunday 20th July and is based on the readings Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 and Romans 8:12-25.

I don't know about you but sometimes I struggle to watch the news. In this age where information is at our fingertips, whether online, through television and radio, the very worst of the conflict and suffering in the world is right in front of us. It can make us feel helpless, that the world is out of control. It can also, for many of us, lead us to question our faith.

It is a rare person of faith who has never asked why God would allow the kind of suffering and evil we see in the world. It is one of the major reasons why people find faith hard to accept. How can there be a loving God when there is such suffering in the world? Even if we acknowledge that much of the evil in the world is man made, how can God stand it? Why doesn't he intervene?

In the passage we have just heard from Romans Paul describes that even creation itself is groaning under the burden of the sufferings of the world. We can quite believe that when we look at the effects of humanity on the natural world, the depletion of resources, pollution, even major changes in the world's climate that may yet affect millions of people in some of the world's poorest nations.

This is where the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds comes in. In this parable Jesus is trying to make sense of the world as it is. Importantly, the parable tells us that evil is not from God. The field is full of good plants, that will produce a good harvest. Evil is the unwanted addition. The weeds in the field. This reminds us that Genesis describes the creation of the world as 'very good', plants, animals and human beings.

As well as seeing the suffering in the news reports we see this goodness too. In those we love, in moments of kindness, in the beauty of the natural world. I experienced something for this yesterday on a  visit to the Sagrada Familia and seeing the beauty of nature reflected there in the architecture and use all the colours of the rainbow for light.


And yet even though evil is not from God, the parable tells us that God allows evil and good to grow up together. The parable suggest that God does this so that what is good and evil can be seen for what they are. It is for this reason that we are instructed not to judge others. The parable warns us not to try to uproot the weeds ,or even perhaps, attempt to identify the weeds at all. Our judgement is often inadequate or premature. By doing so we can even uproot what is good, a stark warning indeed.

Other New Testament writers have also written on this theme of why God allows suffering and evil in the world. As 1 Peter puts it, 'The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.' God, then, wants people to turn from doing wrong and seek forgiveness and for that he gives us time.

So if the parable of the wheat and the weeds helps us to understand how things are then our reading from Romans allows us to see how things will be. God has not simply waited in the face of human suffering and evil in the world. He hasn't let the evil and the good grow up without intervention or without letting us know his intention for the world. This truth is at the heart of the Christian story.

Our reading from Romans reminds us that God has intervened personally in the world. He has come, in the person of Jesus, as Matthew's gospel puts it, 'to proclaim what was hidden from the foundation of the world.' In Jesus' life God enters into the suffering of the world and by Jesus' death God conquered death, defeating all that is opposite to him.

The days of the weeds in the field, 'the causes of all evil' as Jesus puts it, are numbered. And God has done this all at his own cost. This intervention is a very personal one and it tells us what the parable also reminds us that God is not the cause of evil and suffering and is, in every way, opposed to it. God will always intervene to restore what he originally intended, a good creation.

And this, Paul tells us, affects how we live our lives in the here and now. It affects how we deal with the reality of wheat and weeds in the world and in our own lives. At the centre of this change is a change in relationship. We know God as he is. And that relationship is one of a child to a Father.
We hear God spoken of as Father so often that sometimes it is easy to overlook the significance of it. God, the creator of the Universe and orderer of all things wants us to call him our Father. Me and you, just a few of the six billion people on the earth today and yet he loves us as his children, That, when you let it sink in, can really blow your mind Knowing God in this way means we live, as Paul puts it 'in the spirit of adoption'. We are God's children and he cares for us. No longer do we have to live with, as Paul puts it, 'a spirit of fear'.

And this change in relationship produces one of the foundations of the Christian life, hope. No matter what the world looks like, despite all those weeds, all those news reports that are so hard to watch, we know that God has a better plan. This plan has already begun through Jesus and through the power of the spirit in our lives. And this gives us a new life now even though we don't yet have what we hope for, an end to evil and suffering in the world.

So our readings today tell us two things, about the world as it is and the world as it will be. This is the basis for our hope in the face of the many weeds in the world and in our own lives. We do not have what we hope for yet, an end to evil and suffering, but we have seen a glimpse of it and because of that we have hope. And this hope can transform our lives here and now allowing us to live our lives as children of God, calling God our Father, and living without fear.

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