July 23, 2017 Sermon
Genesis 28:10-19a/ Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Keep Your Eyes on God
When I ponder this world in which we live today, I get tempted to lose faith in humanity. I think we are living in a generally confused world. We are confused about a lot of things. For one thing, we are morally confused; what is deemed right or wrong is not as black and white as it used to be. Sometimes, we can’t tell what is morally right or wrong anymore. If we pull the plugs on a loved one who has been in a coma for a very long time and the doctors say there is no hope, that he or she is silently suffering a lot of pain, and the medical bill is about to ruin your life, who can say with clarity if it’s the right or wrong thing to do?
Also, we are taught to do good, not to be greedy, and not to ignore those in need but this lifestyle doesn’t always bring a visible reward. We even see those who do evil prospering, and we might think we’re losing and missing out on something good. This culture of ours encourages us to pursue wealth, power, pleasure, and comfort of life without considering the consequence or the cost of getting there. For instance, in pursuit of more and more convenience, we destroyed our Mother Earth; in pursuit of wealth and power, people hurt the underprivileged of the society. There are people who call themselves pro-life and protest abortion but commit acts of violence against people who don’t agree with them and even kill the doctors who perform the procedure. There are people who call themselves pro-life and want all the wanted and unwanted babies born but refuse to fund childcare, medicare, and education. Who can say with certainty who’s ethically right or wrong?
I listed several things about our confused and confusing world, but I would like to draw your attention to one particular thing as Christians who strive to do good; being discouraged trying to do good because sometimes our effort seems futile. We could be persecuted for doing what we believe is right, or be discouraged to see how selfish people prosper in this life while we, the doers of good, don’t. We might be discouraged while doing good because nobody notices our good deeds. We might be discouraged because our good deeds don’t seem to make a difference. I sometimes feel this way. Then we hear Jacob say, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!”
In the Genesis text we read today, Jacob is on the road. What you might not know is that he is on the run because, for the second time, he tricked his brother and stole his blessing and privilege of the first-born son. The first time was when he swapped a bowl of porridge with the first-born son’s rights while his older brother Esau was hungry. This time, his mother coaches him to trick his blinding father to believe that he is Esau and receive his blessing. Naturally, Esau is furious at Jacob, and fearing for his life, he has to run. This particular night, he dreams about God promising him blessings, and he wakes up claiming, “The Lord is in this place and I did not know it.” And he is afraid. Well considering his acts of deception, he’d better be afraid at realizing God is there with him! Unfortunately, we cannot tell whether he feels remorseful and repentant or not. In any case, he suddenly realizes God’s presence and omnipresence; God is everywhere. The psalmist who wrote Psalm 139 is better aware of God’s presence in our lives than Jacob. He claims, “You have searched me and known me. Where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I lie down in the grave, you are even there. You formed my inward parts; you fashioned me in my mother’s womb.” This is how intimately God is involved in our lives. We cannot escape God’s eyes. For those of us who have been confused living in this confusing world, listen to the Parable of Weeds among the Wheat.
This parable is a good analogy of today’s world, as well as the ancient world to which Jesus belonged. The imagery of this parable is, however, clearer to the ancient audience than to us. It sometimes happened that someone who wants to harm you would secretly plant weeds among your good seeds; Romans had a law and its punishment laid out for this act. There was a weed called bearded darnel, which, in the early stage, looks so much like wheat that one cannot tell the difference. And when it comes out and we can tell them apart, its roots are so intertwined with the wheat that you cannot pull it out without also pulling out the wheat. You have to wait till harvest time to separate them.
Just like the wheat and the weed living together intertwined and difficult to tell apart, we too live with all sorts of people intertwined and often difficult to tell good from bad. Sometimes evil looks good and good looks evil; sometimes it’s difficult to tell. But there is the force of good that has a positive influence and the force of evil that has a negative influence. But the judgement has to wait till the end. This parable teaches us five lessons. The first lesson is that there is always hostile power in the world seeking to destroy the good seed. We have to be on our guard so the hostile power cannot influence us. The second lesson is that it is hard to distinguish between those who are in the kingdom of God and those who are not; as I mentioned sometimes evil appears to be good and vice versa. The third lesson is that we should not be quick to judge because appearance can be deceitful and people can change; we know that some people who have done evil at one point of their lives can redeem themselves, and those who were good can go bad later in their lives. We cannot judge anyone by only one part of their lives. This is why judgment has to wait until the end. The fourth lesson is that judgment doesn’t happen right away, but it WILL come in the end. God is watching. The last lesson is that God is the only one who judges. This is a warning for us not to judge people; in the end God will judge us all. We don’t have the right to judge.
Therefore in this confusing world, let us remember that God is closely present in our lives. Focusing on God instead of what’s going on in the world will help us to keep striving to live by the teachings of Jesus and not be discouraged when we feel like our lifestyle as disciples has no reward. When you get discouraged, remember that God is always with us, watching us, and guiding us. Focus on God and God’s kingdom for which we work as Christians. Remember the verse, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” In this confusing world full of evil, let us keep our eyes on God so that we can stay focused and stay on God’s side. Although sometimes it feels like being good in this world brings no reward, remember that God is watching us and will judge us. We Christians believe that this mortal world is not the end. As the family of the United Church of Canada, we proclaim, “In life, in death, and in life beyond death, God is with us.” It is in our New Creed and we say it at funerals too. Remember that God is always with us, watching and guiding us. So let us stay focused in our kingdom ministries and rejoice no matter what the rest of the world says and does.
Rev. Sunny Kim