Seventh Sunday after Pentecost -Proper 11
Last Saturday morning a community of believers in Ocala, Florida were gathering to celebrate Holy Communion in their church, when a man drove his van directly through the front doors into the lobby. He got out of his vehicle and proceeded to pour gasoline on the floor and lit it on fire before driving away.
Later that day in Boston a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, on the grounds of St Peter’s Parish Church, was set alight. Her kind and compassionate image marred by scorch marks and ash.
Many of us will have seen the news of the probable arson attack against the cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Nantes (Naaunt), France just yesterday.
These are disturbing attacks, in places where Christianity has been a part of public life for generations, and these shocking stories have been shared thousands of times online, with ever more aghast and sensationalist commentaries appended.
“It’s the downfall of Christianity”, some say
“The violent mobs of protestors are coming to destroy our faith”
Some have called for Christians to take up arms and defend their churches.
These incidents have not yet hurt anyone, and at the end of the day it’s just stone and concrete and wood. Easily replaced.
Elsewhere Christian sisters and brothers are not so fortunate. In China at the end of May the government demoloshed two perfectly legal and registered churches on spruious claims of violating builing codes, leaving over 1,300 Christians without a place to legally worship.
In Eritrea 30 Christians were arrested in the last week of June while attending a wedding.
In India a 28 year old pastor was shot and killed by Maoist militants. That was on July 10. He is survived by his wife and four children.
Being a Christian is dangerous. We have been blessed in that many of the dangers of following Jesus has been softened to us, such that it is noteworthy on the rare occasions that a church building is vandalised. In some places choosing Christ will have angry men dragging you from bed to be summarily executed.
We are of course children of modernity, and as such we generally seek to minimise our risks. This is often accomplished through the ownership of property, where we can then dwell, live, work, and follow our convictions free from the intrusion or violence of others. We look to governments to secure what we do in the relative freedom of a space which belongs to us. And so it is only natural when we hear of churches being torched and statues being defaced to ask the question “How can we make sure this doesn’t happen again”. We invest in CCTV cameras and security personel. We track down the perpetrator so that they may be awarded the due penalty for their criminal activty. Churches, like McDonalds or jewelery stores, are private property and so are entitled to the same protections as these.
But the Church isn’t only private property. And it isn’t an institution or a company. It’s not a nonprofit or a business. The Church is the fellowship of those who have heard the Word of God and have come to know and trust Jesus Christ as Lord. We are the children of a kingdom which is to come, and how we exist now is only a shadow, a foretaste of what will be revealed when our Lord comes again.
For reasons unknown to me, it often comes as a surprise when a Christian, or a community of Christians, are met with rejection and resistance. But if we listen carefully to what Jesus teaches in the Gospel lesson we read today, we may find that we are more prepared to engage with a world at odds with the faith of Christ.
Jesus tells this story of the sower who goes about spreading seed. His enemy in the cover of darkness sows weeds in the field. This creates what looks to be an absolute disaster waiting to happen. How will the wheat survive? How will we sort out the mess? How will the farmer’s plan succeed?
Would it not be more expedient to eradicate the weeds as soon as they show up?
Wouldn’t it be safer to post guards around the edge of the field?
Evil has been done to the farmer, should he not seek justice?
It would appear that this farm is being run by the most incompotent farmer, totally ignorant or unconcerned with the risk he is taking on by letting these weeds continue to grow.
So the Disciples ask him, what does this mean?
The Son of Man is the sower, and he sows good seed in the world. We are the seed, who have been scattered into the world to bear fruit. But there is an enemy who does not want this good fruit in the world. This enemy is Satan, who only seeks the ruin of souls. And those over whom he has dominion also have their place in the world. Jesus assures his disciples that the causes of sin and evil will be done away with in that last day. Evil will be finally defeated.
This is the world into which we have been sent. Not a world of friends, or even a world of neutral and indifferent people.
No, a world full of enemies, enemies who just nine days ago took a preacher out and shot him for the fact of his faith. And in what appears to be a supreme naivity he declares that these weeds, these children of the evil one, are not to be torn out of the ground because, well, it might harm the wheat.
So often we can hear this parable of the wheat and the weeds and, when reading it in the context of our own experiences we might think that it is calling us to have patience with the scoffer in the office, or a fellow student who does nothing but point out inconsistencies in our faith, or a boss who makes taking Sundays off a point of contention. But in other places those who have set themselves against the way of Jesus are fully prepared to commit acts of violence. The kind of patience Jesus implies here seems riddiculous, irresponsible, and wasteful.
We have the insight and the technology and th strength to go out weeding. Why would he ask his followers to wait?
The way of the Kingdom of God is not just in oppoistion to the way of the World. It is something utterly different. St Paul puts it this way:
the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.
It is the way of the flesh to imagine that what we see in front of us is all there is. It is the way of the flesh to concieve of ourselves as winners or losers in some zero-sum game. It is the way of the flesh to imagine that the most important thing we can do now is protect our buildings, our things, and even our lives.
But those who belong to Christ are no longer of the flesh. We know that after he suffered, God raised Jesus from the dead, and this was a foretaste of the future that God has for those who love him.
Not a future without suffering. Not a future where we march from victory to victory.
But a future where all these things which we will endure for the sake of his Name will be overwhelmed by the miracle of a new life, a resurrected life.
As saint Paul says, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
This is why what our Lord teaches us in this parable of the wheat and the weeds is not, after all, stupidity. It looks like that from the vantage point that doesn’t know the resurrection of the dead, In thayt respect it is utterly impactical and useless for getting ahead in the world. But getting ahead in the world isn’t the point, because our goal is a world which is to come, not fighting and winning in this one.
When we understand this, these tragedies Christians endure around the world and the offenses we see nearer to us begin to look different. When we are asked to have a moment of patience, to step into the forebearance of Christ, as the farmer who waits until the very end before sifting the wheat from the weeds, we can sometimes even see the signs of the coming Kingdom in the midst of this present suffering.
The young minister who was murdered by Maoist militants in India on the 10th of July, called Munshi Dev Tado, was in fact a former member of this group. He had been just as they are, violently opposed to the Gospel, and yet in God’s patience he had come to faith and had so fully converted to Christ that he then comitted himself to proclaiming his Gospel. This was the reason he was killed, but what they don’t know is that all they have done is given him a Martyrs crown.
And the terrifying attack at the church in Florida, where a man drove his car through the doors of the church and attempted to set the building on fire, well it turns out that he is extremly unwell. He has schizophrenia. And in Godly patience that young man has the possibility of a future where he may find relief for his suffering and treatment for his illness. If we believed that all the Church is, is another private intitution whose rights and security must be protected at all cost there may not have been a future for Steven Anthony Shields.
But we are wheat growing up amidst weeds. We are not the laborers and we’ve not been asked to pick apart the one from the other. We will grow. And we will suffer. But in our suffering we will be like Christ, who endured every abuse without lifting his voice. And if our suffering is like his, we may find that our path is brightened by the first rays of otherworldy glory, the very brightness of the Kingdom of Heaven.