We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, who are still here, and we honor with gratitude the land itself and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Lectionary, Proper 11, Pentecost 8, July 23, 2023

I.Theme –   Conquering fear and uncertainty

 "Parable of the Wheat and Tares" – Lucas Gassel, 1540

The lectionary readings are here  or individually: 

Old Testament – Isaiah 44:6-8
Psalm – Psalm 86:11-17 Page 710, BCP
Epistle –Romans 8:6-11
Gospel – Matthew 13:24-30,36-43 

These texts speak eloquently to the problem of fear, and fear is what many people are currently experiencing. We are confronted with fear in our jobs, our homes and our world. It is ever present and diverts us from productive activities. Despite our increasing knowledge and interconnectedness, fear is very much a part of our world and maybe even more in the last generation. We look to someone, something for security. 

So what causes the fear ? There is an “enemy” in each of these readings – Isaiah – Babylonians since the Jews were in captivity, Psalm – by a force that nearly killed the writer – Romans – “flesh” Gospel – “Devil” . In the latter we can be our own worst enemy by our propensity to judge others. The truth is that none of us are qualified to judge, only God has that privilege!  The Gospel also emphasizes that it is often difficult tell the good from the bad and separate them.  The Psalm indicate our enemies cause us to turn from God.  We feel the absence of God’s grace and we petition for this to return.

The readings emphasize that God is with us in all the things of our lives and is involved with us throughout our lives helping through his Spirit to maximise our potential. We will not be abandoned!

There is no guarantee that God who will step in and magically fix everything, but God is intimately present and actively at work in our lives, taking what is and steadfastly aiming at what can be. This process of transformation is not always something we can see, but something we can trust. And trust, like hope, is the divine alternative to fear. Isaiah maybe expresses the best of all – “Is there any god besides me ? There is no other rock; I know not one."

The Old Testament readings prop this up with images.  Isaiah uses the "rock" drawn from Deuteronomy-connoting stability, security, safety. The Psalm emphasizes God’s love and ability to teach us the ways, listening to our petitions.  We request a sign of God’s favor to us based on the fact that God has helped and conforted us in the past.  

The Gospel this week contains the parable of the weeds, following closely on the parable of the sower last week. Weeds grow amids the harvest. It is difficult to separate them. Jesus emphasized that the pure and impure, righteous and unrighteous exist together and there is no way to separate them.  Indeed we need to work hard with all. The mission should be to spread the Gospel and not worry about the weeds. All will be sorted out in God’s time and not ours.  And we shouldn’t judge – it is difficult to figure out if they are weeds. 

In Paul’s terms, it’s all a matter of how we live. We should live by the spirit and its values. The crucial point  is the realization that we are children of God that will propel us into new life. The idea of “new life” can be approached in three ways: in eschatological, evolutionary, or worldly terms. Each is full of promise. The implication is that when we know, really know, who we are as children of God, we will act differently, and creation itself will be set free from its bondage—a condition resulting from the Fall, or, stated differently, from our misuse and exploitation.

In the midst of all this there will be suffering. Paul talks about the the mutual suffering of all creation: the whole creation that groans together and suffers together, "and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies."

The Old Testament readings prop this up with images.  Isaiah uses the "rock" drawn from Deuteronomy-connoting stability, security, safety. The Psalm emphasizes God’s love and ability to teach us the ways, listening to our petitions.  We request a sign of God’s favor to us based on the fact that God has helped and conforted us in the past.  

II. Summary

Old Testament –  Isaiah 44:6-8

In this reading Second Isaiah preaches to the exiles in Babylon, and hears from Yahweh’s mouth an assertion about God’s rule, even while they are in Babylon. He asks his readers to not be afraid, for God will redeem and save them.

“I am the first and I am the last.”Right from the beginning – usually the term “Lord of hosts” refers to God ruling over the council of the gods in heaven, and over the hosts of angels, seraphim and cherubim. Here, however, the term may mean those who are still faithful to Yahweh, and who battle for Yahweh against the gods of Babylon

So how is God described ?

God is a redeemer – the redeemer language is full of spiritual significance (redeeming from sin), but the political and economic roots of redemption. The Lord is incomparable – no one can compare. In verse 7 such doing includes calling, proclaiming, declaring, announcing from of old things yet to come and things yet to be

"Rock" is a divine metaphor, used in Deuteronomy 32 to define the Lord (32:4, 18, 31) as well as other gods (32:31). Among other things, it seems to connote stability, security, safety. In Deuteronomy, the divine rocks are incomparable (32:31); in Isaiah, there is only one such stable, secure, safe deity. 

Psalm –   Psalm 86:11-17 Page 710, BCP

Psalm 86 is classified by most scholars as a psalm of individual lament, in which an individual expresses the pain of his present condition and seeks relief from God. “The arrogant rise up against me, O God, and a band of violent men seeks my life; “

Verses 11-17 thus on their own read more as an expression of commitment based on the experience of God’s past help (verses 12-13, 17) and on the knowledge of God’s character (verses 13, 15-16). The element of petition is still present, however, in the final two verses.

The opening petition, "Teach me your way, O LORD," expresses a common important sentiment in the psalms (see examples, 25:4 and 27:11). The tacit basis of the petition is that God’s way is not necessarily obvious and hence requires teaching in order to know it. The line that follows, "that I may walk in your truth," is a statement of commitment

The last line of verse 11 combines the elements of petition and commitment: "Give me an undivided heart to revere your name." The tacit basis of the petition is again important: Just as the psalmist recognizes that we are in need of teaching, so he recognizes that very often our hearts are divided and thus unable to walk in God’s way.

The psalmist does not dwell on the need for an undivided heart, for in the very next line he expresses thanks to God "with my whole heart" (verse 12). There is a simple confidence that his prayer for an undivided heart is answered.

Verse 13 provides the foundation for the thanksgiving, petitions, and commitment expressed in verse 11-12: "For great is your steadfast love toward me."

The second half of verse 13 expresses a very concrete benefit of God’s love and devotion : "You have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol." In the context of the overall psalm, this probably refers to a deliverance from physical death.

The reference to God’s love is picked up in verse 15. Beginning with the word "merciful," verse 15 is a quote of the fundamental self-revelation of God given to Moses at Mt. Sinai: "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness" (Exodus 34:6). ). Here it forms the basis for the psalmist’s appeal for grace, strength, and salvation in verse 16 and for why he need not fear his enemies referred to in verse 14.

When he appeals to God to "turn to me and be gracious to me" (verse 16), it is his knowledge of the gracious character of God mentioned in the Exodus quote of verse 15 that prompts his plea. Of course, the words "turn to me" also express his feeling of the present absence of God’s grace, a feeling caused by the intentions of his enemies mentioned in verse 14.

Verse 17 closes the psalm with a final petition, a request for a sign of God’s favor. As in verse 16, the petition is based on knowledge of God’s character, but here the psalmist expresses it in terms of his own experience: "because you, LORD, have helped me and comforted me." In this sense the psalmist’s petition may be a model for our own prayers to God: Our appeals arise out of our common understanding of God’s character and out of our experience of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness to us in the past.

Epistle –  Romans 8:6-11

In these verses, the admonition is again not to live in fear. Fear is equated with slavery. There is also a repetition of the idea of two ways—Paul uses “flesh” and “spirit,” but in broad strokes these refer to living according to the values of the world (in this context, the Roman Empire) or living according to the values of Jesus, which point directly to God. Flesh resists the power of God. To live in fear is to be enslaved; to be led by the Spirit is to be a child of God. In fearful situations (of which there are many) we do not cry out in fear; we cry out to God. Paul writes that the very thing that calls out from within us is the Spirit of God bearing witness with our own spirit

Paul talks of the “freedom of the glory of the children of God”. This is not freedom from the material world, but freedom within a restored creation. It is the freedom of an embodied life that reflects, as it had at the first, the image and glory of God (cf. Genesis 1:27). In Romans 8:12-25, Paul points to that freedom and describes what it is like to hope for such a thing here and now.

The crucial point here is the realization that we are children of God that will propel us into new life. The idea of “new life” can be approached in three ways: in eschatological, evolutionary, or this-worldly terms. Each is full of promise. The images speak of impending birth and both the waiting and the longing associated with that.

Eschatologically speaking, the new birth is the eternal life we will enjoy with Christ after we die. In an evolutionary context, the new birth is the next phase of human and planetary development. From a this-worldly perspective, the realization of who we are—children of God—will change our present lives, so that new birth or transformation are experienced in the here and now.

The implication is that when we know, really know, who we are as children of God, we will act differently, and creation itself will be set free from its bondage—a condition resulting from the Fall, or, stated differently, from our misuse and exploitation. This is a theme that lends itself well to a sermon on care of the Earth.

However we interpret this paragraph, the bottom line is hope, and hope is the opposite of fear. The future is unknown to us, but we have a choice as to how we approach it. If we know ourselves to be God’s own, then hope will triumph over fear.

A cluster of words from the realm of family helps Paul describe the freedom that believers have in Christ and the relationships in which they now find themselves: sons, Abba, Father, children, adoption, heirs, joint heirs. The vocabulary describes relationships within a family and a household. Such language is not particularly common in Romans. Two times in the opening verses of the letter, Paul reminded his hearers of Jesus’ identity as a child of God. He defined God’s good news as "the gospel concerning his Son, who was… declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead" (Romans 1:3-4, NRSV). He refers to Jesus once more as Son in Romans 5:10.

In Romans 8 Paul uses the words for "son" and "child" to refer not to Jesus, but to his siblings who are led by the Spirit. As "flesh" had referred to a power that enslaves humans and keeps them from participating in God’s glory, the Spirit is the power that frees and enlivens humans for a new identity as children of God.

We are children of God – We are joint heirs with Christ, suffering with him, and being glorified with him. The idea is not thatearns glory by suffering; rather, as Paul seeks to describe what it means to be a joint heir with Christ, he notes that the joint heir’s life is characterized by the same pattern that shaped Christ’s life. To be connected to Christ is to know humiliation and exaltation. To be a joint heir with Christ is share in Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection.

In the remaining verses of the reading, Paul talks as forthrightly as possible about the suffering of humanity and creation as together we await the revealing of what we are in Christ, that is, children of God. Now they describe the mutual suffering of all creation: the whole creation, Paul says, groans together and suffers together, "and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies 

Gospel –  Matthew 13:24-30,36-43  

The reading from the Gospel for last Sunday and this Sunday are interposed in the original text, and the lectionary has pulled them apart. Thus we have parable 1 (13:1-9) followed by its explanation in (13:18-23) for last Sunday. And this Sunday, Parable 2 (13:24-30) followed by its explanation (13:36-43). The missing verses are other parables.

In the Parable of the Weeds are two sowers. Agricultural stories appeal to his rural listeners.

The first parable focused on where the seed landed. All the seed was good, but only some fell on fertile ground; however, here some of the seed sown there is good (wheat) and some is bad (weeds, tares, or darnel – a weed that looks like wheat.) The “enemy” (whose identity we learn later) sows the bad seed secretly (“while everybody was asleep”, v. 25.) According to Leviticus 19.19 sowing weeds into the field makes the field ritually impure. Both the good and the bad seed grow together. At harvest time the roots of the weeds have intertwined with those of the wheat (v. 29). To try to weed them out would have destroyed too much of the wheat crop. And so there was only one alternative. Allow them to grow together and when the harvest came separate them out.

The occurrence of gather three times in vv. 28-30 is a clue that Jesus speaks of the community.

Jesus offers two interpretations of the parable to his disciples:

1. In vv. 37-39, he states what each of the figures and events in the story stands for. The kingdom begins now when Jesus (“the Son of Man”) sows the seed, drawing people to him, but the Devil seeks to subvert his efforts. The “harvest” is when Christ comes again, at the end of the age.

The division of good from the bad shall wait until the harvest (the End Time) when each will get its due. This explanation may be the result of Matthew’s community working things out for themselves as they worked to be the followers of Christ in Palestine. Perhaps both parable and explanation are more of a sermon for the community that attempted to work out the difficulties and exigencies of their community.

2. The second interpretation is in vv. 40-43a. At the end of the age, he says, the evil will be separated out, judged and destroyed (“burned up”, v. 40). The lots of the “evildoers” (v. 41) will be a miserable one (“gnashing of teeth”, v. 42). The “righteous” (v. 43), those who are faithful to God, will be gathered together, rewarded and brought into God’s presence. Finally v. 43b: the gospel is open to all who will listen!

This parable reminds us that judgment will come but that it is in God’s hands alone. It reminds us too just how difficult it is for us to tell the good from the bad. Jesus makes clear that we simply cannot be certain who is "in" or who is "out." We are not able to see into each others hearts in the way that God can.

Overzealous weeders happens in every generations. Jesus’ parable makes clear that any attempt to root out the weeds will only do more damage to the crop. This has played out far too many times in congregations and denominations, with some determined to root out anyone who does not agree with the "right" interpretation of Scripture, liturgical practice, or stand on a particular issue. There are also those who pronounce judgment on people outside the church — on people of other faiths, for instance — declaring them to be destined for eternal damnation. Whether judgment is focused within the church or without, it does serious damage to the church and its mission.

Stumbling blocks is used elsewhere – Jesus warns those who put a stumbling block (skandalon) before any of the "little ones" that it would be better for them to have a millstone put around their neck and to be drowned in the sea (18:6-7). Similarly he warns that if your hand or foot or eye causes you to sin (skandalizo), it is better to cut it off or pluck it out and enter life blind or maimed, than to be thrown into the "hell of fire" with body intact (18:8-9).

It seems to suggest that a skandalon may be something within a person rather than the whole person. We know that it is not really our hand or foot or eye that causes us to sin. Sin comes from the human heart (kardia) (15:18-20), which in k refers to the inner self, the mind and will. No human is able to pluck out the inner self. Some commentators suggest that when Jesus says that the angels will collect all ‘stumbling blocks and all those who act lawlessly’ and toss them aside to burn in the fire, he means that everything within us that causes sin will be burned away

Another slant on the text is that perhaps the kingdom of heaven exists in the midst of the impure – the profane. The weed that Matthew refers to is darnel or cockle, a noxious weed that closely resembles wheat and is plentiful in Israel. The difference between darnel and real wheat is evident only when the plants mature and the ears appear. The ears of the real wheat are heavy and will droop, while the ears of the darnel stand up straight.

Working Preacher  magazine talks about the slaves . “Jesus does not, however, say whom the slaves represent. Perhaps the slaves represent the disciples, or anyone who hears this parable and its interpretation. Who among us has not questioned why God allows evil to grow and thrive? Who among us has not wanted to take matters into our own hands and root out the evil in our midst? The master stops the slaves from doing anything of the sort. For one thing, it is not so easy to tell the weeds from the wheat, and for another, their roots are intertwined below the ground. Rooting out the weeds would uproot the wheat as well, doing more damage to the crop than leaving the weeds to grow.” 

Not unlike the sower who sows seeds with abandon; we see that the idea of where the community of God exists is in the world. That there is no separation in the world between the righteous and the unrighteous. That the mission of God is in the midst of the people of God (those actively participating in the kingdom and those who have not yet heard the Gospel).

We have to reflect on our own lives – What are the weeds, and what is the wheat? How will it sort itself out at the end?

III. Articles for this week in WorkingPreacher:

Old Testament Isaiah 44:6-8

PsalmPsalm 86:11-17 

Epistle  – Romans 8:12-25 

Gospel  – Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43