Returning Ever So Gently our Focus

The Rev. Robert P. Travis

7th  Sunday after Pentecost Sermon – 5pm and 10:00am Church of the Ascension

Proper 11 RCL Year A 7/23/2017

 

Scripture Text:

Isaiah 44:6-8

Psalm 86:11-17

Romans 8:12-25

Matthew 13:24-30,36-43

Sermon Text:

Salem Trials,

The McCarthy Era,

Nazi Germany,

Bosnia,

Rwanda,

Isis,

Refugee bans.

The history of groups trying to remove

Perceived weeds from their midst,

Is full of examples,

Some racial, some political,

Some social, some religious.

They usually did a lot of damage.

 

You know what’s interesting about these movements?

If we look back on them historically,

We almost universally perceive

The ones pushing for purity or cleansing,

Or whatever they called it,

As the ones in the wrong.

Regardless of how pure their intent may have been

history proves what Jesus was teaching

So long ago.

It is not our place to pull up the weeds

No matter how we perceive them,

From among us,

Not our place to try to purify our society,

Our churches, our communities

Of those we deem less desirable.

Even if we think the society would be a better place

Without them.

 

Some have tried to deal with this issue

By simply stating,

“We’re all God’s children,”

As a way to accept all people.

But while we are all created by the same God,

It is an oversimplification

To say that,

As Paul pointed out in our Romans reading.

It’s kind of a denial of the problem of the weeds,

Rather than a solution.

It might be more accurate to say that all have the potential

To become children of God.

But there is a truth within us and among us,

That makes us long for pure societies.

There is truth that we can all accept

In the parable that there are weeds among the wheat.

 

We don’t have to look far,

Weeds are everywhere among us.

There are people who deceive others,

People who steal,

People who abuse others.

There are people who take advantage of others

For their own profit.

There are people in all walks of life.

Even those who would take health care away

From 35 million people out of spite

For a leader they didn’t support. (one weedy issue

I struggle with recently, along with a lot of others, I think)

Sometimes it seems like it would be so easy

To just remove them from society.

 

But what if we are the ones who

Are perceived as weeds by others?

There are places in the world,

And even in this country where Christians

Are thought of as the weeds

That need to be rooted out.

That fact alone should give us pause,

When we think we have the answer

To ridding the world of those we believe

Are the cause of all of our problems.

But that tendency is still in us.

There was one politician recently,

Who was so upset about the problems

Caused by Islamic extremists,

That he blurted out “Kill them all.”

And that kind of urge is what has lead

To so many atrocities and genocides in history.

 

What happens when we take the weeding

into our own hands,

is that we stop trusting that God

to be the one who will reward people

according to their deeds.

We stop remembering

That the scriptures tell us in Deuteronomy

And Romans,

“Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

And here in this parable,

Jesus tells us God will purify us from the weeds,

At the right time, collecting them to burn.

In case we are worried about this judgement

Falling on us,

We again need to be reminded of the same thing,

It is not ours to judge,

But if we trust that God loves us,

We need not worry that we will be gathered with the weeds.

This is one reason it is so important,

To convince others that God loves them.

For somehow, just knowing that,

And believing it,

Has a transformative effect,

On the most weedy life.

The weeds can become wheat,

If they but trust in God’s love for them.

This is the adoption process,

That Paul is talking about, the Spirit of Adoption,

That changes one from being a child of the enemy,

Into being a child of God.

 

This parable, like most of Jesus’ teachings,

Has a deeper level as well.

While the obvious teaching has to do with

Groups of people.

That aspect is about our outward lives,

But there is a meaning about our inner lives as well.

 

The overall teaching is about the kingdom of heaven.

And we know that the Kingdom of Heaven

Is not just what we’re looking forward to

At the end of time,

But also something near,

For that is Jesus’ message,

That the kingdom of heaven has come near.

It is within us as well.

And so this message about the weeds and the wheat

Also has to do with our individual, interior lives.

 

Anyone who is trying to have a practice of contemplative

prayer, whether it is through Centering Prayer,

Christian Meditation or some other form,

Will know that the distractions of our minds are many.

Many people even say, that their thoughts

Keep them from sitting in contemplation.

And yet brain scientists agree that this kind of prayer

Is essential to our health and well-being,

As well as important for our relationship with God.

When we accept that truth,

try to sit daily in contemplation,

the distractions of our minds can seem constant.

And no matter how long we practice,

The distractions of our thoughts are always there.

We can be tempted to try to beat back

Or uproot the thoughts and feelings

That distract us from our purpose.

But when we do that, we uproot the wheat

The very heart of contemplation in our efforts

To remove the weeds of our thoughts.

 

In the method of Centering Prayer,

Thomas Keating expresses the art of this practice

In the simple statement,

That “when thoughts come,

Return ever so gently to the sacred word.”

It is in returning “ever so gently”

That one acknowledges the weeds,

Without pulling them up and the wheat with them.

Somehow, in that gentle acknowledgement

And turning back, the weeds are less of a problem.

 

This prayer then becomes a metaphor,

And if we practice it regularly much more than that,

Of the way the Kingdom of Heaven

Lives in us, and how we are to engage it.

Rather than trying to uproot all the weeds

In our lives that distract us from our true purpose,

That distract us from the Kingdom of Heaven,

We simply acknowledge that they are there,

And return our focus to what matters.

It is in this that we begin to perceive

The spirit of adoption within us.

When we are distracted by the weeds in our life,

And return ever so gently to our word,

It is like we cry, Abba! Father!

And maybe that really is the word we use…

We call on him to be the one to remove the weeds.

And then as Paul says,

It is that very Spirit, the Holy Spirit, bearing witness

With our spirit that we are children of God,

And if children, then heirs, heirs of God

And joint heirs with Christ.”

What are we inheriting?

The Kingdom of Heaven.

 

We will inherit the Kingdom when we come

to the end of our age,

But we begin inheriting it as soon as we

Practice this returning ever so gently,

To our focus on God,

As soon as we call on God as our Abba,

Our daddy, our father.

And we turn away from, rather than

Trying to uproot,

The distractions that separate us from God.

 

So it is not correct to oversimplify,

And say as a blanket statement,

That all are children of God.

Because the truth is that we must engage

In this process of being led by the Spirit of God,

To become adopted as children of God.

Then, truly, as Paul says,

All who are led by the Spirit

Are children of God.

This is a way of understanding that

Draws us into deeper acknowledgement

Of the reality in which we live.

 

The reality is that there are weeds among us,

And within us,

But it is not our place to uproot those weeds.

We simply acknowledge their presence,

And return ever so gently to our focus

On our Father in Heaven,

And so we are drawn more and more

Into the Kingdom of Heaven,

Which will become ours as his adopted children.

Centering Prayer is an exercise,

That helps us with that practice in our lives.

If you do not have this exercise

In your life, I encourage you to develop

A daily practice as its benefits

Especially towards not being so disturbed

By the weeds in our lives

Are great.

 

You can get help for this practice

By coming to one of our weekly

Centering Prayer times, either here

Or at the Chapel,

Or just by calling and talking to me about

The practice, as I am always willing to help.

 

We don’t have to look far to perceive the weeds

All around us and within us,

But there is hope in God to

Be the one to remove the weeds at the right time.

We can trust him to do this,

And if we participate in

Returning our focus ever so gently to him,

Then we will begin to live in the Kingdom of Heaven,

Even in this life.

 

Amen

The Rev. Robert P. Travis

Father Rob goes by Father so that he remembers his duty to the people of God whom he serves. He’s been ordained since 2006, serving in Florida and Tennessee and before that served as a youth minister in Long Island, NY. More details