“What Would You Ask For?” – Rev. Tony Romaine – July 26th, 2020
Knowing all this, what would you ask for?
“Future Glory” – Rev. Tony Romaine – July 19th , 2020
We hear for our Gospel Message today, a parable that is all about judgment, all about good and evil, all about the wheat and the weeds. We hear Jesus tell the disciples that the seeds that are planted are what bring up either the wheat or the weeds. Jesus even goes so far in explanation of the parable to the disciples to let them know that those who are sinners and evil doers will be cast into the fire and terrible things will happen to us. We hear this Gospel passage and it should be no wonder to anyone why so many grow up with a faith based in fear. We hear these words of separating the sinners and the non-sinners and it is no wonder that when people commit sins, they fear the “wrath of the Lord.”
And to be completely honest with you, this parable has always made me uncomfortable, because it is difficult for me to hear Jesus; the One who was sent to die for us all, tell the disciples that some will be given glory in heaven and others will perish in hell. Now, side note here, Biblically this parable only shows up in Matthew, so the other three Gospel writers perhaps were of the same mind as me, but Matthew thought it important to include to really hammer home our responsibility to sow good seeds!
And yet, to say that some are guaranteed life everlasting and others are not has led to many on earth prejudging other people based on what a group that is currently in power thinks is holy or just. This can lead to persecution of fellow Christians or those of other religions, based on the idea that the “us” is predestined for greatness and we have the correct Scripture and teachings; while the “them” are pagans or heretics or others who are not correct, do not worship properly, and are destined to the fires. Even Jesus himself was a victim of a sect of religious leaders who wanted to remain true to their Scripture, their traditions, their teachings, and yes, perhaps their power.
You may think this is not something that we ourselves would do, but we judge people every day. It is just a matter of degree as to how far judgment goes. This is the danger in predestination…people are not willing to let God be the judge, they want to guarantee their after-life, they want to guarantee their salvation, and they will do it at whatever cost; blindly separating the wheat and the weeds, whether they know which is which. And this very parable verifies for some people the theological ideas of predestination and God’s predetermination of who is “in” and who is “out.”
See, predestination is great when we are the predestined wheat, but not so much if one is a predestined weed. Indeed, we only like to hear about our lives being predetermined when things work out well. And yet, part of me truly believes that my life is planned and God does have a purpose for me; that my life is not just left up to the whims of the world, but that there is a path laid out for me at my birth and there is indeed a Future Glory for me.
So, the million-dollar question is: how do we know if we are wheat or weeds? Here is where we must turn to our Genesis passage about Jacob. What we did not hear today because it would have made the Scripture readings quite long is where Jacob has been or what he has been doing before he laid his head down upon the place which becomes known as Beth-el; the House of God. Jacob is fleeing when he goes to sleep and dreams. Before this moment, Jacob withheld food from his brother in order to steal his brother’s birthright. Before this moment, Jacob dressed up and tricked his father into giving Jacob his brother’s blessing. And Jacob is now on the run and between his homeland and his uncle’s place in Haran. Jacob, if left to our worldly judgment, would not be designated as a nice person or one who is truly holy. Jacob is most definitely a sinner who was jealous of his brother’s birth position, regardless of family ties. And yet, we hear within Jacob’s dream these words:
“I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; 14 and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. 15 Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
How could this be, we might ask? How could God promise all of this to this sinner, who has done nothing to present himself as worthy of such a gift? How could God reward someone who is a trickster, a liar, and a manipulator? And in that moment, we see what is at the heart of what Paul tells us in Romans when he says:
28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Those whom God has predestined; God does not forget. Those whom God has planted as wheat; God does not let wither into weeds. Those whom God has loved from the very beginning; God does not allow to be thrown into the fire with the weeds of the evil one. For we may not know how or what is the right thing to do all the time, we may even do the exact opposite of what God wants for us to do; but God does not abandon us, God does not forget us, and God certainly will not allow us to be lost for time immemorial. God is with us, God will keep us, and God will be with us wherever we go!
This is the hope we get to have when it comes to predestination; the belief that we are of the wheat, that we have been sowed among the good seeds, that from birth we are guaranteed life eternal with our God, with our Creator; and that no sin, no lie, no part of our fractured human lives can indeed separate us from the love God has for us. That as Paul once again reminds us:
24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
That is our Future Glory! That we are part of the good seed sown at the beginning of time, that our seed will indeed grow into wheat, and that indeed we are saved. Are there wheat and weeds, that is up to God to know and decide. But I, in my fully sinful state as a humanoid fleshly being, am given hope through the story of Jacob and the blessing God rains down upon him and reminds him of in his dream. For if Jacob, this trickster, liar, cheater, and scaredy-cat can be part of the predestined love of God, then so can my soul, which has also sinned, be forgiven and saved!
We are so similar to Jacob in many respects. I do not know about you, but if it were left up to me, I would not consider my life one of complete holiness. If salvation were left up to me to decide, I honestly sometimes would not count myself as wheat. There are moments in my life where I have done things, said things, or acted in ways which would not be considered saintly at all. Indeed, if judgement were left up to me about my soul, I might just place myself among the weeds. But thanks be to God, judgment is not up to me; thanks be to God salvation is not up to me; thanks be to God the place I was planted was in the eternal spring of life where I am sown as the wheat forever and ever, regardless of how many sins might weigh me down like weeds.
Because here is what we might miss if we read our Gospel parable too quickly, and why I am glad the disciples asked for further explanation…Jesus is the sower of the wheat. Meaning, we are planted by the One who indeed came to forgive all sins. We are planted by the One who loves beyond love. We are planted by God Incarnate to grow and mature and be ready for harvest when the day of judgment comes. And we are not forgotten when we sin, we are not left to die when we sin, we are not left to run afraid into the darkness when our lives go awry; for Jesus himself planted us and nothing can change that destiny.
Perhaps I will be all wrong, and perhaps when it comes to predestination my thoughts are incorrect, but here is what I know about future glory for certain; there is nothing I can do to guarantee what Jesus has already sown into the fabric of my being. There is nothing I can do to alter the love God has for me and for my created state. And while hearing the parable of the wheat and the weeds may scare me as I consider my life; it should only do so to remind me that I indeed am of the wheat and must begin to live my life accordingly.
That is the promise of our Gospel passage, that is the hope in Paul’s letter to the Romans, and that is why God comes to Jacob in his dream. To remind us of our future glory, to remind us we are God’s, and to remind us indeed that God is with us, God will keep us wherever we go, and God will bring us back to the land of salvation when God is done with what God has promised us. Now is the moment we get to wake up and dream God’s dream for our life. Now is the moment we get to live into our Future Glory, Amen!
“Rooted in the Word” – Rev. Tony Romaine – July 12th , 2020
When I was a child, my parents taught me that I needed to be really careful with the words I used. They taught me that unlike words on the page, once I uttered something, I could not take it back. And while this lesson was lost on me more times than I care to mention, it has stuck with me to this day as a tool to calm my tongue and truly think before I speak. Because words matter!
Rooted in the Word
Words matter so much that God tells us through the prophet Isaiah that God’s word sent out will not return empty, but will accomplish what God’s purpose is for the world. But how do we know what are the correct words or how and what we should say? Indeed this is the quandary that has flummoxed people for thousands of years. So much so, that we have had holy wars and schisms and killed fellow Christians all in the name of what is right and what is wrong. And yet, none of us are God and none of us can truly know. Therefore, there must be something else we need.
Paul almost gets us there in Romans when he speaks of how distraught he is about our flesh. How our flesh and bones do not submit to the law of God, but rather go after the humanly desires of their bidding. How we are weakened in our flesh and need the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ to save us from our wretchedness. This wretchedness of flesh is exactly that which pervades our words. We say things, and spit vitriol and hate toward our neighbor instead of loving them as we would want to be loved. We utter hurtful words which cause us to divide and grow farther apart from one another, rather than unite and live in peace as God desires. We use written word to make laws that demean and dehumanize our fellow Christians, our fellow humans, only so that our power and privilege remain intact. And we use words to ridicule and debase other people’s beliefs, religions, and essence; thinking that in some way, shape, or form, we are lifting up Christianity to where it should be. When in fact, we are lowering it to the depths of the sins of our flesh.
So what hope is there for us? Good soil is the answer. The good soil which we spoke about in the Children’s Message. The good soil we are remined of in the Gospel message for today. The good soil that when seeds are planted hold that seed, that Word of God, and allow it to take root and change the soil from nutritious dirt into the fruit that yields one hundred, sixty, or thirty-fold. Good soil rooted in the Word.
We must not be so rock hard in our beliefs and in our ways that all we are is a pile of stones. For when the Word of God from whomever is sowing it, falls upon those stony hearts of ours; it will not take root, it will not change us, it will just be there ever so briefly and then blow away in the wind.
We must not be filled with the thorns and the brambles of our world which seeks to choke us out on the greed of money, power, lust, and fame. We cannot take any of the treasures of this world with us, but the thorny soil longs for more and more and more and does not care what grasses it chokes out, does not care what flowers it destroys, does not care what fruit it consumes; all it wants is more earthly treasure. The thorny soil only longs after the world of this world and cannot see past their own desires to empathize and understand what pain they are causing others. When God’s Word lands in these soils, it is choked out for its call is too demanding, too expensive, too troubling, too convicting; and so, the thorns of the flesh choke out the Word of God’s love.
Instead, we must be good soil, note I did not say soil that always does good; but good soil. Good soil is aerated and open to be filled with oxygen and nutrients. It is open to ideas and discussions. It is not afraid of the seeds that may fall, but is ready to discern between which seeds to hang onto and which to get rid of.
Good soil is open to being watered and fed through the Holy Spirit. This may mean that the good soil gets washed out sometimes, that it drinks up more than it can imagine. But the good soil knows that God is in the rain and is thankful for the showers that come.
Good soil is sometimes in need of turning and raking and hoeing. It is not afraid to have its world turned upside down and over and over. For the good soil has faith that through the turning, through the jumble comes new life and the promise of a brighter future. Good soil is strong enough, deep enough, faithful enough to withstand the turmoil of life and trust that the seed planted by God’s Word will find its place within good soil. And good soil is open to when that Word of God is planted, to take it in and nurture it so that it may grow and foster a faith-filled fruit; a fruit rooted in the Word.
As I was reflecting and planning for this week, I kept coming back to the idea of us planting roots with the words we use. In our modern day and age of busyness and social media and technology, words seem to have lost some of their value. People spread false info, opinions, and hatred and pass it off as fact. People share their “knowledge” on an issue they in fact have no training in, or in which they have no actual experience. And people flippantly use words which spread hatred and harm and have real life consequences; words which give people permission to hurt innocents or systemically degrade fellow humans. And while some think they can innocently spit anonymous hatred throughout our world without damage to self, the truth is our soil is drying up as the winds of hypocrisy, jealousy, and evil eat away at our fruit.
It is time we once again become the good soil that God laid down all those years ago. It is time we once again root ourselves in God’s Word. Whether we find that in the Bible, the depths of our hearts, or the words of our prayers. It is time we simplify, and remember the commandments we are being called to enact; to love God as the ultimate planter of our soil, and to love each other as we would want to be loved; as the seed that the Sower has spread. It is time we aerate, water, nurture, and turn up our soils to produce the greatest of fruits. And it is time that our words we use with each other come from the depths of good soil and return through one another to our God in joy and peace; so that the mountains and hills will indeed burst forth before us, and song shall ring throughout the land as all the trees clap their hands in the fruitfulness of the Holy Spirit.
Rooted in the Word
It matters that we are rooted in the Word of God, in the Word of Christ, in the Word of the Holy Spirit. And this might sound like a daunting task to go forth and be good soil. But if I asked you all to share the Good News with me right now, where would you start? If I asked you to tell me a story about God, what would you share? If I asked you to tell me what you know about God, what would you say? I doubt that you are going to go into the intricacies of temple worship, or tell me about ritualistic holiness problems, or even recite Paul verbatim or the priestly principles of Peter.
But what I know you can tell me are the stories of God’s love, of God’s Son, and of the Holy Spirit still working in and through our world; in and through you. We have always had the good soil within us, we have always been rooted in God’s Holy Word, we just need to listen, hear, understand, and nurture that Godly soil. We get so caught up in trying to say the right thing, do the right thing, be the right thing, that we actually bog ourselves down and take something so simple as sharing how we know of God’s love and we ensnare ourselves in complexity, only to lead to inaction.
God planted good soil within us so that the Word which is rooted deep within us could sprout and yield and grow unto the world. It is time for us to work our soil into good soil that is prepared for God’s Holy Word and for us to hear, understand, and put into action the seeds of love God planted in us through our creation. It is time for us to recognize that God’s Word has sprouted many fruits; fruits of different color, gender, nationality, race, creed, thought, and place. It is time for us to use our words to spread the seeds of the Holy Spirit that reside deep down inside our good soil and to indeed love our world into changing for the better. It is time for our soil, the good soil rooted in the Word, to yield its fruits of love upon our rocky, thorn-filled world. For God’s Word which resides within us does not return empty; but through the good soils of God’s creation, returns as the everlasting sign that can never be cut off. It is time for our good soil to sprout shoots of love and peace.
Good soils of God’s rooted Word, it is time, Amen!
“What Then Will We Have?” – Rev. Tony Romaine – July 5th , 2020
There is an engraving made by Pieter van der Heyden. It is titled, “The Land of Cockaigne,” known in Dutch literature as Luilekkerland (country of the lazy and gluttonous). This was a mythical place where there was no need to work, and where food and drink are so abundant that we need only open our mouths to take in what we desire. In the picture, there are a soldier, a farmer, and a clerk; who are sleeping off the effects of their overindulgence. Some of the remains of their meal are strewn on the platform encircling the tree in the center, while the mountain of buckwheat in the background and the house covered with pies at right indicate this land has plenty to spare. The image's moral intent is to decry the vices of sloth and gluttony, which is apparent from the first part of the Dutch inscription on the bottom frame: "The lazy and gluttonous farmers, soldiers, and clerks get there and taste all for nothing."
What Then Will We Have?
America, we have been given everything we need and yet we desire for more. We have food and drink aplenty, and yet we long for more. We have all the modern conveniences, and yet we want more things that go faster and faster…and for what? Are we so different from the farmer, soldier, or clerk in this print from the 1500’s? Do we not also consume everything, eat everything, have everything; and yet, it is all for naught?
What then Will We Have?
We hear this very same predicament from our Gospel passage for today. The rich young man, comes to Jesus because he knows something is missing in his life. And so he asks Jesus, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus responds, as any good rabbi would, with some commandments. So, when the young man responds in kind by saying he has kept all those, Jesus tells him to do the one thing he cannot…sell your possessions and give the money to the poor, then you will have treasure in heaven, then you come and follow me.
It is important, that when the young man comes asking Jesus about eternal life, after confirming that the young man is following the commandments, Jesus speaks these words: “If you wish to be perfect…” And while this may be splitting hairs in some circles, Jesus is confronting this young man with the fact that as humans we cannot be perfect.
See, for this young man who had all the things of the world and kept the commandments, the last step to perfection was to lift up the poor around him so that they too could want for nothing. And in confronting this young man’s imperfection, Jesus teaches us all about imperfection in general. It is significant that Jesus did not tell the young man that he could gain eternal life by doing x, y, or z; other than following the commandments of course, because it alludes to the point that there is only one who ever was and ever will be perfect, and that is God Incarnate. Moreover, that eternal life is guaranteed through Jesus, not the deeds of humanity.
But at the same time, just like the young man, what we are being called to do is examine our imperfections and be confronted with them. Remember, Paul tells us in Romans, it will not mean that we can do anything about our sinful state or sell enough things to bring about our salvation. However, what we can do is work toward perfection and do our best to follow Jesus’ teachings.
This brings us to another part of the tension about how we are to live; all Jesus wants is for us to follow him. All Jesus wants is for us to leave everything behind that would hinder our ability to follow Him. For as we hear later, and from where we get our sermon title today, in Matthew 19:27, Peter also asks, “Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” (By the way, this is truly like Peter to ask the “what’s in it for us?” question, talk about imperfect!) And after Jesus speaks to the end of times and judgment seats, Jesus tells Peter, and all of us, everyone who has left houses, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, children, jobs, for Jesus’ sake, will receive a hundredfold and eternal life. See, all Jesus wants is for us to abandon ourselves to anything that would prevent us from following him. And while this list may seem harsh that people would leave family or friends or work to follow Jesus; that is exactly what we sometimes are called to do for the greater good.
What Then Will We Have?
Perhaps you are wondering about why I would give this message on Independence Day Weekend; what possibly could this have to do with celebrating our Independence and America? We have been given a great gift by God and we are gluttonous, slothful, and are destroying our very nation. And while as a historian I understand that nations come and go and countries evolve and dissolve, I have a love for America which causes me to mourn for our present course.
We are not only increasingly possessive and reluctant to share with our neighbors, and strangers; but we are also an adulterous country cheating on our relationships with God and with each other. We have broken treaties, we have back-stabbed allies, and we have abandoned our fellow Americans and Christians because we do not agree with them. We use the name of God to promote our own political gains, and we tout ourselves as Christians and belittle others who are Christians because of different beliefs, denominations, or social standing.
We are a country who has not only stolen the land which we sit upon today, but continue to rob and steal from those who cannot protect themselves. We have done so under the auspice that God has gifted us this land and “blessed” some while not blessing others; the very same God who told the young man to care for the poor and who told the disciples that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. We allow the rich to get richer and keep the poor downtrodden and poor, where we can control and continue to rob and steal.
We lie and cheat and bear false witness against our own brothers and sisters, against our own creation, all in the name of the almighty dollar. All so we can maintain power and prestige, all so we can maintain our ivory towers and treasures on earth. We put down and bear false witness against our neighbors, our family, and our friends, all so we can seem wise in the world or so we can be “right.”
We do not honor our mothers or fathers, and we definitely do not love our neighbor as ourselves. This last one is self-explanatory; for if we are honest with ourselves, America is the Luilekkerland that I showed at the beginning, the land where the gluttonous and slothful eat, yet taste for nothing. We consume, consume, and consume while people die in the streets and on the borders, while our neighbors lack clothing and shelter, while people lie sick in hospitals. We think our independence is hindered because we have to wear masks or cannot eat out; while children starve, our family and friends are neglected, and we fatten ourselves at the table of America.
And when we come begging God to tell us what we must do, what good deed we must accomplish to have eternal life; we are confronted by our imperfections. Yes, there are things we can do to change our course, to better the lives of all people, to lift up our neighbors; but the real question is what we are going to do about it? Are we going to be like the young man who turned away grieving because his imperfection was too much and he could not bring himself to give his possessions away; or will we respond differently?
Perhaps today was a different type of fireworks display than you might have expected. And I am sure some of you are none too happy about my message for today. But hear this, on this Independence Day Weekend; The United States of America needs our help. In the grand scope of history, we are a very young nation, almost 250 years old, but we will not last at our current pace, and we will not last with our current trajectory. And this prophecy makes me none too happy myself!
So, on this weekend when we just want to take that break, relax and shoot off some fireworks and celebrate America; let us indeed remember our amber waves of grain and purple mountains majesty. Let us be reminded that we are the nation whose God rules from sea to shining sea, from the Mississippi River to the ends of the earth. Let us remember that we are a nation of immigrants, founded by immigrants, strengthened by immigrants. Let us remember all the things that make us great.
But let us also never forget that we are only a nation because God allows it. Let us never forget that our lands are not ours; but God’s. Let us never forget that any possession we have does not go with us when we die. And let us never forget that we built this nation on the backbone of slavery and stolen lands.
Brothers and sisters, our nation is living tension; because unity is not easy. Our nation is a sinful, slothful, gluttonous nation. And yet, we also have the hope and promise of a bright future. We can be the change, we can end the degradation, we can correct our ways and make sure the sins of our past do not become sins of our future. And we can take all the greatness, all the promise, all the possessions we have and give it all away to follow Jesus. We can lay down our arms, tear down our walls, dash our fears upon God’s rock of hope and follow Jesus.
And on that day, a true day of Independence, we will be able to answer the question of “What Then Will We Have?” For on that day, we will truly be a United States of America! On that day, we will indeed be one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. And on that day, bells will ring and anthems will roar as we will have accomplished our Christian call to let nothing prevent us from loving God and loving our neighbor as ourself.
And on that day, we will not have to ask “What Then Will We Have,” for it will be abundantly obvious, that all will have everything. God make it so! Amen