PENTECOST TEN – preached at Most Holy and Undivided, July 20th, 2008.
We begin this morning with the famous dream vision of Bethel. And the key sentence, the one that jumps out, is “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it!” Why is this crucial? because Jacob is above all a “knower” – he is making his way by being smarter-than-everybody … his brother, his father, his uncle Laban… and this admission that he has NOT known is one moment of -“metanoia” – the moment of turning around. The other one comes later – they are like book-ends at either end of his experience of exile in a foreign land – the other one happens when he is on his way home again. But this is a starting place…the acknowledgement of NOT KNOWING something very, very important. It colours what comes later, too. Stay tuned. This story gets more and more interesting as it goes along. Jacob is an entire rascal, and he's had to remove himself from his family because of it, and yet he is the chosen instrument of God’s purpose for Israel…a great conundrum.
The Psalm is a kind of response to it…the tension between knowing and being known…and the conclusion might be no more than a shrug – “God knows [so I don’t have to]”… but beyond the commonplace that God knows all about us, and there’s just NO getting away from him, comes the plea that God’s knowledge of us will be applied to our good. We don’t know God, and we don’t know ourselves: “Search me out, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my restless thoughts. Look well… and lead me.” If we were to translate this…”I have no idea whether I’m doing the right thing or not. You know. Please take a good look, and tidy up and re-direct as necessary.”
What an amazingly liberated and liberating way to pray, to think about one’s conscience…”God, I’m depending upon you to put me to rights…because it’s your responsibility.” And at the same time the ultimate expression of obedience…literally we say, “I cannot call my soul my own – HURRAY!”
And then, in this context, we hear St. Paul… what does this mean, this set of Hebrew experiences and insights and expressions? It finds its meaning in Jesus Christ, and its meaning for US is that we stand before God in exactly the same place as Jesus Christ…that God looks at us with the same love, the same cherishing, the same delight, that he takes in his #1 Son. All of us. It’s important to know that the term “children of God” was fairly loosely bandied about in the ancient world. That’s why Paul goes on at the length he does…and the spirit is within us – remember that that is the spirit of GOD, the Holy Spirit, as we glimpsed last week…it is not only our Advocate, and our Comforter, but our Coach and Prompter in prayer – if you can imagine the Holy Spirit saying in our ear, “Psst, try saying THIS to God…” and making little encouraging noises .
Now what does this have to do with the state of the world around us? It gives us a place to stand in order to UNDERSTAND, the parable of the weeds of the field… and the general messed-up-ness of everything, sometimes including ourselves. [anecdote of church sign. Again, we have a sentence expressing the central insight: “an enemy has done this.” OK, fine. But what do WE do now? We see through the trap… set for us by “that which is NOT OF GOD.” – the existence of evil/harm/suffering/sin/wickedness in the world which IS God’s. it is a kind of Catch 22 trap… [“weeds” is kind of an inadequate word, here, as I understand it; this was actually a plant that appeared to mimic the wheat quite closely but was very toxic… discussion the other night about various kinds of apparently wholesome foodstuffs that can make us miserably ill if we don’t recognize their presence in what we’re eating!] We can see ourselves as harmed/trapped by the action of “the enemy” in two ways… either the weeds grow up and spoil the crop, choke out the good wheat or poison the reapers; or in our indignation we ourselves spoil the good wheat by tramping about in it trying to root out all the weeds by our own efforts.
But that perceived trap is only real if we forget our other experiences, the moments that our other readings have brought together for us this morning. The experience that is Jacob’s moment…of suddenly realizing that we have been in the presence of God all along—AND WE STILL ARE. And of knowing that God perceives what is good and what is bad in a way, and with a completeness, that we will never be able to attain in this life—AND HE’S STILL DOING IT. And of recognizing that this mixture of what is wholesome and what is harmful is not just the reality of the world; this is the reality of our own selves, where only God can pick apart weeds and wheat—AND WILL KNOW WHEN AN IF IT’S RIGHT TO DO SO--.Thanks be to God because our own desire to rip, tear, and uproot is so unsupported by knowledge, understanding, vision. Particularly troublesome in the church – we can make it perfect by just rooting out all the people whose opinions, manners, customs, style, thinking, don’t match our precious own. Especially troublesome at the moment – when patience, forbearance are particularly difficult and challenging...a time of groaning for many people on every side of every issue.
QUOTE from Bishop Mwamba: "Let us then straight, gay, liberal, conservative, moderate, Anglo-Catholic, Evangelical, traditionalist, Africans and Americans, Asians, Europeans get into each other's worlds and be enriched in the discovery of our oneness in Christ and together enlarge God's kingdom of love where everybody has a seat at the table."
"Let's beware of excommunicating each other here on earth. For we shall find in heaven we are still bound together at the table of Christ's love. Archbishop Akinola sitting next to Bishop Gene Robinson for such is the kingdom of God."
God is in the place, and we do not know it; seeing what we do not see, knowing what we do not know, doing what we cannot do, loving what -- and whom -- we cannot love...in order that all his beloved may shine like the sun, and his whole creation come to its fullness in the light of his glory. Thanks be to God.