The Harvest of Hope

Feb. 26, 2017

There is a story recorded in Matthew's Gospel chapter thirteen verses 24 - 30 that speaks of a particular farmer that sowed wheat seeds in his field. As the story goes there was an enemy that came along during the night while the hired men were asleep and sowed thistles among the wheat. Once the wheat began to sprout so did the thistle. When it was discovered by the hired men that thistle was present among the wheat they immediately asked the farmer as to how this happened. The farmer knew that the wheat seed that was planted was pure. His explanation? Some enemy did this. The farmhands suggested that they weed out the thistle to which the farmer replied, "No, if you weed out the thistles you'll pull up the wheat, too. Let them grow together until harvest time. Then I'll instruct the harvesters to pull up the thistles and tie them in bundles for the fire, then gather the wheat and put it in the barn."

This story has intrigued me for quite some time. I have heard various sermons preached using this text. I recall one particular sermon where the preacher used the text to indicate that the wheat represented the believers in Jesus and the thistles represented those who did not believe in Jesus. The fate of those who numbered with the thistles were bundled up and thrown in the fire. I must admit that by the time the sermon was finished and the alter call was extended to the congregation there were all kinds of people coming forward to seek assurance that they numbered among the wheat. As I have given thought to what I witnessed that evening I offer this reflection.

This reflection centers around some of my personal insights that I continue to work on. This is a story told by Jesus. He seeks to bring understanding to those who are blind to what he is trying to get them to see. He doesn't automatically open their understanding and I think that is by design. I have become aware that when "night" or "darkness" is included in one of Jesus' stories I usually consider that there is a lack of awareness on the part of those being told the story, thus the darkness. Jesus is telling people what the kingdom of God is like not what it is.

What if the wheat in this story represented all of humanity and the thistles in the story represented "sin" that was sown within all of humanity? As I have pondered this question allow me to share some of my thoughts. In Romans chapter seven the Apostle Paul gives his readers his own understanding regarding sin. In verses sixteen and seventeen he basically indicates that it is obvious that his conscience sides with the law which confirms then that it was not really himself that did these sinful things but "sin" that manifested its symptoms in him.

In Galatians chapter one and verse sixteen Paul indicates the following, "This is the heart of the gospel that I proclaim; it began with an unveiling of his Son in me ..." If the Apostle Paul discovered both "sin" and the "Son" in him then I hold up for your consideration that this may be the representation of the Wheat and the thistles growing together within each and everyone of us. The Good News concerns what happens to us at the harvest. Can you just imagine? God sends the harvesters to bundle up the sin that has been growing within us and has held us hostage within our own bodies. It is then cast into the fire to no longer be a disruption. If that is what the kingdom of God is like then the anticipation of that day will certainly bring hope for all.

Feb. 20, 2017

So I moved from the part of the United States called "the deep south" to what people call "the mid-atlantic" or more specific the state of Delaware. Just to be honest, I never ever dreamed that I would be living and working in Delaware. But now that it is a reality, I can say without hesitation that I really like this place and I really miss my kids.

As a matter of fact both my wife and I miss our children and grand children very much. That being said, we don't miss an opportunity to talk to them by phone and with Facetime we can see them as we talk to them. I suppose the hardest thing about seeing them when we talk by phone is not being able to gather our children and grand children up in our arms.

Since living here in Delaware we have had a couple of our kids fly up for a visit. The excitement that comes from knowing their visit is eminent is almost more than we can bear. That brings me to the subject of this reflection.

My son recently booked a flight from his home in the deep south to spend a weekend with his dad in Delaware. To say the least, I was very excited with my anticipation of his arrival. We planned to spend our Saturday in Washington, D.C. taking in some of the sights of our nation's capital. To make our trip together a little more interesting train tickets were secured so we wouldn't have to drive or find places to park.

That particular weekend my wife had booked a flight to go celebrate a family birthday leaving me to have some alone time with my soon arriving son. Now that he is raising his own family, it is fun to watch him navigate through some of the obstacles being a parent often affords him. Once he arrived it did not take very long before he had to check-in with his family letting them know that he had arrived safely.

Presently, between my wife and I we have five grand children, a boy and four girls. My son's daughter is his oldest. She is quite a girl but of course a grand father would think that way because, well, it's true! This reflection is about that which is voiced by grand children. As I have watched children play on public playgrounds I don't think I have ever witnessed them becoming cross with one another. That's not to say that sometimes that happens but for very young children not so much.

After a fun day in D.C. we took advantage of sleeping in the next morning. After breakfast it wasn't long before my son was communicating with his family by phone. With the touch of a button the phone call became a video call so he could see his family while he spoke to them. It was a regular kind of conversation. His wife and children wanted to see their husband and father as much as my son wanted to see his wife and children. 

My six year old grand daughter took control of the phone and for the next few minutes she told her daddy just about everything she had done at school, at day care and just about everything else she could think of to talk about. As the phone conversation began to wind down all of a sudden I heard it. I had no idea that what I had just heard was going to impact me the way it did. 

I have discovered that wind happens when it happens and I don't have any say as to when it happens. I'm thinking that is why Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as the wind that blows from where, we do not know and to where we do not know. It just blows and from the lips of my grand daughter the Spirit of God began to blow. 

As my son was encouraging his daughter to finish the conversation so he and I could begin our activities for the day I heard her say, "Daddy, I love you so much I just can't hang up!" I sat there in perfect awe of what I had just heard and my heart was melting. I thought to myself, that is exactly what Abba says to each and everyone of us,"I love you so much I just can't let go of you."

I have thought a lot about the wisdom that came from my six year old grand daughter that morning spoken from the deep south and heard in Delaware. It was a simple yet profound message about the most important word in any language. What word you ask? Love!

Jan. 29, 2017

My reflection today centers around the idea of paradox. Perhaps it would be helpful to take a moment to explore the various ideas that tend to support paradox and its meaning. Wikipedia defines paradox as, "a statement that, despite apparently sound reasoning from true premises, leads to a self-contradictory or a logically unacceptable conclusion." Margaret Rouse in Whatis.com defines paradox this way, "A paradox is a statement or concept that contains conflicting ideas. In logic, a paradox is a statement that contradicts itself; for example, the statement 'I never tell the truth' is a paradox because if the statement is true (T), it must be false (F) and if it is false (F), it must be true (T). In everyday language, a paradox is a concept that seems absurd or contradictory, yet is true. In a Windows environment, for instance, it is a paradox that when a user wants to shut down their computer, it is necessary to click 'Start.'"

As I have considered paradox and how this idea has begun to take shape in my thinking the more it seems to become increasingly shapeless. This shapeless form tends to speak in silence, move in stillness and exist in nothingness. I invite you to "enter" my reflection by "exiting" your possible pre-conceived ideas related to certainty. Remember, this is only a reflection. A reflection is the throwing back by a body or surface of light, heat, or sound without absorbing it." Therefore, perhaps in order to reflect reflections we will need to absorb what we will reflect.

I have discovered that my reactions tend to surface within myself as I use my senses to make judgements based upon that which I have determined to be reality. Whatever reality I have determined within myself to be certain it is from that vantage point where comes my judgements. Most of the time my judgements about others, for example, tend to come from what I see with my eyes or hear with my ears or experience with the other senses I have at my disposal. What if that which I deem to be certain begins to change and what I was so certain of no longer holds the weight it once did? What does that say about certainty? 

It occurs to me that paradox may speak of passage ways through opening that to the senses do not exist. Now if I were reading this for the first time I might be thinking that the writer of this blog is talking out of both sides of his mouth and there was a time when I would have agreed. But as I have explored some of the sayings of Christ it is becoming clearer to me that paradox may have aided Jesus in putting the invisible right before our eyes inviting us to look at it with a different sense that perhaps we didn't know we had nor the ability to use.

In the gospel of Matthew chapter 16 and verse 25 Jesus is recorded as saying, "For whoever will save his life shall lose it: and whoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it." Luke's gospel chapter 14 and verse 11 says, "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted." Now these are just a couple of examples of the paradoxical nature of some of the sayings of Jesus. One of my favorite Bible stories that speaks to the paradoxical awareness of contradictory understanding appears in John's gospel chapter nine. This is the story about the man born blind. The blind man was treated by the religious establishment as a sinner due to his blindness. Therefore to them he was a social outcast. Once he is healed of his blindness he is given a new perspective regarding the outcasts of his day of which he is most aware. When Jesus finds him and asks him if he believes in the Son of Man the outcast former blind man asks Jesus who he is so he can believe. Once Jesus identifies himself as being the Son of Man the former blind man has absolutely no difficulty in believing in Jesus. In other words, this young man who had been blind all of his life was able to see Jesus for who he really is, the Son of Man.

The paradoxical idea of blindness becomes increasingly apparent when Jesus speaks of blind guides. He said they strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. He asks if the blind can lead the blind? Shall they both fall into the ditch? As I have continued to reflect on my own blindness I keep on hearing the recorded words of blind Bartimaeus in Mark's gospel chapter 10. When I saw my blindness for the first time I cried out, "Jesus, thou Son of David have mercy on me" just like Bartimaeus did. Paradoxically speaking, in order for me to see, really see, I had to admit my blindness. When the Pharisee asked Jesus recorded in John nine if he were blind also Jesus replied, "If only you had recognized your blindness you would have no sin." That makes sense since Jesus came to take away the sin of the world.