Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Christmas Message

In the business of Christmas, have you seen God with you?
in the hectic, frantic pace of the days, have you seen God in the world?
I have. and as I said on Sunday, I’ve seen God working in you.
. . .
Christmas is certainly a time to take stock - to seek ‘peace on earth’ - and the well-being of all people. Sometimes it isn’t easy to see. 
It is God’s work to make peace, but we can help. 
We are of greatest help to God’s work by living the wonderful humanity we were given, the gift of OUR birth.
AND paying attention to all the signs God leaves in our path, 
so we won’t miss the Divine at work in the human world.

William Stringfellow wrote these words about living humanly;
“Discerning signs has to do with comprehending the remarkable in common happenings, with perceiving the saga of salvation within an era of [broken-ness] It has to do with the ability to interpret ordinary events in both apocalyptic and eschatological ways.
to see portents of death where others find progress & success but, simultaneously, to behold tokens. . .

of hope where others are consigned to confusion or despair. 

Discerning signs does not seek spectacular proofs or await the miraculous, but rather, it means sensitivity to the Word of God indwelling in all Creation and transfiguring common history, while remain radically realistic about death’s vitality in all that happens…”
(can we do this?, do we?)
he goes on to say,
“In the face of death, live humanly. 
 In the middle of chaos, celebrate the Word [made flesh].

Amidst Babel, SPEAK THE TRUTH! [that’s speak the truth to power when you live in this city]
Confront the noise and verbiage and falsehood of death with the 
truth and potency and efficacy of the Word of God. Know the Word, teach the Word, nurture the Word, preach the Word, defend the Word, incarnate the Word, do the Word, live the Word.

And more than that, in the word of God, expose death and all death’s works and wiles, rebuke lies, cast out demons, exorcise, cleanse the possessed, raise those who are dead in mind and conscience.”

and when we are about the work of doing all this…and have no doubt that we are!… then, we are working alongside the word made flesh, knowing that now and always, EMMANUEL, God IS with us!

William Stringfellow, An Ethic for Christians and other Aliens in a Strange Land (Waco, Tex.:Word Books, 1973), pp 138-39, 142-43. quoted in Ward and Wild Resources for Preaching and Worship Yr B (Louis:WJK,2002)28

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Newsletter Words - a season for spiritual growth?

On Monday evening I gave the following quote by Lovett H. Weems, Jr. to the Church Board: (nancy just chose a different font that isn’t too big)

Survival is Not a Worthy Goal 
Even in times of seeming scarcity, we serve a God of abundance who desires the abundant life for all. But our choices do shape our lives. Just as we encourage individuals to seek freedom from their possessions, so we must manage church finances so that money is not a preoccupation that takes energy from our need to reach more people, younger people, and more diverse people for Christ. The survival of any congregation is not a worthy goal. However, every congregation is called always to do their ministry in such a way as to sustain its mission over time. If your church has a faith to proclaim and a task from God in your community, then it would be irresponsible not to put a high priority on finding ways for such a ministry to continue. 
I believe that our congregation continues to have a calling and a strong faith to proclaim. I also believe that renewal and resurrection are key components of the Christian Faith Journey. In that light – in this SEASON of HOPE – I invite you to spend time daily with some faith practice that is new or renewed for you. There are Advent Devotional booklets in the narthex published by the COB. 

For centuries God’s people have practiced repetitive prayers using the psalms. The particular prayers I mention weren’t always part of the Brethren tradition, but daily prayer and Bible reading has always been part of our tradition. If you don’t know what to pray, try this: I find the Latenight US most appealing as a way to end the day. There are traditional names to these and many other practices but the names are not important, the time is. Forgive yourself when you miss, but rededicate each day to the practice. 

We will be spending time in early January exploring Spiritual Growth for our congregation. Bible Reading and prayer prepare us for the service to which we are called. I recognize that we have many different spiritual types and for some sitting in prayer is impossible. In that case, memorize a phrase or short psalm (117, 134) or verse that you can repeat as you bicycle, run or walk the treadmill. When we suspend our need to understand the logical way these words work, we allow the mystery of God’s presence in scripture to work in us – mysteriously!

May you find the Christmas present you’ve always desired hidden in the mystery of this season. “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to that One be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Eph. 3:20-21

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Pardon the Interruption

Tomorrow's sermon begins with some info I learned this week about Old Testament prophecy. I'm showing a keynote presentation. (Hopefully the other congregation's instruments will be out of the way.) After that intro and what I hope will be a productive discussion with plenty of congregational input, I will end with something like this:

I read many things this week, and listened to others. I’m sure you did too. I struggled to reconcile some of what I heard. I agree that like the editors of Christian Century said, “For black Americans, the abuse of power by police is a familiar pattern, not an aberration—and it is that reality that must be acknowledged and addressed.” (Christian Century: - editors)
@Dunker Punks Tweet

I recognize that given the way our legal system works, that the grand juries likely are directed to limit their observations to certain testimonies and facts of the case before them. YET, sure we are observant enough to see there is a bigger problem here. That is lived out in the way our systems work. 

Perhaps you are thinking you struggled enough with these problems this week and were hoping for a break at church. Yet do not the prophecies that influenced Jesus and his own life of righteousness point to our task?

Are we not Christians tasked with revealing God’s priorities for justice and righteousness in the world?
congregational discussion: are we? - what do you think?

On Thursday I listened to WHUR. The DJ spoken quietly saying today he was not a comedian, or a DJ, but a - 57 year old black man, who wants his 3 sons to stay alive. 
So he said when each learns to drive, he tells them, if (or when) you are pulled over (for any reason, which doesn’t begin to address the reasons) Turn the dome light on, put your hands on steering wheel, long before officer gets to your window. It could keep you alive.

Were any of you given that advice when you learned to drive?

You may have read, In one of many powerful confessions evoked by the shooting, Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post recalled how his mother used to tell him “not to run in public, lest I arouse undue suspicion. 
How I most definitely should not run with anything in my hands, lest anyone think I stole something. 
The lesson included not talking back to the police, lest you give them a reason to take you to jail—or worse. 
And I was taught to never, ever leave home without identification.” 

What white children are given such instructions?

It is important for us to bring the discussion into the pews and to do it today. First because the pain and loss demands us to respond and, as a friend who is preaching this morning said, “maybe the church’s role is to be a place where the truth can be heard. 
a place where all the stories are told AND listened to.

For a whole bunch of reasons to do with our society, the truth isn’t being heard in courts and it seems like justice isn’t being administered by peers.
We aren’t courts or police - altho we take our turns making up those bodies which administer justice - should we not be listening to the stories of pain? 
Shouldn’t we be putting ourselves in the shoes of others?  - as much as we can. 
I don’t pretend that I can understand from my position of privilege, but as Rev. Alan Cross wrote this week, “We should consider what people in the black community are saying, what are they going through, what is their experience.”

(option) “Author Barnabas Piper chose to post what others were saying about Ferguson and Garner on his blog, saying as “a young white man” he wasn’t in the best position to explain it all. “Put yourself in the shoes of the authors and immerse yourself in the experiences they describe,” he wrote. “You and I need to do so if we want to contribute anything to stopping injustice and closing the racial gap that exists.”

Young Adults recently read about the ‘New Jim Crow’. We live in a world where business opportunity for some means lobbing for strict imprisonment for drug and alcohol convictions so the FOR-PROFIT prisons can make more money.

congregational discussion:What would you share today - here in this place where we listen in order to hear God’s prophetic call to us?

I believe we are called to reveal God’s righteousness just like the prophets and just like Jesus. 
YET, like Mary, we may experience this call as a SIGNIFICANT interruption in our lives. It isn’t what we had planned for Advent or the New Year. 

I find myself agreeing with an unlikely partner, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Russell Moore, who said, “It’s time for us in Christian churches to not just talk about the gospel but live out the gospel by tearing down these dividing walls not only by learning and listening to one another but also by standing up and speaking out for one another,”

What if one tweeter is right when he said, “’Love your neighbor as yourself’ means you picture yourself being choked and surrounded by five men while you say, ‘I can’t breathe,’”


Isaiah’s words commission God’s people to prepare the way for his justice and righteousness. They weren’t waiting for the end of time for it to arrive, they were returning home to Israel and a chance at a new life.
What would new life look like for us?

congregational discussion Tell me your vision of how God’s righteousness and justice would change the images you saw on TV and on the streets in Washington dc this week? Instead of what you saw, what would justice look like?
. . . (encourage!)

congregational discussion what can we do to reveal this vision? to bring the truth to light? (or light to the truth?)

from Dunker Punks (NYC Began..) “But we aren’t extremists, we’re radicals. And as radical Christians, we must look at the roots of our faith, where we see Jesus, who very clearly condemns violence, especially in response to injustice. Follow Jesus at your protests..”
Isaiah’s words bring a message of comfort from God that it took a long time for people to feel.

John the Baptist invited his audiences to be washed clean of their sins, their failings. . .  John called the people to repent, not in the sense of saying that they were sorry so much as in the sense of turning back to God and to the way of life that God called them to.

Living Our baptism vows may cause an interruption in what we planned as individuals and as a church.
. If we are the people we claim to be..
. . .If we will ‘continue the work of Jesus’

..then we had better plan for an interruption. 


 ibid Banks quoting tweet Scott Slayton, a white Southern Baptist pastor in Chelsea, Ala.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Advent - I get the waiting

thank you Mark Allan Powell. Finally a really relevant concept of waiting in today's world. In the linked article on, Powell makes the connection to the way lovers wait for each other. I think it is finally an image that needs few words after it is said.

Or so I hope.
tomorrow we decorate the sanctuary and I'm off to a friend's open house. But I trust that the words and questions for the congregation will evoke a bit of what I felt when I read Powell's piece. Are you in love? How do you wait?

(I wait only a few day for my husband to return from the hunt club. But it's still a loving waiting.)

Saturday, November 22, 2014

What Does Jesus Think Of Us?

Matthew 25: 31-46
I  go to my doctor every 6 months for a cholesterol checkup. I'm grateful to have high cholesterol because otherwise my current health insurance wouldn't pay for check ups. (unlike those found under the affordable healthcare act which include well-checks). 
I like to know how I'm doing - especially when the blood work shows good health. But often I receive warning signs about my possible future.

A year or 2 ago the standards for a human body vitamin D levels were changed. How many of you were told you needed to start taking vitamin D? Me too, only I ended up with too much and was taken off it a year later. 

The Harvard School of health echoes my initial question by stating that Worldwide, an estimated 1 billion people have inadequate levels of vitamin D in their blood, and deficiencies can be found in all ethnicities and age groups.“Why are these widespread vitamin D deficiencies of such great concern? Because research conducted over the past decade suggests that vitamin D plays a much broader disease-fighting role than once thought.”

“Being “D-ficient” may increase the risk of a host of chronic diseases,” from heart disease, some cancers, to even the seasonal flu.” (

It is important to take preventive measures and to know where one stands. We need a good health check-up. 
So, What does a good health check up have too do with Mt. 25?(2) 

First, as always we look at context:
Two parables come before this story about the Son of Man as a KING coming in judgment. 
One is about 10 bridesmaids; some of whom weren’t prepared when the bridegroom arrived and the 
other is about talents, or money given to invest while the Master was away and only the one who didn’t invest what they were given was punished.
Both are warnings about preparedness and action while someone waits for the return of the master or leader. 

Like the health scare stories that ALWAYS seem to be in the news. One commentator points out that in the previous chapter the warnings for those who reject Jesus are more dire than the positive affirmations for Jesus’ followers.(3)
It seems that the all these passages are leading up to today’s story- which is found only in Matthew’s gospel- and is about the final result of choices in life. 

Matthew offers us a moment as intimate as those shared by Jesus disciples.--- The spiritual checkup.

Together they tell- even warn us to be prepared.The stories are a “Diagnostic tool designed to inspire faithfulness”(4)

Let’s consider How successful Jesus was with his disciples…

ASK: What were the disciples expecting
What was Jesus trying to warn them of
What trials /were Matthew's community facing (at the end of the 1st century)
What did the disciples end up doing when crisis hit?
So, What did Jesus think of them?

Are we ready to answer what Jesus thinks of us, yet?

I’m not sure the disciples really had time for a good well-ness check. As Jesus traveled to Jerusalem, their life was full of more surprises than his teaching words could prepare them for. And even tho we won’t read the passion narrative as a community until Lent, we know the plot to come is full of twists and turns. 

Today’s story is usually taken alone. But it fits better as part of the whole gospel. Especially now that we are finishing with Matthew and about to move onto Mark in Advent.
When we spend time with these words, we can be troubled by the separation of sheep and goats. (ASK? what troubles you - however you hear the metaphors?)

Scholars have debated whether this a warning to all people or to those who fail to welcome Christian missionaries. I am not sure it matters because the traditional understanding is to take this story as a warning - and we DO take it personally. (don’t we?) 

But we should look back to verse 37.
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?’
The righteous are shocked when Jesus commends them using the analogy of the King with Sheep. They don’t get it. even as they are welcomed to “the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” they ask, what? how? when did we?

Wouldn’t you think if you were the ones (and often you are) who work at AFAC 5 times a year, bring food for the soup kitchen, donate to disaster relief, buy gift cards for the women at Doorways Safe House, visit prisoners, donate to Heifer project, and generally support all the ministries of the congregation, that you would know it? Don’t you?
Yet, these ‘sheep’ are surprised.
ASK: How is it?

Each group is surprised-not just those who didn't serve others but the ones who did feed, welcome, clothe, and care. They were obviously not doing it for a reward. 
Unlike me at the gym- I’m there because I know it's good for me. 

Pastor Lindsay Armstrong wrote that “the King is looking for a naturally overflowing love, not calculated efforts designed to project a certain image.”(5)

I feel the discord between a natural overflowing of compassion and training myself to follow all of Jesus’ commands. Surely even if I don’t LOVE going to the gym, if I go often enough, my preparedness will begin to be a way of life, right? Is that really not good enough?

Yet there are other days when the sun is perfect, the breeze just right and I can’t imagine anything BETTER than a long walk which involves a lot of exercise. 
This year’s CROP walk was like that. The day so perfect that the good cause and the 5k walk of good exercise had little to do with the overflowing feeling that it was just GOOD to be alive on this earth.

Maybe there is a time when our gratitude really does spill over into compassion as a ‘primary and natural expression of our love of God and our experience of God’s love for us.”(6)

In those cases, we too might be as surprised as these SHEEP to learn that “salvation is something we discover, often when we least expect it.”(7)

Can it be that we recognize at those times when we ARE doing a spiritual check-up that

  • we struggle to live ‘right’ within the dualism the NT expresses/ a world full of both good and evil
  • that the Jesus Way is a way of ethics, not good feeling and we always have something new to learn about putting the ‘least of these’ first.
  • AND that of all the things Jesus said and did and LIVED, - LOVE was HIS primary command and LOVE his primary example.(8)

Yet we are only aware of all this in those moments where we EXAMINE our Spiritual Journey and look at the path of our lives. (like the ancient nighttime spiritual practice called Examin)

And we do occasionally (& somewhat surprisingly) have moments where compassion IS our first response, without the nagging thought of ‘I SHOULD do this’. 

Rather than agonize over our resemblance to sheep or goats, we might realize that “each of us is both 
unbeliever and believer, 
both commanded to care and in need of care,
both judged by the Son of Man and identified with him in our weakness,
both under judgment for our failures to pursue justice and we are saved by grace. 
we are - all of us - both sheep and goats.”
as Prof. Mark Douglas said.(9)

And we stand both in need and able to care.

We are in need of blessing, already blessed and we are able to be blessings to others.*

I trust as you celebrate with feast or with compassionate outreach this week, you will hold these images of sheep and goats before you, tenderly loving both categories with which we share kin-ship.

2. see wellness check concept Lindsay P. Armstrong Feasting On The Word homiletical (Louis:WJK,2011)333
3. Armstrong 335
4. Armstrong 335
5. Armstrong 337
 6. slightly adapted Armstrong 337
7. Armstrong 337
8 Eugene Boring NIB VIII Matthew (Louis:WJK,1995)655
 Mark Douglas Feasting on the Word - Theological (Louis:WJK,2011)336
*with a nod to The Rev. Dr. Jeff Carter

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Cold or Tired or Both?

The colder temps have arrived to Northern Virginia, but its still not too bad. I've been fighting a cold though so just sitting still is enough to have me chilled. It always amazes me how my body reacts as soon as the weather turns cold. I need more sleep, at least for a week, then I seem to adjust. But I haven't been getting it. I guess that's why I'm fighting a cold.

It has also been difficult to get to the gym, although I have been 2-3 times a week. Today will be tough. At least the dogs have gotten back into a full 2 miles when we walk.

How do you handle the change in weather, workouts and cold symptoms? Curling up under a blanket sounds like a perfect solution right now, but it won't get my work done. ah well.

I'm looking forward to hearing some advice here. :-)

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Nigeria EYN Persecuted

Great tragedy and sadness!

"In spite of our peace loving nature, EYN church is the greatest single denomination that the Islamic fundamentalists, the so called Boko Haram group, has almost successfully wiped out of existence in many Local Government Areas of Borno, part of Yobe and Adamawa States. Today as I am speaking, 26 out of the 50 EYN District Church Councils, together with its 156 local church council or parishes, have been closed down. 70 out of the 156 local church councils and 21 local church branches have been burnt down completely. In addition over 2,287 houses belonging to our members have been burnt down included their properties such as food stuff.
Also, we have on record: over 3,038 of our members who have so far been killed and 8 pastors that were also killed. In addition, 180 of our members have been kidnapped including a pastor and pregnant wife of another pastor with three of her children were kidnapped. It may also interest you to know that 178 out of the total Chibok school girls that were kidnapped are children of EYN members." from

"Save your people, God!" (Psalm 28:9a, CEB).

COB Newsline (for full story click on above link)

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Missio - Church and Post-Christian Culture

It was quite a conference in Carlisle, PA! I have a lot to think about. It was wonderful to see so many COB folks, but a really powerful feeling to be sharing with so many Anabaptists of different stripes. How we 'do' church and better yet, how 'church' is NOT our mission, just the way we come together to JOIN in mission is at the heart of what I believe.
 Now to pray and think about what we do as we/I continue to work within our structures, when clearly they aren't serving discipleship. Gut says to a least try some integration or migration before a 'cold turkey' approach. I think it will take much prayer and lots more agreement to hear how we are called to get to where we are called to be.  BTW, isn't 'called' such an 'insider' word?

Monday, September 8, 2014

Scripture for Sunday

Scripture Romans 14:1-12. After reading do you feel hopeful about your life? About the world?  Why or why not?

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Paper Dolls

When or have you ever played with paper dolls? I'm going to tell the story of Matt. 18 from the Lectionary Story Bible tomorrow and give out paper dolls so kids can act out the story of disagreement and reconciliation. Will they think I'm crazy when I hand them a paper doll?

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Summer is Different

Summer is 'different-time'. We all know it. I usually expect it to be more unique than it ends up being. But this summer has fulfilled the expectation of different. Three area churches, ACOB, Bethel UCC, and Arlington Forest UMC all met together in August, once at each site. We shared our styles of worship and learned a lot about each other. We had full sanctuaries, an expanded choir, and preachers got to catch up on non-sermon work along with some down-time. The members at ACOB loved it. We did miss being 'home' - just a little.

When we worshipped at 'our house' on August 10, we did a play on the first Brethren baptism, thanks to Robyn Reals research and writing. You see a picture of the 'Schwartzenau eight' in discernment to the side. It was powerful and a great reminder that if we want God's guidance, we need to 'walk' in discernment always. Also a reminder that such discernment may just take us to the 'radical anabaptist' place of acting in opposition to our government as they did. It is a lesson we need to keep in mind as we react to immigration laws, inequality rulings and all the things of the news.

Meanwhile, I've enjoyed my 'summer-time' as a time to visit, and write. I have caught up on some planning but now much put things in place. So it's time to move back to this Sunday's worship which will highlight National Youth Conference, yay Briana! #dunkerpunks and Annual Conference. Come visit us, it's our last 10:00 am worship before Sunday times return to 9:45 classes and 11:00 a.m.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Our Vital Ministry Journal and other places we may go.

Reach Out
Look Forward
Become MORE Intentional
Welcome Relationships
Demonstrate Love for All

The above were our consolidated responses during our Vital Ministry Journey Celebration on June 29. Those attending affirmed that we are a welcoming congregation that seeks to demonstrate God’s love for ALL people. The consensus was that we could be more intentional about sharing who we are and how we welcome as we look forward to what God is doing with us and in the world around us. Sounds ambitious doesn’t it? But it does sound very much like Arlington Church of the Brethren. 

In late spring, the Church Board (our elected decision-making body that does the work of the church between annual all-church council meetings) decided to use the same small group process of the VMJ to continue to pursue our welcome of LGBT individuals. I have written a small group study in the style of the VMJ Bible Study for us to use. It is one session, with an optional second session. 

Using this study our small groups will identify the Biblical basis of hospitality that we have always been taught and extend that to a congregation decision of whether to join the Brethren-Mennonite Supportive Community Network. The ‘SCN’ requires a church-wide vote of members and denotes us as the welcoming congregation we already are while also setting us aside as a church willing to walk with other congregations as they discern their own answer to the question of welcoming and supporting LGBT individuals.

The second session, if groups choose to meet a second time, will engage conversation around the current issue of supporting me in performing legal same-gender marriages and the use of the church sanctuary for weddings. Even in the Commonwealth of Virginia, the ‘times they are a changing’!

I recently attended a clergy-lay luncheon of the People of Faith for Equality in NoVa and listened to five high school student speak about their experiences of being LGBT in school and church. In schools many had the support of a strong Gay-Straight Alliance, but in many churches, the silence, implied judgment, or spoken condemnation of who they were was painful. It brought tears to my eyes and still does each time I recall it. Of all places on earth, should not the church be a place where people are affirmed as children of God, created in the image of God, whomever they are? 

I have always found ACoB to be such a place. Even if we differ on specific aspects of justice “issues”, we find common ground in our love and acceptance of all people.  As we use our affirmed identity to Reach Out, Look Forward, Become MORE Intentional, and Welcome Relationships, we will Demonstrate Love for All God’s Children.  Can I get an amen?

Weeds and Wheat (not gluten free)

The Weeds and the Wheat (not gluten free)
It is worth noting that metaphorical speech is a primary way we hear the stories of Jesus. His parables fall into all kinds of metaphorical speech - but this not a lecture on types.
It is enough to know there are NOT pre-packaged meanings, but challenges for the hearers to respond. (I recognize we will shortly hear a what sounds like a packaged meaning from Jesus’ own explanation to his disciples.)
 Question: What Unusual elements did you note? 
       answers/Master plants, where do weeds come from?
   “That he would be sowing his own field rather than his slaves is unusual.”
“Atypical dimensions function to gain the audience’ attention, impart insight, prepare for subsequent interpretation.”1
Where does one get ‘weed seed’? Who, what, when, …
Seed, nighttime ‘black ops’ is not explained.
Owner somehow knows an enemy has done this rather than recognizing a common weed. 2
Just like it should, the parable challenges us to think! Let’s hear how Jesus later explained it to those closest to him.
Scripture Mt. 13:36-43
1) how does this explanation make you feel?
2) do the categories apply to our day?

We seldom focus on “Judgement Day” nor think of a final HARVEST of souls - yet realize much of scripture did give clues about the end. Doesn’t make scripture irrelevant, we just have to do ‘our’ work to find ‘our’ meaning.

Matthew uses a frame of reference we call - ‘apocalyptic dualism’
What is it? What dualism do you notice?
Black and white, light and dark, evil and good = clear categories

We know a little about Matthew’s day; a time several generations later (1/2 century) when Jesus’ own people seemed to have completely rejected him (in fact most Jews and many Jesus’ followers have dispersed from the center of the movement in Jerusalem) and the movement is becoming a church of ‘gentiles’ or those who are not born Jewish. Resulting in resentments on both sides, and a diversity that doesn’t sit well in most 1st century congregations. 

Recognizing Matthew’s/author use of ‘apocalyptic dualism’ should cause us to look for it in our own day.

a sermon from 7/27/14 with my color coding that won't go away. :-)

Where do we see simple dualistic explanations and are we tempted to use the same? 

The scripture climb 
The message we seek to discern as THIS community again gathers around scripture takes work to tug and pull and listen in order to find.
Recognize that purposefully a parables’ vividness/strangeness leaves our minds in sufficient doubt to its precise application to TEASE our minds into ACTIVE THOUGHT. 
How are we to hear this?
1. Jesus’ ministry in his day : Certainly - the parable itself is likely Jesus’ very words. We can hear him saying it.. Agricultural images common.. Struggle for us who no longer live so close to the land and our food sources.
2. 1st Century Church : Our author inevitably writes about and to ‘his/her’ church which faced trials we can only imagine, as the population shifts and the church transitions, into something very new.
3. Judgement Day : Yes, it’s about the eschatological day of harvest - the end of all time.  For much of Christianity thruout history our faith language speaks of waiting, and hoping for this day of harvest, when we will see the risen Christ who comes to judge the world.
so YES - ALL THREE WAYS are meant to be heard.
And ‘hearing’ all 3 layers, we have already climbed into the text looking for ‘our meaning’.
We’ve dug into Matthew’s use of dualism, a somewhat scholarly approach - altho one we need to see. Now how about we return to the earth and dig some more.

 “Do You Use Weed Killer”

One more close look: Looking at weeds (see slide) What they knew and we don’t...
A pastor I know, Teri P describe it like this: “it’s a specific weed, named in the Greek text—is darnel, or false wheat. It looks just like wheat until the ears mature…almost until harvest time, you cannot tell the two apart. 
Only when the grain matures can you see that the real wheat is heavy and bends over, while false wheat stands up straight and has a slightly darker color. In the meantime, while you’ve been watching the wheat grow, the false wheat has wrapped its roots around the roots of the real wheat, so pulling up one would pull up the other, or at least damage it. 
To add insult to injury, the fruit of false wheat is poisonous, and even a little mixed in can make a whole batch of flour toxic.”3 

“Botanical equivalent of ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’ & Jesus has used that image before. 4
Now that you are botanical experts, 
What meaning do YOU take from this parable?  . . .Is there evil in our world? 
Did you note that Jesus’ explanation was not to the crowds but to his disciples? 
So the message about evil and good, existing together, is a message for the church... And perhaps a message for each of us.
One more question:
What are we told to do? . . . NOTHING
Not every sermon that ends up telling you to do nothing...

We are NOT to root out the evil in our midst the parable says, but leave it up to God. In fact, in a few more chapters, we are given some specific ways to address inappropriate behaviors in the church - see Matthew 18 for that message - but overall, we are to recognize that our God is a God of INFINITE PATIENCE. (TBTG)

That in spite of evils “pernicious nature” (much like Arlington’s English Ivy, or the Kudzu that is creeping our way from the south) we have a God that can deal with the evil among us. (even when we can’t)
It’s a reminder that the church contains evil, just like the world.

Now don’t you wish we were in a circle so you could look everyone here in the eye and wonder about who is evil?

Yet the church is greater than our circle. 
We know the horror stories of the Christian church
Our Brethren and anabaptist ancestors weren’t killed by non-Christians, but by OTHER christians who disagreed with baptism by immersion and our way of living.
Then On US shores - witch hunts
Church sanctioned slavery and racial discrimination (whole denominations broke into black and white and most are still that way)
The Lesser status for women in the world and the church (to put it mildly)
Even up to today’s ‘debate’ over equality for loving couples and who has the ‘right’ to marry.
Or even who is acceptable in God’s eyes.
Many would even pull up and separate those whose passion - makes them different, whether they are stewards of the earth, environmental advocates, social activists, or evangelical missionaries.
Who would you pull up and out of the church?

It seems clear, as one pastor put it, we have no right to condemn others as ‘evil’ as ‘wrong’ as ‘bad seed’. We are not the landowner – however much we might want to be. 
We are ALL God’s beloved children and, as humans we all fail, we all do wrong. Some wrongs seem unforgivable and awful but it does not make the person who failed ‘bad seed’ – just a fellow child of God who we all do.”5

Truth is “in any given moment there are members of the church who are acting, publicly or privately, in unchristian ways.”6 making the church a mixed field of sweet wheat and poisonous weed. 

In fact, recent brain research shows us that we are all a mixed field - right within our own selves. Each of our brains contains “evolutionary levels from the reptilian ‘fight or flight’ instinct, to the amygdala where the shape of trauma is preserved, to the ‘God center’ in the cerebral cortex.”7
“Each of us is some mixture of wheat and weed,” a scholar wrote, we are each “Holy and unholy, potentially fruitful and potentially destructive.”8

Meaning: If we are following the Jesus’ Way, then we too will act with RESTRAINT, recognizing that our God is one of “Holy purposeful ambiguity” which is far from the black and white interpretation that we at first see in this parable. 
Know that God isn’t shrugging us off, with a ‘whatever’ response to humanity. But the “ambiguity is both wise and intentional.”9

Our God of “infinite patience” gives us the time - even ‘frees us’ ‘to get on with loving or at least living with each other.”
“Often, in the space created by such patience, it is not just others, but we ourselves who are welcomed into a larger reality.” One person called it being ‘born again....and again...and again.’ 10

Are you feeling better about the waiting? 
And are you ready to hope for the harvest?

Maybe that stalk ..that looks just different enough from the rest of us that I’m convinced it’s a weed, will turn out to be the bearer of more fruit than any stalk in our field.

I might even HOPE that there will be time for God to transform the weedier parts of me into good fruit..some time before the final HARVEST. .When all will be safely gathered in...

1 -  William Carter for 7/20/14 Year A gospel

2- ibid
 Teri Peterson - Clever title
4 Talitha Arnold Feasting On The Word - YrA pastoral (Louis:WJK,2011)262
 Maggie Hunt posting on RevGalBlogPals 7/19/14
 Gary Pluso-Verdend Feasting on the Word YrA Theological (Louisville:WJK,2011)262
 ibid Pluso-Verdend p264
8 ibid
 Theodore J. Wardlaw Feasting on the word YrA Homiletical (Louis:WJK,2011)263
10 ibid 263