Paul Olsen

on the way…not there yet

Hyatt Hidden Lakes Reserve

It is permissible to hate very few things in this world,
but weeds must be one of them.

I hate weeds; I admit it.
I used to have weeds, lots of weeds in my garden, choke weeds.
I’d pull them out, but they’d just come back worse than ever.

And grass—weeds in the grass, and grass in the flowers.
I got so sick of them I re-landscaped part of my yard;
took me a couple of months a few years ago to do it,
but I ripped everything out,
sprayed it down with some despicable weed killer,
killed off everything, including the flowers,
 and started over.

Surely, I am justified—everyone hates weeds; they are evil!

Except Jesus—Jesus does not hate weeds; he loves them.
And even more amazing,
God does not hate his enemies,
God does not hate evildoers or sinners,
and God is in no hurry to judge them.

You may wish for and pray for the day when
God will get rid of every sin and every sickness,
every act of violence and every cause of injustice,
every wicked and cruel and depraved person,
and every horror that the world can dish up—and God will.

But not out of hatred;
God hates nothing and no one God has made.

But God does exercise judgment.
God judges, because God loves;
loves them all,
hopes for them all,
and is infinitely patient
with us all.

But God does hate evil;
that is one thing God longs to be rid of;
that is not what God intended the world to be like.
The kingdom of heaven may be compared
to someone who sowed good seed in his field,
Jesus says.
Evil does not belong where good seed is planted.
God desires a good and healthy world
where every living thing God created can live and thrive together.

So you are right to pray that every sickness and disease be cured,
that racism and every injustice be consigned to hell,
because that is the will of God for you—you can be sure of it.

You can pray—and we do, right here, every week—
that war and violence and racism
and the rampant greed and injustice
in our country and in our world
would be recognized as the evil it is,
and that God would wipe out every trace
of its memory on earth.

You can pray for an end to suffering and persecution,
for an end to terrorism and fear,
an end to poverty and racism,
for the final judgment of cruelty and oppression—
 because that is God’s will, you can be sure of it.

When you hear of terrorists killing the innocent,
or militia groups recruiting child warriors,
or violence in the land both sides call holy,
or Syrian refugees by the tens of thousands;
or immigrants just seeking what we all seek, a better life,
trapped in cages so full
that if we did the same thing to dogs we’d be arrested;
or the deep scars and brokenness of genocide and slavery;
of women and children being raped;
or any of a thousand other evils in your world—
do you not wish for God’s judgment on every evil thing?

Even when you consider the evil you have done,
the not-that-big-a-deal, easy to excuse, daily little evils,
not to mention the evils you dare not, cannot bear to admit
to yourself or God or anyone—
do you not wish for a purification of your soul
that would allow you to forgive yourself?

When you are sick or someone you love is sick or dying,
when this pandemic robs us of days we’d planned and treasured,
do you not wish for the day when,
as the book of Revelation says, God
will wipe every tear from their eyes;
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away
and God is making all things new?  (Revelation 21:4,5)

And that will be a good thing,
because every enemy of life will be no more.

Judgment is God’s will;
it’s a core Christian belief that one day
Christ will come “to judge the living and the dead.”

As Jesus says,
The Son of man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth—

We pray for that day…
even though the very idea of it takes our breath away,
and we tremble as we do it.

So if God hates evil,
what should we do when we see evil or injustice in the world,
and we know it isn’t right?

Leave it alone, Jesus says;  pray to God, and leave it alone.
The slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field?  Where, then, did these weeds come from?”  He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.”  The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?”  But he replied, “No, for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.  Let both of them grow together until the harvest…”

Jesus is not suggesting that we should just ignore evil when we see it,
bury our heads in the sand and hope it will go away.
Good laws and good government are still important,
and Christians should be concerned about them.

If evil can be prevented,
if evildoers can be restrained,
if life and goodness can be fostered, then we should do that.

In fact, not to do it,
not to stand with the innocent and the weak,
not to stand against racism and injustice,
and the persecuted and oppressed, when we can,
would be evil in itself.

But, oh, how easy it is to do wrong when you are sure you are right.

Oh, how much evil has been done by Christians in the name of righteousness.
Oh, how many Christians have caused more harm than good
when they have laid their hands to judgment,
convinced that they were acting in God’s name,
and doing right.
No one does more wrong than those who are sure they are right;
how many of the righteous have become evildoers in Jesus’ name.

So there is great wisdom in Jesus’ words.
Judgment just isn’t up to you; the sword is never in your hand.
Followers of Jesus—‘good Christian people’ like you or me—
often do more harm than good by trying to root out evil.

Trying to help God do God’s job,
we just get ourselves in God’s way,
ruining the good God is trying to do in the world.

In order to judge the evil in others
we have to turn a blind eye to our own sins and shortcomings.
To judge someone else is to put yourself in the position
of being more righteous than they are,
and that is a dangerous game.

Wendell Berry wrote a book, called Jayber Crow;
it’s about a barber in a small southern town.
One day, the conversation in Jayber’s barber shop
turned to the war in Vietnam.
Troy was at the barber shop that day—
Troy, by the way, happens to be
the husband of the woman Jayber has always loved.

And Troy—
Troy is not a nice guy;
Troy is sort of a weed in that town;
in fact, because of the way
he treats everybody and everything else,
Troy is pretty much a jerk in everybody’s eyes;
nobody really likes him, lots of people hate him.

It’s the 1960s, and Jayber says:

The war protesters were making a stir, and the talk in my shop ran pretty much against them.  Troy hated them.  As his way was, he loved hearing himself say bad things about them.
One Saturday evening, while Troy was waiting his turn in the chair, the subject was started and Troy said—it was about the third thing he said—“They ought to round up every one of them sons of bitches and put them right in front of the damned communists, and then whoever killed who, it would be all to the good.”
There was a little pause after that.  Nobody wanted to try to top it….
It was hard to do, but I quit cutting and looked at Troy.  I said, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you.”
Troy jerked his head up and widened his eyes at me.  “Where did you get that crap?”
I said, “Jesus Christ.”
And Troy said, “Oh.”
(But then Jayber says,)
It would have been a great moment in the history of Christianity, except that I did not love Troy.

And that is the way of our judgment, isn’t it—
We judge the unloving without love,
and so we judge ourselves.

But then, if judgment is not up to you or me, what can we do?
It is not up to you or me to uncover the evil in others,
it is enough just to face it in ourselves.
In fact, most of us can keep plenty busy tending our own gardens.

Jesus calls us the wheat—the children of the kingdom,
who live among weeds,
that Jesus calls the children of the evil one.
The wheat can’t do a single thing about the weeds;
it is not our job, it’s not our responsibility;
that is totally the gardener’s department.
The only thing the wheat can do is focus on growing.

But we can do that;
we can live well, in the midst of evil;
good choices are still vitally important for good seed;
even if everything is going to hell around you,
it is still possible to focus on yourself, on your values and beliefs,
to own them and live them,
to focus on how you will live well
without needing others to change or agree with you.

Martin Luther interpreted the Eighth Commandment,
“You shall not lie,” to mean,
We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations.  Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.

Imagine if that was to be our first defense
in dealing with evil in our everyday lives:
Whenever you have been wronged, to first find a way
to interpret your neighbor’s actions in the kindest way,
find some way to speak well of the very person who hurt you,
and actually come to the defense of your neighbor,
or coworker, or even your enemy?

To speak well of those you speak evil of you,
to interpret in the best possible light those you can’t bear to listen to?
Is it really too much to ask that that should be our first response
even to our political opposites or our international enemies?
What would it mean
to focus not on winning in our interpersonal relationships,
or even in our international relationships;
but to focus instead
on being the kind of person we really want to be,
to focus on being children of the kingdom,
who don’t have to beat their enemies, or top them,
who don’t have to win,
but actually just love them?

Jesus says,
Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.  The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Doesn’t sound like a pretty picture, does it?
It’s not—but this is not the work of a vengeful, angry, hateful God.

God hates nothing God has made;
what God hates is everything that destroys life
and the beauty of what God has made.

When we say we believe in,
even look forward to, God‘s Day of Judgment,
what we believe in is not the destruction of life,
but the restoration,
the redemption,
the resurrection of life.

Judgment is the strange work of God,
but according to Jesus, God is in no hurry to do it.

In the meantime, God’s work is to be patient.
God’s work is to be gracious, loving the world with all its problems,
and giving the world what it does not deserve.
And God’s work is to be merciful,
not giving the world the judgment it does deserve.

If that’s the way God works among us now,
then what will it look like when God finally does judge evil?
I think it will surely be a day of judgment and righteous,
but everything I have seen of God
tells me God’s’ righteousness always looks like
shining grace and mercy.

That is the day we pray for:
days of nothing but grace and mercy;
days when the weak no longer fear the strong,
when the poor no longer fear the rich,
when the gentle no longer fear the violent;

the day when God
will wipe every tear from their eyes;
[when] death will be no more;
[when] mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
and God is makes all things new.

And if that is the day we pray for,
then, in the meantime,
that is the only way to live and work and play today.

Live graciously,
be merciful,
no matter what day it is.

© Paul R. Olsen

JULY 19, 2020
TEXT: MATTHEW 13:24-30 & 36-43

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