Church Chatter · Daily Reflections

Journeying through the Psalms

Journeying through the Psalms

This week we begin a new series of reflections, focused on the Psalms. I encourage you to continue with your Journalling, as we grow in our faith.

Psalm 32

In Psalm 32, we read how David expresses the joy of forgiveness. God had forgiven him for the sins he had committed against Bathsheba and Uriah.

The message that we are receiving today is that God wants to forgive sinners. Forgiveness has always been part of his loving nature. He announced this to Moses, he revealed it to David, and he dramatically showed it to the world through Jesus Christ. These verses reveal several aspects of God’s forgiveness: God forgives transgressions, covers sin, and doesn’t count our sins against us. We can have this joyous experience of forgiveness through faith in Christ.

In order to be forgiven, we need to confess our sins. But what is confession? To confess our sin is to agree with God, acknowledging that he is right to declare what we have done as sinful, and that we are wrong to desire or to do it. It is to affirm our intention of abandoning that sin in order to follow him more faithfully.

God longs to guide us with love and wisdom rather than punishment. He offers to teach us the best way to go.

Accept the advice written in God’s Word and don’t let your stubbornness keep you from obeying God.

Let us pray:

Heavenly Father,
there are many times when I have failed to listen to Your voice,
gone my own way, and fallen flat on my face!
Thank You that I can confess my faults to You,
and that You are faithful and just to forgive all my sins
and cleanse me from all unrighteousness.
Help me to grow in grace, mature in the faith,
and draw ever closer to You.
Keep me alert to your instructions, show me the path I should go,
and guide me with Your eye, I pray.
May I never stray from Your path,
and may my life be a godly witness to others and a blessing to You.
This I ask in Jesus’ name, AMEN.

Testimonies

2020 Testimony

Testimony by Vanda Chittenden

“The Best made plans of mice and men…”

No matter how carefully 2020 was planned, something may still go wrong with it, and it did. 2020 happened.

At the beginning of 2020 there was so many awesome plans, of what we were going to do in the community, in the Church and with outreach.

Personally, things were looking up, work was going great for change, we were expecting a raise and a bonus. My family was doing well, everyone had a job, everyone was healthy.

But things did not go according to plan. For all of us, plans changed, and we were all affected by the Pandemic in some way.

Not long after lockdown, my son lost his job and has still not been able to find a job. My father fell and split his head open to the bone, and severed an artery, my mom was struggling with severe pain all over her body. My brother had to move in with us and is living on a mattress on the floor in our living room, for a year now. Far away from his family in Langebaan. I have had some health scares, and suffered a salary cut.

The first month or so when lockdown started, was dark and depressing, and I found myself wanting to give up and leave. To swear at the world, and what I have not told anyone, is that I wanted to leave this world. I was struggling with stress, anxiety, and depression. I have lost good friends to Covid 19 and from other illnesses over the past year.

Fr. Andrew started daily Morning and Evening Prayers, and I had to force myself to take that step and click on the link and join in with the prayers. At times, I had to mute myself and cried in between. I had to force myself to study, and to read the Bible. To pray and to meditate.

The best activities of 2020 were the Morning and Evening Prayers, if it were not for those communal prayers, I would not have realised how powerful it is to prayer together for our community. I would have stopped growing closer to God and stopped maturing in my Faith. I would have become lost. Like a lost sheep in the wilderness.

But time heals all things, and that can only be done, if you pray regularly, together and in a group. The Zoom group has been a source of joy, healing, laughter, community, fellowship, and spiritual growth. I know that not everyone has access to this platform. And there were times, where there was just 2 of us. But as it says in Matthew 18 vs 20: For where two or three gathers in my name, there am I with them.”

With the daily Morning and Evening Prayers, I have found strength again in God, renewed and refreshed Spirit within me, doing things to change me from within.

We started the Evening reflections at 7pm daily, which was a growing source of joy to me. As I was sharing the reflections every evening with you, I was changing and learning and being fed with you, as well.

And then we learned how to do things differently in our Church Community.

We started sharing the services online, both on WhatsApp and on Zoom. Oh man! Was there some pretty big hiccups and technical difficulties in working out what we needed to do, to make things work. And since I am being honest, I wanted to throw my laptop at someone, a couple of times in the beginning, while we tried to work things out. In the end, everything worked out fine.

I have learned something about patience, and not letting the small things bug me. But that is still a work in progress.

I have also learned that you need “Brain Wifi”. That is a story all on its own. Ask Fr. Andrew about “Brain WiFi”

We managed to still run our Alpha as planned, but online, and this went very well. What I learned with being online, is that you reach a whole new group of people, that you would not have done, if we had run it physically in church.

We started something new with the Prayer course, which was a success, where we learned a variety of ways to pray.

And then we tried for the first time, the Difference course, which is all about Reconciliation. The group consisted mainly of fellow Theology students, and a couple from the Methodist Church. I was so scared to run this course, because of the “issues that would arise”. And they did rise as expected, but instead of it being a disaster. The response to this course was astounding, and truly inspirational. There has been a call for more workshops on Reconciliation, more about this later in the year, this course will be run several times this year. The reconciliation course knocked me for six, as I realised a whole load of things about myself, that I would not have attributed to myself. And I learned that forgiveness is hard.

2020 has been hard. But out of the pandemic, illness, stress, and anxiety. We have been forced in a way, to adapt. Just like the first Church had to adapt, and the disciples had to adapt. We learned new skills, new ways of doing things, and have seen a shift in how we worship our Lord God, and a shift in the way we minister in this new normal.

I am sure that we will continue to have a couple more wobbles in this journey, but together we can persevere and forge new ways of Being Church in our Community. We just need to be courageous in blazing the way to a new way of Being Church.

God is with us, in us, all around us. The biggest lesson I learned, is that nothing is too big for God. If you give your troubles to God, all will be well in the end. He has plans for you, but focus on what is happening right now, and do what God requires of you right now.

Take part in the prayers, listen to the Sermons, read your Bible, and listen to your group of friends in your circle. Without continuous nourishment, we will wither and be lost. Keep feeding and watering your faith. Don’t give up.

God be with you, as we continue to journey together.

Sermon

Ruffling Feathers

Homily based on Matthew 15: 21-28

“We need to talk.”

These four words are a call to attention and have the potential to immediately strike fear in the ears of the listener. It is the classic introduction to a break-up conversation, or bad news is going to be delivered. It indicates that something big is happening and a tough conversation is coming.

A woman presents with an urgent plea, shouting for Jesus to help her daughter, and what follows is perhaps one of the toughest conversations recorded in our gospels. And it almost does not happen. The response from Jesus and the disciples initially is silence, ignoring her cries. And when Jesus does respond? It is not pretty. In fact, it almost does not sound like Jesus at all.

“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” It is at best a brush-off, a sending away of this woman who does not merit his time or attention. Such a statement is counter to our most basic understanding of Jesus.

Where is the Jesus who says, “let the little children come to me” and who seemed to pause at every bend in the road to speak to people, much to the disciples’ dismay. Where is the Jesus who stops when a woman who is bleeding touches the hem of his coat, taking time to respond to her needs and offer healing? The one who does not send the crowds away, but instead tells the disciples to give them something to eat?

I would like that Jesus, please. Because what we have seems far from it. Then, he makes it worse, not just insinuating, but flat out calling the woman a “little doggie,” a diminutive, derogative term, not worthy of what is given to the privileged children at the table. This is not the Jesus we learned about.

In fact, it is a presentation of Jesus that will get under our skin and make us frustrated and exasperated. It seems callous, mean, and cold-hearted. These are not usually words we put with our Lord and Saviour.

Perhaps we can find out what is going on by turning our attention to the woman, who is not given a name, but is described by her ethnic identity. In the version of this story that we find in Mark’s gospel, she is labelled as a gentile, specifically a Syrophoenician (see Mark 7:24-30), identifying her as an outsider.

But Matthew’s gospel takes it one step further, identifying her differently, with the label of Canaanite. Such a marker is significant and would have been especially so to those in the 1st century. You see, it is a biblical reference. There were no Canaanites living in the first century, so:

The label evokes historical conflicts and thus defines the woman in terms of age-old prejudices a first-century Jewish audience would understand.

Such tension was inherent to the cultural context of the day, and it reveals a very sobering mirror to those listening, including us. We like to think of Jesus as above all of this, but here we see him at his most fully human. And in this picture of Jesus, we might see ourselves and our own prejudices revealed. We certainly feel the tension that comes in difficult conversations with those with whom we would prefer not to associate.

The writer of the gospel of Matthew places this encounter in a strategic place in the gospel that sets the stage for the woman to enter. After all, Jesus has just finished telling the scribes and Pharisees that it isn’t a strict adherence to purity laws or dietary regulations that makes one part of the covenant; it is the interplay between what is in the heart and the words that come from it. The Canaanite woman’s plea becomes an illustration of this instruction, without losing the inherent tension. It is not meant to be an easy application. It is supposed to catch the readers off guard and ruffle their feathers.

Matthew doubtless framed the story he had borrowed from Mark in a way that would help his readers grapple with the tension between those members of his community who understood the gospel of Jesus to be the way for Jews to be faithful Jews and those members who believed that the gospel was intended by God for the whole world. That Jesus effectively articulates both perspectives in this passage served to name the tension and to recognize the truth inherent in both viewpoints.

The struggle in this story, then, is necessary for it to be powerful, because it sets the stage for a new narrative to happen that changes understandings, for both Jesus and the disciples, and the listeners to the good news.

The woman persists. When things are difficult, when disparaging remarks are made, when attempts are there to silence her voice, when the harsh realities of the world are spoken in plain language, the woman does not shy away from the tough conversations that need to happen next. She addresses her need once again, engaging in a sharp and provocative response to Jesus that pushes against all that stands between her and the grace and mercy she seeks. She kneels at his feet and speaks again. Even the dogs get the crumbs. These words, spoken truth to power, along with her faith, enact real and meaningful change. Now we see the Jesus we have come to expect: “Great is your faith!” and healing for her daughter seal the moment.

This story “wakes us up from our biblical slumbers” and puts us outside of our comfort zones. We need to see the Canaanite woman not as an annoyance, but what is called a “divine disruption” meant to teach us something.

Disciples of Jesus learn and grow when they brush up against people whose lives, needs, dreams, and struggles are different from their own. The effect of such a relationship is like the effect of sandpaper on a piece of rough wood. It smoothes out the undisciplined edges of life and makes Christ followers serviceable for some new purpose.

For the first century believers, this story reveals a very rough spot in their understanding of what it means to live as disciples of Jesus Christ, particularly in contemplating who could or could not be a part of the salvation offered by the Messiah. And Matthew gives them a tough conversation to help illustrate his point and open them to new possibilities. The totality of these verses would have been sandpaper to those who heard it, and it should be the same for us today.

Brothers and sisters, “we need to talk”

There are countless things happening and going on in the world that prompt us to have conversation with one another. But often, we are silent or dismissive of those things that disrupt our lives and beckon our attention. The issues that have been raised in the wake of Covid-19 and lockdown, is simply the most recent instance of violence, abuse, corruption etc.

Many tough conversations had already been happening, but the pandemic sparked an opportunity for more people to become a part of sustained conversation about what had brought the Church, community and the Country to this breaking point, and what could be done going forward.

We need to be less dismissive of the issues in our community, and instead listen for what God might be trying to tell us. Maybe we can embark on these tough conversations before it becomes another headline in the news.

Friends, it does not take much for us to be put in positions where we might have some tough conversations. Look around you in this community. We are, by my account, what you would call a “purple church.” The political, cultural, and ideological positions of those who sit in our pews cover virtually the entire spectrum. And that makes it hard, particularly when tensions escalate around us and even within us. Frankly, it is easier when those around you share your viewpoints. Purple is more than a blend of red and blue, a right-left political hybrid with no colour of its own.

Purple is an ancient Christian symbol. Christian purple – the colour of repentance and humility – represents the kingdom birthed in the martyred church, unified around a crucified saviour, and formed by the spiritual authority of being baptized in a community of forgiveness. For Christians, purple is more than a blending of political, cultural, and ideological extremes, a mushy middle. Purple is about power that comes through loving service, laying down one’s life for others, and following Jesus’ path.

Purple, it seems, might have something to do with the vision set forth by the Psalmist in Psalm 133, “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” It is a psalm that expresses the deep longing and hope for reunification of the Northern and Southern kingdoms. It is something that has not yet happened but is yearned for with all of the psalmist’s being. And I believe it is something we yearn for as well. The only way we can possibly get there is to talk to each other about it. Even if that is tough.

Tough conversations take many forms, it comes in the way of establishing friendships and simply listening. That is a great place to begin. In fact, you do not even necessarily have to talk about those “hot button” issues with each other at first. Just get to know each other’s story. Then, as the friendship develops, you can delve into those deeper waters.

In the case of the Canaanite woman, tough conversations come by stripping away pretence and naming difficult realities that push boundaries and place the woman at risk. It is the proverbial “speaking truth to power,” and is a type of honest engagement that can bring about lasting change. Both are different methods, but both faithful ways of embodying a faith that allows us to be fully present with each other.

Our work right now is not in the easy. It is in the difficult, heart-breaking, soul-searching, seemingly impossible work of having tough conversations with each other.

Today’s text reminds us that we are called to engage in the tensions and difficult conversations of our time. As people of faith, I would encourage us to try to make these tough conversations ones that are theological. The issues we wrestle with in the world, particularly those of equality and justice and gender-based violence, need the theology and love of Jesus Christ infused into them.

That is the model of the Canaanite woman and Jesus. The woman evokes theological terms like “Lord” and “Son of David.” The tough conversation she brings was not just a hot-button issue; it was a crisis of theology. Her begging was not just to have her daughter healed; her begging was a persistent insistence on being included in the love and grace and mercy offered by Jesus Christ. That must be the root of all our approaches as well.

The work of faith is hard. Tough conversations are all around us. May we not be silent.

“We need to talk”

Let us pray:

Lord God, Give us resolute courage I pray, to stand fast in this day and endow us with boldness and sufficient strength, that only comes from You, so that we may have the courage to engage in the tensions and difficult conversations of our time. For the courage to take on the issues we wrestle with in the world, particularly those of equality and justice and gender-based violence.

Keep us I pray, from being lulled into a spiritual slumber, awaken us in the power of the Holy Spirit, to be compassionate towards others, to listen to the issues, to speak up when others remain silent.

In the name of Christ.

Amen.

https://www.facebook.com/StFrancisToti/videos/924687938037388/

Vanda Chittenden

Church Chatter

Reflection on the parable of the mustard seed.

Mark 4:30-34
30 He said, “To what shall we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. 32 But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.” 33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it. 34 Without parables he did not speak to them, but to his own disciples he explained everything in private.

Jesus uses hyperbole in describing the mustard seed as the smallest of seeds and its plant in full growth as the largest of plants (a mustard plant could only grow as high as 8-12 feet). This is another “kingdom parable.”

What is the contrast that Jesus is making between the mustard seed and His Kingdom?

Answer: The contrast here is between the small beginnings of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ and its future expansion to encompass the whole earth, sheltering all who come to dwell in the household of Jesus that is the Church.

The allusion to the kingdom becoming so large that birds of the sky come and dwell in the shade of its branches is probably a reference to the dream of King Nebuchadnezzar in which he saw a huge tree that sheltered “birds of the sky” and other animals (Dan 4:7). Daniel interpreted the tree and the animals to represent Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom and the many different peoples over whom he ruled. The comparison is that the Kingdom of Jesus Christ will be even greater than the Kingdom of the Babylonians (also see Dan 9:17-19).

What is the symbolism in the Parable of the Mustard Seed?

Mark 4:30-34 – The Parable of the Mustard Seed.
The tiny mustard seed is the small beginnings of the Kingdom or Church of Jesus Christ.
The mustard seed that is planted in the earth, is Jesus who plants the seed of the Gospel in the hearts of all who accept His message.
The great growth of the mustard plant is the tremendous growth of the Church that is nurtured by the Holy Spirit.
The large branches and the creatures that dwell in its shade, is the spread of the Church across the face of the earth, calling all men and women of every ethnicity to salvation in Christ Jesus.

How can this parable be interpreted today, in our modern and contemporary world?

Let us first go back to Christ’s ministry. Jesus chose disciples, to teach them about the Kingdom of God, and to equip them to teach others about the Kingdom of God, to plant the seed of faith. And here we are, continuing the original disciples ministry, Jesus’ ministry.

We may not physically go to all the corners of the earth, on away missions, but we are certainly reaching more people than ever before. In our modern age, we can reach people from all across the globe from our laptops and cellphones. There is no limit to what can be done, to spread the Word.

Planting the seed, includes online ministry, a phone call or a Whatsapp. We can do this in the power of the Holy Spirit, we already have the mustard seed growing within us. What we can do today, is fertilize other peoples hearts, and plant the seed. So that God, the Holy Spirit, can come and germinate the seed, so that they can grow in faith.

It is difficult at the moment, with the Covid 19 lockdown, when people expect ministry to happen only when the physical building is open. No!

Our Whatsapp services, reaches people from all across South Africa, that would not normally have been at the Church service. The Zoom services, reaches people from all over the world. We now run morning and evening prayers daily on Zoom, where that never happened before. The blog posts on the website, reaches people from all across the world, and is being read by all of them. They may have found the blog post by accident, but the seed has been planted. We all have a way that we can help plant a seed, it is different for each one of us.

Sometimes, that door needs to close behind you to open news ways of planting a seed. Have you thought about how you could be planting seeds of faith in people’s hearts? Instead of lamenting that the Church door is closed.

Good people, let the Holy Spirit guide you, in realizing your potential as a disciple and as a seed planter. Do not let doubt cloud and obscure your potential to reach people. There is no obstacle to great, to be able to walk this path with God.

May God show you the way.

Vanda Chittenden

Sermon

The Good Seed and the Bad Seed.

https://www.facebook.com/StFrancisToti/videos/306740313855340/

Homily based on Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

The Good Seed and the Bad Seed.

Homicide is the killing of a human being. Regicide is the killing of a king. Suicide is the killing of oneself. So why is herbicide not the killing of plants? The dictionary defines it as a weed killer, used to kill vegetation. 

Today’s parable is about the temptation to commit herbicide, with one’s own hands.

If you have ever farmed or planted a garden, you know that no matter how careful you are in preparing the soil and planting the seeds, weeds will grow amongst whatever seeds you have planted.  You must pay attention and be vigilant to remove the weeds so they will not overcome the crops you are growing.

The parable Jesus tells is about a more difficult situation, in which the crop and the weeds cannot be distinguished from each other until it is extremely late in the process.  I looked up ancient weeds. “The bearded darnel is a devil of a weed.  Known in biblical terms as ‘tares.” Its roots surround the roots of good plants, sucking up precious nutrients and scarce water, making it impossible to root it out without damaging the good crop. Above ground, darnel looks identical to wheat, until it bears seed. Those seeds (apparently) can cause everything from hallucinations to death.”

That helps make sense of the parable. Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like this: Someone sowed good seed in his field, but while everyone was asleep an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat. This is a subversive undermining of the kingdom of heaven rather than a blatant attack upon it. In time the plants came up, and when the seeds and grain appeared at last the workers were horrified to see all the weeds amid the wheat. They went to the master and said, “Did you not plant good seed in your field? Where have all these weeds come from? He answered, “An enemy has done this.”  The workers asked if he wanted them to go pull the weeds up and he said no. As you heard earlier, the roots of the weeds surround the good roots and choke them, so you would pull up the wheat along with the weeds. He says to let them both grow until the harvest, and they will be separated at that time.

In the explanation, Jesus tells the disciples that the field represents the world, the good seed represents the children of the kingdom, and the weeds are the children who are lost.  While there is plenty of value in talking about this parable with reference to the church. So, for all of us who have been tempted to commit herbicide in the church, this message is for us

There are many Christians who act as though it is their responsibility and calling to weed out those who do not belong for one reason or another. Whether they think wrongly about an issue or believe in the wrong political party or act in a way we consider outside the lines of Christianity or just try to keep things stirred up all the time, we come to the conclusion that the church would be a better, purer place without them. The problem is that if we are thinking that way about them, they are probably thinking the same way about us. 

So, which of us would have the better right to do the weeding? Claiming the right has led to all manner of inquisitions, excommunications, church splits, and discouraged people just dropping out of church and faith. This parable teaches us humility and patience and frees us to live the life of faith in a positive manner of inclusivity rather than a negative manner of exclusivity. Dealing with the weeds is not our business, but God’s. Let us look at some of the implications of this important teaching.

First is to note the character of the farmer, who represents God. The farmer’s intention for his field is purely good. It is not his plan that there be weeds. But when the weeds show up, he does not panic and start hacking away at the weeds. He is patient, enormously patient. He knows that leaving the weeds is not ideal, but that pulling them up endangers the wheat as well. They can be separated at the harvest. The farmer instructs the workers in the field to be patient as well.

The second implication is to realize that human beings, us included! Are not competent to make the judgment as to who is wheat and who is a weed. Only God can make this judgment, because he will judge not just by what we can see in a person at a point in his or her life, but by the person’s whole life. We must be more patient with each other. Taken in this way, the story becomes a parable of grace. In the strange world of the parable where separation is graciously postponed, it may even be possible for weeds to become wheat.

The third implication is that we can expect that a hostile power will always be at work, often in subtle ways, in the world and in the church trying to undermine the good of God’s creation. This power wants to teach us hate, division, anger, greed, and despair.

The fourth implication is that we must be careful about the arrogance of too easily identifying ourselves as the wheat in this story. Remembering that we are all sinners with much darkness within us should keep us humble in this regard. In each of our lives at any given time, there is wheat growing and there are weeds growing which are trying to choke out the wheat. In the seventh chapter of his letter to the Romans, Paul agonizes over the power of sin in his life, saying, “I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand.” God’s patience is good news for us, too.

The fifth implication is that judgment will come in the end, rendered by God, so we must attempt to persevere as wheat, knowing our faithfulness will be vindicated by God just as unfaithfulness will be judged by God. The weed sowing enemy will not be able to stand but will be defeated.

German theologian Helmut Theilicki, in his book on the parables entitled “The Waiting Father”, says there are three reasons for us not to attempt to root out what we perceive to be weeds. 

First, he says, we should not think we can exterminate the evil in the world by our activity. The evil is within us as well as without. Second, the Son of Man came not to destroy, but to save. If we were to take it upon ourselves to “cast out of the temple the hangers-on, the hypocrites, the border liners, and all the other wobblers in Christendom, we would rob these people of the chance at least to hear the Word and take it to heart.” Third, have you ever met a person of whom you would dare to say that there is absolutely nothing good in this person? None of us can know what God sees in that person and whether God may have something planned for that person that none of us can imagine yet.

William Barclay lists five learnings from this parable, which he says is one of the most practical stories Jesus ever told. 

First, “It teaches us that there is always a hostile power in the world, seeking and waiting to destroy the good seed.  Our experience is that both kinds of influence act upon our lives, the influence which helps the seed of the word to flourish and to grow, and the influence which seeks to destroy the good seed before it can produce fruit at all. The lesson is that we must be forever on our guard.”

Second, “It teaches us how hard it is to distinguish between those who are in the Kingdom and those who are not. A (person) may appear to be good and may in fact be bad; and a (person) may appear to be bad and may yet be good. We are much too quick to classify people and label them good or bad without knowing all the facts.” And the includes judgement of ourselves.

Third, “It teaches us not to be so quick with our judgments. IF the reapers had had their way, they would have tried to tear out the darnel and they would have torn out the wheat as well. Judgment had to wait until the harvest came. A (person) in the end will be judged, not by any single act or stage in his or her life, but by his or her whole life. Judgment cannot come until the end. A (person) may make a great mistake, and them redeem himself or herself and, by the grace of God, atone for it by making the rest of life a lovely thing. A (person) may live an honourable life and then in the end wreck it all by a collapse into sin. No one who sees only part of a thing can judge the whole; and no one who knows only part of a (person’s) life can judge the whole (person).”

Fourth, “It teaches us that judgment does come in the end. Judgment is not hasty, but judgment comes. It may be that, humanly speaking, in this life the sinner seems to escape the consequences, but there is a life to come. It may be that, humanly speaking, goodness never seems to enter into its reward, but there is a new world to redress the balance of the old.”

Fifth, “It teaches us that the only person with the right to judge is God. It is God alone who can discern the good and the bad; it is God alone who sees all of a (person) and all that person’s life.  It is God alone who can judge.”

In our time we hear this parable as an amazing insight into the life of the church. Like that field in which there grow both healthy wheat and destructive weeds, the church is a mixed-bag reality. Like the householder’s servants who want to weed out the field’s dangerous elements, we too either embody or suspect their surrogates in every age. Matters of behaviour or theological and biblical orientation become the fodder for litmus tests of all varieties. Elements within each of our different churchly communions are forever troubled by how broadly or narrowly we should draw the boundaries of the contemporary church. Whom can we afford to let in, and who must remain out? Who is accepted by God, and why? Who is not accepted by God, and why not? In the very act of asking such questions, we so often assume that it is our job to draw up the specifications regarding the wideness of the church’s welcome. How wide, really, can it be, and still be the church? In our impatience with others, we often want to bring matters to a head and so determine whether others are in or out; but the God who is glimpsed in this parable models for us an infinite patience that frees us to get on with the crucial business of loving, or at least living with, each other.

The last judgment is full of surprises. The separation of sheep and goats, of wheat and weeds, will be made in a way completely different from that which we permit ourselves to imagine. For God is more merciful than we, stricter than we, and more knowing than we. And in every case, God is greater than our hearts. But one thing is certain, and that is that Jesus the King will come with his sickle and crown. Then our sickles will fall, and all the false and illegal crowns will drop from people’s heads. Then all will be changed, and everything will be utterly different. But one thing will remain: love, the love in which we have believed and hoped and endured, the love which will never let us forget that God can find and bring home and set at his table even the blasphemers, the erring, the deceivers, and the deceived. 

May he give us the grace of the long view and the calmness to live confidently in the name of his victory – until one day he shall say to us and to those for whom we have interceded:

“Well done my child… my good and faithful servant… enter into the joy of your master.”

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

May God bless you abundantly.

Vanda Chittenden