Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 11A

Track 1: The Gate of Heaven

Genesis 28:10-19a
Psalm 139: 1-11, 22-23
or Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30,36-43

Today we reflect upon Jacob’s well known dream of a ladder reaching from earth to heaven:

Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”   (Genesis 28:10-17)

Jacob had an encounter with God. God blessed him and made great promises to him. Jacob celebrated the moment and the place where he heard from God, Nonetheless, one of his reactions to all of this was fear. Why was Jacob afraid? We can only speculate. Perhaps it was because Jacob, though a grandson of the great Abraham, was a conniver and a trickster. His character was less than stellar. Often times we may want to hide from God because of our feelings of guilt and inadequacy.

The psalmist wrote:

Where can I go then from your Spirit?
where can I flee from your presence?

If I climb up to heaven, you are there;
if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.

If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

Even there your hand will lead me
and your right hand hold me fast.   (Psalm 139:6-9)

The psalmist understood his own frailty, but he also understood that God was faithful to lead and guide him.

We remember that old hymn about our climbing Jacob’s ladder, but in Jacob’s dream only the angels of God were climbing up and down the ladder. I believe the ladder signifies that God has chosen to minister to us, regardless of who we are and what we might have done. We do not merit his favor nor do we have to climb a ladder to reach God.

In order to fully experience God we must allow his love to wash over us. The Apostle John wrote in his first epistle:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.   (1 John 4:18)

We need to focus on the love of God rather than our shortcomings. We do not want to miss his visitation to us because of our feelings of unworthiness. Jesus has paid the price for our sins, provided that we have acknowledged our debt to him. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh– for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ– if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.   (Romans 8:12-?)

Have we experienced an encounter with God? Have we experienced the gate of heaven? God has opened that gate for by the blood of his Son. When Jesus died on the cross the curtain in the Temple in Jerusalem, which separated the most holy place from the holy place, was torn from top to bottom. What is keeping us from entering into his presence. Even now he is calling us. Even now he is ministering to us. Amen.

 

 

iuTrack 2: The Wheat and the Tares

Isaiah 44:6-8
Psalm 86:11-17
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30,36-43

Jesus told a parable about the wheat and the tares found in the same field. The essence of the parable is that the wheat and the tares are found mixed together. When the workers ask if they should attempt to pull out the tares, the owner tells them to let the wheat and tares grow up together. He knows that it is often difficult to tell them apart in the beginning.  If the workers pull out any of the tares prematurely then they might also damage the wheat. At the time of harvest the tares can then be removed safely and burned.

Later, Jesus explains the meaning of the parable to his disciples:

“The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 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. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!”   (Matthew 13:36-43)

We live in very confusing times. How are we to know the truth when both the good and the bad exist side by side? To compound the problem, the good is often presented as evil and evil is called good. Isaiah prophesied that this would occur:

Ah, you who call evil good
    and good evil,
who put darkness for light
    and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
    and sweet for bitter!   (Isaiah 5:20)

Are we not living in such a time? Even in today’s Church in America there seems to be confusion about fundamental things. That which God has called abominations we are now told are within the orthodoxy of the Church.

Jesus gave us this criteria for determining false prophets and false teachers:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.   (Matthew 7:15-20)

We need spiritual discernment which comes from reading and studying the Bible, with the help of the Holy Spirit. Unless we are Spirit filled and have a daily walk with God through prayer and meditation upon his word, we will not understand the times we are in nor what the Lord requires of us.

We do need to avoid the temptation of identifying specifically who are the wheat and who are the tares. This is a trap that the enemy sets for us. Only God can distinguish between the two. Only God can know the heart of each individual person. Jesus said:

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.   (Matthew 7:1-2)

God alone is judge. The psalmist wrote:

Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel,
and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:

I am the first and I am the last;
besides me there is no god.

Is there any god besides me?
There is no other rock; I know not one.   (Isaiah 44:6-?)

The parable of the wheat and the tares serves as a warning to us. Those of us who consider ourselves wheat may actually be part of the tares. Only God can say. Worldly appearances and worldly approval count for nothing. The enemy is constantly reassuring us that the broad way of the world is OK.

In his Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said:

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.   (Matthew 7:13-14)

God has given us guidelines in his holy word which we should follow, ignoring the cultural standards of the media, entertainment industry, and fallen institutions of education and government.

At the end of the age it will be clearly revealed who are the wheat and who are the tares. Let us hold fast to our Lord Jesus Christ and his teachings until the end.

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Filed under homily, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, Pentecost, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon preparation, Year A

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