Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
COVID-19 is on the rise in Chicago among 18 to 29-year-olds. This week, Mayor Lightfoot threatened to be the mom who would stop the car and make kids walk home if they didn’t take the virus and the public health more seriously. “We are at the precipice,” she said. “We are dangerously close to going back to a dangerous state of conditions.” (Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Chicago Sun Times, 7/15/20) Personally, I really hope they listen. Illinois is one of only two states that met all of the federal government’s criteria for reopening before actually reopening. The other was New York State. (Pro Publica, States Are Re-Opening, 5/20/20). I’m proud our state and local leaders have kept us safe while keeping our economy going. Sometimes, I wish God would take charge like them too.
Are you guys still fighting? Get out of the car and walk. In fact, none of your cars, planes, or trains will work. Your guns won’t shoot. Your drones, fighter planes, and bombers won’t fly. You’re not allowed to make another mortgage loan unless it is to a community of color. It’s time for God to get the kids under control. It’s time God set some limits, raised expectations, and demanded accountability because the whole world is at the precipice. We are dangerously close to disaster.
Jesus says we live in a world where the weeds must be left to grow among the wheat. Evil and good are mixed together. ‘It’s like someone went into the field while everyone was sleeping and sowed tares among the wheat,’ Jesus said (Matthew 13:25). The Tares to which Jesus referred is a plant we call bearded Darnel. It has two prominent characteristics: first, it’s poisonous, and second, until it matures, it’s virtually indistinguishable from wheat. The kingdom of God is like a wheat field in which we can’t distinguish good from bad. In the beginning, yes. God created a good world. Indeed, it was very good! But now look. There are poisonous weeds everywhere! What a mess. Why doesn’t God do something?
I suppose religious people, through the ages, may be forgiven for getting impatient. People of faith tend to think they can help God out. First, they circle the wagons of the righteous. They dictate the terms for how every person ought to live and call it God’s plan. Then they go on the attack. They begin naming, judging, and eradicating evil wherever they find it—most often in others. These strategies soon prove tragic and misguided, of course. A religious person trying to create the holy becomes nothing but a hypocrite. The religious person who wields the machete of righteousness soon sees that everything looks to them like a weed. Everything is hacked and cut down. Which, by the way, is exactly what would happen if God were take us up on the invitation to start cleaning house and be more like our political leaders. Soon there wouldn’t be anything left of any of us.
So maybe it’s good –or anyhow—it’s lucky—God has a different plan. On God’s farm weeds become wheat. Our functional but false selves may be transformed through faith in Christ. With patience the poisonous bearded Darnel of our hearts and minds ripens into fruits of the Spirit some one hundred, some sixty, and some thirtyfold.
Our parable and our second reading from St. Paul both counsel patience. The entire universe is in labor. Paul wrote that not only humankind, but “the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains” as it waits for God’s salvation. You and I might choose to start over. We would dig everything out and start fresh. New seeds, new plants, fresh soil, we would not show the same patience with creation that God does. There would be no place for us.
Jesus said, ‘I have come not for the righteous, but for sinners. For those who are well have no need of a physician,’ (Matthew 9:13b & 12). Jesus did not weed out Peter, even though he denied him. Jesus did not reject the disciples though they all ran away in fear. Even Judas had a place at Jesus’ table. We feast again today on God’s Word in thanksgiving for the Life Jesus pours out for us with tenderness and mercy, not because we deserve it, but precisely because we so desperately need it.
The paraclete, the Holy Spirit, is quietly at work in us. The Holy One intercedes for us, with sighs too deep for words, delicate surgery is going on in us, to transform the weediness of our hearts into grain for the harvest. Our eyes begin to open. Our ears are unstopped. We see and hear differently. Could the poison of selfish pride begin to recede in us? Could America’s original sin of slavery and systemic racism be redeemed? Can freedom and equality join hands?
This week I watched the short documentary film Cooked: Survival by Zip Code. It tells the story of the heatwave that killed more than 700 people in Chicago in 1995. It exposed a pattern, not just in that disaster, but in almost any natural disaster you can name. So often the real killer is poverty and racism. The same pattern of unequal impact is exposed by the pandemic. People in poverty, people who live in specific zip codes, have shorter lives, are more likely to experience gun violence, are less able to access health care, or to get a loan, find a job, or even be able to shop at a grocery store. These neighborhoods consist mostly of people of color. We cannot become wheat without striving to become anti-racists. The poison of bearded Darnel we carry will not leave our veins without doing God’s work with our hands to tear down the barriers that intentionally lock so many out from access to opportunity in America.
Because God is not finished with us but is patient, we dare to hope that while the arc of the moral universe is long, it bends towards justice. Because God is good and created us in God’s own image, we are confident history is on our side. God the great co-sufferer does not leave us in our sins but will work to redeem us. God who has searched and known you, God who has seen the restlessness in your heart, will even now, works to ripen your spirit, restore you in the broken places, and bring you with all creation, into bountiful wholeness.