By the Reverend Dr. Warren Crews
Let’s begin with our gospel lesson and Jesus’ Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds. There are two sowers: one sowing the good wheat seeds and the other is sowing the bad seeds of a weed. A botanical note is needed here. There is a weed called darnel, which looks very much like wheat until near harvest time, when it fails to produce the wheat kernels. By then, the roots of the two plants have become so entangled that to pull out the weeds would result in uprooting the wheat. Jesus reminded his disciples that farmers wait until harvest time when the weeds can be safely separated out and burned. In other words, wait and see what sort of genuine Christian life is emerging from each side of any argument about God’s will for us. In the end, the Holy Spirit will enable us to see what is truly Christ-centered. The other view may sound authoritative, but will not produce Christ-shaped lives. For example, one of Paul’s methods of sorting out truth claims was to ask which one is speaking the truth in love. Truth spoken without love is like peace without justice. It is counterfeit; it is truly fake.
Shifting now to our Old Testament lesson, which is part of the story of Jacob, one of the three Hebrew patriarchs. Last week, we heard about Jacob cheating his brother Esau out of his birthright to become the head of the family, and then Jacob having to flee for his life. Today’s story is about his dream of a ladder going up into heaven where at the top of the ladder he meets God, who reveals to Jacob that he is indeed the heir to God’s promise to Abraham to make the Hebrew people a great nation. In the song about Jacob’s ladder that we sang, we are told to keep climbing that ladder, rung by rung, because it will bring us closer and closer to Jesus. Now, if Jesus is the embodiment of God’s truth, then climbing the ladder of a Christian life of worship, study and action will bring us closer and closer to the truth about life itself. The question then becomes how do we sort out which choices will help us live a more Christ-shaped life?
Our epistle lesson is from Paul’s letter to the Romans. The Christians there evidently were divided on just what constitutes a Christ-shaped life. To help them Paul sorted out the claims into two categories: “the flesh” and “the Spirit (with a capital S).” “Flesh” is his code word for everything in the physical world that was not in sync with God’s will for all of Creation. “Spirit (with a capital S)” is Paul’s code word for everything that is in sync with God’s will for all Creation. So, Paul is telling the Roman Christians that to be followers of Jesus we must move from being centered in the flesh, in worldly things out of sync with God’s will to being centered in the Spirit, to being in sync with God’s will for us and the rest of Creation.
Paul is clear that this is not something we can do by ourselves. It requires the help of the Holy Spirit. The Good News is that at our Baptism we were anointed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever. Our baptismal service spells that out:
...by water and the Holy Spirit you (God) have bestowed upon (us) the forgiveness of sin, and have raised (us) to the new life of grace….(grant us) an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. (BCP, 308)
Now, one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit promised to us is the gift of discernment, especially discerning what is in sync with God’s will for us and what is not.
What does this have to do sorting out who is telling us the truth, as we chart our way between competing truth claims? Once again, the answer is that the Holy Spirit is there to help us sort out these claims. Paul and the gospel writers emphasize that all the gifts of the Holy Spirit are given to us to build up the whole Body of Christ, which is the Church. That means we are meant to wrestle with the great issues facing us together as a church, as a gathering of Christ-shaped, Spirit-empowered people. This is precisely why I am so excited about the creation of our new Racial Justice Committee, which I believe can help lead us in our discerning together of where God’s will is for us in the many, many different aspects of the search for racial justice.
So, to conclude, Jacob searched for the truth about his inheritance of the promises God made to the Hebrew people, and he found it in his dream. Jesus warned his disciples (and us by extension) to be patient by letting God’s Spirit reveal to us what is the true wheat of God’s will and what are the false weeds of life out of sync with God’s will. Finally, Paul is telling the Romans and us that our inheritance, promised to us in Baptism, are the gifts of the Holy Spirit. They include the gift of discernment, as well as all of the other God-empowering gifts we need for building up our Christ-shaped lives. God’s promise to us today is that once we open our lives to the work of the Holy Spirit, we will be better able to sort through all of these competing truth claims to discover God’s will for us. So, let our prayer be “Come Holy Spirit, enlighten our minds, gladden our hearts, and strengthen our wills to discover and follow our heavenly Father’s will for us today and always.” AMEN.
The Reverend Dr. Warren Crews is co-priest in charge at St. John's.
Various members of the St. John's congregation contribute to this blog. For editorial suggestions, contact Jeff McIntire-Strasburg at firstname.lastname@example.org