“Judgment as healing”
A sermon given by the Rev. Clare L. Hickman on July 23, 2017
Texts: Romans 8:18-25; Matthew 13:24-30
Clare L. Hickman
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
July 23, 2017—Proper 11A
Romans 8:18-25; Matthew 13:24-30
Matthew describes a field of waving wheat and weeds, a mixed harvest of growing things, as a metaphor for the realities of human beings. Paul, on the other hand, knows that metaphors are for scaredy cats, and he is not afraid to toss the analogy and go all in on the idea that the wheat field, the weeds, indeed the entire creation (including us) is what’s in need of redemption. Until now, he writes, the world has groaned with labor pains, eagerly awaiting the moment in which “Creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”
Creation will be set free from its bondage to decay. Creation itself is in need of healing; it is broken, and needs to be made whole. It is broken because it is constantly dying. And yes, we might theoretically understand that life and death are cyclical: that nature cycles through growth, decline and rebirth, over and over. With the seasons. With the epochs.
But the fact remains that we have a hard time feeling this in our bones. We experience death as an ending. Yes, we catch glimpses of the cycle when we see perennials come back in the spring. Yes, we see the larger perspective when we think about the dinosaurs rising and then falling again. But we lose that perspective when we think about ourselves, when we think of mammals rising to dominance and then someday … When we think of our own life, which lasts as long as it does, and then someday …
Death feels like an ending. It feels like a flaw in the system. It feels like a judgment.
We can’t see the larger cycle, from within our own limited vision and perspective. From where we stand, the cycle just feels like brokenness. It terrifies us, and makes us blind to the larger reality. So we need something that can help us see. We need the idea of resurrection, to remind us that death is necessary for new life to happen. We need the promise of apocalypse, which is not actually about destruction, but the idea, the divine revelation, that ALL things can be made new, will be made new.
We need, whether we realize it or not, the freedom and promise that comes from the idea of the Judgment.
Because the Judgement, scary as it may be, is all about healing and redemption. Even for Matthew, whose depictions of Judgment fuel our fears of a final sorting that we might well fail, the focus actually lies in the restoration of creation. He sees the danger of corrupting influences. He warns against those demonic forces that threaten the people of God. But his images of Judgment are a hope for the renewal of Creation, not its end.
So often, we see the purpose of Judgement as the weeding out of bad people (which makes our concern whether we are amongst the weeds or the wheat). But what if we shift our focus? What if we pay attention to Matthew’s urgent sense of a need for the healing of all creation: the need to weed out the forces of sin, to exorcise demonic influences, to free those who have been warped by the presence of evil from that contagion. That then makes our concern the presence of those influences in our own hearts, and our willingness to admit and be open to the healing God offers.
It’s not about destruction. Not the apocalypse. Not the judgment. Not resurrection. Their purpose is not destruction; their purpose is the healing and renewal and rebirth of all things. But … make no mistake. They all FEEL like destruction.
Sorry to have to tell you. But they do.
Judgement, which is what Matthew is talking about today … its purpose is renewal for you and for the whole world. But it will feel like … death.
The other day, I got home from the grocery store, and told Brian: “I got the cheese you wanted from the deli. In fact, well, it seems like we didn’t even have to pay for it. Something happened during checkout, and, well ….” I trailed off, and he looked at me. And said, “...Well, I guess you know what you need to do.”
Yes, I did. I knew it at the time, when it seemed like something had gone wrong in the self check-out process. I’d ignored it, had told myself it wasn’t worth the hassle of explaining that I needed to give them more money (because that confuses cashiers, right?). But, I knew I needed to pay for that cheese, because I had that cheese. But hearing it from him felt … terrible. Not terrible to pay the $8. Not terrible to have to return to Kroger, even though that was a pain in the butt. It was terrible to have to admit that I had walked away. That honestly, I had been willing to essentially steal that cheese.
It felt crappy to face judgment, and need to acknowledge that I’d fallen short. Even something SO small (seriously, I didn’t stick that cheese in my pocket; THEY made a mistake, right?). It still felt like death. It still feels like death, to recognize our own smallness, our own brokenness, our own susceptibility to temptation, to dishonesty, to meanness, to cruelty, to greed, to pride, to all of the urges that lead us astray in this world.
It feels like death, and we have a hard time trusting in resurrection (the idea that death can lead to rebirth). It feels like Judgment, and surely that can only lead to our being cast into the fires of hell for evermore. It feels like the end.
But the bible doesn’t really state that any of those things are the end for any of us. The biblical hope is grounded in renewal. The biblical vision is one of courageous submission to this process, is one of a trial that we will come through to the other side. Maybe at the end of time, and maybe every day of your life: you will face into Judgment. You will face into the truth of yourself, into the reality of this broken creation, into the damage that the demonic forces of this world have wreaked upon your life. You will lay that at the foot of Christ. You will walk into the light of His presence. And those parts of you that practically kill you to admit, those warped and twisted parts that we all have, the parts that takes us down pathways of destruction, those parts will be burned away. They will be surgically removed. They will be healed by the reality that is Jesus living within us.
Because we can be healed. Because we all contain both wheatiness and weediness within us, and Jesus is not willing to destroy us just because of those weeds. Because who knows what fruit we might bear in the end? Who knows which of our weeds we might acknowledge and repent? Who knows what weakness we might yet turn to astonishing strength, through the power of asking and receiving forgiveness? There is so much transformation to be brought about, in the weeds that grow in our souls. There is so much wheatiness, so much fruit that we might yet bear.
We would rather be all made of wheat. But none of us is. We are wheat and weeds, all mixed together, just as Matthew says. Acknowledging that might well feel like death and destruction. But truly, it is the pathway to the redemption and healing of all creation. May we be wise enough and brave enough to admit it, and turn our faces toward our own renewal. Amen.