Sermon Archives

Sunday, July 19, 2020
Proper 11 (Year A)
The Reverend Walter Brownridge, Associate
God is God, and we are not

May I speak in the name of our ever living, ever loving and ever leading God. Amen.

What is your definition of the church? What is your image, your vision, your idea about what the church is, and I’m specifically not talking about a building, but when we talk about the church as the body of Christ. The church is an institution or however you want to frame it. Is the church a place for the high and the Holy, the saints securely tucked away in a museum? Is the church a hospital for the sick? Is the church Noah’s Ark? Despite that image of how everyone living, human and other animals can exist in that kind of enclosed environment.

Some folks might say, “Still Noah’s Ark,” despite the stench. Is the church a Community of Saints? The saints who are triumphant and who exist in heaven, who have gone before us and the saints, what they call militant, the ones still fighting the good fight here on earth? Is the church some kind of idea of, being saved, the select? Is the church perhaps a mix of good and bad, in need of discipline and compassion? Is the church some idea of being a sign and an instrument of the sacraments of revealing God’s graced opportunity to experience a foretaste of heaven?

Is the church as we say in the Creeds one Catholic Holy and Apostolic? Is the church a conveyor of the means of grace, both to its members and to the world? Beloved, today’s gospel reading in Matthew, is in some ways a glimpse into at least what Jesus thought the church was. In some ways, it’s also a Roar shock Test, for us to understand what Jesus was trying to say. This is a pair of parable that only appears in Matthew. It picks up from last week’s Matthew Lex lesson, where seed is a key metaphor but there is a distinct difference, a twist. Last week, the parable was that all the seed that the sower, God would sow, was good seed even though the agricultural practice of not plowing and preparing the soil, for those who are gardening minded, may seem to have been a bit foolish, but the point was, all the seed was good, but not all, even the good seed produced fruitful abundance.

This week, the sower, God plants good seed, but someone else, the enemy, sows weeds. Sows the kind of non-indigenous plant that could destroy or at least disrupt. The disciples that the servants in the parable, as the sower, the master, do we need to just tear out these weeds right now, because they’ve grown up, someone’s done this, it’s wrong, we need to get rid of it, don’t we? The sower, the master says, “Hold on, let it grow up together, mixed together, once it is ready for harvest, then you separate, for to do so before that, would damage both good and bad, harvest it and separate it at that point, and I will deal with it and burn the chaff, the weeds, and take into my harvest, the good wheat.”

This story, this text expresses, if you will, these claims about the nature of the church on earth. It is in fact, a mixed body with two kinds of disciples, those that are doing pretty good, and those who are struggling, and that the ultimate nature and destiny of every disciple will not be revealed until the end of the age. That is God’s job, not ours. The parable offers us a way of understanding and describing who we are, a community that is mixed, good and bad, the beautiful and the ugly, those who seem to have it all together and those that seem to be struggling. In fact, I think that that’s probably too simple of a way to understand it, but I think you get my picture. Saint Augustine of Hippo, noted that the church was in fact, the Latin phrase was, Corpus Permixtum. That we were mixed.

The visible church would see, that it would reveal yes, the joy, the glory, the beauty of God, but it would also sometimes reveal the sadness, the tragedy, the ugliness, the sin, that the world is. We are not perfect, as the church. But to also understand this idea of Corpus Permixtum, of the body of Christ being this mixed body, is on a corporate level, yes, but it is also on a personal level. That we are also mixed and that as we journey with Christ, as we try to live a life in Christ, God will do things within us to allow us to grow, and in God’s time, we’ll separate, that which is not life-giving, from that which glorifies God.

What does that mean for us? Well, one expression I heard this week is that, we are then called just to cut the wood in front of us, to do our job and to remember that we are not God, only God is God. God will sorted out at the end of time and in the words we say theologically, “God will purify us in God’s own time and place and manner.” I want to end with a story that I think illustrates this in a way, or at least I hope it does, in this time of deep racial, struggling and healing. Just this week, we lost one of the saints who was a great witness of civil rights, the Reverend C.T. Vivian, was a Baptist minister who worked with Dr. King in the 1950s and ‘60s, and continued along certain life of service, both as a pastor of churches and as an advocate for human dignity and improvement.

Reverend Vivian is most famous, perhaps for 1965 in Selma, Alabama with television cameras, Zoomed in on him. He approached the Selma, Alabama sheriff, Jim Clark, leading 1400 people to try to register to vote. Clark refused to admit them and then Reverend Vivian just asked out of human compassion, if they would allow at least some of the folks inside to get in from the rain that it’s begun to pour, sheriff Clark said, “No.” He refused. Vivian in an uncharacteristic display of anger. He was in fact, the paladin of nonviolence. But at this point, he showed a righteous anger at Jim Clark for his hostility, his stoned, implacable objection to people just getting out of the rain, and Vivian got angry and Clark simply punched Reverend Vivian in the mouth, pouring forth blood from his mouth and then having C.T. Vivian arrested, as he was bleeding. Vivian never struck back.

He accepted the calling of Christian nonviolence. Well, more than 50 years have passed from that time and Reverend Vivian became more and more over time as America grew to at least understand something about civil rights. He became a hero, in 2014, he was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He was celebrated as a hero, a living Saint. Sheriff, Jim Clark had a different fate, after being sheriff for nearly 12 years, he was defeated for re-election. His life spiraled out of hand, he was later convicted for smuggling marijuana into Alabama of all places. He may have died, a sad and broken lonely man. But C.T. Vivian, in reflecting on his life, talked about Jim Clark in a way of love and compassion. Vivian understood that Clark in some ways was a victim of the culture that had raised him. He said, “I feel sorry, I felt sorry then, and I feel sorry now for Jim Clark, and I hope God is not finished with him.” Beloved, God is not finished with any of us. That is the joy we can take away. That God is God, and we are not. Amen.