Saints and sinners


Saints and sinners

Lectionary blog for July 20, 2014
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Isaiah 44:6-8; Psalm 86: 6-8;
Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

By Delmer Chilton

My late father-in-law liked to tell the story of a man who owned a parrot. Every day at 5 p.m., the man took the parrot and walked down the street to the corner bar where he had a few drinks and talked with his friends. He had taught the parrot to order for him yelling out, “Gimme a beer! Gimme a beer!” every time he came in the room.

Every Sunday the man and his wife went to church, locking the bird in its cage before they left the house. One Sunday, the door on the cage did not latch well and the bird got out. It flew out an open window and found its way to the church. It flew in and lit on its master’s shoulder, crying out at the top of its lungs, “Gimme a beer!” “Gimme a beer!” The man was embarrassed and told the bird to, “Shut up. This ain’t the bar; it’s the church.” The bird looked around and said, “Awwk! Same old crowd! Same old crowd!”

Today’s Gospel lesson deals with the difficulty in telling the difference between the good seed and the bad seed, the wheat and the weeds, the saints and the sinners. Always and forever, near as we can tell, it looks like the same old crowd. Many times in the history of the church, the good people have tried very hard to separate themselves from the bad people. These efforts almost always turn out badly.

In Jesus’ story, the master tells the workers to wait and not try to “weed out” the bad. This story is not so much about farming as it is about realizing that only God can judge, and we are called upon to withhold judgment and treat one another with respect. Because, and this is the really important point, there is no such thing as separating the good from the bad in this life. As Martin Luther put it, we are “simul justus et peccator;” in English, we are all “saint and sinner at the same time.”

If we’re honest with ourselves, we know this is true. We know that most of us, most of the time, are decent people, but we’re not really saintly; we don’t really live up to the ideals and standards we set for ourselves. We all slip, we all fall, we all sin.

In “The Gulag Archipelago,” Alexander Solzhenitsyn, wrote, "If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being." Yes, indeed. The line separating good and evil, wheat and weeds, good seed and bad seed, saints and sinners does not go between us; it goes right through us.

This is why Jesus counseled patience in dealing with others. All of us are, we hope, growing and maturing in our faith. And none of us is a finished product yet. So, between “now” (which is today) and “then, (then being the second coming and the final judgment) what is it that we, the church, are called to do? 

Well, it seems to me that we are called to be sowers of good seed. We, the church, as the followers of Christ, are called to announce to the world that God has set up the kingdom of heaven, and that it is a kingdom of grace, not of judgment; it is a kingdom of love, not of hate; it is a kingdom of mercy, not of law. We are called to let the world know that God has sent a remedy into this world to deal with our sinfulness, and that remedy is Jesus the Christ. God knew that we, all of us, each of us, were sinners.

And God knew that we could not fix ourselves, that we could not “not sin.” As the Confession says, “We are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.” So, Jesus came and lived and died and rose again so that our sins could be forgiven, and we could live each day as forgiven sinners and supposed saints. And the great sign and symbol of that great kingdom of salvation where all are welcome and none are excluded is the meal, the Eucharist, the Holy Communion.

I love going to family reunions. I love seeing everybody who comes – the wheat and the weeds, the good seed and the bad seed all together, all accepted and all welcome at the table. That’s what a reunion is like. Everybody comes and we’re glad to see them. If we do it right, that’s what communion is like, everybody’s welcome and we’re glad to see them. And that’s because that’s what the kingdom of God is like, everybody’s welcome and we’re glad to see them. 

You know one of these days we’re going to get to heaven, and we’ll look around and start laughing when we see who’s there that we weren’t expecting to make it. “Good Lord, what are you doing here!” And they’ll be laughing when they see us. And somewhere in the distance we’ll hear a loud voice call out, “Awwk! Same old crowd! Same old crowd!

Amen and amen.

Delmer Chilton is originally from North Carolina and received his education at the University of North Carolina, Duke Divinity School and the Graduate Theological Foundation. He received his Lutheran training at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C. Ordained in 1977, Delmer has served parishes in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.

You might also want to read:
A holiday for sinners and saints
Weeds among the wheat
Sowing the seed – everywhere

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