7th Sunday After Pentecost, July 19, 2020
– Roman 8:12-15, Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
– The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas –
Each of us, in some way, is motivated by spiritual aspirations you cannot fully comprehend. Allow me, therefore, to ask you a question of spiritual inquiry.
“If there are individuals you know who regard themselves as atheists or agnostics, yet live their lives adhering to principles of treating others as they would like to be treated and advocating for causes of justice, would such individuals enjoy the same divine rewards that we as Christians expect when we die?”
The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans, answered this question when he said, “It is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified. When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all.” (2:13-15)
I often ponder the importance of rewards and punishment in light of our belief in a compassionate and loving Lord who, in the words of the psalmist, is acquainted with all our ways (139:3). I avoid concepts of God who creates hell as a place of unrelenting torment, because any place of eternal punishment contradicts the belief in a forgiving God.
Nonetheless, I feel that every action, be it good, bad or indifferent, has its consequence, and that belief in God as loving, forgiving, compassionate and just is also faith in one who is ultimately qualified to make the judgment call on our lives both individually and communally.
Earlier Jesus shared a parable about the Word of God that was compared to the seed that Jesus, the sower, distributed indiscriminately upon various types of ground. Yet the condition of the soil, which is analogous to the receptive nature of our hearts to God’s Word, determined how willing we were to bear the fruit of God’s Word.
In this second parable about a sower and seeds, the sower, namely Jesus, plants seeds which, in this case is not understood as God’s Word, but God’s people that are planted in a field, which represents the world in which we live. And while the sower sleeps, the devil comes along and plants evildoers among the followers of God. The parable conveys the message that, in their early stage of existence, it is hard to distinguish the wheat from the weeds, or the good seed from the bad but, ultimately, we will be able to tell them apart and separate them by the things they produce. And sinners will be thrown into a fiery furnace where they will be eternally in torment.
I believe that good and evil are not as easily separated as one separates weeds from wheat, for both wheat and weeds grow and intermingle within each of us. God has planted us in a world once beautiful, bucolic and pristine that has become infested with weeds by the spiritual and environmental toxicity of our own neglect.
Faith is less about what we believe in God than it is about what God believes in us, meaning that regardless of our convictions or uncertainties concerning God, if we open our lives to a spirit of compassion that empowers the weak and pulls the proud, like Confederate statues, down from their lofty heights, then we will, in the words of the unknown author of Hebrews, entertain angels unaware (13:2).
Mohammed Ali, in his address to students at New York’s New School of Social Research, said, “Stay in college, get the knowledge. Stay there until you’re though. If they can make penicillin out of moldy bread, they can sure make something out of you.”
The same applies to God, who has planted the Holy Spirit of divine potential in you. And regardless of what you call or consider it, or lack in understanding about it, if God, according to John the Baptist, can make children of Abraham out of stones; and if God, according to Christ, can move mountains from the faith of a mustard seed, whether or not you know God, you will bear fruit and, surely, God will make something out of you. Amen.