Sunday, 17 July 2011

Weeds of encouragement

Reading:  Matthew 13 v 24-30; 36-43
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

As many of you know, the final Harry Potter film was released this week.
I haven’t had time to go and see it yet – that’s something I’m hoping to address on holiday.
But, earlier this week I was recording Pause for Thought for Westsound – a series that will go out next week.
(so, if you’re up and about early, tune in next week and listen in.)
In the daily reflections, I am musing on the things we can learn about faith from the Harry Potter stories.
It’s amazing how much times goes into producing a series of 90 second thoughts.
So I feel I’ve spent a lot of time with Harry Potter this week.
One of the reflections I didn’t record focussed on The Sorting Hat that features in the Harry Potter stories.
As each pupil joins Hogwarts School, they are sorted into Houses – the sorting Hat declares which house each pupil is assigned.
There are 4 houses: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin. 

The Gryffindors tend to be folk who display courage, daring, nerve, and chivalry so its members may be regarded as brave and perhaps a bit reckless

The Hufflepuffs tend to be hard-working, friendly, loyal, non-judgmental, and modest about their accomplishments.

The Ravenclaws are intelligent, creative, resourceful and witty.

And Slytherins  tend to be ambitious, shrewd, cunning,, often disregarding the rules. 

Of course there are always a few rogues in each house – folk who don’t live up to type.
And there were occasions when the Sorting Hat found it difficult to label students.

I don’t know about you, but I have always been one to take people as I find them.
Of course its so easy to judge folk on appearance and on first impressions – we all tend to do that.
But I hate to be given the lowdown on someone before I meet them.
I like to form my own opinion and, I suppose, as an optimist, I always like to give folk the benefit of the doubt.
Of course sometimes that leads to disappointment, and to hurt, but I’d much rather take the risk than rely on someone else’s judgment.

As you know, I recently handed over responsibility as interim moderator for Mauchline and Sorn to a new minister.
After his induction, we met so that I could talk through a few things about the parishes with him, and pass on information that might be useful to him.
But one of the things I was careful NOT to do – was describe folks’ characters.
Because I think we all encounter folk differently.
And, often, if we have expectations, positive OR negative, those expectations will be confirmed.
Whereas if we are open, then we can encounter all manner of surprises.
I was also sharing with him the mystery that is being “the new minister”
I’m not sure when one stops being “the new minister”
Someone told me recently that, apparently, “the jury is still out on the new minister at Castlehill”
Three years on I’m wondering when one moves on from being “the new minister”
And on what criteria does the so called jury base its verdict?
I like to think that the jury has been out so long because I have proved difficult to label.
And folk don’t like it when we can’t be pigeon holed.
We like folk to slot neatly into categories that we define.
But our gospel today points to confusion.
And encourages us to leave judgment to God.

I looked back to see what I preached on our gospel passage when it last came up 3 years ago – and discovered that that was just when we moved to Ayr.
And I was reflecting on first impressions.
And expressing the hope that I was being called to work with people who were willing to take risks for the Kingdom of God.
I hoped that I was being called to lead a community that encouraged diversity, that wasn’t afraid to try new things.
3 years on, I’m pleased to affirm that that hope continues to be fulfilled.
Jesus’ parable, I would argue, ENCOURAGES us to take risks.
To try things that we might not be too sure of.
To trust folk who might be that wee bit different.
To accord people the benefit of the doubt.
To give things space and time and encouragement.
And then wait and see what the harvest brings.
And, unless we’re prepared to give things a chance – a real chance- we might miss out on an opportunity to be involved in growing the Kingdom of God.
It’s easy for us to be dismissive of new ideas.
And dismissive of people who are different from us – especially in church.
It always amazes me how many people spend their working day involved in all sorts of risky business but who, when it comes to church, want things to stay exactly as they are.
Who want to spend their time in fellowship with folk who aren’t going to demand anything of them and who won’t challenge them in any way.
Jesus parable challenges all of us to be daring when we work for the Kingdom.
And to have patience.
To take a long view rather than jump to conclusions.
The parable of the weeds growing among the wheat encourages us to withhold our judgment and to allow God to reveal, in time, the things that are of benefit to the Kingdom of God and the people who belong.

Yesterday I learned of, what seems to me, an amazing modern day parable about allowing the weeds and the wheat to grow together and see what happens at harvest.

Rupert Murdoch, owner of the News Corporation, involved in scandals that are unfolding and unraveling daily, involving huge intrusions of privacy, also owns a publishing company called Zondervan.
Zondervan is the largest publisher in the world of BIBLES.
I recently reviewed a book for Zondervan – it was a book about women in the church, and I was asked to host a review for it on my blog.
I wondered this weekend, if I would have taken on that review had I known who owned the publishing company and if I’d been aware of the subsequent phone hacking and bribery allegations.
And yes I would have.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m an optimist.
And that means, that in every situation and that in every person, I believe there is the possibility for redeeming factors to be evident.
Even if we have to dig quite deep to find them.
I believe they are there.
I cherish the hope that, even in the most dire situation, there is hope.
And, even in the most misguided person, there is the possibility of redemption.
Aren’t our own lives testimony to that?
Each of us, with all our messiness.
With our public face and our private face.
Things we are proud to display.
And things we keep under wraps.
We see weeds growing along with wheat in our own lives.
And often we can’t even tell the difference.
We can’t tell whether something we’re involved in is going to turn out to be good or not.
For us or for others.
Or for the Kingdom of God.
That’s why God encourages us to allow the weeds to grow along with the wheat,
Because we never can tell.
And, far from assuming that the weeds will always destroy the wheat, what about believing that the wheat might redeem the weeds.
Allowing both to grow together is bound to allow the possibility for change – for the better.

I’m not for a second advocating that we don’t speak up against injustice.
I’m not suggesting that we tolerate people behaving badly and exploiting others.
But I am suggesting that the way to change is not for us to judge and condemn.
The way to make change for the better a real possibility is for us to live out the gospel in our every day life.
That will bring about revolution.
That will confound people.
And, in the end, God will bring about the harvest.
And, I’m sure that in that harvest there will be many surprises as God reveals people and things we have written off as weeds being declared wheat – flourishing in the Kingdom of God.
And perhaps even the things that we hold up now will prove not to be useful in the Kingdom of God.
God will judge.
We are called to be faithful, to be loving, to be willing to take risks and to STOP judging and to trust in the God of the harvest.

To God be the glory.