Sermon: The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (A) – 20th July 2014

St Aidan’s Anglican Church Epping 8.30am

Readings: Genesis 28:10-19a    Psalm 139:1-11, 23-24   Romans 8:12-25   Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Privacy has become a big issue nowadays. It seems that more and more people know more and more about us. Phone tapping and hacking into computers has become more and more common. Google Earth can show our house and yard to anyone in the world. Not so long ago, I looked up a particular product on an internet website: a few days later I received an email asking me why I hadn’t bought it, and would I like to? And of course so many of us love to read of celebrities whose private flaws and foibles suddenly make it into the media. It seems that real privacy is a thing of the past. Big Brother seems to be more and more of a reality.

Well, whether or not Big Brother is a reality, the Lord God our Creator is a reality, and he knows absolutely everything about us. In relation to God, we have no privacy at all. And this is an important theme in our readings today.

In our first reading, from Genesis 28, we read part of the story of Jacob. Jacob was the younger of twins born to Isaac, with Esau his older brother. Jacob had talked his brother into handing him his rights as the oldest son, in exchange for a bowl of stew. He had then tricked his father into confirming those rights with his blessing. Esau was of course not happy, and Jacob knew it was time to leave home for a while. He would spend time with relations far to the east of the promised land. While he was there he would also try to find a wife – but that’s another story!

Before Jacob had left the land he rested overnight. In his dreams he saw a ladder reaching to heaven with angels going up and down. God spoke to him and assured him that he would be with him even when he left the land. He would bless him, bring him back safely to his home, and fulfil the great promises made to his grandfather Abraham: that his offspring would become a great nation, and bring blessing to all nations. When Jacob woke, he exclaimed “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”

Of course, Jacob’s understanding of God was limited. But it is true of so many people today. God is in fact always with us where we are, and so many do not know it!

The Psalmist in today’s Psalm 139 knew it however. He realized that God knows us inside out. He knows what we are doing. He knows our thoughts: our ideas and schemes, our fears and our confusion, our understanding and our misunderstanding, our past and our future, our intentions and our plans – not to mention which of them will fall flat!

How does the Psalmist react to this realization? I get the impression that his reaction is mixed. God’s all-encompassing knowledge of us is daunting, threatening. Life feels easier if no one is watching! How can we escape somewhere away from God’s view? And the Psalmist realizes that there is nowhere. North and south, east and west, up and down, the tops of the mountains or the bottom of the sea, even the world of the dead: there is nowhere I am away from God’s sight and knowledge. He is always there with us. There is no point in denying it, and it is foolish to ignore it. The question is whether we resent it or rejoice in it.

We live in God’s presence. There is no point in pretending with God. He knows the best about us and the worst about us; he knows our good points and also our bad points; he knows our achievements and our mistakes; he sees our deeds of kindness and generosity, and our unkind and unjust words and actions; he knows all our sins and failings. When we confess our sins, we are not telling him anything he didn’t know already!

He knows it all, and he understands it all. He knows far better than we do why we are the way we are. He is not happy with the wrongs we do, but he continues to love us. That’s why he came amongst us to share our life in the person of Jesus, and to die for our sin to open the way to forgiveness, reconciliation and salvation.

Over three weeks we are reading the wonderful 8th Chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans. In the previous chapters Paul has clearly set out the reality of human sin, but also the assurance of God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ. In the opening verses which we heard last week, Paul assured us that there is no condemnation for those who are Christ’s people: in Christ we have been set free from a way of life dominated by sin and death.

Today we are reminded that there is a new life for us to live. But more than that: we have God’s presence through the Holy Spirit to guide us and strengthen us as we live our lives following Christ. We have God’s personal presence and help as we seek to live the life that Christ calls us to. And as we follow Jesus, we find a growing confidence in God’s wonderful promises and his eternal purposes for us. We are not on our own, and our destiny is the glorious fullness of his perfect and joyous kingdom. God is not just our great Creator who sees us from a distance, but our loving Father who invites us into his eternal loving presence.

And so when we hear Jesus’ serious words in today’s Gospel, we can take them seriously without relapsing into fear. The story of the weeds sown among the good grain is explained by Jesus. We live in a mixed-up world, where there are God’s people and there are also those who determinedly reject God and his ways. There are people who seek to know and honour and serve God, and those who live deliberately as God’s enemies. We see the evidence of the evil done by people in our news every day, especially in the dreadful acts of violence and murder we have recently been hearing about. How do we sort out those who are God’s enemies from those who are God’s friends?

Perhaps some acts which we recognize as evil are done because of ignorance and misunderstanding, rather than human malice. I do not know. I can judge the act, but how can I judge the perpetrator? I myself am not the person I should be. I am vulnerable to temptation, even if my temptations are far less dramatic than those that reach the media. Which of us can really say how we would act in very different circumstances?

We must never go soft when it comes to recognizing the evil that people do. But let us also keep those well-known words in mind: “There but for the grace of God go I.” Of course we must recognize the evil acts of people for what they are. Some will be given the task of handing down judgement on the crimes that people commit. But it is not for us to be judges of human sinners. Perhaps some of those we believe to be weeds in Jesus’ story will turn out to be good seed after all. Only God really knows, and he is the real judge. We may want evildoers to be judged now, but judgement will happen rightly, in God’s time.

Yes, God will establish his kingdom in its fullness, and in doing so he will put down all that is evil, and deal appropriately with those who align themselves with evil. It is not for us to do the sorting out. We struggle to understand ourselves: God alone will get it right.

So as we reflect on our readings today, let us be real about the presence and knowledge of God. He does know us inside out: let us never try to pretend with him, let us seek to live as his people in his presence, and let us rest our confidence in his understanding and his love for us all.

And let us be wary of the temptation to judge others: judgement is God’s business. We know so little, but God alone will get it right. Our task is not to judge our neighbour, but to love our neighbour. Amen.

Paul Weaver