Hope In the Weeds
Genesis 28:10-19a Romans 8:12-25 Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
The three paintings that I have chosen to share with you today represent something of a spiritual journey for me. Each was painted during a different time in my life, and I want to say up front that I do not expect that everyone will like these. Art can be somewhat subjective, and I get that. What I want you to do this morning is to listen to the story they tell and consider how they might connect with the scriptures today through the Spirit of God moving in and through our conversation about them.
I’d like to start with this one. It’s a stain painting, which means that I used watered down paint to stain a perfectly good canvas. I painted this one in college, and the image kind of evolved out of a desire to do something with primary colors that was bold and simple. My first attempt was just a wash of color that looked neither bold nor simple. So, I let that dry and I tried again. I laid it on the ground and splashed on some blue. I went to the other side and did some more. Then I went to another corner and splashed on some red. I went to the other side and did some more. Then I realized that I couldn’t splash on the yellow without messing up the red and blue. So, I just started making these lines that became the outline of Christ.
And there it was – an image of Christ as the connection between God and humanity; a vision of Christ as the disruptor of sin – bold, simple, and primary. The idea of God reaching out to us is a pretty basic theme in Christian theology, but I think we can say with confidence that it is found throughout the Bible.
Even in Jacob’s dream we find that God is concerned with what goes on in creation (this creation that Paul says has been subjected to futility). Let’s not get lost in speculation over what those angels were doing. What matters here is that God’s messengers – which are a part of the created order of things – were moving about between heaven and earth. Through their work, God was an active participant in creation, and God even groans with it as it awaits delivery.
And this God was faithful and true to the covenant that God had made, because that covenant is what was moving creation toward redemption. And so, God recognizes Jacob as Isaac’s heir, regardless of stolen birthrights and blessings.
Now, hearing that, you may be asking how one might steal a birthright or a blessing. Last week we read about the way that Esau, the first born by a hair, gave over his birthright for a bowl of stew. We didn’t talk much about that, so first off you might need to know that this was a non-literate culture. Spoken words were binding as contracts, and if you went back on your word you could be treated severely or even cast out. So, when Esau gave away his birthright he was essentially signing over the rights of a first born – which was usually twice the inheritance as any other.
The part we did not read about was the blessing, in which Jacob pretended to be Esau and his father appointed him to reign over his brother. These words couldn’t be taken back. So, when Jacob left Beer-Sheba, it was because he was afraid for his life!
And yet God spoke to this scoundrel, this bad seed, and restated the covenant that he made with Abraham – because God is a God of grace and mercy, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast joy. This God – the one who showed mercy for the wanted man – was the God that Jacob had in mind when he said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it!”
Maybe you’ve been there. Maybe you’ve had a time in which God’s grace and mercy became clearer for you at a certain time and place – even though you were so low that you might have even been willing to accepted a rock as a pillow. For surely the Lord was in that place as well.
The question of our awareness of God’s presence is part of the inspiration for the second painting that I want to share with you. As I told you before, this one has a man holding onto chains where he could be free. And although the background looks like flame and suffering, there are cool blues and greens toward the bottom.
What’s down there? I don’t know. Only God knows. What matters is that the person is holding onto pre-conceived ideas and patterns of behavior that separate him from God. The interesting thing is, according to scripture, that letting go does not mean that you will never suffer. In fact, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you will. But the beautiful thing is that when we let go of the things that are self-defeating – those things that keep us from experiencing God’s active presence – we are held by a hope that transforms suffering.
When we truly place ourselves in God’s hands, we will find over and over again that the one we call “Father” not only holds us tight but sets us free. And that brings us to our final image which is the least abstract of the three, and is one that I have been working on for several years. Some of you will remember that we used this in worship one year around Pentecost. I had precut pieces of colored paper that we all used to fill the space. The idea was to demonstrate the way that God’s spirit works in and through us to create something together.
I fully intended to paint it that week, but I couldn’t. Since then it’s been sitting in my guest room. The problem hasn’t been the image. It’s the background. Last week I sent a picture of it to some friends who are artists, and one of them said, “Pay attention to the negative space.” Well. I guess therein lies the rub.
The outstretched hands of Christ are beautiful. The idea of our spirits taking flight like a dove makes us smile. But what about this other stuff. What about the weeds that God allows to grow with the wheat? What about the weeds that are thrown in the fire where others wail and gnash their teeth?
What do we do with the negative space of not only sin and suffering but evil? Well, for one, I think we have to be honest that it’s there, and that God is promising to do something about it in the long run. For another, we have to realize that one parable does not summarize the Gospel or the complexity of the human condition. Not only that, but we have to remember that Matthew was really concerned about the fact that there were those in his community that appeared to follow Jesus, but did not live in the way that Jesus lived.
So, just as the negative space in a painting anchors the image in our minds, the negative space of the parable reminds us that God is not only the one who plants the seed, but God is the owner of the field. And God is the one who decides what is a weed and what is not. Ours is but to grow and bear good fruit.
Sure, we need to resist evil and call it out when we see it. But at the end of the day our hope is grounded in something we can’t see, even though we know it to be true. Our hope is not in the image of Christ’s outstretched arms as much as it is in the arms of God that already embrace us! Our hope is in the space that we might leap into if we can let go of the chains we hold so dear. Yes, even as we take flight, our hope is not in the joy of release from sin, but in the life that we live in gratitude for all that God has done for us!
Yes! Our hope is not in the judgement of others, but in the expectation that God will bring us sweet release from sin and all the causes of evil – even the part that must be rooted out from your heart and from mine.
And to God be the glory for that. Now and always. Amen.