[Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A, Proper 11--translated from Japanese
St. Luke's International Hospital Chapel July 17, 2011– 10:30 a.m. Holy Eucharist
I'm feeling the need to speak more about a Christian worldview, the background against which the Good News can really be seen as good. I also knew there would be first-time visitors at this service, a hospital employee and her daughter.]
"He who has ears, let him hear" (Matt 13:43).
That's an odd thing to say. I mean, who DOESN'T have ears? Well, I know of at least one example: My children. And never more than when the TV's on. "Time for dinner!" You can say it several times, but to no effect. No ears! Might as well be talking to a rock.
"He who has ears, let him hear."
Jesus is so desperate for us to hear and understand what He's saying. In today's reading He talks about sowers, and wheat and false wheat. What we learned last week was that Jesus Himself is the sower of the "good seed," the wheat, and the good seeds He sows are His words, His message about "the Kingdom of God"—or, you could also say, people who have accepted Jesus' message about the Kingdom.
"He who has ears, let him hear." Jesus is pleading with us to grasp the meaning of His message about the Kingdom of God—it's basically all He ever talks about. All His works of healing point to it.
And what is this "Kingdom of God," anyway? It's not a place on a map, not a political organization. I think the Kingdom of God is the heart of God lived out through human lives. The Kingdom of God is what God desires to have happen.
And what does God desire? He desires for us human beings to be happy. Is that surprising? That the Creator of the Universe would want us to be happy?
Well, it's true. God wants us to be happy. That's exactly why He made us. God certainly didn't need to make humankind. He was perfectly happy without us.
But God did create us because He wanted to shower His love on us. And because God loves us, He wants us to be happy. Don't you want the people you love to be happy? Some people say the definition of love is, in fact, to desire the other person's happiness.
And God has shown us the way to be happy. Happiness in the Kingdom is born out of responding to the love of God, offering back to God our praise and thanksgiving. Happiness is born when we serve our neighbors. Happiness comes when we give of ourselves: "It is more blessed to give than to receive," Jesus taught (Acts 20:35).
Our hearts are truly filled when they are open to God, to the abundant life He wants to give us, and open to others.
Jesus says this is what it means to be truly human. And He calls this condition the Kingdom of God. He wants us to hear and understand what He says about it.
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The problem is, there is another kind of message. It's all around us. If Jesus speaking His message about the Kingdom of God is like a sower sowing good seeds, wheat, He also tells us there is an enemy sowing "false wheat" (darnel) in the same field.
False wheat is a kind of plant that bears a close resemblance to wheat. Until the ear appears, that is. When that happens, the wheat ears are heavy, so the wheat bends down, while the false wheat still stands up straight. At that point, separation is easy.
But who is this enemy, and what is the message he is sowing? In the biblical sense, an enemy is someone who works against you, who seeks to undo your achievements and drive you into destruction.
Jesus commands us to love our personal enemies—can you imagine anything harder? To "desire the happiness" of people who seek our harm? No way! Yet that's what Jesus commands!
But Jesus tells us to be aware that there is an enemy who is also sowing seeds, also sowing a message which is different from the message about the Kingdom of God. This is God's enemy, the devil who opposes God's work, who seeks to undo and distort what God has made, that ultimately seek to destroy everything good.
The enemy's power is limited. He can't uproot the wheat. All he can do is sow bad seed right in the middle of the good. All he can do is try to spread another message, an attractive and ultimately dangerous message.
I recently read a news article about a blowhole in Hawaii. A blowhole is where many years of waves have formed a cave underneath the coastal rocks, and there's a hole on the surface. When a big wave comes in, the pressure blows sea water through the hole, high up into the air—sometimes as high as 30 meters.
There was a man who was vacationing in Hawaii with his friends. He went close to the blowhole. Someone told him not to get too close, it was dangerous. But his friends said it would be fun to try to get sprayed by the sea water coming up out of the hole.
Two messages. One negative, like a constraint, "don't." The other seemed to be fun. Exciting. Thrilling.
Unfortunately, the man got too close to the hole. A big wave came in and he lost his footing. He fell into the blow hole. And that was the last anybody ever saw of him.
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There is a kind of message that is sown in the world. Just like the false wheat bears a resemblance to real wheat, this message promises a kind of happiness that looks like real happiness but isn't.
This message goes something like this. The reason you were born into this world is not because God loves you and wanted to create you, you just happened. A coincidence. The natural chain of life.
And so, you need to take care of yourself. You need to think about yourself, look out for your own interests. Nobody else will.
There are "winners" and "losers" in the world. Make sure you're one of the "winners."
And you make your own happiness. Happiness comes from being completely free. Free from constraints, free from the expectations of others, free to choose whatever you want.
Being poor limits your freedom. So you should have as much money as possible. Then you can fill your life with whatever pleases you. The house you want. The things you want. The vacations you want. The relationships you want. Pet. Baby. Career. Spouse.
You can have all these things. Or none of them, if you prefer. You're free to choose. Happiness is born out of this freedom. To "be myself" is the highest good, the way to happiness.
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Sounds good, right? Really appealing.
The problem is, from beginning to end, it's a lie. And it's dangerous. A life of total freedom, a life centered around me and what I want, is a life that inevitably leads--not to happiness--but to emptiness and loneliness and despair.
It may not seem that way right away. I mean, would the TV, magazines, movies really keep telling that lie over and over again?
Plus, there is indeed a kind of sense of satisfaction that comes from living for yourself. But the sense of satisfaction is fleeting. You can never have enough. And one day, you wake up and find your life is false wheat and not wheat. You aren't bearing fruit. You aren't contributing to the world.
And what's more, you aren't even really happy.
Japan is one of the freest countries in the world. In Japan, you can live as you please, buy what you want, more or less be who you want. As a nation, Japan ranks third in terms of GDP--and 90th in terms of Gross National Happiness.
And Japan boasts one of the highest suicide rates in the world, especially among young people.
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The good news is that Jesus is telling us this parable so that we can stop listening to the enemy's deceiving message, and start responding to the message that leads to real joy.
It's never too late to come to your senses. There is always the possibility of turning our hearts back toward God.
Jesus taught and did all that He taught and did so that we could avoid falling into the blowhole of a self-centered life. Jesus said He came to "seek and save the lost" (Luke 19:10) and so that we could have "life, and have it abudantly" (John 10:10).
"He who has ears, let him hear."
That is why we listen to the words of Jesus, and the words about Jesus, and all the words of God in the Bible. And that's why we even listen to long sermons!
And that is why we stop listening to the enemy.
Let us do all those things. And let us ask God to increase the wheat in our own hearts, and weed out the false wheat. Let us pray to God to show us the way to true happiness.