What are the weeds and straws in our own lives?
Father Neil (on our Service Sheet) says todays readings are on the more challenging side. So he’s asked me to preach on them. Thank you Father Neil
Caused me to consider a question from each of the readings:
1. The Jeremiah reading: What are the straw and weeds in our lives?
2. The Gospel: Jesus’ question: “Why do you not know how to interpret the present?” How does that apply to us?
3. The athletes and the “clouds of witnesses” referred to in Hebrews. How can they inspire us to shed what we don’t need and run the race we have been set.
Straw reminds us that this is the time of harvest. As a child living in the Suffolk countryside, harvest was wonderfully exciting, listening for the distant drumming sound of combine harvesters, which because they had smaller cutting bars, sometimes would move in across fields three abreast. Our village was the UK headquarters of Claas combines and our neighbour Mr Gittus always had the latest and biggest combines.
Golden stubble fields.
“What has straw in common with wheat says the Lord. Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” So says the prophet Jeremiah.
Well, what has this to do with a Suffolk childhood?
At that time many farmers (not Mr. Gittus) indulged in what now seems the extraordinary practice of burning the stubble and straw which improved grass weed control largely due to the breaking of seed dormancy thus stopping weeds germinating prior to crop planting. So the golden fields turned black, the air was full of smoke, and sometimes the fires got out of control. Stubble burning was banned in 1993.
Wheat nourishes and sustains. Straw was believed to be worthless and fire purifies. What a wonderful analogy by Jeremiah contrasting the false prophets, the men of straw with the word of God which nourishes and sustains.
What are the weeds and straws in our own lives?
Interpreting the present time
Prophets have been described as those “who tell truth to power.” There are the Old Testament prophets such as Jeremiah, Daniel and Ezekiel and Elijah to name a few. There is John the Baptist who now seen as the bridge between the Old and New Testaments. And then there is Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.
Jesus as true prophet, Son of God showing his Human exasperated side, is the lesson from today’s Gospel from Luke.
“Why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” Jesus is warning the inhabitants of Palestine that their fixation with a military Messiah, the oppressive regime of Herod, the High Priests, the adherence to the false teachings of the Pharisees, the neglect of the loving purposes of God, all at a time of a wary Roman overlord was a tinderbox in the making.
Why can’t the people of Palestine put two and two together and recognise the true Messiah.
The image of an overarching power capable of bringing down the full might of its power on a tiresome province came home to me this week as I read about China massing troops on the border of Hong Kong in a sports stadium in Shenzen. I also read that the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Carrie Lamb is a practicing Catholic. Please pray for the people of Hong Kong and the leaders of China.
The people of First century Palestine did not interpret the present time. The tinderbox did eventually explode with the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
But what about interpreting the current time in our own country? Each day we pray that our politicians will seek the common good. But as things stand, we seem to be heading for the gravest constitutional crisis in our living memory, a disunited kingdom. We must also remember there are people with strong Christian faiths on both sides of the divide, and that is stronger than what divides.
I urge you to pray about how you may wish to live out your Christian faith in a time of national crisis, if it comes to pass. The newspapers have some pretty chilling reports of secret government reports about what might happen after 31 October. We may need to look out for neighbours and be called to , as our Collect for todays “Bring forth the fruit of the Spirit in love and joy and peace” and to show the love of God to the vulnerable.
The athletes and the Clouds of Witnesses
What then can inspire us to live out the faith we have been given, to run the race we have been set.
Part of the answer to this question can be found in the letter to the Hebrews –addressed to converts from Judaism- that we have just heard.
We are presented in a great sweep of history the development of faith in God, the actions of people of faith which inspired some who lived alongside them, but especially those who came after.
We find that the author is not seeking to destroy the legacy of the Old Testament like a hammer crashing against a rock.
The constant emphasis is that faith was built incrementally and that what came after was done in God’s own way and in God’s time, the tale of the loving purposes of God, to be better than what went before – reaching perfection in Jesus Christ.
And so we come we come to the metaphor of the clouds of witnesses and the analogy of athletes.
Who are the witnesses looking at?
Is it us, as we gather here today in St. Georges, or is it something else.
The witnesses are in tiered ranks (if you’ve seen the old Powell and Pressburger film of a Matter of Life Death, you will recall the serried ranks in the court of heaven). They are looking to Christ, the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”
The message for us, is that we must persevere in our faith, shedding all that holds us back, that sets us apart from God, inspired by those who have gone before.
Part of the Church of England’s daily prayer rota is to give thanks for the example of those who have gone before:
On Tuesday we remembered Jeremy Taylor, Bishop of Down sand Teacher of the Faith, and the Social Reformers, Florence Nightingale and Octavia Hill.
Wednesday was Maximilian Kolbe, Friar and Martyr
On Thursday the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Next week it is Bernard of Clairvaux , William and Mary Booth and Bartholomew the Apostle. Please learn more about the gift of faith from those who have gone before us and tap into the inspiration they can provide.
So to conclude, lets us reflect on:
• the weeds and straw in our lives
• how we can to take inspiration from the gift of faith bequeathed to us by the cloud of witnesses
• how we can use all this to interpret the present time to “bring forth the fruit of the Spirit in love and joy and peace.”
Father Peter Wolton
18 August 2019