The parable that begins the 13th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel is a familiar one to most of us. It is one of the parables our Lord not only gives to us, explaining the working of the Kingdom of Heaven, but He interprets it for us as well. He decodes the images He gives so we might have an accurate understanding of what is going on. Now, I know Jesus calls this the Parable of the Sower, but I have always thought that perhaps a better name would have been the Parable of the Soils,
It is weird out there, is it not? I mean yesterday we celebrated the 244th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, a moment in history that radically changed the course of world events. Those brave and daring colonist flexed their muscles of freedom and independence and were willing to go to war to have it. Independence Day is marked every year by great celebrations, by fireworks and parades and barbeques and picnics and concerts and baseball games and family gatherings. But not this year.
I was able to go to church last Sunday. I do not get to do that very often. Not because of the Covid-19 terror which plagues our land or a lack of desire to attend, rather as a pastor I am usually presiding in the Divine Service, not participating as a worshipper. My “going to church” is marked as my vocation and there are only a handful of times a year where I just go to church and sit in the pew as a layperson.
The words of our Lord found in the 10th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel are stark and difficult words to hear. They are marked by a raw honesty about the faith, about discipleship, about what it means to be called a Christian. There is a foreboding darkness hanging over Jesus’ words in this section. It is not all sunshine and rainbows or a prosperity preacher’s Pollyanna dreams.
It used to be that people shunned the use of a mask. Outside of Halloween or playing pranks on our friends, a mask was nothing to be proud of. Sure, we might praise the masked surgeon, fighter pilot, or hero running into danger to save others, but it is in the taking-off of the masks that we find cause for joy and celebration. For it is in the removal of the mask that we see their humanity, we see they are one of us. The fact that there remains a kinship between us and them offer us the promise and hope of potential glory.
There is a famous line from the movie “Usual Suspects” that goes like this: “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” To not see the Devil, to not believe in him, to disregard the warnings and the cautions concerning his work, is to give him free reign to work his chaos and destruction. Without the Devil we forget the true opposition to our faith. We forget there is indeed a battle going on, that evil is real and working to divide and destroy the children of God. The other day I was talking with my good friend and colleague, Tim Barkett, about everything going on in our country these past few months. He said that out of all of Satan’s attacks, all his manifestations, this is perhaps his most elegant one.
They call it the Great Commission. It is the sending out of the Church of God with a purpose, a mission that gives it its definition. This is not a one-time or temporary thing the Church is to do, like a checkmark on a long list of other priorities. No, this is its very identity. It is what we are to fill our days with as we await the end of all things and the return of our Lord. On a mountaintop in Galilee Jesus meets His disciples. There they worship their resurrected Lord and He says to them, “All authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
If there was any doubt of the fallen nature of humanity, I think these days that façade is finally falling. Though we want to look to the best side of people, and we want to believe that everyone is basically good, we are bombarded with reminders that this isn’t the case. Sin is on display everywhere we look. Good intentions turn bad as mankind continues to tear itself apart.
The 17th chapter of John’s Gospel has been given the unofficial title of the High Priestly Prayer. The whole chapter contains the words of an intimate prayer between the Son of God and our Heavenly Father. A prayer that happens on the night in which he was betrayed, the very night he knows that his disciples will all abandon him, they will be scattered and afraid as he begins the horrible trials of suffering and betrayal that culminate in his crucifixion on that fateful Friday afternoon.
Bureaucracies in all forms, shapes and sizes have one thing in common, they try and control variables. I don’t think it matters if you are speaking about the federal government or your local city council or, for that matter, your congregational governance, if there is a bureaucracy it has a set of parameters and objectives which give it purpose. They have a specific goal in mind for the organization and a big part of what they must do is control all the variables that might impinge upon that goal.