Exploring the Word | Spreaker

Monday, August 8, 2011

predestination and calling

Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24
1   O LORD, you have searched me and known me.
2   You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
          you discern my thoughts from far away.
3   You search out my path and my lying down,
          and are acquainted with all my ways.
4   Even before a word is on my tongue,
          O LORD, you know it completely.
5   You hem me in, behind and before,
          and lay your hand upon me.
6   Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
          it is so high that I cannot attain it.
7   Where can I go from your spirit?
          Or where can I flee from your presence?
8   If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
          if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9   If I take the wings of the morning
          and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10  even there your hand shall lead me,
          and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11  If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
          and the light around me become night,”
12  even the darkness is not dark to you;
          the night is as bright as the day,
          for darkness is as light to you.
23  Search me, O God, and know my heart;
          test me and know my thoughts.
24  See if there is any wicked way in me,
          and lead me in the way everlasting.

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
24He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

36Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!”

            This passage from Matthew always catches my attention. On the one hand, I’m not a huge fan of judgment and burning evildoers in the furnace. On the other hand, this is about the best example passage for our Presbyterian tradition of predestination, and I value that heritage. Plus, this passage inspired our first hymn, a classic Thanksgiving favorite of mine.

            Predestination is part of our tradition that we often sweep under the carpet. At the same time, it’s one of the beliefs Presbyterians are known for, so it’s important to be familiar with the basic idea. Predestination means that God knew and decided our eternal destiny long before we were born. Like the wheat and weeds in the story there is nothing anyone can do to change the outcome. No matter how you tend the plants, wheat is always wheat and weeds are always weeds.

There’s something about having our destiny fixed that rubs us the wrong way; it’s an insult to our sense of freedom and fairness. The problem with predestination is the judgment part. God judges people without any regard for what they have done. Some are wheat and some are weeds. It seems unfair and cruel.

            But the God we meet in scripture is loving, not cruel. The God we serve loves us so much that he sent Jesus into the world to call us back home. The God we know takes on our sin and defeats it once and for all. In the end, judgment is about redemption; God judges to save and redeem. God uses judgment to break human pride and selfishness so grace can flow freely for everyone. I believe that when everything is said and done God’s love will win and even the thorniest weed will be transformed in love.

The blessing of predestination is that it’s all about God. We are saved by God’s grace, not by our efforts. This passage also reminds us that we are not the ones to judge. Only God can do that, and God judges through the love of Jesus. We are free to tend the field without worrying about who is good grain and who’s a weed.

            The parable reminds us that God is the wise farmer, while the Psalm reminds us that God knows each of us intimately. Our divine mother knows our thoughts and keeps loving and leading us forward. All the things we hide from others, even the things we hide from ourselves are obvious to God. Even when she finds evil in us, God can still lead us in the right direction again. We are never out of God’s reach or sight or love.

            The psalmist is amazed because the God of heaven and earth cares enough to be intimately involved in our lives. John shared with us his story of God’s special call, and today we celebrate God’s call to leadership in our community. Today we ordain Laura and Donna as elders in this congregation and we install Donna, Laura, Gary and Sharon for new terms in office.

One of the things I love about our Presbyterian heritage is the leadership of elders and pastors together. We believe that God gives our congregation what we need to do exciting, effective ministry through the gifts of our members. Today we think especially about the spiritual gifts of faith and leadership that equip Gary, Sharon, Laura and Donna for the office of elder. As a congregation we have recognized these gifts in them and have chosen them to lead us in the year ahead.

We also give thanks for Susan Dennis and Scott Fralick who complete their terms on session. Your session has led you well in the last year and I’m excited for where your new session will lead us in the year ahead. I’m counting on each of you to support your session with prayer, advice and action. Like grain, God has planted us on this corner to grow and to share God’s love with our community. Through God’s intimate relationship with each of us and through the leaders God has called we care for God’s fruitful field together.

Thanks be to God.

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