Pastors’ Corner

“You can never step in the same river twice”

When I was in marching band in high school, I had a friend who, whenever he would mess up – whether that was playing the wrong note(s), or doing the wrong steps in our field show – would say, “Sorry!  It’s my first day!”  Now, of course, it wasn’t actually his first day, which is what makes the joke funny, but lately I’ve adopted a new mantra of sorts that I think sort of relates.  The mantra is pretty simple and goes something like this: It’s my first time. 

Now you might be wondering to yourself just how practical this kind of mantra is.  I mean, really, on a daily basis, how many things do we do for the first time?  For the most part, our days are filled with repetition and routine, and the number of new things we experience are few and far between.  But consider the words of the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus who said, “You can never step in the same river twice.”  Now this seems, at first, to not make much sense.  Surely there’s not an entry limit for rivers, right?  You just walk up, step in, step out, and then step back in (humming the hokey pokey music is totally optional).  But, by the time that you step back into that river for the second time, it has already changed.  It is no longer the same as it was when you first stepped in.  The water that was around your feet is now 20 yards downstream, and the water you’re standing in is completely different and wasn’t there a second ago.  The rocks, the sand, the animal life, all these things will have moved or changed ever so slightly.  The world around us is in a constant state of motion and flux, and therefore nothing is ever truly exactly the same as it was before.

So, what does this have to do with my mantra.  Well, if nothing is ever exactly the same, it means that no matter how many times we’ve done a particular activity, we’ve never done it under these exact, present conditions.  I’ve preached many different sermons.  And I can look to those past experiences for insights and wisdom; in fact, I’d be foolish not to.  But regardless of all those experiences, whenever I preach a sermon, it is still the first time that I am giving that particular sermon, at that particular time, to that particular group of people.  

This way of looking at things has really increased my compassion and empathy, both for myself, as well as for other people.  This idea that we are all doing this thing we call life for the first time really helps put things into perspective.  Whether the things that we/others are experiencing are big or little, all the way from trying to get to work after oversleeping an alarm, to having a spouse that is going through cancer treatment, when you look at it through the lens of, “it’s my/their first time,” you can’t help but have compassion.  We are all trying our absolute best, but we’ve never done this before, so how can we expect perfection?

So, be kind to others, and be kind to yourself.  Afterall, it’s everyone’s first time doing today.

Blessings, Pastor Sam

Revisiting the Wheat and Weeds

Dear People of Bethlehem,

Parables were the bread and butter of Jesus’ public ministry, and they are one of the reasons that his teachings are still relevant to us today.  A parable is just a fancy word for a metaphor, or a story, that teaches us about something.  And with Jesus, that “something” was usually the kingdom of heaven (or the kingdom of God depending on which Gospel you’re reading).  And because he was tackling such a lofty and complicated topic many of the parables were somewhat confusing, and in some cases, they were downright baffling.  The beauty, and sometimes annoyance, of a parable is that they do require interpretation and unpacking. 

And often, you’ll find that a parable has multiple different meanings when viewed from the perspective of the different characters.  For example, the lessons learned from the parable of the prodigal son are very different depending on whether you view it through the eyes of the younger son, the older son, or the father.  That versatility is part of what has allowed stories that were told over 2000 years ago to still be relevant today.

The gospel reading for Sunday, July 23rd from Matthew was the familiar parable of the wheat and the weeds.  A man went out into his field and sowed good seed, but under cover of night, an enemy came and sowed weeds among with the wheat.  This act of sabotage went undiscovered until the plants sprouted up, and the workers saw that their beautiful field of wheat was infested with weeds.  They offered to pull them up, but the farmer warned against this, as pulling up the weeds would uproot the wheat up as well.  Better to leave it all until the harvest, at which time the weeds will be gathered and burned, and the wheat will make its way to the granary.  This is a story that is packed with layers and layers of meaning, and many different conclusions that could be drawn.  So many, that were I to have tried to talk about all of them into that one sermon, we might still be sitting in the sanctuary!  But luckily for all of us, I decided to restrain myself and just talk about one, which is what I’ll be doing here as well. 

Jesus explains to the disciples that the wheat are the children of the kingdom, and the weeds are the children of the evil one.  Now that is indeed one way of viewing this text.  But we know, and Jesus knew, that life is never quite as cut and dry as that.  What if instead of sweating over whether we are the wheat destined for the granary, or the weeds destined for the fiery furnace, we understood ourselves to be the field?  In that line of thinking, then, the wheat and the weeds, instead of being individual people, would instead represent the good and the bad that resides within all of us.  Because we know that none of us are completely good; none of us live completely virtuous lives that are beyond reproach 100% of the time.  Just as no one is ever completely evil, committing nefarious deeds during every single hour that they are awake.  No, instead, like Martin Luther so wisely postulated, we are both saint and sinner.  We have both good and bad within us.  Try as we might to live the way Jesus instructed us, to live as God intended for us to live, we will fall short, fail, mess up.  And those failures don’t mean that we are inevitably headed to that fiery furnace, they just mean that we’re human.  Which means, that the fiery furnace in the parable, doesn’t have to necessarily represent some Hollywood vision of eternal damnation.  Instead, what if we thought about it as a refiner’s fire?  A process of purification, where we are set free of the weedy parts of ourselves, leaving behind only the wheat.

This interpretation is much more comforting.  To know that we don’t need to obsess over whether we are the wheat or the weeds, but to know that we contain both.  And while we are called to cultivate the wheat, and to do our best to limit the spread of the weeds, our salvation isn’t dependent on how successful we are.  It’s not dependent on how many bushels of wheat we produce, nor on our final wheat-to-weed ratio.  It is dependent solely on the unconditional love, mercy, and grace that is offered to us by God.  Who sees us weeds, wheat, and all, and loves us still. 

Harvest Blessings,

Pastor Sam