Sermon for Sunday, 17th July 2011 (Fourth Sunday after Trinity/Proper 11)Jul 16th, 2011 | By Ian Poulton | Category: Sermons
“Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn. ” Matthew 13:30
Why do we tolerate violence and destruction? Why do we allow thugs and bullies to make miserable the lives of the vulnerable? Because it is the vulnerable who always suffer through anti-social behaviour, the rich and the powerful having retreated behind gates and high walls. Aren’t we as Christians meant to protect the vulnerable?
In our early days in Dublin, before everyone had mobile phones, we had a phone box the other side of our garden wall. One day our two dogs began ferocious barking at someone over the wall. The telephone box had already been smashed four or five times in recent months and I was suspicious that the same thing was happening again. I reached the garden wall to see a youth dressed in a white hooded sweatshirt, dark trousers and a black baseball cap throwing a large lump of wood to smash a window of the box. He and his two companions, the three of them being 14-15 year olds, then set off down the main road, when they realized I was following them they ran across the road towards a local church. I went back for the car and saw them at the church but they went through the neighbouring school grounds and I lost sight of them. It was the last straw for the telephone company; they never fixed the phone box and eventually took it away. Who suffered? Not those who could afford phones of their own
I have never seen a smashed up phone box in France, why do people do it?
I used to read articles on vandalism where the writers stressed how the people responsible were just products of the system and that it was all due to poverty and deprivation. I didn’t see much sign of poverty or deprivation amongst the three youths. Anyway, I have visited people living in real poverty, in the Philippines, in Tanzania, in Burundi and Rwanda, and they didn’t smash things up.
There are some writers who, I think, with the best of intentions, try to explain why people do these things. They believe they are trying to uphold human dignity. They never explain why other people in identical circumstances behave differently and in their efforts to explain away wrong doing they suggest we are not free make choices, that we are just like robots, programmed by our upbringing and where we live to behave in a particular way.
The three youths made a conscious decision to wreck that ’phone box, no-one forced them to do so. It’s a nonsense to suggest that people are simply products of their environment. Wrecking the ’phone box was a choice they made. Those who mar our towns and cities with graffiti, the thugs who terrorise the vulnerable and the elderly, they make their own choices. They do these things because they choose to do these things.
People make choices, they can make good choices and they can make bad choices. If they make bad choices, the lets call things as they are and not pretend.
Listen to news from Northern Ireland and there are excuses made in some quarters for the violent sectarianism that brings fear and terror into the lives of ordinary people. There are no excuses for what happens.
It is offensive to the overwhelming majority of the community in those cities and towns, a community that has been law-abiding, hard-working and often very successful, to suggest that conditions are such that their young people are forced to acts of violence.
No-one forces anyone to throw petrol bombs; no-one forces them to intimidate people from their homes These men choose the way of evil – let’s call it as it is, they do evil because they make a free choice to do evil.
Jesus’ parable of the weeds this morning speaks directly to our situation. He makes it clear that there are some who will choose the way of God and some who will choose the way of the Evil One. He makes it clear that we live in a world where good and evil exist alongside each other. He warns that there will be a day of judgment when good and evil are punished accordingly.
In times past we were taught very forcibly that we were responsible for the choices we made. The catechism, many would have learned in times past, included the following lines amongst our duty towards our neighbour, ‘To keep my hands from picking and stealing, and my tongue from evilspeaking, lying, and slandering: To keep my body in temperance, soberness, and chastity: Not to covet nor desire other men’s goods; but to learn and labour truly to get mine own living, and to do my duty in that state of life, unto which it shall please God to call me.’ We have moved from that view of the world, where the individual was held entirely responsible for all of his or her actions, to a view in some quarters that individuals cannot be held to account for almost any action
Jesus has no illusions. We make choices and we will be accountable for our choices. We have been given dignity and freedom and we must choose how we use them—we can choose evil and we can choose good.
The evil in our world hurts most the weakest and the most vulnerable members of our community. When we see the world as Jesus sees it we might start to make it a safer place for everyone.
“Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn. ”