Sermon – July 20, 2014
The Rev. Rebecca S. Myers, CSW
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Corbin, KY
The slaves said to him, `Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, `No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest….’ Matthew 13:28-29
Please be seated
Recently I have been reminded about Jim Thorpe. I knew about him as I was growing up. He was Native American, Pottawatamie, Sauk and Fox, born in Oklahoma. But growing up near Carlisle, PA, I learned about him, because he attended school in Carlisle. In 1950, Thorpe was named the greatest American football player and the greatest American male athlete. He had speed and stamina. He won both the decathlon and the pentathlon at the 1912 Olympics. He played baseball and football. Unfortunately, until 1982, he had been stripped of his Olympic medals and taken out of the record books, because he played semi-professional baseball for two seasons, so it was deemed he was not an amateur athlete. Of course, today that’s no problem at all.
But about that school…. Carlisle Industrial Training School. The United States Government had a policy of destroying the native peoples of this country. There was disdain for the way the native people lived and the colonizers believed the people to be subhuman and themselves to be far superior. Often times, the government policy consisted of starving the people, providing them with blankets carrying the smallpox disease, which would kill the native people; or starving them by killing their food – the buffalo.
Richard Henry Pratt, an Officer in the Army, did not like these policies, and gradually developed what was considered a more humane way to deal with the native peoples – train them to be like European-American people. This caught the attention of some wealthy people who became funders and eventually the Indian industrial schools were created.
Native families were forced to send their children hundreds of miles away to these boarding schools. At the schools, children were punished if they used their native language. Native ways of life about clothing and hair were not followed. Hair was cut and clothing was European. It was thought to be humane and charitable to make the Indians be like the European-Americans.
Total annihilation was certainly evil – the tares or weeds sown in the field. The work of the “enemy” in our Gospel today. The dominant people of the late 19th and early 20th centuries believed these Indian schools to be the good wheat the sower planted.
Yet, the outcomes of what was done were devastating. You can find videos online of people who survived those schools. Listening to their stories is heartbreaking. The pain of being forced to lose your language, to lose your family, to lose the things that grounded you and helped you understand who you are. And you never fully fit into the European-American world, and it was harder to connect to the native world because any time you’d try to speak the language or follow the customs, you were abused. The loss of the spiritual connection was extremely painful.
We think we know evil. As Christians, we aspire to live the Christian life…follow Christ and Christ’s commands. It is wrong to be evil. We judge ourselves. We judge each other. But throughout history, we see a trail of things once considered humane to now be considered evil. For instance, the guillotine was considered a more humane way to execute people, but now we consider it barbaric.
One of the messages in this parable today is about living right alongside evil. Some people say God can’t exist, because there is so much evil in the world. But in this story, Jesus says there is evil and it grows up right alongside us. Living the Christian life means living with evil right next to us.
We can certainly relate to this, especially this week with the tragedy of the Malaysian Airliner shot out of the sky, the hostilities between the Israelis and Palestinians playing out in the Gaza strip, and the influx of children crossing into the United States to flee violence in their native countries. Who’s right and who’s wrong? There are many sides. Who’s responsible for the evil? It’s hard to know who’s responsible and what the right thing to do is. What is not evil.
In this parable, Jesus tells us the evil is so close, that pulling it out will uproot us! Evil is so close, to get rid of it can end up destroying us! I have pondered that all week. You’d think we should do all in our power to uproot evil. How can uprooting evil also destroy us? You mean we are supposed to live with the evil? So many questions.
One thought I’ve had is along the lines of Officer Pratt. He thought he was doing a good thing. He thought the Indian schools were the good wheat. He did not think he was an evil man, especially when compared to what others did. Yet, a century and a quarter later, we understand the evil of those schools and we know the horror of them.
Maybe evil resides in us and we just can’t see it or don’t know it.
Furthermore, we cannot be the judge. I know, some things are pretty easy to judge and we shouldn’t throw our judgment out the window, but we do need to be careful about our judgmental attitudes. And we must never think we speak for God, that is for certain.
Jesus lets us know in no uncertain terms that judgment comes and judgment is of God. And on the Day of Judgment, evil that sprung up right next to us, evil that would uproot us should we cast it out, will be plucked and incinerated in the fire. Whether it is the evil we have done or the evil done on our behalf, it will be finally shattered.
And so, today we must think about how we live with evil that is right next to us and even inside of us. We can strive to be the good wheat shooting up, following God, living like Jesus to the best of our ability. We can be humble, knowing that we are doing our best, but in the end, it is God who is the judge and we know we fall short.
And we can live in the assurance that evil will be destroyed and we will then shine like the sun in the kingdom of God.