The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
E. Bevan Stanley
July 19, 2020
Year A, Proper 11
Surely God is in this place, and I did not know it. In the Name of the one, holy, and undivided Trinity. Amen.
I am going to attempt a feat that is generally too risky. We are going take parts of all three readings and weave them into a single piece. We will begin with the abstract and end with the concrete.
So, we begin with Paul: I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
The futility that creation was subjected to is its bondage to decay. We now call the creation’s bondage to decay “entropy.” It is Newton’s Second Law of Thermodynamics. Everything is becoming more random, potential energy is released and spent in kinetic energy, and eventually the entire universe grows cold and dies. There is no perpetual motion machine. Bondage to decay is the source of our suffering. Things fall apart, rot, come undone. But Paul focuses on the hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. Glory is coming. The principle in the natural order that opposes entropy is evolution. Things get more organized and come together in systems. Complexity increases. The individual parts of systems become more specialized and depend on other parts of the system. Paul says we are members of the Body of Christ.
These two primary forces, entropy and evolution, exist together in creation just as wheat and weeds grow side by side in the field. Just as flesh and spirit both are part of being human. We have a small difficulty as we move to the Gospel reading. Jesus says the weeds were planted by an enemy, whereas if the weeds are entropy, God put them there at the beginning of creation. Regardless of who put them there, the weeds and the wheat have to grow together. If you try to rip out the weeds, you will damage the wheat as well. The very randomness that is the mark of entropy also drives evolution. Mutations of cells are random. Without randomness there can be no evolution.
It is also true that there are weeds and wheat in every human heart. You can’t rip out the weeds without damaging the heart. And the final point Jesus makes is that it is not our job to judge what is wheat and what is a weed. The sorting out, if any has to happen, is God’s job, not ours.
Now we turn to story of Jacob and his dream. Jacob is fleeing for his life from his brother Esau. Jacob has just swindled him out of their father’s final blessing by impersonating Esau. Jacob’s name means “supplanter.” Now that he has fully lived up to his name, his brother is out to kill him. Joseph flees northward. One night he has a dream of a ladder reaching to heaven with angels going up and down on it. Then God appears and makes the same promise to Jacob that had already been made to Abraham and Isaac before him. “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. He will possess the land and his offspring will be as numerous as the stars in the sky. Then there is another promise tacked on at the end: Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you. t the beginning of his exile, God promises to be with him through all that lies ahead. Jacob wakes from his dream and utters the immortal words: “Surely the LORD is in this place– and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
In this time when the pandemic is becoming worse in much of the United States, when many are being stirred by a new consciousness of our national legacy of racism, and when science is being politicized, we take comfort in Paul’s words: I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. Although it may seem that entropy is winning and everything is falling apart, there is glory coming. Something new is emerging. Evolution is carrying us along to a new world.
The vision is not that things will be put back together, but that wholly new things will emerge, things that are more like the interplay and interdependence of love which is the nature of God. Things that look more like the Kingdom of God.
Here we are. Even as our world seems dangerous and out of control, we look forward to the new world that is coming. Entropy, dissolution, corruption, erosion, rot and death are all part of the natural order. We do not like them. And they are not the whole story. There is also, evolution, birth, novelty, emergence of new systems, new organisms, new coalitions, and new cooperation among all the peoples of the earth. The angels go up and down on the ladder. This earth is connected to heaven. And at every moment we can look around with open eyes and open hearts. We are astonished at what God is up to, and we say, “Surely the LORD is in this place– and we did not know it!” We are frightened and say, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.