Monday, July 24, 2017

"Where There Will Be Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth"

“Where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
I don’t know about any of you, but I have always struggled with this part of Matthew’s Gospel.
It actually doesn’t just appear in this one parable we have this morning but multiple times.
It is usually at the end of the parable, and is thrown out as what appears to be a warning to us.
If you are like he evil ones then you too will be thrown into the furnace of fire where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
I think this interpretation of the text comes from our general understanding of the religion, and the Bible.
Religion is seen as a way to keep people in line, to make sure they do the right things.
And the Bible is a book of rules to keep us out of hell and helps us get into heaven.
This morning I want to explore with you some possible interruptions of this text that will be more helpful to us.

I want to start by asking if any of you have ever been in hell?
Have you ever felt that life was awful, horrible?
Have you ever felt the sting of death, or maybe multiple deaths?
I know that there are times in people’s lives that multiple things happen to people that are devastating.
This week I had a woman come visit me.
She didn’t say that she felt like she was in hell.
But her life was hell right now.
She was trying to care for her disabled son, her mother who had early dementia.
She had lost her job.
She was sleeping on a friend’s couch.
She had medical bills she couldn’t pay.
She was about to lose her storage unit with all of her worldly positions in them.
Her life was hell.
As she told me her story she wept, and she gnashed her teeth.

This is the privilege of being a pastor is to be with people in hell, to hear people’s stories of loss, of addiction, of hurt, of pain, of sin.
It is a privilege to go with people to the places that are awful, the places of fire.
There is a real hell.
I have seen it many times with my own eyes.
When we are in that place the only response is to cry to wail and gnash our teeth for relief.

Jesus was naming a reality.
It is a reality that sometimes we experience.
Some people experience more than others.
This is life.

Is it possible that in these parables that Jesus tells about the kingdom of God he names this reality.
That while we grow here in the world there will be moments and times when we are burning.
There will be moments when our lives are in hell.
And the only appropriate response is to wail and gnash our teeth.

Maybe that doesn’t do it for you.
Maybe you want to say, “But Jesus mentions evil pastor.”
Isn’t there real evil?

Yes evil is real.
And I like you pray every day that evil will be removed from our midst.
But the idea that God wants to punish us for eternity is not something I can get behind.
I have made the case many times that it is simply unbiblical.
That the view in the Bible is of a God that wants the best for us.
We fight against what is best for us.
That even though we fight God the God who is full of grace hangs in there with us.

But I will admit that accepting this God of grace is not easy for us.
And this leads me to my next point.
Entering the kingdom of God is not easy.
And so entering the kingdom of God there usually is wailing and gnashing of teeth.
It is not easy to accept what Jesus wants from us.
Matthew Gospel is filled with teachings about love that are really difficult for people to live out.
Matthew’s Gospel starts with The Sermon on the Mount, which is Jesus interpretation of what it means to faithfully follow God in the world.
And Jesus’ teachings are really difficult, and so we fight God and in that fighting there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
There is blood and tears as we try to have it our way instead of God’s way.

When Vicki and I were in Germany learning about the Reformation we saw this.
It would be easy to think that Martin Luther showed up and told everyone that the Church had forgotten the Gospel and needed to reform.
And then everyone saw the errors of their ways.
The Church then reformed and everyone was happy.
But the true history is much more complex.
Many people resisted reform.
Many powerful people within the church who did not want to give up power and prestige.
Or who just thought that Luther was being difficult.
The Reformation led to wars, and death.
It led to weeping and gnashing of teeth.
It led to bloodshed.
The Kingdom of God comes with difficulty.
The world will not easily want to accept what Jesus had to say.
And people in the Church will not easily accept it either.
There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth as God tries to get us to accept living in grace and love.

Hell can be found right here on earth.
Our lives can be fraught with difficulties that we might face.
We can bring hell on ourselves as we fight to accept a God of grace and love.
As we fight against a God who blesses the poor, peacemakers, mourners, and the losers of the world.

What this parable does, as all good parables do, is take this world and turn it upside down.
Because the truth is that Jesus is a horrible farmer.
Of course you separate the wheat from the weeds!
That is really bad advice.
But Jesus refuses to let that be the answer.
Only through love can God win our hearts.
Only through patience as the good and bad grow together.
Only through times in our lives individually when we fight through the bad can we come to see the good.
Only through times as our life as the Church when we fight and weep and gnash do we come to see the good.
In other words we live all the time under God’s grace.
In grace we live in a place where the head farmer doesn’t tear down the field as we go through hell.
Instead the farmer waits, and asks us to wait, waits for the weeds and wheat to be sorted.
Waits for us, waits with us.
God comes to our hell so that we might rise.

Is there evil?
And it is in us, around us.
It is in others too.
But only God has the fire that burns it away.
Only God can bring the grace and love that kills our sins and rises us to new life.

I hope for you this week that you will not be in hell, that you will not wail and gnash your teeth.
I hope for you to be renewed in the patient farmer who breaks convention to give us grace and love.
So that you will know the great love of the Lord toward you, and you will be delivered from the fire!