Sunday, July 20, 2008

Time for a Cup of Tea

In the old movie "Hook," Maggie Smith plays an old "Wendy" to Robin Williams' not-too-old Peter -- but a Peter who has forgotten all about Peter Pan.  He has married Wendy's granddaughter, has two children and has become a corporate raider.

When Captain Hook enters this world in search of Peter, he kidnaps the children and leaves a note for Peter to come and find them.  Peter and his wife are frantic, but Wendy sits down, "I've always found that in times of crisis, it's best to have a cup of tea.  Peter, it's time for a cup of tea now."  Of course, after that tea, she sends Peter on a fantastic journey of heroism and self-discovery.

I think she may be onto something.  In times of crisis -- or perhaps just times when we need to consider what to do next -- taking time for that cup of tea may be exactly what we need.

That sounds so British, but think about it.  When are many of our worst mistakes made?  When we are acting in crisis mode.  OR -- when we have decided that we don't like what we see and are going to fix it -- usually without considering the consequences.    You probably can think of endless examples of people rushing off to fix a problem or react to some crisis only to make the situation worse.  I KNOW you can find a lot of examples in the bible.

Take a look at our Gospel today.  This is one of Jesus' parables, so he's telling us about ourselves in general terms -- but also about God.  When you think of God in this parable, think of Maggie Smith saying, "It's time for a cup of tea."

So, here we have a landowner who's servants have planted good wheat.  Then, some enemy plants those bad weeds as a way to cause mischief.  The servants want to rush right out and and pull out all the weeds.  But the master says, "Hold on there.  Maybe it's time for a cup of tea so we can sit down and think about it.  No need to rush off and start tearing things up.  You might do more damage than the weeds themselves.  When the weeds grow up, they'll be easier to separate out. 

What does this tell us about God?  Well first of all, it tells us that our idea of speed is not like God's.  Those servants wanted to fix the problem RIGHT NOW.  Like us far too often.  We see something we decide is not too our liking, and we have to fix it.  That's often how wars are started.  That's often how industrial decisions are made that turn out to be disasters ecologically and economically for that fact.

Another thing it tells us about God is that God -- at least as depicted in this parable -- would rather take the chance of letting IN some bad weeds that to tear out ANY of the wheat.  It almost seems as if the master isn't all that concerned about whether some weeds get mixed into the harvest.  "It'll all sort itself out in the end," he seems to say, "But you might be surprised at just what the end looks like."  God might just have a different idea about what constitutes a weed, so perhaps it's a good idea to slow down and ponder what is ours to change, and what is not.

This parable tells us something about ourselves, too.  It tells us that ripping out the weeds is not our job.  We don't have the wisdom, the depth of love, or the skill to get rid of exactly those things God doesn't want.  

There's another story in the bible that is similar.  Here, you have Rebekah and Jacob on one side of the family, and Isaac and Esau on the other.  Now, Isaac apparently wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer, and Esau wasn't the most subtle, but Esau was the heir.  Only problem was, Rebekah was sure Jacob would make a better leader, so she helped him plot to steal Esau's blessing from an unwitting Isaac.  

Well, Jacob got the blessing -- but then he had to run for his life because Esau was so made he was going to kill him.  As a result, Jacob spent more than 20 years in exile.  The story we read about him today tells of when he is running away -- and there he encounters God.  God makes him promises during this dream, and in the end, Jacob says to himself, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!”  God was with him BEFORE his deceit, too, but he probably didn't know that, either.  He was too busy worrying about how HE would fix the future.

He eventually did return home to take over the reigns from Isaac, but who knows what he might have done -- or how things might have turned out had he and Rebekah not decided to change things by stealth and deceit.

Originally, I thought of calling this sermon, "Don't just do something.  Sit there!"  But the point is not that we never do anything.  The point of the parable or the cautionary tale of Jacob is not that we should never address the wrongs in this world or try to better our own lives.  

Just that we would do well to slow down our approach to consider whether our instinct for immediate action is the best.  To consider a much longer term approach to our actions.  And to approach things with humility.  Maybe we DON'T know best.  Maybe what we consider as bad isn't in the long run -- I think of the meandering Mississippi which the Army Corps of Engineers worked to tame for the good of the nation -- and has been paying for it ever since with floods and devastating erosion.

There are times when we must act, of course, but even then, we would do well to act with caution and a willingness to reconsider that action if we come to see it was not best.  Too often we plow ahead with bad ideas that seemed good at the time.  God has a much bigger view of things than we do -- Jesus asks us to slow down and consider that God might just have an idea of what God's doing.  So have a cup of tea -- it'll do us all a world of good. Amen.