SINNERS AND SAINTS – Eighth Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 11, Year A; Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A (RC)

July 23, 2023

Revised Common Lectionary
Genesis 28:10-19a or Isaiah 44:6-8
Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24 or Psalm 86:11-17
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Wisdom 12:13, 16-19
Psalm 86:5-6, 9-10, 15-16 (5a)
Romans 8:26-27
Matthew 13:24-30 (31-43)

In 2008 Lutheran Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber gathered eight people in her Denver living room—mostly people on the margins who didn’t expect that any church would ever want to welcome them. That small group was the start of a community that came to be called the House for All Sinners and Saints. Although Bolz-Weber moved on a few years ago, this congregation continues to affirm that “we’re all ‘those people’ — sinners, broken, in need of the grace of Christ. At the same time, we’re also all the chosen people of God, redeemed in God’s infinite mercy and love.”

Sin and grace, good and evil, fall and redemption—all of these are part of the fabric of our church communities, no matter how shiny and polished they might appear to be. Since his election in 2013, Pope Francis has often referred to the church as a “field hospital” whose mission is to bind up wounds. That image suggests that authentic Christian communities embrace all kinds of people, not just the predictably “churchy” types, and surely not just the kinds of people we might choose on our own.

If we’re seeking to discover or form the “perfect” congregation, we are certainly not looking for the kind of community that Jesus gathered around himself. Think about the cast of characters who followed Jesus—Peter the big-talking denier, James and John the honor seekers, Philip the clueless questioner, Simon the political radical, Matthew the Roman collaborator, and of course, Judas the traitor. How many of these people would we choose for leadership positions in our congregations?

In today’s Gospel reading, a farmer discovers that an enemy has surreptitiously sown pernicious root-choking weeds in the field where wheat had just been planted. He decides to be patient and to allow the weeds grow up with the wheat, and then to deal with all the plants at harvest time. This parable of Jesus confronts us with the reality that sin and grace, weakness and strength, failure and fidelity, all live side by side in our churches and in the world. Jesus proclaims a God who deals with messy humanity by waiting patiently, like the farmer. This God has a heart full of compassionate, loves sinners, and seeks out the lost.

While we may sometimes feel that there are “weeds” among us, we are not able to see into the hearts and motives of others. Indeed, since both good and evil are at work in our own hearts, we are hardly qualified to judge others. Judgment belongs to God alone. Like members of the congregation started by Pastor Bolz-Weber, we are—all of us—sinners and saints. We are called not to judge but to bind up one another’s wounds and together turn back to the one who loves us, no matter what.

A Hymn for Today: “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy”

Frederick W. Faber, born in England in the early nineteenth century was raised as a strict Calvinist, became an Anglican priest, and eventually entered the Roman Catholic Church. Like his friend John Henry Newman, he joined a community of priests called the Oratorians. Influenced by his own religious background and recognizing the lack of English-language hymns for Roman Catholics, he created 150 published texts for singing. Reflecting the Romantic era during which he lived, his hymns are characterized by deep sentiment, even sentimentalism.

The text below consists of selected stanzas from Faber’s “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” as they appear in Glory to God (PCUSA, 2013). In his brief comment that appears with this hymn in Glory to God, Carl P. Daw, Jr., FHS, writes that these stanzas “offer a reminder that the model for our dealings with others should be God’s generosity rather than limited human tolerance.” For more on Faber and this hymn, check out this commentary by C. Michael Hawn.

You may listen here to hear this hymn sung to IN BABILONE, often used in North American hymnals. Listen here for a setting (ST. HELENA) by the late American composer Calvin Hampton (1938-1984).

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
like the wideness of the sea.
There’s a kindness in God’s justice,
which is more than liberty.
There is no place where earth’s sorrows
are more felt than up in heav’n.
There is no place where earth’s failings
have such kindly judgment giv’n.

For the love of God is broader
than the measures of the mind.
And the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more faithful,
we would gladly trust God’s Word,
and our lives reflect thanksgiving
for the goodness of our Lord.

Text: Frederick William Faber, 1814-1863, alt.

Image Credit: De gelijkenis van het onkruid onder de tarwe Rijksmuseum

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.

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