O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
The Wood is Green
"The Wood is Green"
November 21, 2010
Fellow baptized saints, have you ever had the rugged, raw pleasure of starting a fire from scratch? You gather some dry leaves or paper and stand thin twigs or kindling wood overtop. And then comes that special moment when you spark the flame and set your little pile ablaze. As the heat builds you add larger pieces of wood until you have a nice comfortable glow.
Of course, this only happens if everything goes according to plan. At home, I have been trying to use our woodstove and I have realized it is harder than it looks. The other night what I thought would be a ten-minute job of starting a fire turned into forty five minutes. I was asked, "What is taking so long?" "I'm sorry honey, the wood is green!" Green wood doesn't burn the same as dry wood. It hisses at you and bubbles in rebellion. Green wood doesn't want to burn. But I couldn't tell, it looked like wood to me. Felt like wood, smelled like wood. I didn't see a distinction. And so I learned the hard way, that a lot of extra patience is needed when the wood is green.
All this talk of fire and wood reminds us of last week when Jesus promised the earth is reserved for fire on the last day. When the wood gets dry enough, it burns very easily. In other words, there is going to be a final judgment. In our old testament reading God says, "Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked." And in our new testament reading, Jesus says, "If they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?"
The wood is green. It does not want to burn. And that means patience. Patience that we don't seem to have. For whatever reason, every person in the world wants justice now. We demand fairness even from a young age. We want the wood to be dry so we can start the fire. We burn in anger when we are offended. But why are we so quick to demand justice? Do we think that we are righteous?
The problem is that we can't seem to see the distinction. We can't tell if the wood is green or dry. It looks like its time for justice to us. We don't understand why God doesn't punish evildoers. Why He seems to let 'good people' experience hard times. It does not appear that justice is working. It seems that worldly people, those who are arrogant towards God have the good life, while those who fear Him have a lousy life. And so we demand a fire, or we begin to think that the fire will never come.
To this God says to His Church through the prophet Malachi, "Your words have been hard against me, says the Lord. But you say, "How have we spoken against you?" You have said, "It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape."
He has us pegged, we are full of these thoughts. We often think it would be easier if we ignored God on a few of the things that He says. We often consider those who disregard Him to have a desirable life. And these thoughts often become words on our tongue. And yet we have the audacity to say, "How have we spoken against you Lord?" Perhaps we should not be so quick to want a fire. Perhaps we should be thankful that the wood is green. Yet, we are bitter about injustices that have been committed against us that remain unpunished. We think that the rich and the famous have it better than us, and this makes us bitter too. We are constantly crying out "Not fair" - "Where is your justice Lord?"
With these hard words against our Lord, we realize that we are just like the scoffers at the crucifixion. "He can't save people. He can't even save himself." We are just like the soldiers that mocked him, "You aren't really the King of the Jews." We are just like the criminal who railed at him, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!" Where is your justice Lord? With honest eyes, the distinction becomes clear. We are not the righteous. We are the despicable characters that mocked and tormented Christ while He hung dying on the cross to save us. We torment Him demanding justice while He is busy securing mercy for us. We criticize Him for withholding justice in the very moment that He suffers to pay for our injustices. (pause) So you see, my dear friends in Christ, You and I deserve to be burned in the fire. Thank God the wood is green.
You see, the only reason the justice is delayed - is so that you are not destroyed in its wrath. Instead, God suffers patiently to provide you and all those you meet with the opportunity to hear His Word and be saved - He waits patiently for the green wood to dry so He doesn't catch you in the fire - and meanwhile you and I criticize, question and doubt all that He does.
This is why we can be humbled by the words of the criminal who hung beside Christ, "Do you not fear God - Since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly." We need to change our tune. Instead of saying, "Where is the justice?" we should be crying out, Lord, have mercy on us. Teach us to fear and respect You. Teach us to be patient. Teach us to see the distinctions as You see them, for we are deceiving ourselves.
These distinctions that we keep missing are right in front of our eyes. Christ is constantly calling us to see them. Look at the Gospel reading. As Christ is carrying His own cross to be crucified, there are ladies weeping for Him. We think this is most appropriate, yet Christ says, "Do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children." Two criminals are justly crucified for their crimes, and this makes sense to us, yet hanging there between them of His own freewill is our Holy, Innocent God in the flesh. The sign above His head is yet another distinction we often miss - The people crucify their own King. If such an injustice as being wrongly tortured and killed were to befall us, we would be angry and call down curses on those who were afflicting us. Christ says, "Father, forgive them." Yet perhaps the most radical distinction, is when Christ speaks to a guilty criminal who is being executed with Him, "Today you will be with me in Paradise." Christ sees a distinction we often miss - He sees that He can be merciful.
Dear friends in Christ, you have a God of mercy - He is going to judge the world, but He is taking every last option to show mercy before He must judge. He is using every last drop of moisture left in that green wood before it becomes dry and it is too late.
In this way, it is actually God who is experiencing the most injustice. It is the beating heart of God that aches as His creation continues to scoff, mock and rail against Him. He patiently takes the abuse in order that more may be saved. For we know that Christ has experienced the greatest injustice of all. He was dried up and burned in our place. He was fastened to the dry wood of the cross, and there He suffered the very fires of hell. He took the real punishment that you deserve, so that He could forgive you and show you how much He truly loves you. You are forgiven. You are loved. Christ proves it. His entire life is one of mercy for you.
So whenever you feel like the world is out to get you, and you want to set it on fire in anger, remember that God is patiently suffering with you. Remember the punishment you actually deserve, and fearfully say together with the criminal that hung beside Christ, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." For His kingdom is not one of injustice. It is not a mythical place with unicorns and dragons. It is the kingdom of God - the place where all distinctions will be clear - the place where the King who reigns once was burned for you in the fires of judgment. The place where God takes you, His treasured possession. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr