Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Sower and the seed - address for Cathedral Praise, 13th July 2014

Reading the gospels,  there are so many times when I wish I’d been there...on the edge of the crowd would have been be one of the 12, fantastic.
To have really got to know this extraordinary man, to discover what made him laugh, or cry, whether he preferred lakeside or mountain-top, fish or vegetables…I wish I had been there, part of the story. But there are other times when my envy of the disciples is balanced by sympathy with their predicament ….They get it wrong so often and hearing that they’ve failed again, I’m kind of relieved that I don’t have to face the disappointment in Jesus’s voice, as he realises that we've missed the point once more. Because, his teachings really aren’t clear sometimes, are they!

Let’s think about the story we’ve just heard …the Parable of the Sower, we call it.
Not quite sure why, actually – because though of course the initiative of the story lies very much with man who sets out to sow the seed, we tend to focus far more on the different soils in which the seed lands.
After all, that’s the part of the story that Jesus explores at some length with his disciples…According to the commentaries, the sower’s approach to his task is completely standard for 1st century Palestine. The crowd gathered by the lake would know that any arable farmer would set to work without preparation. He would broadcast seeds and only then plough soil. As the plough cut into the earth, clumps of thistles and weeds would disappear, and stony patches concealed beneath the undergrowth emerge…and the path where the sower walks would not, of course, be ploughed at all. But from the patch of ground as a whole, there is a hope of harvest of some kind...
Great! Good story. Good illustration…but of what?

Jesus seems to think it’s obvious….and that’s where I’m suddenly very very glad that I’m not part of the crowd. I'd feel so stupid
Let anyone with ears listen.
Are you listening, Kathryn?
What did I just say???
Cue shuffling feet...embarrassed looks...because honestly, I’m not sure.
That’s the trouble with parables.
When introducing Scripture to children, it’s tempting to say that Jesus taught in parables to make it easier for people to understand the huge and abstract concepts of the kingdom of God. Parables provide hooks on which we can hang concepts that are beyond our everyday the words of the old definition...A parable, is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.
But the trouble is that parables don’t always have an exact one to one equivalent meaning….
If they are a code, well, sometimes the key isn't immediately obvious. They aren't always easy at all.
Never mind.
Let's go back to the story.
The image of the prodigal sower, just chucking the precious seed to the four winds regardless is really attractive. It might seem a tad irresponsible but it’s his seed, and clearly he has full confidence in the harvest…
It's a wonderful illustration of God's reckless grace....
That could be something to hang onto.
But it's not quite enough...It sort of prompts a “So what?” question
I guess in the original story we're intended to think of the sower as Jesus, scattering words of hope, love and transformation whether people are ready to hear them or not.
He's preaching to a crowd so huge that he has to take refuge in a boat to avoid being crushed as they surge forward to hear more...and we have no idea what they did with the words of life that were offered to them that day. Some people may have been changed in an instant...Some may have wandered off, bored...Some may have reflected on his words for many years before finally coming to a decision, for or against the gospel.
We don't know...

If you judge labour by results, it does sound as if this famous sower is not actually much good at his job.
Three-quarters of the seed – 75% - lands in obviously
unpromising places....on paths, in the bramble patch, among the stones
What a waste!
That precious seed squandered where there is no hope of a decent return...
Is that the best use of resources?
Are there measurable, successful outcomes to this enterprise?
I don't think that either farming experts or management consultants would think the sower was doing too well...for the ratio of return to investment seems pretty useless in some quarters, though there are signs of promise in that “30, 60, 100 fold”.
So – what are we to make of that.
It might be tempting to smile and congratulate ourselves on being GOOD soil...We are here because we've heard God speak, even if we're not always certain exactly what He said....We're trying to live with at least one foot in the Kingdom. Maybe, on a good day, we think we're even bearing fruit for God.
Hooray for us!

But there's still a bit of a problem...a problem caused by the Great Commission...
Of course, this is our story – the gospel is ALWAYS our story - ..but it's not one in which we can just wait passively, content to be the soil
We're living in the age of the Spirit, and Jesus calls us to be his witnesses throughout the whole earth.
And that means, that we- you and me- are now cast in the role of the sower, charged with sharing the word of the kingdom.

So...what are we to do?

Well – SOW of course.

It's our turn...our turn to sow the seed, to squander the gifts of the kingdom,to share God's good news not just with a receptive audience but with those who will obviously ignore it, or reject it or even be openly hostile to it.
It may not be that telling them the good news in as many words is always the best approach...but we do have to make absolutely sure that they are aware of it, one way or another.
We're not told to be successful...
We can't actually control the soil (maybe that's up to God)...
All we have to do is to Keep. On. Sowing.

The danger is that we'll get discouraged - will say to ourselves, well, it's just not worth it..... the last time the birds descended...the place was overrun with brambles...nothing came of our efforts. Forget it...
If that's the case, then we need to listen to another voice...the one that says
Yes, but this time might be different. God never gives up on how can we give up on one another?”
If a gardener announced
I sowed some seed last year; no point in doing it again this year” – we wouldn't think much of him...even if last year's efforts didn't appear to lead to a glorious display.
If discipleship is a process, then sharing faith isn't always going to be a one-off either.
So just keep going.
Look back along the route that brought you to this point in your faith. For most of us, there will have been many twists and turns..
Though you may have encountered God in an amazing Damascus road experience, you may equally have found yourself moving towards Him, almost without noticing, as the words of friends, the life of a faith community, the silent gospel of love at work began to have an impact.
And what was true for you will be true for others as well.
Seeds can take a long time germinating...and it's not up to us to judge the quality of the soil.
We're just called to keep on sowing, no matter what, because in the end it is God himself who brings home the harvest.

Let anyone with ears listen Amen.

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