Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Service Date: 
16 July, 2017

Worship was planned and led by St. Andrew's Worship Group. The service focussed on the parable of the sower. Comments considered the apparently wasteful sowing of seed on different types of soil but likened it to God's generosity. We were asked to consider what type of soil we are, where we sow the seed of God's love and generosity in word and action and what kind of seed we might be. 

Hymns: 

Hymns

Rejoice and Sing  113  Let all God's people join in one

Rejoice and Sing 329  There's a spirit in the air

Rejoice and Sing 520  For ourselves no longer living

Rejoice and Sing 574  Go forth and tell!

Rejoice and Sing 580  Lord, you give the great commission

 

Sermon: 


Readings

Isaiah chapter 55 verses 10-13

Psalm 65 verses 9 - 13

Romans chapter 8 verses 1 - 11

Matthew chapter 13 verses 1 - 9 and 18 - 23

COMMENT  1  on the Parable of the Sower 

The Isaiah reading and the Psalm we’ve just said together both praise God’s abundant generosity in providing for us.  You shall indeed go out with joy and be led forth in peace.  Joy and peace are God’s intention for us.  Why then is the opposite so often found ? 

In the Old Testament reading, Isaiah was encouraging the people of Israel at a time of threat; soon afterwards, the Assyrians captured Jerusalem. We are about to hear the parable of the sower, which was also intended to be optimistic.  At the time Matthew was writing, his message was needed to encourage and strengthen his readers; life was not easy, there was increasing violence in Jerusalem, leading to the sack of the city and the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD; and Nero was persecuting  Christians in Rome.  At that point in the early Church, Christians were expecting the imminent return of Jesus; there was therefore a great urgency to spread the word about it.  So in the Sower Matthew is highlighting the effect that the Good News of Jesus Christ had on the world during the time between Jesus' death in c.30 AD and when he was writing the gospel in c.67-70 AD:  despite failures, the seed is eventually successful, takes root and produces an abundant harvest.  He is echoing Isaiah and the Psalmist when they speak with  certainty that the seed and the rainwater will accomplish God’s purpose. 

The sower in the parable broadcasts the seed everywhere, not just meticulously planting on good ground.  We know the different kinds of soil his seeds fell on  -  and the different results.  Do the various kinds of soil in our lives help us or hinder us from hearing the word ?  Maybe we experience different types of soil at different times in our own lives.  There may have been times when we were less bothered about coming to church, like the stony soil; or distracted by busy lives, or pleasure, like the seed among thorns  -  or indeed we may have been overwhelmed by distress and misfortune, which tested our belief.  And no doubt over the years we have grown a bit in our understanding of our faith, of what Jesus meant.  Jesus said, ‘If you have ears, then hear.’  Perhaps we hear a little better now.

So, we should not condemn or pre-judge other people for not being the right kind of soil.  Christ came to share the love of God with everyone.  He doesn’t pick and choose who is good enough to hear the Word, or assess them in our human terms; he graciously sows into everyone who’s willing to accept his word. 

There’s a hymn we sing sometimes: There’s a wideness in God’s mercy  (353).   It says:  The love of God is broader than the measures of our mind  (v. 4).  .  .
And: We make his love too narrow by false limits of our own   (v.5)

It is the nature of a seed to grow  -  that is what it is meant to do  -  to grow and bear fruit and reproduce the plant it came from.  So the Word of God is meant to grow in us, encourage us and teach us.  Our religion now is less expectant of Christ’s return and less focussed on going to heaven; our concern now is largely to help people now, to demonstrate faith through action  -  sometimes literally to feed them.  Our time is no less troubled and dangerous than in Isaiah’s day or Matthew’s day; the inequality and injustice that Jesus came to address is still prevalent.  The command is still to be lived  -  to feed the hungry, clothe the naked,
heal the sick, preach the word.

Apparently the sower in the old days did not watch where the seed was falling; his method was to keep his eyes fixed on a point ahead.  It probably helped him to walk as straight as was possible.  Is that a metaphor for us  -  sharing God’s love despite the difficulties, and keeping our eyes fixed on the goal of creating the kingdom of God on earth ?  -   the world of peace and justice and joy and love that God intended for us.

I’d like to finish by reading another hymn that’s in R&S (612).  It is by John Arlott, who as well as being a famous cricket commentator was also a journalist, a poet, and a humanitarian.

God, whose farm is all creation,
  Take the gratitude we give;
Take the finest of our harvest,
  Crops we grow that all may live.

Take our ploughing, seeding, reaping,
  Hopes and fears of sun and rain,
All our thinking, planning, waiting,
  Ripened in this fruit and grain.

All our labour, all our watching,
  All our calendar of care,
In these crops of your creation,
  Take, O God, they are our prayer.

Comment 2 on The Parable of the Sower

Jesus frequently used parables to explain his message in words and concepts which his listeners would understand. Like all good stories the parables are worthy of being read and heard again and again. It has been suggested that Jesus may have got the idea for the parable of the Sower from lines written by Isaiah, lines which we heard earlier;

''For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do  not return until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth. It shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.''

God's word is likened to rain that transforms the earth. It will not return empty but will fulfil God's purpose. In its historical context Isaiah's vision is of God transforming the land of Israel after its destruction by the Babylonians, rebuilding Jerusalem and the Temple.

The parable of the Sower describes an apparently wasteful and random sowing of see, allowing much of it to land on dry, stony or unweeded soil. Inevitably, much of the seed will fail to flourish into a healthy crop. Jesus is describing a method of farming familiar to his audience. To-day we would expect farmers to seek to get the maximum return for their seed, sowing it on well prepared, fertile, receptive soil.

The method of farming which Jesus describes in this parable can also be seen as a metaphor for the generosity, even the profligacy of God which we considered in the verses from Isaiah and Psalm 65 and summarised in our anthem – often sung at Harvest – where God visits and blesses the land and crowns the year with his goodness. And not just the visible, tangible gifts of warm sunshine and rain and the fruits of the harvest, but also the gifts of love and assurance of redemption which God has given us through Jesus.

These gifts are the seed. We are the soil on which that seed lands. Through our words and actions we are required to respond, to nurture that seed so that it grows to a rich harvest of love and care, improving the lives of those in need. What kind of soil are we, as individuals, as a congregation, as the wider Church? Jesus is realistic and recognises that some will fail to respond; that some will respond with initial enthusiasm but fall away when the task feels too great; that some will hear but will be too bowed down by the distractions of the world to fully respond; and Paul acknowledges the weakness of the human condition. But still God sows his seed generously knowing that some who hear will respond fully, acting as God wishes.

Perhaps we are different kinds of soil at different times……………

As well as being the soil, are we not also the sower? As Christians and members of the Church, we are charged with spreading the good news of God's word by word and action (not all of us are natural evangelisers) just as Jesus commissioned the Disciples to proclaim the word of God and to cure and heal. Jesus warned his Disciples that they would not always be welcomed – indeed they would even face hostility and violence – stony, infertile soil. So our attempts may fall on stony ground. But we must not pre-judge the ground. Seeds flourish in unexpected places- dandelions blossom in cracks in tarmac; buddleia thrives growing out of concrete pointing in walls and chimney pots; flowers bloom in the desert. No ground is too hostile to try and sow the seeds of God's love. Our words and actions may at times be ignored, scorned, rejected, but at other times they will take root and flourish, transforming a life and bringing hope and joy.

Perhaps thinking of ourselves as the seed is the greatest challenge; can we be super seeds, and grow and flourish in whatever kind of soil we find ourselves planted?
I would like to finish by suggesting that the parable, happily, has one weakness. The sower sowing his seed does not, happily, truly reflect God sowing His Word. Eventually, the sower's bag will be empty – there will be no more seed – for now. But the love and promise conveyed in the Word of God is bottomless, enduring for ever.

Amen