Sunday, 12 July 2020

Sowing the seed

The Sower, Vincent Van Gogh 1888
Address given at St Mary's, Nenagh and Killodiernan on Sunday 12th July 2020, the 5th after Trinity

Do you find it difficult to remember the point of a sermon you’ve just heard?
I do – as a child my father used to test me over Sunday lunch and I often failed. It is as if what goes in one ear comes straight out the other. But a vivid, familiar and appropriate image makes all the difference in making words stick. And Jesus in his parables shows himself to be a master of using images to make his point.

Today’s reading from Matthew 13:1-9,18-23, what we now call the Parable of the Sower, is a great example of this.

Let us enter the scene in our imagination, and reflect on the point that Jesus is making.

So many people wanted to listen to Jesus that he used a boat as a pulpit to address the crowd on the beach.
The beach was on a lake, the Sea of Galilee. I’ve never been there, but I see it in my mind’s eye as rather like Lough Derg: it’s about 40% larger in area, and wider but not so long. I imagine the people crowded on the beach at Dromineer, and Jesus sitting in a lake boat talking to them.

Did Jesus see a man sowing in a nearby field? Perhaps this is what prompted the parable, and everyone could literally see what he was talking about.

The sower broadcasts the seed by hand, just as our ancestors did 200 years ago before seed-drills were perfected. The seed is in a bag or a basket, and he walks steadily up and down the field, taking a handful of seed and throwing it out as evenly as he can. Even at a distance it would be quite clear to everyone what he is doing, because they have seen it hundreds of times before, and many will have done it themselves.

Imagine a big field divided like allotments into strips farmed by different families, with paths between them, beaten down hard by the passage of many feet. The crowd can see the birds following the sower swooping down to gobble up the seed that inevitably falls on the path, for all the sowers skill.

Everyone would understand that different parts of the field are of different quality. Some parts are rocky. Don’t imagine small pebbles - imagine sheets of rock just under the surface, with just a few inches of soil on top. Think of the Burren or the Aran Islands. The soil above the rock warms early, and the seeds germinate quickly, but without a depth of soil the young seedlings soon run out of nutrients and water and shrivel up in the sun.

Some parts of the field are infested with perennial weeds - imagine scutch grass and creeping thistle, which quickly outgrows the delicate crop, choking it.

But other parts of the field are good land, with a deep, clean soil. Here the crop has nutrients and water enough, and little competition. It will flourish and produce a harvest of thirty, or sixty, or a hundred times the seed sown on it.

‘Let anyone with ears listen!’ Jesus finishes.

When the crowd has left, the disciples are uncertain what he meant – as so often we are too.
So Jesus interprets the parable for them himself - perhaps to reassure them that they do indeed understand what he is getting at.

The seed sown on the path is the word of God’s kingdom spoken, but not understood. This is the good news that God’s kingdom has come near, which Jesus offers everyone. But the good news is snatched away, before it ever has the chance to sprout in people’s hearts.

The seed sown on rocky ground is the good news received with joy, but by people with shallow roots - without character. Their initial enthusiasm cannot withstand trouble or persecution, and they fall away.

The seed sown among thorns is the good news heard by people who are so trapped by worldly cares and the lure of wealth that they cannot act upon it.

But the seed sown on good soil is the good news heard by those who understand it, and do act upon it. Only such people will yield a harvest of good.

The point of Jesus’ sermon for us today is just the same as it was on that lake shore 2000 years ago.
If we are to be the good people God wants us to be, we must cultivate our characters so that we become like good soil which will yield a rich harvest of good.

Each one of us must develop the character traits of attention, of persistence, and of concentration.
·         Attention, so that we do not miss God’s call when it comes.
·         Persistence, so that we can withstand opposition and the mocking of others when we answer God’s call.
·         Concentration, so that the cares of the world and the pursuit of wealth do not distract us from acting on God’s call.

I think hese same character traits are also the ones we need to overcome the Covid-19 virus. Attention, to hear and understand public health advice. Persistence, to follow it when we see others ignoring it. And Concentration, to avoid being distracted by the calls of those with ulterior motives to prematurely reopen our society.

None of this is easy, of course. We cannot do it without help. So let us thank God for the vivid image Jesus has given us in the Parable of the Sower to show us the dangers we face. And let us remember, as St Paul tells us in today’s epistle reading from Romans 8: 1-11, that we have received the Holy Spirit to work within us to help us avoid the dangers: ‘If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you’.

Through that Spirit, by God’s grace, we will be like good soil which yields a rich harvest of good.

Let us finish in prayer with a Collect of the Word.
Bountiful God,
we thank you for planting in us the seed of your word:
by your Holy Spirit,
help us to receive it with joy,
and to live according to it,
that we may grow in faith and hope and love:
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen

No comments: