Preached 13th July 2014
What a wonderful bit of poetry from the Prophet Isaiah:
“Thus says the Lord:
‘As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there 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.’ “
And it’s a fitting prelude to our Gospel reading this morning with the message that God’s purposes will be accomplished whether it’s in the growing of seeds watered by rain and snow or in the proclamation of God’s word by prophetic voices.
“Listen!” says Jesus, “a sower went out to sow ..”
It’s such a familiar parable isn’t it? How many sermons have we heard about the different sorts of ground that the seeds land on and what happens to them:
The path and birds eat them;
Rocky ground and they wither in the sun;
Among thorns and they’re choked.
Good ground and they spring up in a plentiful harvest of grain.
If we were one of the people standing on the beach listening to Jesus teaching from a boat, that’s all we would have heard and it might be difficult for us to imagine how we would interpret the parable without the explanation that follows.
But we do have that explanation – it’s one of only two parables that Jesus does explain which for me raises a flag that there is something very important in the explanation which we need to hear.
Perhaps it is the message of the different ways in which the word of the Kingdom of God is received by people and an invitation to us to consider how we ourselves receive it.
If truth be told we’re probably all those different sorts of ground at different stages in our faith journey.
- There may be times when seeds of a deepening faith are snatched away from us when we’re not paying attention to them.
- Or when a mountain top experience like a particularly uplifting service or reflective quiet day is followed by a return to earth with a thump – to our ordinary everyday lives with their stresses and strains and challenges to our faith.
- Or when we get caught up in what Jesus calls the cares of this world which can choke, stifle or drain the life energy from our hearts and souls.
- But then there are the times when we do gain new insights, learn more about our faith and ourselves. And we do continue to change and grow so that we are always coming closer to being the people God means us to be.
Let’s look now at something else about this parable which I think it’s important we hear today.
The disciples ask Jesus what the parable means and in reply he begins, “Hear then the parable of the sower”
The parable of the sower – not the seed, not the ground the seed falls on – the sower. Jesus is telling his disciples, and us, something about a sower, someone who proclaims the word of the kingdom. Perhaps he is telling us something about himself as well.
St John speaks of Jesus as being the Word of God in human form. That might affect how we hear those words from Isaiah:
“my word … that goes out from my mouth … he shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent him”
The parable of the sower – and he’s a sower who isn’t very good at his job!
He doesn’t seem to prepare the ground before sowing seeds; he’s wasteful chucking seeds around everywhere not just on the good ground where it will grow healthily. That’s an extravagance that perhaps few famers could afford and Jesus’s first audience may well have laughed at the very idea of such incompetence and stupidity – it would have caught their attention though!
But when we reflect on the ministry of Jesus, the way he teaches and heals and loves we see that the Word of God is sent to everyone not just those who might be best prepared and ready to receive that Word – in fact those people are often the very ones who reject Jesus – they are like the path where seeds fall but are immediately snatched away by their pride, their arrogance, their hypocrisy and closed minds.
Jesus loves, heals and teaches with the reckless generosity and extravagance of a God who changes 150 gallons of water into finest quality wine and feeds five thousand people so much food that there’s a huge amount left over.
Jesus never makes it a condition of healing that someone must first promise to follow him. He never sets a test to see if someone is clever enough to listen to him teaching.
On the contrary he goes out to find the people who think themselves unworthy or unclean, the people for whom life is just one long battle against poverty, disease and danger and the people who are excluded, ignored or hated.
So when Jesus explains the parable of the sower to his disciples perhaps he is encouraging them and us to spread the good news of God’s kingdom and to love others with the same reckless extravagance that he does.
I don’t know about you but I find that thought very challenging both personally and as a member of God’s church.
- It challenges us to live without judging others, without wondering whether someone deserves our help, without knowing what the fruits of our labour will be.
- It challenges us to live like that even in the face of opposition or ridicule.
- And it challenges us also to go out and find those who need that sort of love and acceptance from us.
I’m offering those seeds of challenge this morning, firstly to myself but also to all of us here both as individuals and as the church of God in this community.
I offer them without knowing how they will be received but trusting that if God has given them to me to sow they will accomplish that which he purposes and succeed in the thing for which he sent them.