Sowing the Seed

I am acutely aware that I have not posted anything on this site since the Pilate reflection on Good Friday. Between cataract removals, preparing to be officially accredited as a Methodist Local Preacher, losing our faithful staffy, Bella, through arthritis and cancer, moving to our new Cornish holiday lodge and somehow, managing to prepare and take worship services in between, life has been fairly full on.

While on holiday recently in Cornwall, I led the Sunday worship at Canworthy Water Methodist Chapel (also known as Living Water), which is in the Camelford and Week St Mary circuit. Being part of a rural community reminded me of my teenage years growing up in Ireland which probably explains the affinity I have for this ancient county and why despite a busy home schedule, I enjoy the opportunity to lead worship in this cradle of Methodism whenever I am down here.

So, in an effort to restart regular postings on faith and faith-related topics, I am posting an extract from the sermon of that service which had as its theme, Sowing the Seed. The scripture readings used in the service were Isaiah 55:10-13, Romans 8:1-11 and Matthew 13:1-9,18-23 all taken from NRSV.  

It seems a bit strange delivering a service on a theme of sowing the seed in a rural chapel, as a visiting preacher, who originally hails from the big city. Although London-born I spent my teenage years in Ireland, finishing my schooling there and gradually becoming immersed in the ways of country living near a market town, where agriculture was the mainstay of the local economy.

Although not from a farming family – my Dad worked in construction – I did learn the importance of growing your own produce to ensure we had plenty of salad and veg over the summer and autumn often into early winter. Saving the turf at the peat bog, is another fond memory as we had a solid fuel range for heating and hot water – where my late mother made her famous soda breads and casseroles the aroma of which I can still remember some 40-odd years later, and occasionally we took to earning extra money helping local farmers save their hay during July and August. One of the reasons I enjoy coming to Cornwall so much, is that it reminds of my time in Ireland as well of course – our shared Celtic Christian heritage.

It is this agrarian theme which I wish to reflect further on today.

Take our four basic elements; earth, wind, fire and water. Each one is a key component for all life. We need the earth to grow our food, we need wind to pollinate the plants and to drive away unwanted insects, likewise water without which no living thing can survive and fire, so often seen as a symbol of destruction but yet, a source of renewal also.

We often see in nature how when the elements are at their most destructive it doesn’t take long for new growth to appear. You remember I’m sure, those wild fires in America and Australia in recent years and how among the burnt out trees, little shoots began to appear which eventually mature into new growth. Farmers burn off the stubble in their fields after harvest to remove the old growth and create the conditions for new.

Fire is associated in particular with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. We speak of the need to keep the flame alive. Remember that old wartime song, Keep the home fires burning? William Booth of the Salvation Army wrote a song called, “Send the Fire”. But we also see wind being used as a metaphor to describe the coming of the Holy Spirit, “Spirit of God unseen as the wind”. Winds of change is another common expression we use.

We talk of living water – we sometimes call our churches by that name – we think of the peace and tranquility associated with rivers and streams, and we still tend to refer to the earth as “the Mother Earth” from which all new life develops. Throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, there are thousands of images and symbols to describe both the destructive power of God’s creation as well as its nurturing one. The one constant in our midst is that there are four seasons; each one comes round reliably as ever; each bringing its own unique qualities of birth, growth, maturity and death which humanity in its unceasing efforts to tame nature still doesn’t quite grasp, and in trying to bend it to its will, often results in disastrous consequences.

Our OT reading from Isaiah ch 55, is his invitation to abundant life and welcoming back the exiles from Babylon to great joy and acclamation of a covenant renewed, because of the Lord’s pardon who as it says earlier in verse 6, has ways and purposes in life which go way beyond human understanding. It is still the same today, God pardons us and renews our relationship with him, but we are sometimes left to wonder why he bothers.

In the final section starting at verse 10 we see the prophet returning to the power of God’s word, which is as reliable as the seasons which bring rain and snow to water the earth to germinate seed so as to provide bread to the eater. Whereas the seasons come and go, God’s word will always succeed in the purpose for which he sent it. The return of the exiles will be a cause for great celebration which all creation will participate in. The symbolism of the thorn and cypress and the briar and myrtle shows without question who ultimately has the final say!!

And so, it continues.

In our second reading from Romans 8, Paul writes about Life in the Spirit, this same spirit which appeared to him in a shaft of blinding light which brought him new life and is also available to us if we really want it. Life in the spirit of Christ, the flame of grace freely given has Paul says, “Freed you sin and death”. What God has done by his infinite power is to send his son in human form to deal with sin in a way that the law could not do.

The law here being human law, interpreted by the Pharisees and often applied harshly and indiscriminately not God’s law of love and peace to all. In vv 5-6, he writes that by doing so we can have hope that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in those who walk not within the flesh but within the spirit, and those who set their minds according to the spirit will enjoy life and peace.

That has always been the promise if we give our lives to Christ. We may endure hardships by following him, but we must also learn to enter through the “narrow gate” if we are to achieve true life, but because of our human frailty very few of us will actually find it. However, as it says in verse 7, if the mind is set in the ways of the flesh, then it is hostile to God and cannot submit to his grace

The concluding verse 11 sums up Paul perfectly. If the spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead dwells within us, then this same spirit will give life to our mortal bodies. God’s grace is freely given. There is no small print, unlike some dodgy mobile phone contracts or insurance policies when we try to make a claim.

It is a consistent message as frequent and reliable as the seasons which descend upon the earth. Grace and salvation through Jesus Christ is freely given; we just need to be willing to reach out and accept Jesus as our saviour, and to remember to always obey his only two main commandments: to love God and to love each other.

In our gospel reading from Matthew 13, we have a parable of the Sower which can genuinely be said to contain a story within a story, a hidden meaning which we may have to search for – let anyone with ears listen – but once we understand its true meaning can learn to follow along the path set before us. The second part of this reading vv 18 – 23, can be said to be a metaphor for life, especially as we know it today. Any cursory glance of our world will yield comparisons with Jesus’ explanation of the parable.

For the seed that fell on the path, Jesus says that when anyone hears the words of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart. What does this mean?

I believe it means that people are inherently good, we see examples of that all the time, people do want to hear the word yet it gets snatched away by those who preach a different and harsher gospel. There are many toxic influences around us today, not just people – they have always been there – but the way we sometimes use modern technology being a prime example.

For the seed sown on rocky ground, the word may be received with joy but before it can take root, before we fully accept God’s word in our hearts, trouble or persecution arrives and through fear or intimidation people turn away.

We see this in parts of the world today, where being a Christian invites unwanted attention from the authorities or is the cause of civil strife with other religious groups such as South Sudan, parts of Nigeria, Syria and Iraq. In some places even practicing one’s faith publicly while nominally a legal act, results in attacks and little by way of Government protection for minorities, such as we have seen in parts of India and Pakistan in recent times.

For the seed sown among thorns the comparison is obvious is it not? The word is heard, maybe even accepted, but the cares of the world and the prevailing culture we live in, chokes the word and renders it obsolete.

We see this today in the lure of material wealth and possessions, living in the flesh, which soon wields its own malign influence, and people turn away because they see a different lifestyle on offer, which for many is unattainable, certainly not sustainable in the long term, yet seek to find themselves within it despite the dangers to ones spiritual and mental wellbeing.

Sometimes our churches contribute to this sense of falling in with the prevailing culture, in the hope it makes them relevant to modern society. When instead, it should be using the Gospel to adapt to the times it is in to ensure that the Unchanging Good News of Jesus Christ, is passed on from generation to generation.

Finally, the word is heard, and more importantly understood; and like anything sown on good soil bears much fruit, which yields itself into adhering to the moral framework laid down in the living Gospel of Christ.

Being a Christian especially in today’s increasingly intolerant world is not easy to do. That doesn’t mean we should be afraid to proclaim belief in our faith and the moral certainty it brings even if it may bring us into conflict with those who oppose us. Those who would prefer we stay silent either through fear, or because maybe we are afraid of being judged by “earthly” standards, and which like the seed which fell on stony ground, are then found wanting.

My message then my friends to reflect on is this:

Let us NOT be afraid to grow in the good soil which God has provided;

let us be fully prepared to get our hands dirty; to ensure that the good soil is spread out to all those for whom the seed has yet to take root in; not only by our words, but more importantly, by our actions in how we treat those God has placed before us.


Picture Credit: Gettyimages/istockphoto