Preached at St. Leonard’s, Burton Leonard, Yorkshire, England 6/5/16
Scriptures: Psalm 44; Genesis 8:15 – 9:17; Mark 4:1-20
In each of these three readings we hear the scriptures speak of planting and sowing.
The Psalm recognizes that it is God who planted the people in Canaan, God who provided a new home for Israel.
In our reading from Genesis God gives the abundance of nature to God’s people and instructs them to be fruitful and multiply.
In the creation story we often hear about the Garden of Eden, but the story is better understood as the Orchard of Delight. It is only after the Fall that humans are required to work a garden rather than accept the delights of a fruit-filled orchard.
And….In the Gospel reading we heard about sowing seed for future harvest.
While the weather of the past week might mislead us, it is indeed planting and growing season. Those who report the weather assure us summer has arrived…in spite of the evidence against it.
When I arrived three weeks ago I was astounded by the flowing fields of yellow rapeseed…standing out brightly against the beautiful green backgrounds.
After two weeks of travelling, many of those seas of yellow have turned green…they are growing and maturing as they are intended to do.
The vegetable garden at the vicarage is popping up quickly and will be providing food any day.
At home I have hosta plants in my yard; I trust when I return they will be growing and spreading because that’s what hosta plants do well.
Some growth is easy to observe…we see the grass in our lawns grow what seems all too quickly requiring a regular mowing to prevent it from becoming a neighbourhood brush field. There are many seeds that produce seedlings in a few days. However, some growth is more difficult to see.
How do you know when people are growing in their faith?
Can we determine if they are or are not?
It is not as easy to observe this kind of growth.
Not everyone is able or willing to speak of their faith or their spiritual growth.
For some it is a very personal subject or, perhaps, they just do not have the appropriate language to communicate what is happening in that area.
Of course, there are some who speak of it often and at length
…but again, this is not a mark of one’s growing in faith
…only their ability to speak about it.
In the parable from today’s reading from Mark’s Gospel, we hear the parable of the sower.
This is one of Jesus’ favorite teaching methods…teaching through parables.
His disciples, like us, were at different stages of understanding of their faith. Teaching in parables opened the lesson to a wider understanding and interpretation to allow the hearers the opportunity to hear God speak to them based on where they were on their faith journey.
Today we hear Jesus talking about planting and sowing…a reference his audience would understand. He talked about the results of planting in a variety of soils
…seeds falling on hard paths are eaten by the birds before they can even hope for a seedling
…seeds fell on rocky ground and sprang up quickly but without any depth of soil and were scorched by the sun
…seeds fell among thorns and were choked by the thorns
…but some seeds fell in good soil and brought forth grain
…producing an abundant crop.
Then we hear His conversation with the 12
…when the 12 ask questions it is always an encouragement to us
…when we hear that they don’t always understand,
it gives us hope that when we don’t understand, there is still the hope that one day we will.
Jesus admonishes or encourages them, depending upon how you hear this, to work toward an understanding of this and other parables.
But for now, he explains.
He says the sower sows the Word
…then explains how each of those soils relates to the people who hear the Word of God and how they grow, or do not grow, depending on their preparation.
There are two ways we can approach this parable.
Do you hear this and wonder what kind of soil you have prepared for the Word of God?
Or, do you hear this and see yourself as the sower sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ?
I would like to take a moment now and remind you of a scripture that we often hear at Christmas, from the beginning of the Gospel of John:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
As we consider whether we are the soil or the sower, let’s think about the Word as not only the words of scripture but the Word as Jesus, the light of the world.
There is more to our faith than knowing the words. Our faith is about our knowledge and relationship with Jesus Christ, the Word of God.
Are we prepared to accept Jesus and His teachings as a way of life? Is the soil of our hearts and minds and souls ready to live and behave in the ways Jesus has taught us?
What Jesus asks of us is not easy
…living a Christian life is not easy
….helping others, being servant minded, loving our enemies, forgiving (even when we would rather not).
Are we prepared for that? If not, are we willing to prepare ourselves to be in a real relationship with Jesus and live lives that reflect the teachings of Jesus?
If we are the soil in this parable, then our work is to prepare ourselves to allow our relationship with Jesus, with God, to grow and become able to bear the fruit that is thirty, sixty and a hundredfold. We will need to allow ourselves not to be overly cynical or untrusting.
We will need to prepare ourselves to accept those we may not be particularly comfortable with. We will need to be ready to forgive ourselves and others. In these ways we can open our hearts and minds and souls to accept the relationship with Jesus and with God that we are invited to be part of.
If we hear this as our part being the sower, then we, again, have good news about how we approach this.
In this parable Jesus does not instruct or warn about how to sow seeds
…he speaks only of sowing.
If we understand all these many places that the seed falls then we see the sower spreading the seed far and wide
…it is not the sower’s responsibility, in this case, to find appropriate soil
…only to scatter the seed.
The idea of Evangelism makes us nervous…perhaps because it has been done so badly for centuries with evangelists scaring or threatening us rather than sharing the Good News. It is difficult to hear Good News when the speaker is telling you what’s wrong with you, what you have done wrong, or how you have failed
…the sower in this parable makes no judgment on the soil
…soil everywhere is scattered with seed.
As sowers in today’s parable, we are instructed to tell the Good News, tell our story, live our lives in ways that make it clear that our faith has made a difference. We are not even being asked to account for the harvest…we are told to scatter the seed.
As soil, we are to bear fruit.
Galatians says the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
It is often difficult to act out of love and generosity to those with whom we struggle. Yet, those are the fruits of the spirit…the harvest of being open and accepting of the Word of God, loving and being in relationship with Jesus Christ.
Whether we are the soil or the sowers or perhaps both…this is planting season, as it always is in the fields of faith and spiritual growth.
May each of us grow and bear fruit. Amen