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Sunday, 16 July 2017

Sowing the Seed

The story that Jesus told of the sowing of the seeds, and what became of them, is one of the first we ever learn, isn’t it? We drew pictures, in Sunday School, or in our primary school Scripture lessons, of the sower, with his trayful of seeds, and squiggly seagulls swooping down to grab them before they could take root, hot sun shining on others, and lovely scribbly weeds choking still others.... and a few, just a very few, ears of wheat standing up in a field.

And then, perhaps, as we grew older and began to stay in Church rather than go to Sunday School, we would hear sermons on this parable, and if you are anything like me, what you heard – not, I should emphasize, necessarily what had been said, but what you heard – was that Proper People, or perhaps I should say Proper Christians, were the ones who were the fertile soil, where the Word could take root, grow and flourish.

But, of course, if you were anything like me, that just made you feel guilty and miserable – what if you weren’t the good soil? What if you were the stony places, or the weedy patches? And I’m sure that there are times when we do allow other things to take priority, perhaps when we ought not. And there are times when we do rather wither up, in times of spiritual drought. All of us go through them, of course. But it doesn’t help when the preacher starts banging on about how dreadful we are if we are not 100% fully fertile soil, and bearing fruit 100%. We just end up feeling guilty and thinking that we must be terrible people.

But I don’t think Jesus meant us to think that! After all, we are told over and over again how much we are loved, and St Paul reminds us, in the reading we heard from his letter to the Romans, that if we live according to the Spirit, we won’t be the barren ground Jesus talks about! Of course, again, if you are like me, you’re apt to think that you can’t possibly be living according to the Spirit, because, pride.... but that’s stupid! Why would we not be, if we are committed to being Jesus’ person? You might remember last week’s reading, where St Paul was being upset about the fact that he found it nearly impossible not to do wrong things, but now he is triumphant – God’s Spirit enables him to live as he should. And us, too.

Going back to the story of the sower for a moment, I think that it’s not so much that any given one of us is barren ground, or weedy, or stony, or fertile – but that each of us has all of those characteristics within us. Think, for a moment. Sometimes it’s really easy to be God’s person, we can’t think of anything else we’d rather be. Other times, not so much! Times when we are tempted to sin, or times when we want to do something that isn’t necessarily sinful, but isn’t going to help our spiritual lives. Times when we know God is asking us to do something that we would really rather not.... you know the kind of thing.

But the thing is, if – or rather as – we are living according to the Spirit, we are able to allow God to help us grow and change. We don’t have to struggle to be good, we don’t have to struggle to turn ourselves into fertile ground! That part of it is God’s job. All we have to do is to be willing to let that happen.

And, meanwhile, sometimes we are the sowers ourselves – often, maybe, we don’t even know it. Again, it’s probably as well when we don’t – nothing worse than a rather forced presentation of the Gospel as someone tries to explain, embarrassed, why they follow Christ. But sometimes, who knows, just a “Good morning”, or a smile in the right place can tip the balance for someone who may have been despairing; a box of pasta or even tampons in the food bank box might make all the difference to someone’s summer holidays.

I was reading about a church in Colorado whose congregation was mostly elderly, with no young families, but who wanted, and prayed for, a youth group. One day, their minister was sitting in a coffee shop when he was approached by a group of young people who asked whether his church was a place where people could say goodbye to friends who had died. He explained that it was, and they explained that one of their friends had just died of an overdose, but his parents had taken his body home before there could be any funeral. The young people were allowed to use the church to hold their own funeral – no hymns or prayers, but they spent time telling stories about their friend, and then ate a meal that church members had prepared for them. One of them said “Oh, I wish we could eat like this every week – it reminds me of my grandma’s cooking!” And the church members said “Well, of course you can – we’re here every Sunday; you come and bring your friends!” Those young people may never attend worship at that Church, but the congregation still loves them and cares for them and feeds them every Sunday.

Nearer home, a friend of a friend had four tiny children, including twins, when her husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She was left widowed, but her local church stepped up to the mark and started to care for her, bringing her meals, babysitting, finding clothes for the children that, perhaps, their own children had outgrown but which were still good, and generally caring for her. I believe that she is now a pillar of that church, although before her husband died she had no idea of faith.

What I’m trying to say is that often it’s not what we say that is the seed we are sowing, it’s what we do. And not putting pressure on people – the church in Colorado knew that they would lose the young people if they started insisting they came to church, or even conformed to any kind of dress code when they entered the building. My friend’s church knew that someone with four small children would find coming to church very difficult, even if they had wanted to come.

We may never be in exactly that sort of situation, but there will always be times when we are called to love people into the Kingdom of God. Our duty is to do the loving we’re called to do – and it’s God’s job to worry about the results! Whether the seed falls on the path, or on stony ground, weedy ground, or a fertile field isn’t our business – our job is to sow the seeds. And our job is also to allow God the Holy Spirit to live in us and transform more and more of us into fertile ground in which God’s Word can bear fruit.

I want to conclude this morning by giving a brief testimony of God’s love and care for me. I got a bad pain in my ribs last week, and because it wasn’t going away, I took it to the doctor. Who decided that it was probably nothing, but that I ought to go to A&E anyway, just in case. So I hopped on the first bus that came along and went up to Tommy’s. Well, if you’ve been to hospital lately you’ll know how much of it is hurry up and wait. To be fair, most of the waiting is while test results are coming in – and they did do a great many tests, and ended up keeping me in overnight. And then in the morning they said I would have to have a CAT scan. Which duly happened, and then it was hurry up and wait all over again. I was just thinking that if I’d known there would be all this palaver, I wouldn’t have gone to the doctor in the first place, when they came to tell me that not only did I have a chest infection, I had blood clots on both lungs!

Well, that part of it is all under control with various medications, and I’m fine – but what if I hadn’t gone to the doctor? What if the doctor hadn’t sent me to A&E, which she only did as a precaution? What if....

Well, we are never told what would have happened, but I get a bit cold thinking that I had rather a narrow escape! And I can’t help thinking how wonderful God is to prompt me to go to the doctor in the first place, and to prompt the doctor to send me to A&E – and, maybe, to prompt the medical team there to ensure I had the CAT scan. God is good!

God is good, and, going back to our theme, if we say “Yes” to God, God will help us become more and more fertile ground for growing seed and producing fruit; God will help us live by the Spirit, the life that leads to life. And God will help us sow seeds that may or may not fall in fertile ground. Amen.

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