The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s048g05 Lockleys Sunday 15 10/7/2005
'other seeds fell among thorns' Matthew 13.7
As I read this parable, I am struck by the number of things around that hinder the germination of the seed or stunt it's growth, and it leads me to ask: Are we agents that hinder and stunt the growth of others, or are we good soil, rich with nutrients, for others to develop to their full potential?
The birds come to eat the seeds. Do we devour others rather than 'feeding (the Lord's) sheep?' (I often recall the words of exasperation by C S Lewis, who said he'd wish some clergy 'would remember that Jesus said feed my sheep, not teach my pet dogs new tricks'. He certainly had a way with words, that one.)
The shallow soil is not able to sustain the shoot for any length of time. Are we 'fair-weather' friends or does our friendship depend on whether they might be able to support us later, to take over our ministry when we can no longer undertake it?
We do not have to use any imagination at all to think who might be thorns. Some people indeed take pride in being the thorns in the sides of others.
So there are lots of hindrances, but rather than getting dismayed, it does mean that we cannot be either complacent, nor can we leave it up to others to be encouraging. It is a task for everyone.
We are simply called to be good soil, rich in warmth and nutrients. And this causes me to reflect that none of these determine the shape, size or colour of the plant.
So we have no place trying to mold others into what we think might be good for them -- trying to make them into Christians in our own image. We are simply called to be good soil, all the miraculous stuff is done quite independently of us. The germination and the growth can often happen despite us; though, of course, the parable tells us how fruitful our cooperation can be.
For in fact the cooperation called for is most often to let others be -- let others be themselves rather than interfering in the lives of others.
D.E.Nineham, in his commentary on St Mark's gospel notes (page 74) that "St Mark was well aware how vital a part teaching played in the ministry (of Jesus, yet) why does he devote so little of his Gospel to the contents of the teaching?" He identifies only three passages of teaching: chapter 4.1-34 (the parable of the ground on which the seed falls and related matters), chapter 7.1-23 (what defiles a person) and chapter 13.2-37 (the coming tribulations and simply the need to watch (page 125).
Nineham also notes that St Paul "very seldom refers to Christ's earthly teaching, even when discussing questions of practical conduct" (page 74 note). It is somewhat ironic that on one occasion when he does, it is not testified in the gospel accounts. In Acts (20.35) St Paul quotes the "Lord Jesus, for he himself said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive"". It is nowhere recorded that Jesus said this.
We might conclude that one of the primary motivations for Matthew, Luke and John writing their gospel accounts was to remedy this deficiency. So this parable of the seed and the ground on which it falls, which occurs in Mark and repeated in Matthew, is actually at the core of Jesus' ministry.
One of the other classic texts is 'It is not the righteous who need the physician but the sick' So Jesus' contribution could be viewed as healing. However it might be more accurate to observe that in this context, Jesus himself only provided the conditions for healing to occur, which he frequently attributed to the faith of the person healed, rather than his own power.
So as I think about it, we have little idea of Jesus' words to the poor. I can't imagine him telling them to go to Church more often, or to give more money to the temple treasury. He would have been elected high-priest, rather than crucified, had he done that. I can't imagine him telling them to repent of their sins, or to become religious, like those who crucified him.
It actually seems as if Jesus simply enjoyed the company of the poor, the tax collectors and the sinners. He accepted their hospitality; and it was precisely this enjoyment and acceptance, that got up the noses of those who were so devout. They wanted Jesus to get the poor to repent of their sins, to give more money and to endlessly and unsuccessfully attempt to become like them.
No, it seems as if Jesus had no message for the poor. No good advise about how to get to heaven, or to cope with the 'slings and arrows of outrageous fortune'. He just accepted them as they were; to the extreme chagrin of those who wanted them to be kept in their place in no uncertain terms. No wonder Jesus was crucified!
While there are indeed many hindrances to the germination and growth of the seed, the wonderful opposite side to this coin is that given the right encouragement and space to grow, each and every seed has the ability to multiply greatly. There is no limit to its fruitfulness. It is no wonder that that which is opposed to this growth has to be so aggressive and fearful. That which is opposed to growth is fighting a loosing battle. Naturalists often remark on the appearance of growth in the most unlikely of places, in the hardiest of terrains. I have only to look out over the pavers in the courtyard in the back of the Rectory, to wonder at the pale green moss covering those pavers, drawing their sustenance from the pavers I suppose and resisting the shoes that walk all over it. I daren't use "Roundup" on the "Soursobs" that come up between the pavers lest I kill the moss also.
So the question remains -- how much of our tradition in this Church is centered around the maintenance of what is here and the glorification of what has been built up by those who worship here -- so that nothing can be changed? How much is our fellowship able to welcome and incorporate the differing ministries of others?
We cannot hide behind some exalted status being Anglicans and oh so terribly respectable. If the events of the last few years has not taught us anything, it surely has taught us that we have precious little "respectability" left in the community. We have no option but to accept what others bring and the consequent changes -- or die.
I guess people from around the world may have seen the article about the "Anak Krakatau (which) emerged from the sea less than 80 years ago, and is a natural laboratory to watch the development of an ecosystem. Since the soil is new, it was uncontaminated with seeds. All of the plants seen growing on the island came from seeds that drifted in on the sea or blew across the ocean on the wind. As a result, the plants are clumped on the shallowly sloped eastern shores of the volcano where loose ash and volcanic sand cover the ground. In contrast to the solid rock seen elsewhere on the island, these loose soils allow plants to take root easily.
"Most of the plants seen here are grasses, ferns, and herbs that blew in on the wind or coastal trees like coconut, shrubs, and ground vines that floated ashore. Inland, clumps of plants are probably Australian Pine trees and a wild plant related to the sugar cane, both of which disperse seeds on the wind."
(The AFP article appeared in the Weekend Australian July 2-3 page 12)
So perhaps the trouble we have here as Anglicans, is that we are old soil, contaminated with seeds. Anything new cannot get a "look in". But God's work of encouraging growth goes on, indeed it is going on continually, not just in the Sunda Strait, but here in this parish of Lockleys. Seeds are drifting on the wind, swirling in the waters, all about us, just looking for a bit of new soil to sprout and grow. The question is, do they find some new soil here or will they lodge somewhere else more congenial and grow there?
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