The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s048g08 Sunday 15 13/7/08
'A sower went out to sow ..' Matthew 13.3
This is one of the few parables of Jesus that is recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke, and so it has a special importance for the Church. Over the centuries, this parable has been used by countless people as a justification to preach on street-corners and market places - to all and sundry who chance to pass by. It seems to matter little to such people that even devout Christians find such activity alien. But even within mainstream churches, lay and clergy seek to go into schools to tell children about Jesus, frequently using the parallel that *they* are sowing the seed.
Now I want to suggest that this is to misread this passage. While the passage does not specify just who the sower is, it is quite plain that the seed that is sown are people - so to pick just the last example, the person who is sown in the 'good soil' 'hears the word and understand it' .. and .. 'bears fruit'. So we are the seed it is the Lord who is the sower. We are not the Lord, dispensing our pearls of wisdom to others, but ones who need to be planted in good soil, we who need to understand the word, and we who need to bear fruit.
It is true that the parable does not specify who is the sower, and that very silence tells us it is the Lord.
The Lord therefore doesn't want us to stand on street-corners and proclaim in market places: 'God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that whoever believes in him may have eternal life'. Even if this were the core message, and wasn't actually proclaimed as if God doesn't love the world but hates and condemns everyone who doesn't believe in Jesus to eternal damnation - God could train parrots to do this or these days use Macintosh computers, iPods or MP3 players.
We are God's gifts to others. We are bidden to give of ourselves. And it is in giving of ourselves that we also become a part of that good soil that nurtures others into strong and healthy growth. If we try to be the sower we are trying to remain aloof, which is precisely what Jesus refused to do. If we don't give of ourselves we don't nurture others. Rather, we expect compliance from others.
So often when we talk about lay ministry we assume that this happens when people put on church robes on Sunday morning. When we put on those robes are we distancing ourselves from the rest of the congregation and the rest of humanity?
Indeed when we go to church and just sit in the congregation, do we see this as setting us apart from the lazy so-and-sos who sleep in on Sunday mornings, or use that time to wash their cars or mow their lawns?
Do we see our Christian profession as fundamentally setting us above others?
What 'rocky ground' we try to be, what ground covered with thorns to choke another's individuality we make ourselves! The 'lure of wealth' I see as the lure of spiritual wealth, setting us apart from others. When we do this, don't we imply others should emulate us?
The seeds of fundamentalism are right here in our own interpretation of this parable, here in a core passage of Christianity.
I want to return to my opening theme of the demarcation dispute with God. One of my 'pet hates' is the word 'pædophile' (My 3rd ed of SOED 1972 doesn't include the word Dictionary.com tells me that it is included in the 2002 ed of Merriam-Webster's Medical Dictionary). Elementary Greek tells us that this is equivalent to someone who loves children and the personage who par excellence loves children is God. What we mean when we use that word is a child molester very much different. No doubt child molesters do see themselves as loving those they abuse. Often they feel no shame. But the 'love' they have is all about their own personal gratification. I see many parallels with our worship. Did God actually invent religion for his (or her) own personal gratification? I have no difficulty with piety, but some liturgical practices leave me cold these days across the various shades of Anglicanism.
If we are actually concerned with someone else's upbringing if we are good soil rather than that covered with rocks and tangled with thorns, we give others a chance to take root and be themselves. We are not here to get what we can out of others strangling everyone else. Cancer cells are simply ordinary sells which have somehow begum multiplying at a much faster rate, pushing out everything else.
As I read the gospel for this morning those words from Matthew 11 came to me with renewed force: "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants" (vs 25). So instead of us going and teaching children about Jesus, we need to go and have them teach us!
Each and every person is someone God has planted on this earth. If we molest, terrorise, marginalise or alienate anyone else, we do these things to people who are no less God's creatures than ourselves.
As I thought about that passage: 'God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that whoever believes in him may have eternal life' I thought that we could as easily say that: 'God so loved the world that he gave his servant Moses to lead the people of Israel into the promised land, so that whoever believes in him may have eternal life'. I wonder then if we could say that: 'God so loved the world that he gave his prophet Mohammad to the Arab peoples, to lead them all to Allah, so that whoever believes in him may have eternal life'? Or that: 'God so loved the world that he gave the Buddha to the people of India so that whoever believes in him may have eternal life'? In the light of Matthew 11 we might as easily say that: 'God so loved the world that he gave little children knowledge of the divine, so that whoever believes in him may have eternal life'. The list, of course, is endless.
I suggest that it is as we say these sorts of things, we are allowing God to sow seeds of peace among the nations, rather than discord, and realize that we are the seeds and so each and everyone of us has a part to play in bringing what surely God wants for all.
Back to: "A Spark of the Spirit"