The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s049g14  Sunday 16  20/7/2014

‘sowed good seed’   Matthew 13.24

Following on from my thoughts last week, the good seed, is us.   We, you and I and all people are good.   I concluded: ‘There is something fundamentally missing from the faith we have been taught - the fundamental dignity of all people in all their diversity.’  (1)  If we as church do not acknowledge the sacredness of each and every other person we simultaneously deny the goodness of the planting and become the weeds which push others out, stunting the growth of others.

And this causes me to ponder how often I have heard this basic and fundamental truth proclaimed as the gospel ..   Sermons encourage us to read the bible, pray, give, love .. all of which are good and worthy things.   And I guess they are founded on the principle of the dignity of all people, yet this is unspoken, and I wonder why ..

My devious mind leads me to think that the principle of the dignity of all people is not much proclaimed, because if it was the church’s power over others is diminished.   People are good only when they become Anglicans, practicing Anglicans, like us.   The delicious authority to tell others how to live their lives would be subverted if others realised the dignity they already have, the love that God has for them and for all, already.   The importance some traditions place on the word ‘repent’ as if it only applies to others is an example of this.   Others have to measure up, become like us, they are not loved as they are.

To be fair the dignity of all people is expressed in some places.   So ‘A Beginner's Guide to the Anglican Church’ has this:  ‘We also believe that God cares deeply about the Universe and all of its inhabitants.’   (2)

This parable is fundamental.   Jesus tells the parable of the sower in all three synoptic gospels, so sowing seed is a important theme.   And I suggest that it is important because it is Jesus telling his version of the creation story.

There are (at least) three versions of the creation story in ancient scripture: the first (actually the second to be written c 540 BCE): the six day account in Genesis 1.   Then the second (actually the first to be written c 950 BCE): Adam and Eve and the Fall in Genesis 2.   If these were meant to be historic accounts it would be important that they were chronologically consistent - which they aren’t.   In Genesis 1 humanity is created on the last day after the animals; in Genesis 2 Adam is created first, then the animals, then Eve.   That these inconsistencies are retained clearly shows that chronological historicity is not actually all that important.   Then in 2 Maccabees, c 124 BCE in what we call the Apocrypha - though scripture in Jesus’ day - it is said: ‘I beg you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed.’   (3)   This is the germ of the concept of creation ‘ex nihilo’ - creation out of nothing - which we read back into the Genesis accounts.

I suggest that Jesus’ parable of the sower is his account of creation and it's importance is that it doesn’t ascribe evil - the weeds - to apples, women or sexuality.   Jesus words do not speculate on the origin of evil but on what to do in the face of evil.   If we are actually ‘christian’ we might well look at this parable as an antidote to the penal substitutionary theory of the atonement based on the Fall.   This proclaims a monster rather than a loving God.

The parable combines the goodness of creation juxtaposed with the absolute necessity of the soil out of which the first humans were fashioned.   We are creatures both of the stars, the universe is our oyster, imagination and intellect - as well as flesh and blood, physicality, sensuality, grounded.   Faithful to the genesis stories, Jesus keeps these two truths side by side.

And in doing so, Jesus sidelines religion.   He speaks of life as it really is, not some religious construct.   Jesus speaks of humanity as it really is, both our potential for good and our propensity for evil, and Jesus doesn’t prescribe religion as an antidote for the latter.   Religion, Jesus realises, is as able to be as evil as anything else in society, and the more globally influential the religion the more harm it is able to inflict.   He knew the evil that lurked among those who loved the Lord their God with all their hearts and minds and souls and strength, (4) yet would have him killed.   I find it fascinating that it takes the State Department of the USA to arrange interfaith gatherings, rather than the faith communities.  (5)   Religions, including Christianity and Anglicanism, are far too busy defining their boundaries to reach across them; to be a force for continued division rather than peace.   It is the White House rather than the faith communities who are proclaiming the fundamental dignity of all people in all their diversity and are acting to bring this about.

And surely this living together is what the parable is all about.   Defining what is wheat and what are weeds is actually fairly pointless.   Defining who is a 'true believer’, a ‘real christian’ or a godless heretic is a waste of effort.    The purpose of life is to live together, amongst all people, some of whom will share our perceptions of life and faith and others who will not.   If there is a judgement it will not be based on how we have managed to overcome others and prove how superior we are, but on our ability to work with others who do not share our perceptions.   We are not called to remove the weeds before the time, for that is only to do as weeds do, push out and stunt the growth of others.

We are called to live together, to mind our own business and to work for the upbuilding of all people, whatever name they may use for the divine, if they use one at all.   It is only this that will be a real example to well-intentioned people.   Well-intentioned people recognise that anything else, even that pretending to be divinely inspired, is actually demonic.

I want to return to the genesis stories and to say that the point of them is not to describe in strict chronological order the events of creation, but they give rather more vital information.   Genesis 1 speaks of man’s relationship to women, equally made in the image of God and humanity’s relationship to the rest of creation - dominion over creatures yet respect for their life, giving plant life for food.    Genesis 2 speaks of God’s intimate care for humanity, seeking to assuage loneliness through the rest of creation.   Jesus’ creation story re-iterates the goodness of humanity and speaks to our relationship with others, that no-one become weeds stunting the growth of others..

I preached this morning at St John’s Hororata and it is the custom there to have a time of discussion following the sermon.   I was grateful for the comment that modern society revels in the information age.   'Patients’ will often know as much about an illness as the doctor.   Lay people have come to trust their instincts rather than rely on the wisdom of the preacher.   The church can either embrace this information age or attempt to stifle it and stunt the growth of others into becoming fully mature beings.   I suspect that the world sees the church as trying to stifle their maturity, and regard a ‘god’ that wanted this as not worth worshipping.

So the saying is for us.  Are we and others the good seed, planted by God, or do we seek to stunt the growth of others and become the weeds?  In this time before the next attempt to allow female bishops in the Church of England the question is: will the conservatives again seek to stunt the growth of those of the female gender?  

In the end it is our choice to be the good seed or the weeds, for we will be left to get on with life, God will not intervene.  No one’s autonomy will be subverted.   This being the case, getting on with those around us is surely commended.   If we choose the first we are likely to contribute to the advancement of society.   If we choose the second we cannot expect anyone to take any claim of us having some spiritual authority seriously. 
2 Maccabees 7.28
Deuteronomy 6.5