Sunday 16 July
Year A: 6th Sunday after Trinity (Proper 10)
Liturgical Colour: Green
- Genesis 25:19-34
- Psalm 119:105-112
- Rom 8:1-11
- Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
The parable of the sower is a masterclass in communication. Jesus was speaking to a largely agricultural society, where farming and fishing were the main occupations. He knew full well that the message he was preaching would be demanding to hear, and that people would be quick to reject something that seemed both difficult and irrelevant to them. So, he talked about the Kingdom of God in ways that used the everyday things people were familiar with. Everyone listening would have had some knowledge of the soil and growing plants from seed. They would also know how the farmer sowed the seeds. Jesus talked to them in ways they could understand.
I have recently had my first proper attempt at growing vegetables from seed. I have dabbled in the past, but mostly with the small ready-grown baby plants you find in supermarkets. Growing from actual seed has been a very different experience. It has taught me a great deal. For a start who knew you had to plant them so carefully, and in the right soil, and at the right time?! I thought I could just give it my attention for one afternoon, throw them all into similar containers and all would be well and I would quickly have lots of vegetables to eat. Not so. With the exception of sweetcorn and beans there are only small signs of green and a lot of nothing at all. It is taking ages. (I had left it a bit late.) Now I have to remember to water them every day and I confess I have begun offering a few words of encouragement too… That, along with cultivating my patience, is all I can do now; I have to hand it over to God. The way I have gone about it might be frowned upon by gardening experts, but I think it perhaps has some connections with the seemingly unthinking way the farmer sowed the seed in our reading.
Whenever this passage is preached on, the theme is usually Jesus’ explanation of the parable to his disciples. He says that the soil is related to the condition of our hearts and our readiness to respond to the love of God in our lives. That is certainly an excellent way to approach it. However, I wonder whether those of us in ministry can take an extra message or two from it?
First, we would do really well to learn from Jesus’ way of communicating. How often do we really think about the people who will be hearing (or not hearing!) what we want to say? We are sometimes so caught up in our own ways of understanding or latest ‘next big thing’ that we forget that the people we are alongside leading do not always share our worldviews or experience. As Focal Ministers, who are deliberately locally-focussed it is really important that we know and pay attention to the souls and soils in our congregations and communities and find ways of truly relating to them.
Also, it can sometimes seem that our efforts of kindness and word fall randomly, and we very rarely see quick and spectacular results. This can be demoralising. But the sower in the parable cast the seed widely and without prejudice, knowing that some of it would not prove fruitful to him in the way that he would want. Admittedly, there was ploughing and tending to follow for the farmer, but some seed would still be seemingly lost. At least, the birds would be nourished and perhaps some seeds would survive in the various hostile environments and wait to grow another day. The point is that we can’t really control how our ministry will ‘land’. That is up to God. I decided I would reread the ‘Romero’ prayer I shared at our latest Focal Ministry Leadership Learning Day while I waited for my vegetables to grow!