Trinity 5

Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole body of the Church is governed and sanctified: hear our prayer which we offer for all your faithful people, that in their vocation and ministry they may serve you in holiness and truth to the glory of your name; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Readings:   Romans 8: 1 – 11;  Matthew 13: 1 – 9, 18  – 23

Ailsa’s sermon

Farmer's hand holding freshly harvested wheat

“We reap what we sow?”

The current crisis we find ourselves in has given us some new words, names and some vocabulary which is used in a different context:

Coronavirus

Covid 19

Social Distancing

Shielding

Key-Workers

2 Metre Rule

Test, trace, isolate

Sir Patrick Vallance

Face Covering

Clap for Key-Workers

Chris Whitty

Lock-Down

Wuhan

George Floyd

I wonder if any of the words fill you with joy?

How do these words or names make you feel?

The past few months – we have now passed 12 weeks, somehow it’s harder to keep track so now at this point we tend to switch to months – well they been hard for so many and although some people have experienced some joy, many have not.  Think of those who have lost love ones; those who have had to shield.  Those who have lost their jobs and their livelihoods.  Those victims of domestic violence, and, unconnected to Covid, those who have lost love ones because of the terror attacks or social injustice.

Not much joy.

This week parts of Australia and Spain have been forced back into lockdown in order to try and avoid a second spike of the virus, whereas in the UK this week,  we have seen hairdressers and pubs opening (and some closing immediately due to the virus) yet still many may well feel anxious about the surging pandemic and going outside.

As lots of things seem to be rapidly turning to normal, things may not have changed for you and many still feel and indeed are isolated from loved ones, struggling with home schooling and finding working from home tough.   

You might feel, like me, weary of the ugliness infecting global politics, and either heartbroken or furious (or both) in the face of systemic injustice, inequality, violence, and death in our own country and abroad.

Couldn’t we all do with some joy at the moment?  Even the weather has been rubbish!

So, when I looked up this week’s bible passages, I was relieved to be able to find some joy.   These texts, to me, are bursting with JOY!

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” Paul explains to the Romans.

 And in Mathew: “A farmer went out to sow his seed.” 

Jesus tells large crowds that where the seed fell on good soil, that it “produced a crop – a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown” and he tells the crowds “He who has ears, let him hear”.

The Gospel story may be very familiar to you, indeed it is a story that may well have been introduced to you perhaps as school or Sunday school and sites Jesus sat in a boat telling large crowds of people gathered on the banks, a parable.

A sower goes out to sow.  As he sows, some seeds fall on the path, and the birds come and eat them up.  Other seeds fall on rocky ground, where they spring up quickly, but wither when the sun burns their shallow roots.  Other seeds fall among thorns and are choked.  Still other seeds fall on good soil and bring forth abundant grain.

If your experience is anything like mine, you may have heard or read this parable many times.  And like me, you might have focussed exclusively on the four types of ground the seeds fall upon, hardened, rocky, thorny, or “good” ground.  And like me you might have wondered which type of ground are you?  How do you receive or hear the word of God?   

When you “hear” God’s word does it fall on ears which have hardened?

Do we find living as a Christian rocky and prickly or do we help to plant God’s word – do we let it grow within us?   And do we help plant seeds with such care, placing each bit of God’s good news so that it brings forth a great harvest?

Do we plant God’s word in good soil?

How do we receive the word of God and then what do we do with it?  Do we scatter it like the sowers seed so generously and with great abundance?

Well maybe we would like to.   But I think what is often hard to see is that those who hear God’s word often wonder what exactly they are supposed to do about it!  

So, are we silent spectators or is it that we don’t understand what is being said to us?

Perhaps we can also consider what we might miss from what we think are familiar and well-known bible passages such as this one.  We might perhaps think about changing the title of this parable, for example, from “The Parable of the Sower” to “The Parable of the Four Types of Ground”.  

Instead of our focus being on the terrain today, let’s consider the sower who might just be the real key to the parable, for it is the sower who starts the story.

We don’t know, but it might well be that God himself is the primary sower and it is the disciples who have accepted the challenge to join Jesus in spreading the word far and wide. 

 I think this is a parable about the nature and character of God.  About God’s kingdom, God’s provision, and God’s extravagant generosity when it comes to us.

In telling the story, Jesus is very specific in how he describes the sowing of the seed.  The seed is scattered and it falls everywhere; it is not contained. 

It is falls in every direction and the sower does not seem to care or mind where the seed falls.  There is in him a confident realism, a sense that what needs to flourish will flourish.  Maybe not all at once.  Maybe not everywhere.  But that’s okay.  In other words, the sower in Jesus’s parable is not concerned about where the seed falls or lands or settles — all he chooses to do, is to keep sowing.

You may well be aware that churches have recently been allowed to open for private prayer.  Indeed, last week some opened for services. 

Our own church responded to the changes the Government introduced and currently we are open on Sunday’s and Wednesday’s between 9.30 and 11am for private prayer.  

And when it is safe to do so, we will look to move to full services -this might perhaps be September.

But while the churches have been closed, the sowing has not stopped. 

People across the world have engaged where they can with on-line services and prayer.   And we have seen this in our own community at St Michael’s.  The church has remained “open” despite the doors being closed, because God’s Word, the seeds, continue to be scattered.  In whatever way we have been able, the joy of Christ’s love, the joy of God’s word has still been sown.

And sometimes that work is invisible.  Often people do not see, perhaps don’t notice when some parts of the community are reached – the hard, rocky, thorny places in our communities; those that perhaps find the Church abrasive, judgmental, lacking in empathy, and insular. 

But so many throughout this crisis have seen seeds of love, mercy, justice, humility, and truthfulness.   In how people have shown their love and support to their neighbours, delivering soup and sandwiches to those with no support, people who have shopped for family, friends or neighbours; clapping every week for key workers and the NHS. 

Joy!

And we have been aware of so much more joy in our world, the birds, the rocks, the thorns, and the shallow, sun-scorched corners of the world (in April and May anyway!) bursting into colourful, riotous, joyful life.

And yes.  There has been sickness, scarcity, anxiety, suffering, and loss, but those who know Christ’s love, those who know God’s promises always have hope.   And in that hope, joy can always be found.

No matter where the seeds falls, it is better that it falls than does not.  Because even in the hardest and prickliest places, seeds can flourish.

Seeds are mysterious – and so it goes with faith!  How can a hard, dead seed grow into a beautiful living thing? 

We know that the most elegant and carefully cultivated gardens can fail, while a profusion of weedy, vibrant flowers can push through even a crack in the pavement!

New life can spring from the deadest, most shrivelled up of places in our lives too – places we had given up on; places we assumed were hardened beyond hope.  You might have witnessed inhospitable environments being altered by love – I have seen this transformation working with young offenders in prison.   

I want to return to my opening paragraph and Paul’s words from Romans. 

When Paul says that there is “now no condemnation for those who are in Jesus Christ”, well we all really need to hear that!

Hearing is everything.  Words bring change – think of the list of words at the start of this sermon – our “new vocabulary”.

Word’s which have changed the world, changed situations and changed peoples’ lives. 

Words change us, but some words change us fundamentally and the words that change us more fundamentally than any others are the words we hear from God. 

Hearing is everything.  And sometimes we do hear – we might catch a vision from what we have heard and get excited about it.  We might decide to follow what we have heard and we might start to act or behave differently – get more exercise, eat less chocolate, start knitting again, spend more time with God in prayer. 

And we might make a decent start, but often our initial enthusiasm dissipates. 

So why does this happen?  Is it because we haven’t cleared the way – created enough space in the first place, prepared the ground, removed the prickles, reclaimed the congested spaces in our lives, many of which have been cleared due to our current situation. 

If we fail to prepare the ground our short-lived signs of growth might just wither away. 

Sometimes we do better – we might hear something and if we have really “heard” it will register;  we might plan and give ourselves time to process it and it gets more of a chance in us having cleared the way.

In his diary, the priest and writer Henri Nouwen admits to God:

“I am so busy with other things, that I cannot hear you; so preoccupied with what to read, what to write,, what to say or what to do that I do not realise that all those problems would not exist if I listened to you and stopped listening to my own inner turmoil”.

So, let us not fill that space, that fertile ground with “stuff” – let us not squeeze out the few messages that are really worth living with.

And let us be like the sower, tossing seeds to the wind with a daring and delighted exuberance, as He invites us to toss our own handfuls across the earth and share his joy. 

Will we?                                                 

Amen

Prayers

Heavenly Father, may your words of truth take root in our hearts and grow to rich maturity. May we hear your will for us and act upon it; may we take seriously our responsibility to encourage and nurture one another in faith at every age and every stage.  (Susan Sayers Living Stones Year A)

We pray for our world, giving thanks for every act of kindness and compassion, where our humanity is a true reflection of our heavenly Father’s love. We grieve for the careless, thoughtless actions that hurt or harm other people. We recognise that people use resources, wealth and power for their own agenda at the expense of fellow humans. We pray that all in authority and power would work for truth and justice with integrity and compassion.

We pray for all nations dealing with the Coronavirus: for those with good healthcare systems and those where there is little effective provision. We pray for all working to develop vaccines that will protect people, their healthcare systems and enable economies to function well. We pray that individuals will take seriously their own responsibility to prevent transmission of the virus.

We pray for the poorest nations of the world already facing war, poverty, hunger and homelessness. We pray especially for the people of Yemen who are so helpless in the face of multiple catastrophes. Father will you move hearts and minds and correct the vision of leaders involved with this country to see the individuals and their suffering and resolve to overcome these problems with help from other nations of the world.

We pray for this nation: for those who have found blessings in the lockdown; for those facing financial ruin and the loss of security and hope; for those who have lost / will lose their jobs; for those who have experienced abuse and violence behind closed doors; for those finding new opportunities and exciting challenges. We pray for children and families: where time together has been a positive experience, we rejoice; where children and parents have reached the end of their resources physically, emotionally, educationally and mentally we pray for safe recreation over the ‘summer holidays’. We remember all in the care system whose needs may have been overlooked in the last four months – may they find hope and a positive future.

We pray for the people living around us – those whose names we know and those we haven’t actually met. As we picture them or their home, ask God to bless them today and to meet their most pressing need.

We pray for those who are ill in body, mind, spirit or emotion: for those awaiting hospital treatment; those currently in hospital; those living with long term conditions; those who have life limiting illnesses and those who are coming to the end of their earthly life. We pray for all who care for those who are ill, and for the friends and family who support in any way they can. May each person find peace and the strength to live one day at a time.

We pray for ourselves: Lord God, how can I possibly understand what you have to say to me, if I don’t take time to listen. Help me to carve out moments this week where, even in my busyness, I can fond a quiet corner, or even just a glance heavenward to be with you. Speak to me, Lord, and bless me; and make me a blessing to others. Amen   (Roots 12th July 2020)

The Lord’s prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen.

Blessing: The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be with you, now and always. Amen.