Material for Worship on the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

I wonder if you can spot in this photo from John and Rosemary Hamilton’s garden some of the ‘Seeds for Hope’ which were shared among our congregation on Mothering Sunday just as Lockdown started? As you prepare to join in worship with me, Nerys, celebrating the Eucharist in the church this morning, let us take a moment to think about our St Mary’s family past and present and give thanks.

As you listen to Morag reading the Gospel passage for today, Matthew 13.1-9 and 18-23, try to visualize the images the words create and allow God to communicate to you through them.

This story wasn’t exactly what the enormous crowd which had gathered around Jesus were expecting. It appears simple and accessible. Nobody in Galilee lived far from the land. They would understand farmers and fields very well. But there is a perplexing aspect to this story which was probably deliberate. Jesus wanted them to puzzle over it, to talk about it amongst themselves, to think it through, to discover its truth for themselves. Maybe he wanted them to experience how easy it is to listen but how hard it is to hear and understand and allow an idea to take root in our minds and hearts.

The story was also unexpected for those who were ready to delve deeper into its meaning as it seems to talk of both failure and success. Many would have been incredulous on hearing of the long series of failed sowings. They would know that a sensible sower doesn’t just fling his seeds all over the place. Given the high cost of seed-grain and the knowledge a Middle Eastern farmer would have of his fields from years of careful tending, they would wonder why this farmer did not take better care to prevent the seed from falling in places he knew were unproductive—on the road, on the thin soil and among the weeds? What sort of farmer wastes two thirds of the seed like that? What was he up to? What was the point being made?

I suppose that Jesus probably used parables because it was a safe way of communicating his challenging message. Among the crowd would have been religious leaders who were already out to destroy him. But even if they could grasp the underlying meaning, they couldn’t condemn him for speaking of soil and seeds and birds and stones. But I think he used this sophisticated method of teaching also because through parables, he could present different messages to different groups of people at the same time.

If we take the soil to be the main focus of this story, then it is a warning designed to prompt new listeners to think about the way they respond to the message of God’s love and forgiveness which Jesus is sharing with them through his life and words. It is not enough to hear without understanding, it is not enough to understand without taking action, it is not enough to take action without persevering. For a seed to take root and grow successfully so that it can bear fruit, barren soil needs to be cultivated, stones removed, weeds uprooted. To ensure the right conditions for God’s love to grow in our hearts takes time and effort but the end result is a fruitful life of prayer and service to others in which we will accomplish through our trust in God what we could never have dreamt of.

If we focus on the sower, then the story can be taken as a message to those who had already joined Jesus in spreading far and wide the new vision of God, calling on people to listen and respond. At times, Jesus’ disciples must have wondered what on earth they were doing. Crowds came to hear him, but very few were really changed for life. Even those healed by him often went away and forgot. And the doors of the synagogues were shutting against them as Jesus seemed to rouse nothing but hostility in the religious leaders.

To followers of Jesus then and now, the story is a word of encouragement. This sower who flings the seed about without looking where it is going to land reminds us of our Heavenly Father who gives everybody a chance to be part of his family. God the bountiful Sower doesn’t choose good soil alone. Think about those Jesus kept company with! Even if the response is not immediate, God knows that barren earth can become fertile ground, hard paths can be softened by rain, last year’s crop of thistles can become compost that will grow strong plants. He knows that sometimes seed will lie dormant in the ground for years before it germinates and bears fruit when the conditions are right.

We are called to imitate God’s endless patience and gracious generosity The sowing may be a patchy and sometimes discouraging process but if we persevere, the harvest is sure to come and will be abundant.

‘The Sower’ by James Tissot

You may be interested in this short reflection on the painting and on Tissot’s spiritual journey by Fr. Warner D’Souza, a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Bombay.

God of mystery, help us to cherish your word in our hearts that we may truly hear, understand and turn afresh to you.
God of life, help us live as people of hope and expectancy, rejoicing in your love for us and all your children.
God of growth, help us, your Church, to encourage and nurture one another in faith at every age and every stage.
God of compassion, help us to respond to those in need: the anxious, the sick, the grieving, the homeless, the hungry …
We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.