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 for ever.
Almighty God, send down upon your Church the riches of your Spirit, and kindle in all who minister the gospel your countless gifts of grace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Grant, O Lord, we beseech you, that the course of this world may be so peaceably ordered by your governance, that your Church may joyfully serve you in all godly quietness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
10 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
12 For you shall go out in joy,
and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial,
for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
1 Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion;
to you that answer prayer shall vows be paid.
2 To you shall all flesh come to confess their sins;
when our misdeeds prevail against us, you will purge them away.
3 Happy are they whom you choose and draw to your courts to dwell there.
We shall be satisfied with the blessings of your house, even of your holy temple.
4 With wonders you will answer us in your righteousness, O God of our salvation,
O hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas.
5 In your strength you set fast the mountains
and are girded about with might.
6 You still the raging of the seas,
the roaring of their waves and the clamour of the peoples.
7 Those who dwell at the ends of the earth tremble at your marvels;
the gates of the morning and evening sing your praise.
8 You visit the earth and water it;
you make it very plenteous.
9 The river of God is full of water;
you prepare grain for your people, for so you provide for the earth.
10 You drench the furrows and smooth out the ridges;
you soften the ground with showers and bless its increase.
11 You crown the year with your goodness,
and your paths overflow with plenty.
12 May the pastures of the wilderness flow with goodness
and the hills be girded with joy.
13 May the meadows be clothed with flocks of sheep
and the valleys stand so thick with corn that they shall laugh and sing.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!’
‘Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Sermon on Sunday, Trinity 5
The growing of a crop (flowers or vegetables) and how the harvest comes, are things we cannot penetrate. It just happens. All we know is that seeds grow wherever they land, in either good or bad soil, or even no soil at all, but we do not know why, nor how, all this living and growth happens. It seems we can make no sense of it except with help. This parable from the gospel is rather perplexing, isn’t it? Don’t we, like the disciples, wonder why Jesus taught in parables? Jesus replied to them that people listen but do not hear, much the same lesson that Isaiah gave in another place, in words that still apply today, I suppose. Jesus, however, relented and explained this parable for his followers, according to our reading. — This explanation of the parable might allow us to think we can understand everything – why, we might even think that we have secret knowledge. It is hidden in the parable and we, in this hubris of ours, consider ourselves the only people who understand. The one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church fought against this tendency in the beginning, when they fought against the gnostic heresy, and this battle has been rekindled in my lifetime. There is no secret knowledge, the Church says, there is only public faith and belief, so we proclaim today that salvation belongs to all who believe.
However, the notion of secret knowledge has always been a lure. Whether it is the solution to a quadratic equation or a probability conundrum, or maybe it is how to brew a love potion, or perhaps even the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, this secret knowledge tempts us away from the humble life of belief, separating us from the simplicity and open-ness of faith.
All of us are aware of this, aren’t we? This secret knowledge, this knowledge that makes us so different from the mass of humanity, could give us airs and graces beyond our humanity. We might think we are better than others because we have this very special knowledge. And so we fail to learn the significance of the meaning behind the parables which we hear. Sadly, it would seem that we have fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah about the people of Israel, and what Jesus feared for his disciples and believers in years to come. Jesus decries: “this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes.” We are condemned all because we think we have secret knowledge, because we think our special knowledge makes us so very different from everyone else.
But the wizard, Harry Potter, does not think himself better than anyone else, does he? He has special knowledge, knowledge which his teachers have freely given to him and his fellow students. It is all there, ready for them to use for good or ill. Similarly, Jesus teaches everyone the same. He uses parables because he wants everyone to be “on the same page.” – That book we read is not one which the hermeneuts own for themselves, a book which they hide away, as they say that no one else can read what is really in it except them. However, Harry Potter is just like everyone else, he has learned all the lessons the teachers have taught, but he is extraordinary because he has not been changed in his fundamental being – he is still humble and honest at heart, Harry is still self-deprecating and forthright in every situation. He has not raised himself above the crowd, but he distinguishes himself from the crowd by being himself. This is no mean feat, something I think Jesus emphasises by speaking as he does.
Parables are what places us all together in the same situation and without distinction. Parables are so often a blank wall at which we stare for far too long. I suppose that is why we let those questionable specialists con us into thinking we cannot understand anything for ourselves. We hide in the crowd of unknowing and play dumb. We let the self-proclaimed experts hoodwink us to follow them because they know Greek and can translate the ancient text. We let them take charge of the meaning of the texts for their own purposes when the meaning of the texts should be our own. I would rather say that we need to struggle with the text for ourselves, grasping the nettle of understanding with our own hands.
I think we should see parables as ciphers, that blank wall, through which we grasp ourselves and the world around us. So let us consider the parable we have been given this morning for ourselves.
What should our focus be? In this parable what is important? Should we concentrate on the sower? Is he being profligate and wasteful with the seed – broadcasting it on good soil and all that bad ground, where there are only rocks, and brambles and thorns, and perhaps even no soil at all? Who is this rather poor sower of the seed, who would cast it everywhere in the world, rather than holding back seed from all those bad and unprofitable areas?
Or should the seed itself take our attention, this precious seed which will spring forth and grow strong and yield a harvest? Or is it the ground into which the seed falls which should take our attention, all of those good and bad places where this seeming magical seed will land? – Where should we turn our attention in this parable? There are so many ways to approach this parable, aren’t there? No wonder we abrogate our responsibility to search for the meaning of the parables for ourselves. We think it so very difficult to come to grips with parables for ourselves. We would rather let the experts, like the NT scholar, Joachim Jeremias, do all the hard work of applying the parable to our lives here and now, so we can handle it at a far remove without any cost to ourselves.
I say that is much too easy – to let someone else make up our minds for us. I would want us to take the harder route, where we have to confront the meaning of the parable for ourselves, where the parable becomes our own. Of course, we may come to the same conclusions as so many others, those hermeneutical scholars included, but the dialogue we have had about the parable with our friends or even just privately in my own head, is the thing, the experience of teasing out the meaning is the crux, not merely holding on to the bare explanation of the parable. That is what makes knowledge real and meaningful. Of course, it is so much simpler to have knowledge we can recite by rote, never having had to struggle with it. It is easier to follow the crowd and comply, but it is far more rewarding to make things your own by being yourself and living by that faith which is hard won. When we finally understand the parable alone or in dialogue with others, we can value everyone with their own opinions equally and life is valued at its fullest, as Jesus promised.