A few moments ago, we heard St. Matthew`s account of what we call the Parable of the Sower. This parable appears in three of the four Gospels which tends to indicate that it`s rather important. In fact when you look at it in Mark`s Gospel Jesus makes this very point; he tells the disciples, ”Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables?” (Mark 4.13)
It would seem that this short parable means quite a lot to the Lord and that it`s required learning for those of us who would seek to follow him. And I want to suggest that this `importance` has on the one hand something to do with what Jesus thinks he`s doing and on the other, something to do with giving us an insight into his view of the world. So, let`s firstly remind ourselves as we do again and again, of what this teaching is about. It`s referred to twice in Matthew`s version this morning. In verse eleven the Lord speaks of `the secrets of the Kingdom` and in verse nineteen `the word of the Kingdom`.
This subject of the Kingdom (the in breaking reign of God) is the heart of his teaching. And let`s get this absolutely clear; what Jesus is doing is announcing that something that is happening. He`s declaring that in and through him and his ministry there is a material change in our circumstances. He`s ushering in what we might call `world regime change`. And he follows up his `announcing` with action. He describes but then (through his healings and encounters; his eating and drinking with all the `wrong` people) he demonstrates something of what it looks like when this new order breaks in upon us; he gives us clear examples of what it`s like to get caught up in this new way of being a world; this new way of being a human.
So, this for example, is where his great Sermon on the Mount and the parables come in. He tells us that when our Father God chooses to extend his reign he uses (to our way of thinking) the most unlikely ones; the meek, the poor in spirit, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and so on. And then he talks about how the means by which this kingdom grows are also less assertive and spectacular than we might imagine or wish…. There`s an `under the surface` quality to the Kingdom. Jesus speaks of yeast, of seeds growing secretly, of a great treasure which has the capacity to captivate us to the extent that we will give everything for it.
Now the importance of today`s Parable lies in what it teaches us about his persistence in the face of this world which is not wired to receive or accept what he has to say. Earlier this week I was given a little picture postcard. The photograph was taken during wartime. It was the era of what was called “Dig for Victory”. And so in this picture, we see a farmer walking in the shadow of the Langdale Pikes, casting seed. It`s not the kind of thing you normally do hereabouts and the person who gave me the picture told me how the locals in Chapel Stile still marvel at the great optimism of trying to grow wheat in such wet and stony conditions; and sure enough it wasn`t very successful.
And it led me to wonder whether Jesus wasn`t perhaps beset by the same kind of `nay-saying` as he embarked on his work of proclamation in far from ideal conditions. I wonder whether he heard voices from within and without that said to him… “You`ll not make any progress with this lot!” But all the while he persists; he continues to state his case with astonishing generosity and at great cost. And THIS I think is the foundational point of this parable. Just notice for example, how the seed, this `word of the Kingdom` isn`t being delicately planted. It`s not rationed, or selectively delivered… On the contrary, it`s being scattered everywhere in the most profligate manner.
What I`m suggesting is that this parable illustrates the heart and attitude of Jesus; his generosity and persistence. It`s this same heart and attitude which needs to form and become part of us if we are to be faithful. Fired, I would suspect by passages like our Old Testament Reading this morning (Isaiah 55.10-13); full of confidence in what the Lord God will do … Like the sower, Jesus simply sows the seed of the Kingdom in a lavish and generous way. He announces God`s truth and Kingdom come what may. Which leads us to ponder how easy it is in our day, to be less than generous and confident; somewhat cowed by peoples` apparent resistance to the Kingdom. At least that`s how it can sometimes feel.
And this is where we end up when we forget that the Gospel of God is an announcement. This is where we end up when we begin to imagine instead, that that we`re in the business of persuading people. No, Jesus` model is “persistent and profligate announcement”. A generous sharing of good news which has cosmic as well as personal significance. He is our example. We bear his message about something which is happening….. independent of us….. We can have confidence that the kingdom reign of God is where the tide of history is really going. Yes, largely unseen, unacknowledged by many but nonetheless unstoppable.
Yes, it`s easy to become downcast when we encounter people who for years seem impermeable to the things of God.
But our task is simply to state … “There`s been a change of management. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand… Turn around… you`re going the wrong way. Be Baptised… be born anew. Receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit. Become one of the People of God”.
There`s a `given-ness` about the message; a lavishness and a generosity in its delivery…… and a refusal to be daunted by the outward nature of the soil. So, how I wonder, might this picture begin to colour our sense of what we`re about?
Last Shrove Tuesday you kindly allowed Margaret and I to share stories of our journey to Nepal and you generously brought some puddings to share and made it quite a festive evening. A few days later I was stopped by someone in the supermarket who had heard about what a happy time we`d had; but what they couldn`t understand was how we could possibly put on such an evening without charging for it?
I can`t help thinking that the experience of generosity is one of the doors to the Kingdom. I think of one of the Churches not far from here which became well known for hosting a free party in the park for parishioners. Or last week I heard about another Church which recently hosted a free Barbeque… just as a way of making friends. And they did! But what was behind it all was the willingness to take the risk of being generous…
Perhaps you might like to ponder that… Think about what it`s felt like when your cup overflowed; or when someone didn`t give up on you or was kinder than you expected or deserved? Or how you felt having been generous to someone else? It seems to me that we live today with an undercurrent of `scarcity`. That somehow there isn`t enough to go around… “what`s mine is mine” and all the rest. Our fallen nature leaves us curled in on ourselves… And the Church gets into the same place when we fall into the trap of trying to persuade rather than proclaim.
When we make this mistake, we put ourselves and our own efforts front and centre… We begin to think that everything depends on us… We forget that our task (in the face of what often looks like unpromising terrain) is just generous sowing. Generous and persistent sowing… and we leave the outcome to the Lord.
Yes, again, it`s perplexing that so many simply don`t get it. And yes, that`s the basic reality to which this parable also points…. But notice, it concludes, doesn`t it, with a bountiful harvest? Because, that`s ultimately where things are going. This parable invites us not to lose heart. It calls us to become more fully `subjects` of the Kingdom ourselves and then to speak and live for Christ both persistently and generously.