Sowing the seeds: Gardening with God
Trinity 5 Sermon - 12th July 2020, Newport Cathedral
Like all of Jesus’s parables, this one set for today’s reflection seems, on the surface at least, quite straightforward. A farmer or sower sows his seed. The seed that falls on good soil bears a good harvest. The seed that falls on the path or on rock or among thorns doesn’t. In agricultural terms, that’s common sense. But Jesus, of course was using this imagery of sower and sowing, which would have been very familiar in the agricultural context of his day, to speak about the word of God, the word of the Kingdom and how it’s received - or not. Again, this would not have been unusual or unfamiliar to the Jewish listeners in the crowd, as seeds and sowing were familiar imagery, often used in the Jewish scriptures as we heard in our first reading today.
But there are questions to be asked. Why does the sower of this story sow with such abandon? Seeds were precious. They represented food for the family and community - flour, bread, cakes and the like. The seed would have been carefully stored over the winter so that they were in the best possible condition for sowing in the spring. At a time when communities were utterly dependent on the harvest, nothing could be wasted or left to chance. So why is the sower that Jesus refers to so free with his seed? Why was he not more careful about where he threw the seed to ensure that all of it fell on good soil, giving the maximum chance of a good yield?
Jesus seems to be saying that God is not so careful with the sowing of his word. He sows it freely, generously, one might even say to excess, knowing (presumably) that some of it will fail and – how we might see it – be wasted. And, of course he does sow it freely, as we’ve come to know in Jesus. The word of God is for everyone. The good news of salvation is for all. Jesus came that all may have life and have it abundantly. The spirit blows where it will, amongst saints and sinners alike. And Jesus comes to us all, persistently, day by day - to those who are open and ready to receive him as well as to those whose hearts are hard, or damaged or choked with the lures of the world or indeed the pains of the world. God’s love is shown freely and generously. God has plenty of love to spare and doesn’t need or want to be careful with it.
But there’s another question to be asked here. How does the good soil get to be good soil? I’ve been living at Bishopstow for about 7 months now and I’ve discovered different kinds of soil in different areas of the garden. There’s an area that was absolutely chocker full with bushes, shrubs and plants - all overgrown, with nothing really able to thrive because there was no space. It was crowded and unkempt and a mess. Pulling all that out, we discovered some really good soil that, with some digging over, has been able to be turned into a lovely border of shrubs and perennials.
Another area was full of brambles. Hacking that back and digging it over, we discovered again, some good soil. But the brambles are still there underneath - a great network of roots far below the surface that persistently send up shoots. It’s good soil alright, but the brambles will be there for a long time to come and we’ll need to keep digging them out as they appear if plants are going to thrive there.
A third area is made up of very heavy clay that’s so hard it’s difficult to get a spade in. There are shrubs and trees growing happily, but there’s a limit to what else can be put in there. Some plants enjoy poor soil or heavy clay, but not many.
So, plants that have been there previously can break up the soil with their roots, and the sun and rain play their part. But the gardener or the farmer has to work hard to dig, weed, prepare and feed in readiness for any seeds or plants to be grown. Especially if she wants a good harvest.
As you listened to that gospel passage being read, I wonder if you identified yourself with any particular part of the field? I guess most of us would like to identify ourselves as the good soil; the soil which Jesus says yields a good harvest - a hundredfold, sixty or thirty. As people who faithfully attend church, say our prayers, seek to follow Jesus, I guess all of us would like to see ourselves as those who hear the word of God and understand it and go on to bear fruit.
But there might be a sense in which we are, within ourselves, a mixture. As well as the good soil, there may be some hard places in our hearts or minds: places that are well defended because of hurts or a fear of begin hurt; places that we want to keep others out of - perhaps even God out of; places that need softening and tending, loving and nurturing. Or, deep within the good soil or our hearts, there may be brambles, deep seated issues that keep coming to the surface which mar or damage the good things that are growing; prejudices, attitudes, unhealthy habits that have been cultivated over the years and are hard to get rid of. But even if we are blessed enough to be mainly good soil, we will still need turning over occasionally so that air and water can more easily get to our roots, so that the food can get to where it needs to be, so that any weeds can be extracted before they take hold.
God, the sower who spreads his word liberally and freely throughout his creation can do amazing things with whatever patch of garden or field our lives look like. But we have a part to play; simply by making ourselves as ready and as open as we possibly can to receive all that God wants to sow in us. It will mean being ready and willing to be tilled and weeded, and fairly regularly. It will mean being prepared, if necessary, to have a few things uprooted or dug out which are hampering growth or choking God’s love – that might be necessary quite regularly too. But, whatever else, it will mean allowing God’s word to work within us such that our lives bear fruit according to his loving purposes; some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Thanks be to God.