Transcript of the Sermon given by Reverend Anne Kennedy.
YrA P6 2017 Sower
Loving God, you have opened our ears to hear your holy word.
Open our hearts to receive the message you bring to us this morning. Amen
Once upon a time there were three little pigs. It was time for them to leave home and go into the big wide world. They decided to build houses – the first pig quickly built a straw house, the second pig built a house of sticks and settled in in no time. They laughed as the third little pig labored away, building a house of bricks. “Come and have some fun!” they cried. “No,” said the third little pig “I’m building a strong house”.
Well, we know what happened when the big bad wolf came – he huffed and puffed and blew the first two houses to smithereens, which sent the occupants scurrying to their brother’s house – the house of bricks – where they sheltered as the wolf huffed and puffed and huffed and puffed – and went away without the roast pork with crackling he was hoping for.
Most children grow up with fairy tales, but usually there is a message hidden away and not really understood until the child grows up. In this case, the hidden message is that you have to put some effort into creating a strong house – which then carries the message further into our lives – to achieve anything, you need to work hard, and put the hard yards in to achieve what you want.
In our context, the story of the three pigs seems a little odd to be relating to urban children who play on Ipads at the age of 18 months. We are a long way from farms, and the only pig they really know is the two dimensional Peppa Pig on the screen. Even pork has to be described in different words so as not to let kids know that we are eating Peppa! (Scarlett said to me recently, in very hushed tones, “Do you like pig meat?” I replied that I thought it was quite tasty. She looked at me for a moment then said “I don’t!”. Meat in her house is described as chicken, fish or “meat”.)
In his day, Jesus used many stories, or parables, with the crowds that came to hear him speak. They involved day to day activities such as fishing and drawing water from the well and being good citizens.
But parables are stories to be mulled over, like fine wine or herbal tea, gradually drawing out the different flavours, the different depths of character, and the hints of other things.
Today’s parable is like that. After hearing the parable of the sower and the result of his sowing, you might go away thinking that the man was a pretty lousy farmer – no-one who valued the seed would be spreading it anywhere except on the fertile soil.
Or you might go away thinking – that’s great, what a bumper crop we could have this year!
Or even – what’s the point of sowing at all – the birds will get the seed, or it will be tramped into the pathway, and even if it starts to grow, the rocks and weeds will destroy it anyway. Why bother?
It’s easy to take a story at face value. But as Paul says in our second reading –
… 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…
If we restrict our thinking to the realm of the immediate world around us, we are denying ourselves the treasure to be discovered at deeper, spiritual levels.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus encourages the disciples by explaining the deeper levels of this parable. He explains how the seed he talks about is actually the Word of God, and he describes how people hear that Word of God at their own level of understanding.
If the Word of God is not understood at all, if there’s no thought, no effort to engage with any underlying meaning, it’s wiped from the heart by the evil one, crushed underfoot and discarded.
If someone hears the Word of God and is immediately overcome with joy (and perhaps we can relate that to those who attended the Billy Graham Crusades, or today, those who attend an active, concert-like service with bands, bright lights and celebrity speakers for the first time) – unless supported by those who believe and have a relationship with Jesus, that joy can dissipate, quickly replaced by the daily grind of the world.
If the cares of the world and the lure of wealth are uppermost in a person’s heart, the Word of God that they hear will quickly be strangled, and amount to nothing. The thorns of ambition and the desire for success at the risk of all else, will kill any seed planted in their heart.
But there are people like us – people who love Jesus, and try to follow him every day of our lives – in whom the seed, once planted, grows and matures and in the fullness of time, can then provide sustenance for others.
Every time we come to church, that seed is re-planted in our hearts –the fertile soil – and is tended, fertilized and nourished.
It’s tended by the loving care of those around us. It’s fertilized by the reading of the Scriptures and the interpretation of those words through the sermon. And it is nourished by the Eucharist – the Holy Meal that we share –– where the bread and wine of the body and blood of Christ are taken into our own bodies, and are absorbed to become part of what makes us who we are.
As that seed grows in our hearts and matures, we become the sowers of the seed, the Word of God, in others.
This is done in different ways, using the skills that God has given us:
- We can take on tasks in the Church which enable us to share the Word of God in teaching roles;
- in our musical skills;
- our eloquence in speaking;
- our management abilities;
- in our diligence in cleaning and maintenance;
- using our skills in providing hospitality at times;
- by taking an active part in pastoral care for each other through visiting, phone calls, and letters;
- in preparing the Church for services, making sure that everything is attractive, accessible and welcoming to everyone.
The Bible for Christians is not just the Word of God. Rather, it is the Word of God spoken through people in history, in their own context. In our Gospel, Jesus calls us to be sowers of the seed in the context of today. Now, small private gardens are where we sow seed, the bulk of sowing being done by machines in vast paddocks of open land.
I wonder if that is what the Church has become, distributors of the Word of God in small private places. Within these four walls, perhaps just in our own homes. Do we ever talk about church or how we try to follow Jesus outside our ‘private communities’? Do we post things on Facebook that identify us as Christians? Do we share Church news and views with friends at secular activities?
Are we embarrassed to share our faith?
Meanwhile, the huge machines of the media and commerce spread the word of consumerism and selfishness in great swathes across our land. How are we to compete with those giants? How can we invite people to listen to the Word of God, through the good news and actions of Jesus Christ, and allow God to turn them from self-interest, into people of life and peace?
We are to be living sacraments to God’s praise and glory. Not just Sunday Christians, but by going about our daily life, in everything we think and do and say – living as Jesus’ body on earth, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
This amazing gift has been given to us by God. Let’s not be like Esau, in our first reading, who traded his birthright – for a pot of stew, allowing earthly desires to take away that blessing which was bestowed on him by God.
We are Christians, 24/7, and Jesus has called us to build up the realm of God in this place. Let’s pray for renewal and recommitment as we bring others to God through our prayer, our invitation, and our love of Jesus.