Sunday Worship July 12th 2020
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.
Lord, we might not be sitting by a lake today.
However, as the crowds eagerly gathered
to listen to the stories and truths you told them,
we too await your word to us.
With joy in our hearts, and anticipation,
we pray that you will give us listening ears,
and hearts open to receive your love,
your teaching, and your wisdom.
Help our lives to be full to bursting, bearing your fruit.
We all love a good story;
we can’t wait to hear how it ends.
Come and worship the Lord God, author of our stories –
each one so different,
but if properly rooted in God, they can be amazing.
Come and hear God’s story for us today,
and make it part of your story.
Psalm 65:9-13 Isaiah 55:10-13 Romans 8.1-11 Matthew 13:1-9,18-23
Comments on Bible Readings
There is an ongoing political issue around productivity in the UK, we may have almost full employment (before the lockdown) but we don’t make enough per person to give us an increase in our overall GDP, this means we are working hard but not reaping the rewards of higher pay. It is like walking up a lift the wrong way, you never get anywhere. In 2018, output on an hourly basis in the UK fell to 17 per cent lower than the G7 average, and politicians ever since have struggled to close this gap.
As a nation, we are constantly urged to do more, make more and achieve more with our time. However, being super busy and doing lots of things can prevent us from taking time to consider some of the important things of life, things that can only be examined when we pause or stop and think. In many ways the lockdown has encouraged us all to stop and think and pause. So many I have spoken to during lockdown have used the extra time to spend with God, to walk and look at God’s wonderful word, to phone and speak to each other and learn more about each other.
In our Church this has been the case – every member has been spoken to every week and all this sharing means we understand each other better.
Jesus uses parables as a way to get people to stop and think. Listening to a parable means that we pause, wonder, ask questions and think about the deeper meaning of life. The telling of parables was a common method of teaching by all religious leaders at the time of Jesus. Parables are short stories to illustrate a point; sometimes – but not always – the elements in the narrative are intended as metaphors for something that helps us to understand the meaning.
In this passage, we hear Jesus telling us the ‘parable of the sower’ and afterwards taking the time to explain it to the disciples (He does not always do this!). In the Gospels, Jesus often uses illustrations that would have had a particular resonance with his agricultural audience. Israel was an agricultural nation, ordinary people would be able to understand what Jesus was saying.
Identifying the main character in a recent film or TV programme is usually quite easy. They tend to have the most on-screen time and all the best lines, and much of the action will revolve around them. At first glance, this week’s parable seems to have an obvious main character: the sower. But is it the farmer who is actually the main focus of the parable? What about the soil – it features heavily – could it be the main ‘character’? How do we cultivate good soil for the seeds we scatter today?
In contemporary farming, seeds are sown in neat lines with a carefully calculated distance between them, designed to maximise growth and minimise waste. The sower in the parable takes a very different approach, he ‘broadcasts’ his seeds, casting them far and wide. Not precise, and lacking in the finesse of a modern farmer, but this approach means that the seeds travel a significant distance. How might we broadcast our message of salvation far and wide? How might modern communication help us to broadcast?
In this parable, the sower was ‘broadcasting’ the seeds, indiscriminately. This is what we are called to do with the word of God as disciples of Jesus. In what ways can we share the story of Jesus with those we meet?
Although this parable is ‘explained’ by Jesus, there is a tension between hearing a parable and fully understanding it. The parables (in general) seem designed to carry ambiguity or mystery. They invite us to keep thinking about what they might mean – both for Jesus’ audience and for us in the 2020s. It is not all completely explained. We need to think about what the thorns are in our contemporary world, and what forms of persecution might draw someone away from God. We may want everything explained, but that is not how the parables work. How might this have an impact on the way we communicate God to others and convey some of the mystery of his kingdom?
The final part of the parable describes three different yields resulting from seed planted in good soil – one hundredfold, sixtyfold and thirtyfold. What would it look like in your church to experience this level of growth? What would have to change? How would we have to adapt? Are we actually hungry for growth such as this, or have we become comfortable with the yields we currently experience?
We use pictures and metaphors to communicate ideas all the time. It is a powerful method of teaching. Both Old Testament writers use pictures to speak of abstract concepts (e.g. God’s word). Note the images in both Isaiah and Psalms, beautiful pictures of God watering the soil, until it becomes fertile and rich, bursting with goodness, full of fruit. One imagines water flowing rich and deep, full of nutrients. Paul in Romans uses metaphors of walking and dwelling to speak of the ways in which believers’ lives are bound up with the Spirit of God.
Now re-read the parable of the sower and think about how you spread the word. Think about how you receive the word. Ask God to make your seed grow and enable you to be the soil that the seed grows strong and full in and multiplies three, six and nine fold.
Lord God, we pray today for all the people given the great privilege of spreading your Gospel.
We pray for the Church worldwide, but in particular in the places where people are still persecuted for their beliefs.
We pray for our ministers, who prayerfully seek your face, and bring us the words and understanding we need to become more faithful followers of you.
We pray for writers and poets, as they pore over your word, and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit to bring your message to life on the page.
We pray for artists and all craftspeople who draw inspiration from your word, and speak to us through their creations.
We thank you that all good gifts come from you.