Back in the summer…when we were allowed to travel out of Wrexham… our little holiday took us amongst other places to Lyme Regis in Dorset. It is famed for fossils which can readily be found below the cliffs on what is known as the ‘Jurassic Coast’. Rooting around in a junk shop, I found a reminder of a more recent past. It’s part of a seed drill, grandly called ‘The Monarch’ made over 100 years ago. I bought it because of the name on it: L R Knapp and Co of Faringdon (with one ‘R’). It’s the town where I grew up and where my father’s family have roots.
Having got my trophy home, I did a bit of internet research. I was delighted to find that Mr Knapp knew his bible. Publicity for the Monarch has the quotation based on Galatians 6.7: ‘As you sow, so shall you reap.’ It then has this advice: ‘If a farmer uses our drills, he will be planting his corn in the very best way and will reap a harvest that will more than repay him for his wise outlay.’
If the sower in Jesus’ parable had lived 1900 years later in the Thames Valley, he would have done well to heed this advice because frankly, he’s useless at his job. If I were employing him to sow my seed, he would be out of a job pronto. Look at the waste. He’s dropping it on the path, trying to sow it on rocky shallow ground where there’s no depth of soil to keep it growing and to cap it all, he’s throwing some of it in the bushes amongst the thorns where if it grew at all, it would soon be choked off by the undergrowth. He definitely needed a Monarch to do the job for him.
Jesus’ original hearers would have thought the same. Farming at that time was not mechanised but there was plenty of good fertile soil to be had. Careful sowing was needed to ensure a good harvest. Jesus had obviously told the story, the parable about a lousy sower to grab their attention. It must have a deeper meaning, but what could it be? The great crowd is left with that question, but Jesus’ disciples ask him for an interpretation of the story, and they get it.
The key to the story is that the seed represents the ‘word of God’. The ‘word of God’ is quite unlike the word of Jonathan Smith or Boris Johnson, the Pope, or any other human person apart from Jesus himself. God’s word is always true. It is active and has power to create and transform. The earth, once formless and void, is teaming with life and beauty because God has spoken. By his Spirit, he speaks in the remarkable book we call the bible. As the opening passage of John’s gospel expresses, Jesus is that word of God made flesh. God’s word has made creation beautiful and humanity as the crown of that creation intended to live in close relationship with God. Humanity thinks there is a better way to live. We think we need to gobble up the worlds resources before someone else beats us to it. We think we will be happier if we always get our own way even when it hurts others. We think we can give live meaning without reference to the one who made it.
If the seed if ‘the word of God’ then humanity must be the soil, the soil that needs to receive ‘the word of God’ again to find hope, to find salvation from the sin that tears it away from God, to be regenerated and refreshed in new life. As the story unfolds then, we see that the hearts of human beings are in all kinds of different places. Some are still rock hard, cynical, atheistic, implacably opposed to receiving anything of the creator’s word, his love and new life. It’s left for the birds. Others are all up for God’s word, the gospel message. Life has been a bit tough, especially with this Coronavirus, but may be the church has something for us. There is enthusiasm an openness to the Christian message, but once life returns to normal, when they realise that a relationship with God is two way traffic, that to follow Jesus means living a life of purity and service, then they’re back to the line of least resistance. Then there are those who embrace God’s word, believe it’s good and true, but you know there’s so much going on in life with work, family, friends, holidays, clubs, societies, box sets, Facebook, gym, school…that God’s word does not get a look in.
So much of the soil of humanity is unpromising. A sensible person would not bother to sow the word of God there would they? Surely best to concentrate on the good soil; to find those who will accept the seed of God’s word in their lives and cultivate it to a good harvest.
But it is not like that on God’s farm. He does not have a Monarch to put just the right amount of seed in the right place. In the parable of the sower, we learn that God’s word is scattered and scattered as widely and generously as possible over the soil that is human world. It is to be sown amongst young and old, rich and poor, to prisoners and refuges, to those of all faiths and none, in the streets, in our churches and online. We cannot say who will respond and who will not, who will oppose the gospel today but tomorrow become a staunch believer. Unlike the wise farmer who bought a Monarch, the sower of God’s word cannot always know the fertility of the human soil into which she or he sows. It is God who gives the increase.
As we look around our town today, even at the time of this pandemic, we can be thankful that the word of is sown on the streets at night time through Street Pastors, in the prison through the chaplains and many assistants, in hospital, schools, college and university. Hope Street church looks to sow in different fields. Jesus passed the work of sowing to his disciples while time remains when he said: ‘Go and make disciples of all nations’ (Matthew 28.20)
To finish, I would like to draw you back to the opening verses of the reading. Jesus is going through cities and villages proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God along with his disciples. He is sowing the seed, generously, carelessly, and widely. But at this point, Luke records some of the women who supported them: Mary Magdalene, Joanna the wife of Herod’s steward, and Susanna along with others unnamed. These provided for them out of their resources. (Luke 8.1-3) Have you ever thought about how Jesus was funded? Who paid for his food and lodging during his ministry? Who provided for the disciples, Peter, James and John when they were travelling around on not fishing? Who ensured their families were fed?
Their role was as vital and important as Jesus’ ministry. As we consider today our thankfulness to God for his provision and make gifts to the Foodbank, please think also about how you support Christian ministry today. It needs to be funded just as Jesus’ was 2,000 years ago.
Harvest Sunday 04.10.2020