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Readings: 4th Sunday after Trinity

04 July 2014

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Proper 10: Isaiah 55.10-13; Romans 8.1-11; Matthew 13.1-9, 18-23

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that with you as our ruler and guide we may so pass through things temporal that we lose not our hold on things eternal; grant this, heavenly Father, for our Lord Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.

THE biblical story returns time and again to gardening and farming in order to express something important. God is a gardener creating and planting a garden in Eden; the Promised Land was crammed full of mouth-watering crops; Elijah fulminated against Ahab's murder of Naboth and annexation of his family's vineyard to grow luxury vegetables; Isaiah sang about a vineyard and God's deep disappointment that, despite his careful gardening, the people were like wild grapes in the cultivated vineyard.

Farming was central to the people's survival, and thus central to their understanding of God, because God is always to be known in the midst of ordinary life.

In Isaiah, God's rich invitation to, and promises of, food and drink were given to people settled into relatively comfortable Babylonian exile. Ignoring God was an easy possibility; why change, when they were all right? That attitude is dangerous when we consider responsibility for, and the implications of, issues such as climate change. If the people listened, Isaiah's message was that God's good world is for all people to enjoy and care for responsibly, because God is generous and wants life to flourish. But, to benefit, we must respond.

Jesus described a farmer's scattering seed with wild abandon, letting it fall all over the place, knowing that the harvest will vary but sowing it none the less. Not for this sower the assurance of a bumper crop, but rather a generous lashing of opportunity, as seed and soil are given the chance to produce a harvest. This is risk taken in order to offer the chance for life without the absolute guarantee of success. In the world today, with its joys and sorrows, can we risk creating the opportunity for life, even if this opens us to failure?

The sheer ordinariness of the story is remarkable. We hear it followed by Jesus's explanation to his disciples, but miss some intervening verses that indicate that there was no explanation for the crowd. They simply heard a story about a farmer doing something familiar, something they saw happening around them. For them, there was no punchline to the story as Jesus told it. It was just an account of everyday farming life, which ended with a variable harvest and some patches of land that yielded nothing. It was hardly worthy of an episode of a first-century equivalent of The Archers.

The disciples, however, received an explanation that related this account of mundane life to the Kingdom of God. It was not an obvious connection, but one that Jesus taught them to make as they listened to him. This connection of our daily life with the Kingdom of God is one that we must learn to make, because, if we cannot make such connections day by day, how can we do it when events turn our lives upside down?

How can we begin to answer questions that people challenge Christians with - such as "Where is God in the wars in Syria or South Sudan?" - if we have not asked that same question, day by day, in our own lives?

George Herbert prayed:

Teach me, my God and King,
In all things thee to see;
And what I do in anything
To do it as for thee!

Every simple task - sweeping a room is one of Herbert's examples - provides an opportunity to serve and be aware of God. Theological insight is often born in the midst of daily routine done faithfully.

If the parable of the sower is about nothing else - and it is about other things, too, as Jesus explained - it is about the need for disciples to probe what God is saying in the midst of ordinariness.

We can all be theologians in the midst of the magnificent commonplaceness of everyday life - even when it is a hard grind - if, attentively and prayerfully, we ask questions of ourselves and God. Then, when triumph or tragedy strike, we need not be like seed that is choked by weeds, eaten by birds, or shrivelling for lack of roots, but can produce a crop that befits the Kingdom of God. As the collect puts it: "We may so pass through things temporal that we lose not our hold on things eternal."

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