Proper 10: Isaiah 55.10-13; Romans 8.1-11; Matthew 13.1-9,
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
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 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
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
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."