Sermon for Fourth Sunday after Trinity – High Mass Sunday 13 July 2014
SERMON preached by Fr Julian Browning
Matthew 13: 1 Jesus …sat beside the sea.
You look as if you need a holiday. Everyone needs a holiday. Christians need a holiday. We need to get away, escape from the prison of our minds, the entrenched opinions, the worrying – away in fact from the view we have of ourselves, to a country that’s new to us where we see the view God has of us, the plans he has for each of us, our life as His children. That’s a holiday: a new perspective on life.
Jesus got away; he got away from the Temple, away from the priests and their arguments, away from Synod, and he spoke to the people on the beach. What did he talk about then? Just what he tells us now, if we are ready to listen. He talks about the God he knows. Jesus isn’t really interested in ideas. Jesus is always personal. The God he knows is a God he trusts as you would trust a person. Ideas can be filed away to be reviewed and explored. A personal relationship means you have to meet, somehow. The most profound relationship of our lives is the relationship with God. There’s a common refrain at the end of several of Jesus’s stories: He who has ears to hear, let him hear. It means that we have to join in, be affected at a personal level, if the story is going to work as it should. Christian faith works when this relationship with God is applied to our lives, and we meet God, face to face, through the medium of the story. The Parable of the Sower is about the God Jesus knows, and He is to become the God we know too.
Because you need a holiday, I’m going to chuck out the sermon-filler which usually accompanies this parable – the facts about the thinness of the topsoil in rural Palestine, the different categories of Christian believer in the different types of soil. The point is that the God Jesus knows does not discriminate. He is generous and life-giving. The sower goes out to sow. That is what he does. The seed falls everywhere. The word of God is spoken to all, everywhere, and if you have ears to hear, you will hear it. There will be failures – we’re defensive, we don’t always want the relationship with God to be fully restored – but, on balance, the message is the sower’s work succeeds. The sign of his success is the new life we know.
So Jesus sat by the sea, and he gave to those who listened that little story of the Sower as a story of hope and encouragement. Where are you in that story? For we are at the centre of the action. As Jesus explained, the different soils represent the different human receptions of the revelation of God in the world. You will know the barriers you have put up in your life, the rocky ground, the compulsions which resist change, because this is life, there are all sorts of strong influences which programme the way we approach reality, many of them absorbed in early childhood. The parables are not moral tales, saying that you are on the wrong stony path, while a better class of Christian finds deep rich soil. The parables were stories spoken by Jesus to break down our pre-packaged values and preconceived ideas, and to ask again, the fundamental question addressed by God to Adam and Eve after the Fall: where are you?
There’s an answer to that which might not have occurred to you before. You are the good soil. You are where the word of God will find deep roots. Our essential nature is joyful, like the nature of God. Deep down, where roots can take hold, we are joyful beings, made in the image of God. The practice of Christianity, which we try to do as best we can, reveals to us this truth about a deep-seated joy, the truth of ourselves as God’s children. Christianity is not a magic carpet to bliss. It’s the way to truth, the truth about each of us, the truth about the world which is still being created with divine love.
Good soil is receptive, with depth, without thorns, thistles and weeds. The good soil incubates the seed because the soil is receptive, it accepts, without resistance. God doesn’t give up until we become that good soil again, the receptive child of God we were born to be. The sower goes out to sow, every day of our lives, until we give up trying to do everything ourselves and accept the Word. After all, God knows us, so God knows, is caught up in, our particular personal difficulties. God brings up these same old issues until we decide to accept His Word – not as some order we have to obey, but as a seed which will grow slowly in our consciousness, and bring forth fruit which is good in our lives. We hear the word, then, and understand it.
Last week Jesus promised us rest for our souls. But religion can be a restless business, anxious about whether we’re doing it right, not sure we like the God we’re supposed to love, searching, agonising, fretting, talking to ourselves, wondering whether there is life after Synod. How strange to spend a lifetime believing we are separate from God. It’s time for a holiday from all that. Jesus sat beside the sea, and he told us that the God he knows is a sower who went out to sow, that God’s life is given to us and to everyone else, that this life could be lived by us, and that his work would be done by us, bringing forth fruit, thirty, sixty, a hundred fold. A hundred fold. That is the immensity of God’s love. That’s his gift, his promise. As we shall sing at the end of this service, the earth shall be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea. There’s nothing to search for, for all has been given to us. All we really need is a week or two at the seaside.