Sermon for Sunday 13 June 2021
“The Kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground…and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.”
Jesus offers us an image in our gospel to show what the Kingdom of God is like.
It is like a seed, he tells us, planted in the ground, which quite simply grows. Quietly, unfussily, unstoppably, without help or hindrance from any other source, it grows and grows at God’s behest: first the stalk, then the head, and finally the head full of grain.
If we’re honest, this image is a little odd. For it seems at first glance as if the growth of the Kingdom of God has nothing whatsoever to do with you or me. There’s nothing we can do to speed up the growth of that seed, nor slow it down. It doesn’t depend on us, or need us in any way.
On one level it’s quite a comforting image. It implies we can put our feet up. If this is what the Christian life is like, then there’s no need to worry about growing the numbers in our congregation. No need to worry about paying our parish share to the diocese, or making a difference in serving our community, or living a virtuous life. Because if this parable is right, the Kingdom of God would seem to grow whatever we do.
It’s almost as if we have a justification before us for a glorious, voluptuous spiritual laziness, for leaving things to God, and not getting overly concerned with the demands of organised religion.
I hope not. Because if we look at how this parable was interpreted in the early church, we see that the opposite is true. For those writing in the first centuries of the Christian church, this parable was read, in fact, an injunction to action, to urgency, and getting ready for the harvest.
Take, for example, a writer called Tertullian, who lived in the second and third centuries. He takes in intriguing approach. He says in one of his discourses this parable is actually about the growth of righteousness throughout Christian history. The seed of righteousness has gradually grown, first, through creation, then through the law and prophets of the Old Testament, again coming to youthful vigour in Christ, and finally reaching its mature harvest through the gift of the Holy Spirit to you and me.
For Tertullian, the point of this parable is not put your feet up. For him, it’s about realising the harvest time is now. This parable points us to the fact that we live in that point in time when God is ready to plunge his sickle into the corn and reap the harvest he has planted.
If that’s the case, the principal way in which we should expect to see the Kingdom of God is in the fruits of its harvest. That challenges us in quite a direct way. Do we in fact live as if we believe that at any moment, the Lord could come and bring this world to an end, as he gathers in his harvest? How do we imagine the future – something God has in store for us, or something we control? When we think about our future, for as necessary as they may be, do we put all our trust in savings and pensions, and insurance – or do we live by faith, hope and love? Do we live in such a way that we’d be happy for God to judge us if the world came to an end tomorrow?
We know God will bring his creation to judgement and renewal on the last day. But as that day approaches should we not also expect to see foretastes, glimpses, little clues that we live in a time of harvest?
The kind of thing I mean is this. Every time we feel God has heard a prayer we have made, every time he helped us overcome an obstacle, or difficulty, we see his kingdom breaking into our world. Every time we are reconciled with someone we’ve had an argument with, or every time we contribute to a charitable project that does good, or help a neighbour, we feel the fruits of God’s harvest close by. Every time we worship together, every time we receive the sacraments, we get a glimpse of something of what God’s Kingdom will be like.
Today’s parable should make us realise that to be a Christian is to live in a period of harvest – the harvest of God’s Kingdom. The seed of that Kingdom has grown slowly and surely, through the years of God’s providence. But in Christ, the time has come for the sickle to be plunged in, and for those plump grains to be collected.
We should live as if we believed that to be so. We should live in expectation of God’s judgement, and of Christ bringing our world to its renewed fulfilment. But even before that Day of Judgement, we should also live expecting to see the first signs, the inklings, of a rich harvest. Signs of God’s presence in our world, evidence of his grace, tokens of his love spilling over into our lives, as he blesses us and draws us closer to himself and to his harvest day.
Fr Peter Anthony