Fifth Sunday after Trinity

16 jul 2017

9am and Choral Eucharist

Preacher: Canon Michael Rawson, Sub Dean & Pastor

Readings: Isaiah 55. 10–13; Romans 8. 1–11; Matthew 13. 1–9, 18–23

Listening is a thing that many of us are not too good at. We might often listen, but do we actually hear what is being said? Do the words of others really sink in and make an impact on us and on our actions? Words can be rather like wallpaper, creating a lovely atmosphere around us but not having an effect on us or penetrating below the surface.

In the gospel reading we've just heard, there are two phrases which really stand out - LISTEN! and LET ANYONE WHO HAS EARS LISTEN!  Jesus obviously felt that his hearers were very similar to us and not so good at listening. The parable of abundance in which the sower shows no intensive farming techniques; it's all pretty haphazard.  Weeds are not cleared out, but simply ploughed into the land and the farmer throws the seed through the air, so it lands all over the place. Jesus' hearers would readily understand what he was talking about as he was speaking to their situation, using the ordinary and the familiar to put over his message and teaching through images of work, weather and nature. But his disciples were always getting the wrong end of the stick. Why on earth did he bring these boring, mundane things into his teaching?  Why not speak plainly instead of using these parables which only seemed to obscure the message and the teaching?
Parables are rather like riddles and it takes some fathoming out what Jesus meant by them.  Throughout his ministry on earth he sought to teach people the message of God's kingdom and its values, but his hearers had to make the effort to hear those words; to tune in to God and be transformed by divine grace.  It was not simply a case of being in the same place as Jesus and letting his words wash over the people. They had to actively listen, and respond to his word and message.  As we hear in the parable, those who don't listen and respond with depth are like the seed sown on the rocky ground so that they sprang up immediately but soon withered in the midday sun.
I love visiting National Trust properties. I really enjoy seeing how the other half used to live, both those upstairs, but most especially those who served them downstairs. It's great walking around the gardens, manicured to within an inch of their lives. Many Georgian and Victorian country piles have amazing walled kitchen gardens. You can walk around the glass houses and cold frames admiring the gardeners' skills, then along the rows of onions, beetroot, peas, cabbages, lettuce all planted in ornamental patterns, often edged with herbs and strawberries.  These are all very productive gardens because much time and energy is spent on nourishing the soil with compost from the stables and other nutrients.  And it therefore bears much fruit. 

If we are willing to do something about the growing environment of our gardens and houseplants, how do we go about doing same thing for our lives?  How do we make sure that the soil of our own lives is deep and fertile, for the word of God to take root and bear fruit in abundance?  In our first reading Paul talks of the Spirit of God dwelling in us, so that we can 'be in Christ'. Being one in Christ enables us to be free from all that binds and limits us, allowing us to be part of something much greater than ourselves. And in the gospel Jesus tells his hearers, tells us, to listen. So how good are we at listening and being open to other people?   I'm sure we've all done it at some stage or other, saying '......Mmmm,' when we aren't really listening to the other person, or interjecting with, "What you are trying to say is ....."  or talking to someone one on the phone whilst we are distracted by television or reading the paper. At other times we might ask someone "How are you?" but we switch off before they actually reply.  Are we only interested in conversations when we are able to say what we want? Transmitting rather than receiving?

Compare that with one of those days when everything seems to be going wrong and you feel at rock bottom.  Then you meet someone who actually takes notice of you, and are totally interested in who you are and what you are doing.  For that moment you feel as if you are the most important person in the world to the other person.   It might not happen that often, but you certainly remember it when it does.
And that's just how God listens to us; and in turn that's how we should be listening to God, giving our full attention.  We find time and energy to do the things that we want to do, and the same needs to be true in our relationship with God, if it means anything to us.  So often, God gets pushed to the bottom of our list of priorities.

We listen to God in quiet reflection, prayer and worship. We also encounter God through the people around us and situations we encounter each day.  Being more aware of the things of God will allow us to be more open to God speaking to us in the ordinary things of life.  We are called to be attentive to God in our lives, even when that means backing down, or changing our mind and attitudes.

God comes to us in amazingly spectacular ways - in the bread and wine of the Eucharist and in the beauty of holiness; but also in very small, seemingly insignificant and ordinary ways.  Like the crowds that listened to the parables of Jesus, we need to make an effort and to tune our ears to what God is saying to us, often through the most unlikely people and events.  If we fail to do that, then we are missing the opportunity of allowing God to dwell in our hearts and lives - we will fail to see God under our very noses.