The Dean - The Very Revd Andrew Nunn
Isaiah 55.10-13; Romans 8.1-11; Matthew 13.1-9,18-23
Wouldn’t it have been better if it had all been a bit more targeted?
Wouldn’t all that seed have been much better used and the yield so much greater if the sower had just shown a little bit more care and common sense than they seemed to have. It’s all very romantic, like in that great picture of the sower by Van Gogh, all sweeping arms, casting the seed as far and as wide as the arms of a single person in a vast field can manage, but come on, let’s be honest, seed costs money and a lot of this seed was wasted.
Jesus was telling this parable sitting in a boat on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. There’s no way that he happened to watch a sower at work and suddenly came up with this story. The terrain around the lake are not given to sowing seed. Basalt boulders litter the ground. There are weeds everywhere. It’s quite lush because of all the water about but it’s not the best area for scattering seed and hoping for a harvest – the best they manage nowadays are bananas!
Targeted work in the very best environment – now that’s really what Jesus should’ve been talking about – that would have been a real mission plan. Choose the best field, sow intelligently, avoid the beaten down paths, avoid the spots with no shade, no water, avoid the rocks and wild weedy patches and you will be assured of a bumper crop.
But that’s not the story that Jesus tells to us, that’s not the vision that Jesus gives to us.
St Paul, writing to the Romans, speaks of God’s plan and purpose
‘sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh’
It just doesn’t sound right. Jesus comes bearing the likeness of the very thing that he wishes to save, wishes to redeem, wishes to defeat, comes ‘in the likeness of sinful flesh’. Surely more perfect, surely more targeted, that would have been much more effective, surely that would’ve been a better way.
But that’s not the story that we tell, not the story that the church tells. Instead we tell of a sower going out and scattering the seed widely, wildly, seemingly without care, throwing the seed into the air and just seeing where it lands. Instead we tell of a God who sends his son, a lamb into the midst of wolves, cast into the arms of a young girl, abandoned to the arms of a cruel and hard cross. It’s the sheer carelessness of God that we celebrate, not the carelessness of a God who doesn’t care but the carelessness of God who is profligate with love.
‘For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth.’
The rain falls wherever it will, not just on the seed, but on the path and the weeds and the rocks. The rain just falls, the snow just falls – just like God’s word just falls, says the prophet Isaiah.
Today is the last occasion when this Eucharist will be pre-recorded and online. Things may change of course, it’s all out of our control. But that is the plan. Next week we’ll be live, in the Cathedral, but still online as well. It has though been a remarkable experience. This hall in the Deanery has become a chapel and a bit of a recording studio. This is the 16th Sunday Eucharist we‘ve celebrated in this way. What we’ve learnt is that when you broadcast in this way you don’t know who’s going to join you. You create a church without walls, a church without place in every place. So we’ve been joined by people around the world, for the Eucharist but for everything else we’ve done, the Morning and Night Prayers, Holy Week, Easter, marking VE Day, the anniversary of the London Bridge attack, Stations of the Cross, of the resurrection, of the church, all the worship that we’ve put out there, sown out there, scattered out there.
And who knows what has taken root. Some will have joined us a for a second and passed on, some will have watched for longer, some for a time, others have been hooked, if you’ll excuse that language, and have discovered, or rediscovered church. That’s why the sower sows as they do – because you just don’t know what God is going to do.
In his Sonnet ‘Good Ground’, Malcom Guite includes these lines
I feel the fall of seed a sower scatters,
So equally available to all,
That is the amazing, inclusive, profligate, abandoned, staggering, life changing targeting of God, who sends his son in our likeness to wander among the paths and the dry places and the rocks and the weeds as much as the good soil. It’s foolish and generous …. and divine – and it means that God’s love and grace includes even me, it includes even you, it showers down, like rain, like seed, like love, upon us all.