The chosen hymns for this week, Song of the Parable of the Sower and the Seed and Will You Come And Follow Me can be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.
The Bible readings for this week are from the Gospel of Matthew, beginning with chapter 13, verses 1 to 9.
That same day Jesus left the house and went to the lakeside, where he sat down to teach. The crowd that gathered round him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it, while the crowd stood on the shore. He used parables to tell them many things.
“Once there was a man who went out to sow corn. As he scattered the seed in the field, some of it fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some of it fell on rocky ground, where there was little soil. The seeds soon sprouted, because the soil wasn't deep. But when the sun came up, it burnt the young plants; and because the roots had not grown deep enough, the plants soon dried up. Some of the seed fell among thorn bushes, which grew up and choked the plants. But some seeds fell in good soil, and the plants produced corn; some produced 100 grains, others sixty, and others thirty.”
And Jesus concluded, “Listen, then, if you have ears!”
The parables of Jesus can sometimes be quite hard to work out. Like, for instance, the parable of the hidden treasure. It’s a really short parable, it’s in the book of Matthew too. This is how it goes: ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is like this. A man happens to find a treasure hidden in a field. He covers it up again, and is so happy that he goes and sells everything he has, and then goes back and buys that field.’ Everybody listening to Jesus at the time, and everybody reading it now, goes, ‘Wait, what? Why does the man cover up the treasure – maybe somebody else will find it? Why does he not just dig up it up, then he wouldn’t have to sell everything to buy the field? And what’s that got to do with the Kingdom of Heaven anyway?’ You’ve got to spend some time decoding parables like this – and it’s not always easy.
With other parables it is, though. Or at least it seems to be. See what you think after the rest of our reading, still from Matthew 13, these are verses 18 to 23:
“Listen, then, and learn what the parable of the sower means. Those who hear the message about the Kingdom but do not understand it are like the seeds that fell along the path. The Evil One comes and snatches away what was sown in them. The seeds that fell on rocky ground stand for those who receive the message gladly as soon as they hear it. But it does not sink deep into them, and they don't last long. So when trouble or persecution comes because of the message, they give up at once. The seeds that fell among thorn bushes stand for those who hear the message; but the worries about this life and the love for riches choke the message, and they don't bear fruit. And the seeds sown in the good soil stand for those who hear the message and understand it: they bear fruit, some as much as 100, others sixty, and others thirty.”
Amen, and may God add his blessings to our our reading of his Holy Word.
When I saw the parable of the sower was our reading this week I was tempted just to read it out and say to you, ‘There you are, that’s today’s lesson,’ and leave it at that. Sermon over, job done! Because with this parable what Jesus does, although he does it much better, well, it’s sort of what Jim, or Anne or myself set out to do every week when we speak to you, it’s pretty much what all ministers do. We take something Jesus said, or something that someone else said or wrote in the Bible, then we work out what we think it means, and then we try to explain the relevance of it to our lives, to your lives. There’s no big mystery to what we do. I suppose I’d better be careful, I’m talking myself out of a job here.
Jesus tells of a man sowing seeds – the seeds on the path are no good to anybody, the seeds on the rocky ground sprout but die quickly, the seeds in the bushes get swallowed up and it’s only the seeds in good soil that last. But then for those benefit of anyone going, ‘Wait, what?’ he explains it – the people who hear the message about the Kingdom but don’t understand it are the seeds on the path, those who hear it but don’t let it sink in are the rocky ground seeds. The seeds in the bushes are the people who’re too wrapped up in themselves to be bothered by the message for too long, and the good soil seeds are those who totally get the message, and they’re the ones that go on to grow and thrive.
Brilliant, as I say, job done. Actually though, there is a ‘wait, what?’ here. It’s ‘wait - what’s the message?’ Jesus keeps mentioning ‘the message’, what is it? So I guess I do have a job after all.
We’re been bombarded by messages over the past few months. First it was keep two metres apart, then it was one, depending on which part of the country you’re from or whether you're inside or out. Cover your face or not was something for a while – now the message is we've got to do that in shops, so I hope you carry one with you when you're out. Then we got the message to not meet up with anyone, then it was one other household, outside, now that's been relaxed even more. Inside the church you’ll see all the messages we’ve put up to keep you safe if you decide you’d like to come in for some quiet time or prayer when we open up soon.
Sometimes we've had mixed messages, that's true enough. I don’t know about anyone else, but I've found myself getting a bit lost between the messages, everything's always seemed to change so quickly. I guess one of the main problems has been conflicting advice that’s come out from from the UK government and from the Scottish government, so through all that's gone on I’ve never been completely sure which information's been the most up-to-date, and it is I should really be listening to.
But then I remember that, well, really, there’s always been a central message that overrides all of the messages we’ve been getting – because when you boil it all down it’s really just been to look after yourself and look out for the people around you, isn’t it? And, you know, I don’t think that’s all that different to the message Jesus is talking about in the parable of the sower too, in fact it’s his central message to all of us, and it’s not mixed at all – he says look after yourself, spiritually, by loving God and doing what he wants you to do, being who he wants you to be, and look out for others too, be kind, love your neighbour.
Jesus talks about it as being the message about the Kingdom. And I know there’s a lot of debate about what the Kingdom actually is, whether it’s somewhere, something, that lies in the future if we’re good, if we do what we’re told, if we obey the rules – the Kingdom of Heaven, if you like, a reward for doing the right thing. Or maybe it’s a Kingdom here on earth. I’m with that one. I think the Kingdom is here, it’s now, and it’s a world full of people being the kind of people God wants us to be. People who look after themselves and look out for the people around them. A world full of seeds in good soil, growing and thriving. A world full of people who get the message and live by it.
If only that was the case. The truth is that though the Kingdom is here and it’s available, there are still far too many seeds landing on the path, too many on the rocky ground, too many in the thorny bushes. Too many people who just haven’t got the message yet. I think that’s where we come in. I’m not saying that we’re the seeds in the good soil, or maybe we are and we just need a little fertiliser now and again, but I think as ‘church people’ we have a responsibility to pass on our own messages individually, that what we have, well, it’s open to everyone. Jesus talks about the seeds in the good soil bearing fruit, some as much as 100, others 60, others 30. The fruit is the message, the message we pass on, that message about looking after ourselves, and looking after others. Imagine each of us passing on that message to 100 people, even to 30? Imagine what that would do for our church, but not just our church, for our country, for our world? I'll leave that message with you...