The Metropolitan Congregation

- serving and celebrating the LGBT communities of Manchester and the North West

Sermon - 16th July 2017

Seeds and soils

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Philip Jones

[An audio version of this sermon can be heard via the link at Spirituality > Audio and Video.]

Opening questions:

The purpose of a parable is to tell a simple story, usually about some aspect of ordinary day-to-day life, which points to a deeper meaning. So, a couple of questions to start us off:

a) In the parable we have just heard, what do the seeds represent?

b) Who is the sower?

In the parable, Jesus describes the uncertainties of traditional first century farming. Unlike a modern farmer, who carefully prepares the soil with just the right balance of moisture and nutrients and then injects the seed into the ground with perfect spacing, farmers in Jesus's time cast the seed widely over their land, and then ploughed the land, and waited to see what would happen.

With this scattering approach, it’s no surprise that some seed fell on hard soil, other seed on ground too rocky for good roots, and still other seed among thorns and weeds. Those were the facts of farming life, and everyone understood it, including Jesus.

Both Jesus and those who were following him also knew that such facts apply not only to farming, but also to his own ministry at that time. In some places, and with some people, the seed of his teaching had been seen to fall on rock-laden, thorn-strewn ground.

In preceding chapters, the disciples lose faith during a storm at sea. The Pharisees want to choke out his message of justice and reform. And Jesus is soon to experience the hard soil of his hometown as the people of Nazareth reject him. Jesus does not just tell this parable. He lives it - and so does the community for whom Matthew's Gospel is written towards the end of that first century.

First-century Palestine is a hard time and place to be a Christian. Due to both poverty and persecution, massive numbers of people are migrating out of the region. Within the church itself there are false prophets, conflicts and divisions.

With this parable, Jesus reminds his followers — and Matthew reminds his community around 50 years later — that rejection of Jesus' message does not mean the message is wrong or that their efforts to sow the seeds of the good news are pointless. It is simply a fact of life, whether in farming or in faith, that not all seed lands on soil which is suitable for it.

The sower accepts the reality that some seed, a significant proportion of it, will fall on ground where its survival is uncertain, but the sower keeps on sowing. As the next fifteen chapters of Matthew demonstrate, Jesus keeps spreading the word, no matter how dry, rocky, or weed-infested the ground. And using this as their model, his followers are called to do so the same.

In our own time we are bound to ask whether we are wasting our energy and resources when we spread our Christian message of welcome, justice, reform and inclusion in places that are not likely to be good soil for the message to take root.

Why would a faith community reach out to people in anything except a carefully analysed, sure-to-grow neighborhood? If we ever decided to develop a new mission outreach, surely we would look for opportunities where the odds are good and the possibilities are promising. Like any self-respecting hamburger outlet, or petrol station, or supermarket chain, we would surely be strategic about location, and maximize our efforts towards the location and consumers that would give us the best return on our investment. Find the good soil and throw the seed there - it just makes sense!

So why is the sower in the parable willing to just fling that seed anywhere? Maybe the sower does so in order to remind us that the gospel might be bigger than good business principles, bigger than just good soil.

Perhaps the parable invites us to consider that this sower throws seed just anywhere in order to suggest that "anywhere" is the place where God's care and loving renewal can be encountered. This sower throws seed not only on good soil, but also amid the rocky, barren, broken places, in order to suggest that God's vision for the world is itself often embraced in strange and broken places.

In this church, and in this community of faith, we are a hugely diverse gathering of people. If we believe that Jesus calls us here to meet him, then we also accept that it is God’s will that we should be so diverse. God’s purpose is being worked out here and the seed of Jesus’s message is being scattered across all kinds of soils.

For many of us, the rejection and discrimination we have experienced in our lives might have made us really hard soil for the Christian message to penetrate and succeed in taking root and growing to maturity.

Some of our experiences of having our sexualities and gender identities choked out of us by our cultures and our surroundings - even perhaps our families - may have caused our spirituality never to survive the thorns and invading weeds in the world we found ourselves in.

If the message of God’s kingdom were only ever shared with those Christians whom other Christians thought were ‘good soil’ and worthy of the effort of planting and nurturing, most of us would not be in a church today, and we would not be hearing the gospel of inclusion, affirmation, and the freedom to love and to live.

In the good news that I hear, there is no bad soil. There are just circumstances in which the seed of Jesus’s message needs to be sown and nurtured in ways which reflect the realities of the world we inhabit. This parable is not so much about good soil as it is about a good sower.

If the parable is to be our model, this sower is not so cautious and systematic as to throw the seed in only those places where the chances for growth are best. No, this sower is a generous sower, committed to scattering seed on all soil—in the belief that all soil has the potential to be good soil - on the rocks, amid the thorns, on the well-worn path, wherever the good news needs to be heard and embraced.

So who is the sower? We are!

Whenever we come out as Christian as well as LGB or T; whenever we speak of a God of love and inclusion rather than a God of judgment, exclusion and punishment; whenever we use the values of our faith to build a community of equality and fairness; when we take part in social action aimed at justice and human rights; when we tell a friend that our congregation is a house of prayer for all people and invite them to come along with us; when we show the people of our city that Christians can walk with pride alongside our LGBT sisters and brothers in one of the biggest Pride events in the UK - we are scattering the seed of Jesus’s message that no-one is excluded from the love of God.

“This is our work, this we can do, working for the coming of the Kingdom.”

Will you pray with me:

A prayer of St Teresa of Avila:

“Christ has no body now but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world.
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”


(Philip Jones)

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