“Some seed fell on good soil” – Mark 4: 8
Jesus loved the countryside. His parables about the Growing Seed and the Mustard Seed that Lily reflected on last week show that, like the Wheat and Weeds, the Fig Tree, the Vineyard and its Tenants, and his saying about “the fields all white and ready to harvest”. Jesus saw in the life and growth of the natural world the abundant creative power of God, permeating everywhere. He knew the Kingdom of God was the supreme Reality already “among us”. Inevitably, all human beings would come to realise the Truth, and God’s Reign will be acknowledged everywhere.
And our parable of the Sower this morning illustrates that too. But it is also different from the other parables. It is not about the seed, how good it is or what it is; he takes its goodness and fertility for granted, because it is being sown by God. His story focuses on the soil. It is about how human beings will receive the Good News he brings. What sort of movement, what kind of Church will spring up as a result of His ministry?
Within three hundred years or so all the little unregulated fellowships had coalesced into an international church that was cone shaped. At its apex were the ordained priests, with popes at the very top. The middle layers were the priests (male of course) and elected or born leaders. At the base were the parish congregations. It took its system from the Holy Roman Empire, and that led to the feudal system. Popes and cardinals decided they were ordained by God to express inerrantly what the Truth was, and they claimed the authority and power to declare God’s Will, which all congregations and parishes had to believe and obey exactly, or suffer the penalties.
The Reformation reformed and reshaped the Church; it cut off the top of the cone, so that its shape became that over an overturned flower-pot! Our church in Sale belongs to that tradition! At its top were the elected leadership. This leadership met in general council, synod, presbytery, committees. The Church became “collegiate” in its decision-making. At the bottom was the gathered church, the faithful believers, and their task was mission – to live out the Good News in their lives and communities, and to pull in their families, their friends and neighbours into their fellowship. People are to be attracted by what they see of Christ in us, and be brought in from the secular world. Fellowship is all important, as a foretaste of heaven.
But I believe that in this parable of the Sower, Jesus is turning our world upside-down! He did so then and he does so now. He turns the overturned flowerpot up the other way. The leadership are now to be the bottom layer, the compost. The congregation are now the soil, open to the full sunlight. Ordinary church members and adherents now have total access to the seed that the Sower is scattering, for better or worse. We will discover the Reality that is God, creating abundant growth. And that discovery includes the invitation to cooperate in bringing in his Reign by being a missionary church, going out to claim this world as God’s place.
All of us are the soil open to the sunlight and God is sowing his good seed in our flowerpot-shaped church, with our leadership as the underlying compost. As we worship together and encourage one another in the faith, that seed takes root, and grows and flourishes. Those flowers will inevitably fail unless they are fertilised from other similar flowers. Then they will inevitably produce their seed in due time, to be caught up and broadcast by the wind of God’s Spirit.
Jesus’ vision was to make these flowers spring up everywhere where they can. Look at the history of the Church, and success seems so random. His main point in this parable is that “the answer lies in the soil” – and its condition at the time the seed is sown! Think of Lily’s bush which failed to thrive in her front garden, but has flourished in the back. So, throughout the world flowers of the Kingdom are growing thick and luxuriant where they were unknown before. They are scarce because the soil is now stony and full of weeds where it was established first. But the Good News of our God is now being broadcast everywhere. The Sower continues to scatter his good seed over all the world.
So, I would say: “Think first of the growing points in your experience. What was going on, what did you do at those peak times when you felt closest to God and felt forgiven, free to make a new start, filled with God-given purpose?
Secondly, persist despite the difficulties. Continue to be vigilant and weed out anything that may impede full growth, and we all know what those weeds are by now.
And finally, don’t panic! Keep on trusting! (Matt 10: 24). “You will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you”. Clear your mind from worries about what to wear / eat and drink; God will provide all the nurture and resources you need (6: 33). Jesus’ message in this story is that it is not your responsibility to achieve as much for God as the next person – only to be open, receptive and obedient. If you are, God will provide the resources for what he wants you to do. Are you producing only 30-fold rather than 60 or 100%? God is just as pleased. What God does not like is someone’s soil receiving the word of God as a seed and letting it lie unused and unaltered because in stony ground, or have the life choked out of it by briars and thistles, instead of helping it grow and become the living plant he means it to be and nourish the world.
“Some seed fell on good soil”, said Jesus. When the seed falls into the right place, under the right conditions, it grows and flourishes. So, when the word of God is welcomed in the flowerpot that is our particular Christian fellowship, listened to, put to work, it bears fruit – and it seeds. This parable was a challenge for Jesus’ disciples then, just as it still is for us disciples in the 21st century, to receive that seed, that message, that opportunity from God, now this morning – and then to encourage it to take root, grow and bear fruit. If we accept that God’s seed for us, it will nourish our lives. We will share in the freedom of the glory of the children of God, as Paul put it. It will grow into the flowers of earth that will become the buds of Heaven. And then crucially, may the good news of our God be broadcast everywhere by the prevailing wind of the Spirit.