A Sower went out to sow…

Fr Alec
Sunday, July 16, 2017 - 9:30am

‘See these Christians! How they love one another!’


wrote Tertullian, a defender of Christianity in the 2nd Century. They are the imagined words of a pagan looking on with wonderment at the life of the Church. Of an outsider looking in and seeing within the Christian community a vision of how the whole world could be when it is transformed by the abundant life of Christ.


Likewise, if ever you pick up a copy of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, in which he writes about the conversion of the pagan English by St Augustine of Canterbury, and his group of missionaries sent from Rome by Pope Gregory, it is striking how he describes the process. It was not, it seems, about educating the ignorant, or drawing attention to the material or moral benefits of life with Christ. It was about example: People looking on with curiosity and interest at lives lived in a different way – peacefully, compassionately, generously, sacrificially.


As we turn our thoughts today to the Parable of the Sower, it is worth bearing these things in mind, because it is possible to read this parable as an allegory of our mission to the world, in which we are the sowers, casting the word of God liberally this way and that, in search of fertile ground in which it will take root and flourish. This is quite a comforting interpretation, because it casts us as the givers, as people who are carrying a big bag of Truth out into the world and spreading it around for all to share.


However, I suspect that there is another possible way of reading it. And this is to understand God as the sower, and ourselves as the earth onto which the seed is sown. This is a little more challenging, because it means admitting that we are not the ones in charge. We are the receivers of God’s word. And that, moreover, we have needs, and weaknesses, and shortcomings that interfere with our ability to bear fruit.


And I suspect we can recognise from our own experience the truth of the parable. We know that we are not perfect. That there is much that we don’t understand. That there are all kinds of temptations and distractions that get in the way. That we don’t always make the time and space for the gospel to really take root in our lives.


But the good news, it seems to me, is that we do not face these challenges alone. The church is one body, with different limbs, each of which has different gifts and talents.


On our own, for example, it is tremendously easy to become confused and discouraged by the life of faith – to face questions that don’t seem to have an answer, or problems that don’t seem to have a solution, and lose heart. But from others, from those around us, and those that have gone before us, we can find encouragement, and wisdom and inspiration to help us fend off the hungry birds of disillusionment along the path.


Likewise, the ‘cares of the world’ and the ‘lure of wealth’ sound rather melodramatic, don’t they, when Jesus is talking about the choking weeds that overwhelm the young roots? It might help to reframe this in our own minds as the sorrows and pains and griefs we carry with us, or the insatiable demands of work, or the pile of unpaid bills. These are the kinds of things that are sometimes too much to cope with on our own. We can lose confidence in our faith, or lose focus on what really matters to us. We can find ourselves hiding down mental rabbit-holes, or distracting ourselves with all kinds of ephemeral nonsense. It is the others around us, our companions on the journey, who can keep us from falling, and carry us along with them as our companions in Christ.


I think we can connect this too with the rocky ground where the seed can’t take root. When we accept the life of faith purely on our own terms, it can leave us wide open to having our sense of conviction eroded by the relentless carping and criticism and misrepresentation that we hear around us. It’s only when we prayerfully share our faith with each other, when we test it and discuss it and digest it that we can begin to break up the ground and allow the seed to take root.


In other words, we need one another. It is as a family, a communion of saints, that we exist together as the Church. We depend upon one another for strength and comfort and support; for encouragement, example and prayer. It is for this reason that, when we come together, we come together in communion, as one body in Christ, being fed together, and bearing one another’s burdens. As we offer our gifts, we offer to God the fruit that we bear by His grace in lives dedicated to his service. As we kneel together at the Eucharist we are united together in Christ, and together, infinitely greater than the sum of our parts, we constitute a fertile ground in which the Word made Flesh can thrive, and make itself available to a hungry, lost and distracted world.