A sermon preached by Alice Lawhead on the Fifth Sunday after Trinity – 12 July 2020
Do you have a garden? How’s it doing?
I don’t mean to brag, but my garden has never looked so good. Certainly it’s never had more care and attention. We’re weeding and feeding, rearranging and pruning. There’s been rain, there’s been sun …. Some plants that have struggled for years are thriving as never before. Some new ones are finding their place. And as I look at the abundance growing there, even though I know the basics of plant biology, I look at it and I think — It’s a miracle! It really is.
I think anyone who’s done a bit of gardening – or even had a couple of house plants – can relate to my feelings of wonder, and to today’s vivid parable in the gospel lesson.
Picture this farmer with the bag of seed slung over his shoulder. With a practiced arm he reaches into the bag and grasps the little grains, and then broadcasts them in an arc as he walks through his patch of land: dry, rocky, Middle-Eastern land. Inevitably, some grain falls onto the path that runs through his field — that seed becomes bird food. The rest hits its mark and settles in the field. But even though the entire patch may look the same, there are places where rock beneath the thin topsoil means that the plants may take root quickly, but they won’t get enough nutrition to thrive. There are some latent weeds in that field, too, that will eventually choke out the grain. But the farmer will be mostly successful in his efforts, and he’ll get his crop, harvesting multiple bags of grain when the growing season is over. Multiples of ten.
After Jesus tells this story he says, ‘He who has ears, let him hear.’ In the verses that follow, which weren’t read today, the disciples ask him, ‘Why do you speak to the people in parables?’ (‘Why do you speak to US in parables?’) and he explains that parables contain hidden meanings – and then goes on to explain what this parable means, perhaps to get them started in their thinking.
So what does this parable mean? Do we have ears to hear?
In the Ignatian method of contemplation and prayer, we develop our hearing by ‘living into’ a scripture story with all our senses; we imaginatively experience it, letting the Spirit of God instruct us and nurture us as we become part of scene. This is a powerful exercise, that brings us into God’s presence and challenges us with his message.
Now, as I become part of the scene of this story I imaginatively become … the soil on which the farmer is sowing his seed. And I see myself as any and all kinds of soil that the farmer encounters.
Certainly I have sometimes been so hard in my thinking, so compacted around my hurts and ideologies and so impervious to change that whatever blessings or lessons the Lord wants to plant in me simply get swept away.
I can also be prone to initial enthusiasm that starts pretty well but doesn’t last. A spiritual discipline practiced for a few weeks or, let’s be honest, a few days, then forgotten; a top layer of respectability or understanding that peels away under closer examination. A half-hearted commitment to the faith I declare.
I have definitely let weeds grow in me, let materialism and selfishness and cynicism and all kinds of negativity get hold of my thinking and doing, and this has choked out the good things that God intends to grow.
And yet … and yet …. What I WANT to be is the good, fertile soil that receives the word of God, the blessings of God that are being lavished on me every day. I WANT to be a place where all that can take root and grow and blossom and bear the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I WANT that miracle of growth to take place in my life.
I’ll be busy in the garden again this week. Perhaps significantly, I’ll be on my knees much of the time. As I’m weeding, feeding, breaking up the hard places and watering the thirsty plants, I will contemplate those places where the good news of Jesus Christ, where the blessings he showers on me, need a better place to grow. I will try to listen to the Master Gardener, and be guided by Him – where to cut back, what to uproot, when to put in extra effort, and when to step back and let nature take its course. I will try to improve the soil of my soul.