18 January 2020
Pentecost 8 Genesis 25:19- 34
Ps 119:105- 112 Romans 8: 1- 11 Matthew 13:9, 18- 23
Esau despised his birthright. He was so busy guzzeling his meal that he didn’t notice that Jacob had a done deal.
Jacob knew that the word was more important than the immediate satisfaction , sign on the dotted line, do this trade deal, no matter what the real cost. It was later, when Jacob claimed the birthright, the coveted elder son’s blessing of land and wealth and power that Esau realised his mistake and was very angry with Jacob.
Esau married the daughters of his uncle Ishmael and founded a whole nation, that of Edom with its centre at Petra – Transjordan area.
Isaac married his mother’ Sarah’s neice, his uncle Laban’s daughters Leah and Rachael.
Eventually the brothers reconciled, but not until a huge family row and many years had passed and each were in a different place.
We still live with some of the differences today – The spiritual descendants Abrham, of Hagar and Sarah , through their sons Isaac and Ishmael still figure in events as real and horrible as the bombings in London on Thursday.
What is our birthright? And have we despised it, seeking comfort and security and warmth at the expense of what really matters. What is the birthright of our nation?
For our children and grandchildren and the next generation of this nation are being robbed of their birthright of learning about their Christian faith. Maybe we have despised it, made it second to immediate wants. Maybe we have taken it for granted like Esau and only realise what it means when it has gone.
New Zealanders do not realise in our dismissiveness of all religion as a personal and private matter, is that if we do not have our beliefs and practices shaped by our Christian understanding about people and the way we act toward each other, then we will be shaped by something else. Nothing, no law, no standard is done in a vacuum it comes from the beliefs held by those doing it at a level that is deeper than culture.
So often we withhold what is life giving news from others, not sharing our own beliefs, not as dogma but as the way to life.
I was reading the ERO response to a extremist Muslim group taking over a school and using the excuse of religion to separate men and women and downgrade the education of the girls and major on religious teaching – instead of the skills of reading and writing and mathematics.
What does this create? If it were a Christian group doing the same thing I would say the same. A group of children totally unable to comprehend the world through eyes which see others as valuable human beings.. Their world view is compromised because it starts with a picture of those who are chosen and those who are not. It is hostile to the world.
The parable of the sower is probably the most important about Jesus’ life and ministry. When Jesus told the story of the sower he was challenging a world view that was parochial. Chosenness was confined to one race. And Jesus parable was about the whole world, something his listeners spent their whole lives keeping out.
Listen to the story. A farmer went out to sow seed, it fell on four different sorts of ground. The seed went on to do its own thing. It was good seed. A lot seemed to be wasted, but it still was sown. A small amount fell on good ground where it grew and gave so much fruit that much more seed was produced than he started with. It seems a very wasteful way of farming?
So what is this telling us? I think if we were listening to this for the first time we’d say – so?
So Jesus drops us a clue, its about the kingdom. He explains it further. But the explanation doesn’t really help. It raises more questions.
For a start whom do we usually identify as the sower? Jesus?
Then maybe us as the church going around sprinkling something called the Word of God on places that haven’t yet received it? But this says that the sower is God, the Father not Jesus. Jesus, is the Word in all New testament understandings. Jesus turns out to be the seed that is sown.
Lets look at the image of a seed. First of all, seeds are very small compared with what they eventually produce. This story says that the true coming of the Word of God, even if you see it, doesn’t look like very much — and that when it does finally get around to doing its real work, it is so mysterious that it can’t even be seen at all found at all.
You see seeds:disappear. They need to be covered over with earth in order to function. They eventually become not only unrecognizable but: as far as their being a seed is concerned, they die and disappear.
Think about what that says about Jesus. He, as the Word, comes to his own and his own receive him not. He is despised. He is the stone the builders rejected. He is ministered to, not in his own recognizable form but in the sick, the imprisoned, and the generally down-and-out. And to cap his whole career as the Word sown in the field of the world, he dies, rises, and vanishes. His entire work proceeds as does the work of a seed:
Then the parable tells us that the seed, Jesus, has already been sown , everywhere in the world, in all types of places, some responsive some not and without any earthly co operation or consent. What does this do to our picture of mission if the Word is already sown?
Over the centuries the church and missions have often acted as if the Word wasn’t anywhere until we got there with him? Haven’t we conducted mission on the assumption that we were bringing Jesus to the heathen, when in fact all we had to bring is the Good News of what the Word, who is already there, has done for them?
It makes a difference. Practically speaking we express the presence of the Word among us and before us in this church by using hymns which express the presence of Christ here in this land and written in our culture.. Throwing light on what God has been doing and is doing here with us. It doesn’t mean we don’t sing other hymns but any living faith will be finding its expression in the place circumstances where we are. As well as the wider world. If at times you find yourself standing back from an overseas presentation of the gospel, if you analyse it there is often an underlying assumption that they are bringing the Word to us not just opening our eyes to where Christ is already in our midst. You are in fact resisting the implication that Christ, the Word is not already with us.
Some falls on the path - The birds come – the seed is good, the forces of evil may snatch it away but the seed is good. Seeds have other uses, they feed birds, they are food for almost all animals and they are literally the spice of human life. Jesus equates the birds with the devil obstructing the word..
Remember the demons recognised the power of the Word even when most people didn’t. Also just as seed passes through the digestive system of birds and then is distributed with its own personal fertilizer . So the devil, the force of evil in the parable, has no power against the Word in the long term and in fact may be used to distribute it where it will grow in fertile soil.. The seed like the Word works on its own terms. Nobody , in other words, not the devil nor the world can take us away from the love that will not let us go.
And the Sower says that the seed eaten by birds is as much seed as the seed that produced a hundredfold. The snatching of it by the shallow and the choking of it by the worldly — all take place within the working of the kingdom, not prior to it or outside of it. It is the Word alone, and not the interference with it, that finally counts.
The most obvious point in the whole parable is that the fullest enjoyment of the fruiffulness of the Word is available only to those who allow it to flourish in their lives. That fruitfulness from a small part of the whole amount sown far exceeds the amount of the original seed.
The whole purpose of the coming of the Word into the world is to produce people in whom the power of the kingdom will bear fruit.
The seed that fell among thorns is unfruitful. For a plant, the failure to bear fruit is not a punishment visited on it by the seed,. It is a missing of its own fullness, of its own life. So too with us. If we make deficient responses to the Word, we fail to become ourselves at all.
Galatians 5:16-26 gives a response to the parable of the sower.
Paul distinguishes between the works of the flesh and the fruits of the Spirit. The works are a list of disastrous character traits that the apostle says result from our trying to achieve the fullness of life in our own way:
They are a grim shelf-full of products, hazardous not only to our health but also to our education and welfare: among other things, they include fornication, witchcraft, strife, envy and murder. The fruit of the Spirit, however — those results that are not manufactured by our deliberate efforts. They are allowed to grow under the guidance of the Spirit who takes what is the Word’s and shows it to us — are, truly human traits: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. They are not results of, or rewards for, our efforts to make ourselves right; rather, they are bestowed upon us as a free gift.
The tiny seeds in the Gospel reading for today - the seeds of the Word which fall into fertile soil give the fruit of hope and love They need fertile ground to fall into today more than at anytime. We are in a world in which the campaigns to 'make poverty history' and the G8 summit are threatened by a few who seek to spread terror among us with bombs and destruction. Much greater than the threat to human life is the threat to human relationships – even here in New Zealand. Do we start to look differently at our Moslem neighbours? Or do we reassure them that we do not hold them in anything but peace?
Are we prepared to be the fertile soil, to allow the Word to work in us and bear the fruit of the Word, hope, peace love which makes a lasting difference in our lives and this community of Papatoetoe and wider?
The seed is good, will you let it grow so it can give fruit which nourishes the world?.
reference and direct quotes from
Robert Capon, Parables of the Kingdom
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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