New Life – New Creation

Death or Life?
July 6, 2023
MARY, NOT SINNER, NOT SAINT, SIMPLY HUMAN!
July 21, 2023
Death or Life?
July 6, 2023
MARY, NOT SINNER, NOT SAINT, SIMPLY HUMAN!
July 21, 2023

We are challenged to hear the parable of the sower told to us by Jesus (Matt.13:1-9,18-23), with fresh minds and hearts. It’s a wonderfully familiar parable which makes it hard to hear without mentally knowing what you think before the story is told.  Most commentators agree the parable’s interpretation (13:18-23) is a later added explanation as Matthew was trying to reassure the early church communities, struggling with failure and rejection. 

I was wondering, when you hear the parable, do you imagine yourself as the sower walking along the path, dipping your hand into the basket on your hip, while scattering the seed?   Are you the seed being sown, or the soil ready for the seed to land on, or are you the birds, the thorns, the stones and the trodden path?  Are you all of these? Or, are you at still at the water’s edge, nudging closer to hear Jesus speak, hoping not to get wet feet, trying to find room in the crowd and not yet listening properly?   Is life so busy you can’t focus at the moment on Jesus’ message?

I wondered too, about the seeds sown at the margins, at the edges of the fields, flung so far because of the sower’s exuberance and pleasure at the work, caught on the wind, blown into new fields; so I can imagine completely new harvests growing out of my sight but known to God, filling God’s heart with joy as God’s kingdom grows.

Sorry, my imagination has escaped.  Let’s go back to the beginning of this story.   Jesus has climbed into a boat to find some space from the crowd gathering around him and he is sitting down, as in a synagogue, not to harangue or look down, but to tell stories and allow people’s imaginations to speak to God and God to speak directly to them.  He’s using familiar, everyday images so people can easily understand and think about God differently. They might ask themselves, ‘where am I in God’s kingdom?’

In the story, I imagine the death which has occurred to enable the seed to bring new life and grow, the new life birthed by a plant previously sown, with flowers long gone and fruiting now completed, a new plant growing as the old one dies; a new creation of God has emerged from the soil.  Christ died to give us all new life, seeds scattered along God’s way.    

Some of the seeds will not grow, some will be taken by birds, or choked by thorns, or fall into places where growth can’t happen, and finally, some will fall into the earth and will grow and produce a harvest, depending on the quality of the soil.  For the farmers, you know what a good harvest looks like, alongside ones damaged and failed by too much sun, rain or hailstones. 

We can’t avoid failure even with the best plans.  We learn from what doesn’t work, and such learning is put to good use.  In the parable, Jesus tells us only one out of four seeds have the chance to flourish and produce fruit.  A Church not failing at anything is not risking enough, perhaps.  The birds, rocks and thorns may remind those listening to Jesus about how much of the farmer’s yield is claimed by rents, mortgage and taxes.  However much you sow, some of the land will never benefit you.  The wealth is drained out of it and diverted to those who have plenty already. In this imagining, Jesus is speaking of the abundant sufficiency of God’s creative goodness in an unjust world.  Despite demands and depredations, grace will have the last world.  The land still has wealth enough to feed God’s people. 

In Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 55:10-11) we are reminded of God’s abundance; God’s word shall not return to heaven empty or spoilt:

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word, be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.  (Is. 55:10-11)

God sows a new covenant in the land, one of hope, trust and pardon (Jer.31:27-34).  Discipleship requires hope, resiliency, joyfulness and trust.  It is extraordinary to me that people choose to farm; it is hard work, you cannot take a vacation, and many farmers live at the edge of sustainability. Nevertheless, each year people plant, grow and harvest crops.  Similarly, discipleship delights in God’s abundance; and working together, we sow, weed and nurture the crops, then we harvest and bring it home to God.  But we also remember, the only one who is anything is God – who makes it grow in the first place.

We used to live on small acreage and we would weed and clear the land and try to keep it as a wild place for the animals, birds, insects and reptiles.  I never ceased to be amazed at the movement of seed and plants, by animals and birds or by the rain and river, which all carried the seeds to more fruitful locations and once again, the plant would flourish.    Isaiah reminded us:

For you shall go out out in joy and be led back in peace; …Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off. (Is.55:12a, 13)

It means as I listen to the parable with fresh ears, I am learning new lessons apart from the ones about how to sow properly.  I am learning to trust in God’s covenant about which Isaiah spoke; that however I interpret the process and outcome of my actions, however I judge them as successful or otherwise, God is able and is already turning my labour into God’s plan.   My concern about my failure, wastage and poor harvests and its impact on the Church, these are not what God is thinking or seeing. God says to Isaiah: 

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Is.55:8-9)   

We are God’s family and together we sow, nurture and harvest.  Each seed sown needs all of us to be working together being the fruitful soil, the caring farmer and the trusting disciple.  To provide the good soil of love, joy and trust is what the Church does so well together with God, as we nurture faith in our midst, and bear the fruit of righteousness in doing God’s will; this is what Jesus expects of us as God’s Church.  And we too will be among those who bear fruit.     

The Lord be with you.

Bibliography:

Jarvis, C.E., Johnson, E.E. [Gen. Eds].  2013.  Feasting on the Gospels Matthew, Vol. 1 Chapters 1-13.  Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, USA.

Lucy Morris
Lucy Morris
Anglican Priest, International Speaker, Published Author, Social Justice Advocate and Activist.

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