6th After Pentecost
July 16th – Rev’d Canon Paul Robinson – “The Sower” …
Sometimes I have dreaded the prospect of preaching! In our Anglican tradition, we have the practice of basing the focus of worship on a prescribed order of biblical readings, which we call the lectionary, and we preachers are expected to base our sermons on these readings. That, at times, can cause some real anxiety. Fortunately, today that is not a problem. As I initially read through them, I was amazed at how appropriate they are for the understanding of our faith in the light of our world today.
Let’s begin by considering today’s Gospel, the ever-familiar parable of the sower. I am sure that we all have heard it many times, and listened to sermons based on it, but I would like to take another look at it, to refresh our memories.
It begins, as is the case with so many of Jesus’ teaching moments, that he gathers his followers together, and uses a style of teaching generally referred to as a parable. He outlines his understanding of various spiritual responses possible to their real-life situations. Today he is reflecting on our possible responses to the faith that is being offered to us.
First the seeds are sown on the well trodden and hardened path. The seeds fall on the exposed dirt with no possible opportunity to become established, so the birds spot them and immediately they are dinner. As for us, we may hear the words of faith, but maybe they seem meaningless to us, and we ignore them. Or immediately we are distracted by an even greater gift of some fantastic self-centred lifestyle, and we fall prey to it.
Secondly, the seeds may fall on rocky ground. There is no soil, therefore nothing to nurture them. Initially they may sprout, but with nothing there to feed them, they shrivel up and die. For us, we may think that we now have the opportunity to hear the word of God, and become excited by its promise. But, possibly, all that is being presented may, unfortunately, be just fanfare and hoopla, with no substance or community – nothing to sustain or develop it for us.
Other seeds fall among thorns which choke out any possibility for the developing plant to grow. The message that is being presented is starved, choked by other, contrary messages promoting self-gratification, and the gospel messages are eventually blocked.
For us, now, and as it has been since the time of Jesus, there are many influences involved in our lives. Some are even good and necessary parts of our existence and even part of our faith development, but they too can become overwhelming and we can lose or ignore our relationship with God. Regardless of the causes, even with all of our justifications and excuses, we should not abandon God’s relationship with us and ours with God.
That message, I think, is one of the reasons that I am so pleased with today’s appointed readings. Even though these were words spoken by Jesus two thousand years ago, they are vitally important to us today.
And today’s Old Testament reading very clearly supports Jesus’ words. Maybe we are somewhat aware of the story of David and even of his son, Solomon, but I think that we tend to leave them parked in the Old Testament with the attitude that it is good to know about them, because they are the heritage of Jesus’ faith, but they are not really that important any more.
Well, I think that we should remember our roots, Jesus’ roots, and the foundation of our faith. Solomon may have been king of Israel, nearly one thousand years before Jesus, but he was a strong contributor to the foundations of our faith today. This can be seen in today’s reading. Solomon, at the instruction of his aging and dying father, David, has been named king, and he fully recognizes the responsibility that that entails. He travels to Gibeon, a religious shrine, and there, in a dream, has a conversation with the Lord. Recognizing that he is not his father’s senior son, and yet is the one who has been appointed king, he says to God, “I do not know how to go out or come in.” – (I haven’t a clue what to do, and yet I have been chosen king). He goes on to say, “Give your servant, therefore, an understanding, an ability to discern between good and evil.” This is Solomon’s request – the ability to discern between good and evil – but in many ways this should be seen as the foundation of Jesus’ teaching to his disciples, and should become the foundation of our faith. I don’t think that any of us has been or will be designated to become the king of Israel, or any other high office, but we should recognize that these words should be applicable to us as well as to others. That is why I like the choice of today’s readings.
First we have the call and response of Solomon. Although one of the lesser born sons of David, he has been called to be king and he responds basically saying “I don’t know how to do it.” And God responds, “Because you have not asked for riches or power for yourself, but have asked for understanding to discern what is right… I will give you a wise and discerning mind. Then, following Jesus’ teaching, we, as the seed, are to ensure that we develop that same wisdom and discernment to fall on good soil and bring forth the grain of faith many fold.
Therefore, as did Solomon, let us ask God what is the good soil, what is the good response. We need to discern where is the barren, well worn path, travelled by many, but leading to emptiness, because it has been so damaged by other destructive forces. Or how to ignore, and not listen to shallow, self gratifying calls that only fulfill our own needs while ignoring those of others. Maybe we are so focused on the pressures and temptations of our lives that we lack the faith, or fail to notice the needs of others.
Hopefully, may we be perceived as God did Solomon – “and it so pleased the Lord that Solomon asked for an understanding to be able to discern between good and evil, that the Lord gave him a wise and discerning mind.” May God so grant us the same.