Sunday Worship Service 18th July 2021
A prayer of confession and an Assurance of forgiveness
Gracious God, you always make time for us;
we are sorry that we don’t always make time for you.
When we are rushing around being busy,
sometimes even when we are doing your work,
we forget about you.
We are sorry when we make our lives so full
that there is no room left for you –
no room to get away, to be in a quiet place with you.
Forgive us, Lord, and help us not to hurry but to slow down,
to make space for you to dwell within us.
And in that dwelling place,
may we seek what you want us to do
and who you want us to spend time with.
Help us to get the right balance,
a right rhythm that is in tune with you.
Assurance of forgiveness
Even though we have gone astray,
you are our Shepherd –
the one who brings us back to the fold.
We are assured of your forgiveness,
and we are set free in the knowledge
that you always make room for us.
A prayer of thanksgiving
Thank you, Lord, that you always had time for people.
Even when you were tired and needed a rest,
when the crowds gathered your compassionate heart
healed and restored all those who came to you.
Thank you that you are kind and caring
and lavish your love upon us.
Your self-giving love has set us free
to be the people you have called us to be.
Thank you that you are present
in the big and small things of our lives,
in the ordinary and everyday times,
and in the extraordinary and special times.
You never leave us or forsake us.
Thank you, Lord, our Shepherd and King.
Read Matthew Chapter 13 verses 1-9, 18-23
Sermon by Revd Peter Lyth
For many of a certain age, the name Jethro Tull is associated with a famous rock band of the 1970’s. But they actually took the name from a person in history.
A key invention during the British Agricultural Revolution, the seed drill allowed for a semi-automated, controlled distribution and plantation of wheat seed.
Designed by renowned agriculturalist Jethro Tull in 1701, the drill went on to spawn many other mechanized planters and ploughs, which many of today’s agricultural tools and vehicles are descendents of.
The drill – which was made from elm wood and consisted of a wheeled wooden frame -worked by carving three channels into the earth into which seeds were dropped from containers at regular intervals.
The seeds, once dropped by the horse-drawn drill, were then covered by the harrow (a trailing bar), which gathered soil and evenly deposited it over the channels.
This revolutionized the planting of seeds. But before that, agriculture relied for the most part on someone throwing seed onto the land and hoping for the best. Of course they would try to choose more fertile ploughed land, but there was always an attendant risk that much of the seed would be thrown or blown elsewhere.
This was a reality for many in Jesus’ culture and so that would have a particular resonance for them. In that sense, there was a random quality that was removed with efficiencies that began with Jethro Tull’s device.
So what of the parable then? It is one of the most familiar. And, in case the readers don’t get it, there is an explanation, one of the few that occur. In that sense, Matthew, and Mark before him are making clear what the interpretation should be. In many respects that is self explanatory. But there is one extra dimension, taking it back a little. A big question – What about the sower?
When we were in Zambia, a few years ago, we were taken from Mukinge, the mission hospital where we were staying at the time, to see a project – in a way a modern life version of the parable. One of the problems for people in those parts is that they suffer malnutrition despite eating quite a lot. That’s because they tend to eat a lot of maize and so do not get much protein. The hospital came up with an idea. They would give some families a bag of 10 Kg of beans which they would plant. Out of the harvest, they would hand back 10Kg to go to some other family, making the project self sustaining. So off we went in a Toyota 4WD to see how three families had got on. In the first case, there were regimented rows of bean plants. They were well weeded and cultivated. Given that the woman that cultivated it had to walk through a mile of forest to get there whilst carrying a baby, it was quite remarkable.
The second was less well weeded and the rows were a little skew-whiff, but nonetheless, it was clear that there would be a reasonable return. But the third woman was quite evasive when we questioned her and it became evident that she had sold her beans. So there were no plants cultivated, defeating the object. She had failed to plant the beans.
And there’s the rub for the parable. There has to be someone to sow the seeds in the first place, otherwise the plants will not be propagated. We know that plants have very clever ways of spreading their seeds, after all, we quite often see plants growing out of the side of buildings where they have taken root in the mortar. But in order for the seeds to be propagated to any extent, they need to be sowed.
Are the seeds being sowed enough? I think probably not. Why is that? There are many reasons, diffidence is one, maybe, but I think that one answer lies in Jethro Tull’s approach. If you think back to the sower, he seems indifferent to where the seed lands. He throws it out and it lands where it lands. Some of it goes on to germinate, but the sower has no part in that. Jethro Tull tried to make it all more surgical and predictable and maybe we do too. We only spread the Gospel to those whom we think will receive it well. But there’s something about sowing the seeds and leaving the rest to God. Just sow the seeds – that’s our job in one sense. But does it all end there? Maybe it is in a collaboration with God that we can play our part further.
What do I mean? Living, as I do on the edge of Southport, if the wind is the wrong direction at certain times, The atmosphere becomes somewhat “agricultural” should we say. The farmers spread fertilizer down to nourish the crops and so enable them to grow until harvest time.
So what of our plants? Jesus in his parable has identified two that have germinated through the work of God. One that grows fast but then dies due to lack of nourishment. In effect this gives us a need. We can provide that nourishment through fellowship, but also, and I suspect more importantly through prayer, quality worship and teaching. I suspect that there are many (dare I say it?) Christians whose growth has been impeded because they needed those elements in abundance.
There are many Christians that are continuing to develop. Discipleship is the way in which we develop as Christians. That’s how the followers of Jesus evolved from the raw material of fishermen, tax collectors etc to the evangelistic powerhouses they became. Literally 3 years of following in the footsteps of Jesus. They were fed as they developed and that’s true for us now.
And finally, there is something about time. Often, in 21st Century life, we are impatient, but the growth of plants is something that takes time.
God wants us to sow the seeds of his Kingdom to those around us. He will make the rest happen. But we can provide the environment by which growth can occur. And certainly, he wants us to grow too.