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Wednesday, 20 July 2016

The indiscriminate and reckless nature of God’s love for all

Here is my sermon from today's lunchtime Eucharist at St Martin-in-the-Fields:

I wonder whether you have noticed the strange thing about the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13. 1 - 17); something that does not make sense from the point of view of an efficient farmer. Jesus says that the parables, the stories he tells, are not easy to understand and there is an aspect of this parable that doesn’t seem to make sense from a farming point of view.

What I am thinking of is the indiscriminate nature of the way the sower sows the seed. The sower scatters the seed on the path, on the rocky ground and among the thorn bushes, as well as in the good soil. Any farmer would know that the seed falling on the path, on the rocky ground and among the thorn bushes is going to be wasted because it is not going to grow well and yet the sower goes ahead regardless. What sort of farmer wastes two-thirds of the seed like that?

Was it because the sower was uninformed about the principles of farming or unconcerned about the harvest? Perhaps, instead, the actions of the sower are telling us something significant about the nature of God. The seed was sown indiscriminately, even recklessly. Those places that were known to be poor places for seed to grow were nevertheless given the opportunity for seeds to take root. Doesn’t this suggest to us the indiscriminate and reckless nature of God’s love for all?

The seed is the Word of the Kingdom and the Word, John’s Gospel tells us is Jesus himself. So Jesus himself, this parable, seems to suggest is being scattered throughout the world (perhaps in and through the Body of Christ, the Church).

Some parts of the Body of Christ find themselves in areas like the path where the seed seems to be snatched away almost as soon as it is sown. That may seem a little like our experience in a culture where people seem resistant towards Christian faith and the media revel in sensationalising the debates that go on within the Church.

Other parts of the Body of Christ are in areas like the rocky ground where it is hard for the seed to take root and grow. We might think about situations around the world where Christians experience persecution or where the sharing of Christian faith is illegal.

Other parts of the Body of Christ are amongst the thorn bushes where the worries of this life and the love of riches choke the seed. Again, we might think about our situation and the way in which our relatively wealthy, consumerist society makes people apathetic towards Christian faith.

Finally, there is the good soil where the seed grows well and the yield can be as much as a hundred fold. Again, there are parts of the Body of Christ who find themselves in good soil. “Currently, there are more than 2.3 billion affiliated Christians (church members) worldwide. That number is expected to climb to more than 2.6 billion by 2025 and cross 3.3 billion by 2050. But it’s not just numerical growth, Christianity is growing in comparison to overall population. More than one-third (33.4 percent) of the 7.3 billion people on Earth are Christians. That’s up from 32.4 percent in 2000. By 2050, when the world population is expected to top 9.5 billion people, 36 percent will be Christians. Those positive numbers are due to explosive growth in the global south. Only in Europe and North America is Christianity growing at a less than one percent rate. In Africa and Asia, the rate is currently more than double and will continue to climb.”

We can rejoice in that growth, although it is not an experience we currently share in the UK, and can support its continued growth through our mission giving and partnerships. We should not be discouraged because that kind of growth is not our current experience in the UK. Growth does still occur even when we are on the path or the rocky ground or among the thorn bushes.

For example, in our most recent Annual Report, we said that “St Martin-in-the-Fields is a thriving community. Its congregation is lively, engaged, inclusive and vibrant. Its commercial activities are healthy, popular and profitable. Its cultural life is dynamic and overflowing. Its relationship to destitute people and those on whom society has turned its back is as strong as ever. It reaches millions through its broadcasts and new audiences through its emerging digital ministry.” Seeds have taken root even in the hard ground that is our current experience overall here in the UK.

This happens because God’s love is indiscriminate wanting all to have the opportunity to receive the seed of his Word. He sows Jesus, the Body of Christ, into the poor soil as well as the good soil knowing that some seed will not grow or be as fruitful but wanting all to have the opportunity to receive the seed of his Word. He knows too that ground which at one time was perhaps rocky ground can become good soil in which spectacular growth can occur. In this country we need to pray that our culture which currently feels like the path or the thorn bushes will in time also become good soil once again and, in the meantime, celebrate that growth that does occur on the path and among the thorn bushes.


Michael W. Smith & The African Children's Choir - Seed To Sow.

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