If Jesus sowed in Suffolk – on becoming good soil.
Sermon for Sunday 15 July 2017 – St John the Baptist, Felixstowe – Text: Matthew 13.23
God give you peace my sisters and brothers.
If Jesus were to farm in Suffolk, or at least tell the parable of the sower today, would he tell it differently?
After all, much as broad-casting of seed had it uses in the days before intensive farming; Suffolk farmers have learnt that nothing helps get the job done better than a good tractor! More specifically a tractor fitted with equipment built locally by Ransome, Sims and Jeffries.
I wonder what Robert Ransome, who in 1789 patented his famous self-sharpening plough, would have thought of Jesus’s story of the inefficient sower scattering seed left, right and centre, on paths, in weeds and amongst rocks?
This doyen of Suffolk entrepreneurs would surely have recommended to our Lord the use of one of his horse drawn hand ploughs? They were easy to use and could be conveniently stored in the chancel of the local parish church. As remains the case to this day in St Mary Akenham and St Peter Spexhall.
So, if as well as telling of a Sower who went out to sow, Jesus spoke of a Suffolk Punch walking out ahead of a plough how would this parable change, and would we hear it differently?
This parable has lived with me my whole life.
I acted it out on a Sunday School camp on the Isle of Wight when I was eight years old. Who can forget being strangled by weeds who you thought were friends?
I remember struggling to add its lessons into my adolescent life whilst on solitary Sunday afternoon rambles on the edges of wheat fields near the Royal Hospital School.
And as I have come to preach this story down the years I am continually astonished by the great fecundity of the Word of God which, given the space and opportunity to grow, will produce ‘thirty, sixty and an hundredfold’
Friends we know the bare truths of this parable.
We must hold on to this Word and not let it be snatched away from us by any circumstance.
We have learnt that the Word does not grow well if we do not spend time reading it and helping it take root in our lives.
And, as we grow into old and experienced sinners, we know all too well the dangers of allowing other unfruitful things to grow alongside the Word of life.
But how, know that we know the need to be good soil, do we increase our yield from thirty to sixty, and from sixty to ‘an hundredfold’?
Robert Ransome has the answer. Good soil produces better harvests when it is ploughed, furrowed, and cultivated.
Sometimes, the Christian journey is characterised as a once in a moment process of repentance and conversion. As if somehow God meets us just once on the Damascus Road of our lives, converts us into ‘good soil’ and we all live happily ever after. This is far from the truth of our journey homeward. After all, if the apostle Paul admits to a daily struggle to be righteous after meeting the Messiah, why should we be any different?
Being good soil is not a once in a lifetime moment but a commitment to a daily turning over of the soil of our lives. So that, receiving the seed of the Word of God, we will produce good fruit ‘some thirty, some sixty and some an hundredfold’.
If we do not learn to make metaphorical use of Robert Ransome’s patent self-sharpening plough, we rapidly turn from good soil to fallow ground, become ridden with the nettles of sin, and run the risk of being pathways of dissipation instead of fields of righteousness.
To always be fruitful requires a daily examination of our words and our deeds and a decision to lead lives of repentance. The word the New Testament uses for repentance can be translated as ‘turning around’ or, in the case of soil, ‘turning over’. We are called to ‘plough the soul’.
The field of our soul, as much as those of our countryside needs to be constantly ploughed, furrowed and cultivated. Or else, instead of being the vineyard of God, we become the scrubland of the world.
Each of us needs to allow the Word of God to become the sword of the Spirit; asking God to daily convict our hearts of those times we have turned away from the Sower so that we may become more fruitful bringing many others in to shelter of God’s love.
Sadly we are not good at this. I know I continue to repeat the same sins over and over again and, if we are honest with ourselves, I suspect I am not alone as a sinner who struggles to become a saint.
In our day to day comings and goings – be they in church, family, or community life – the fact that nothing much ever seems to change or improve is proof that we desire the fruits of the Word of God without allowing the sword of the Spirit to pierce our souls and turn our hearts.
How can we change? For surely none of us enjoys the prospect of becoming a weed strewn wasteland instead of good many-fold producing soil?
The spiritual mothers and fathers of the church give many lessons and helpful tips for those who want to plough the soul; and over the years come I hope we will learn these together. (P.S. if you want to make a head start have a chat with one of the Franciscans in our parish).
A simple beginning may be to have a Rule of Life to try to follow each day. Here is one written by an Anglican Franciscan:
Christ sees me;
I will try never to do anything
that I would not like Him to see.
Christ hears me;
I will try never to say anything
that I would not like Him to hear.
Christ knows me;
I will try never to harbour in my mind anything
that I would not like Him to know was there.
Fr Andrew SDC – Life and Letters
If you prefer something simpler how about;
‘Read your Bible, pray every day’
Many of us will have sung that song at Sunday School, perhaps now would be a good time to put it into practice. After all why settle for thirty-fold when you can give God sixty-fold? And if we already give God sixty-fold how about aiming for the jackpot of ‘an hundredfold’.
After all before the good seed is ‘scattered on the land’ the fields must first be ploughed…