Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh

Sermon

Sexagesima, 2011
Good Shepherd, Charlestown; Trinity Church, West Lebanon

Let us Pray: O God, whose blessed Son was manifested that He might destroy the works of the devil, and make us the sons of God, and heirs of eternal life; Grant us, we beseech thee, that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves, even as he is pure; that, when he shall appear again with power and great glory, we may be made like unto Him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where with thee, O Father, and thee, O Holy Ghost, He liveth and reigneth ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

 

Sometimes things are pretty simple. Sometimes things are so easy to understand that we wonder if we must have missed something. Can it be so simple, we wonder. Can we have grasped the truth so easily. And we are often gratified to learn that we have done just that: we get, we understand it completely. That is, of course, not always the case. Life can be very complicated. And simplifying things is not always the best way to go. Certain reductionist theories, the ones that claim you can reduce everything to some simple formula, don't always work. Besides, when anyone tells me: "it's really very simple," I immediately remember a certain high school math teacher who told me: "it really is very simple." I blocked out the rest of what he said. But I see his face every time I someone tells me: "this is really very simple."

 

I suspect that he, along with many others, were gathered together on a certain footpath when Jesus told this parable – the parable of the sower – for the first time. They had come out of the cities of Judea and followed Jesus. Perhaps they wanted to hear him speak. Maybe they were there by accident. Maybe there were young children among them, brought along by their parents. Jesus spoke a parable that they could all understand.

 

Because they had come out of the cities, the people were all standing on bare earth. There was a path there that had been worn hard as concrete by the pounding of thousands of feet. There were certainly rocks somewhere beside this path and, if it were planting season, freshly turned soil. There was likely a thorn bush that everyone would avoid because it would be painful to the touch. Jesus, being an excellent teacher, used this setting to teach all who were there about the word of God. And about how it can grow within our hearts and minds if it is given the right place to mature.

 

Though some people may well have worn sandals of some sort, others would have been barefoot. We might imagine them hearing the words, "some fell by the wayside." Those on the footpath would have looked down to see that anything that fell there would have been destroyed by the travellers' feet, or perhaps by the birds who picked at those seeds. They would have parted, leaving the pathway clear. We might imagine them hearing the words, "some fell upon a rock." Seeds can easily lodge in the sharp crevasses of rocks. They might find temporary moisture there, but no plant could reach maturity in such a limited place. And, yes, they would hear " these words, "some fell among thorns." They would look at the thorn bushes and know that this would be a very difficult place for any other plant to grow. Finally, they would hear these words, "other fell on good ground." They might look out at the plowed fields, knowing that the earth had been turned for the purpose of receiving the seed.

 

The people who followed Jesus on that day could not fail to understand the meaning of Jesus' words. Even the youngest would know the truth of this very straightforward agricultural metaphor. They would all know that plants can only grow when the conditions are right. As wonderful and well preserved as the seed stock may be, those seeds, by themselves cannot develop unless the right conditions are present.

 

But Jesus doesn't end with this agricultural imagery. He explains it in great detail so that there will be no doubt as to its meaning. He makes it so clear that everyone there will know that He is speaking directly to them, inviting them to search out their hearts and minds, asking them if they are the ones with honest and good hearts, ones who will hear the word, keep it and bring forth fruit with patience. Jesus makes this so personal that we ask ourselves if we have been keeping the word of God safe and allowing it to grow within us.

 

Long ago, many people followed Jesus from out of many cities. They stood on the ground that had been created by God for the nurturing of their temporal lives. They heard Jesus speak of their spiritual lives and of how the word of God could grow within them. This would take preparation; it would take a knowledge of God's world that comes through the teachings of Scripture and the traditions of the church. It would take work and patience as the Word becomes part of us and changes us.

 

Some things are very simple. Some things we can grasp easily and immediately, no matter what our ages. The parable of the sower is so simple and easily understood that most commentaries about this parable are very brief. There is no need to go into depth about a message that is so blindingly evident and so beautifully expressed.

 

But we, who stand on the ancient earth of Judea, hear the words of Jesus. They are broadcast to all who have followed him, words of God that are scattered to the ears of all, past, present and to come; words that may, by God's grace, reach our hearts and minds; words that will change us if we will allow them to grow within us; words that God has spoken to each of us.

 

We hear the word of God. We receive it. We nurture it in our hearts and minds. It changes us. And we, by God's grace, bring forth the fruit of our labor in God's kingdom.

 

Can anything be more simple than that?

Let us pray: O God, forasmuch as without thee we are not able to please thee; Mercifully grant that thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.