Noticing the abundance
16th July 2020
Here’s the reading and reflection from today’s Communion service, starting with a very familiar story from Matthew’s Gospel:
Jesus left the house and went to the lakeside, where he sat down to teach. The crowd that gathered round him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it, while the crowd stood on the shore. He used parables to tell them many things.
“Once there was a man who went out to sow corn. As he scattered the seed in the field, some of it fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some of it fell on rocky ground, where there was little soil. The seeds soon sprouted, because the soil wasn’t deep. But when the sun came up, it burnt the young plants; and because the roots had not grown deep enough, the plants soon dried up. Some of the seed fell among thorn bushes, which grew up and choked the plants. But some seeds fell in good soil, and the plants produced corn; some produced a hundred grains, others sixty, and others thirty.”
And Jesus said, “Listen, then, if you have ears!”
When you think about this well known parable, I wonder what you focus on. The rocky ground? The unhelpful birds? The choking weeds?
It’s a bit like me in my garden. A couple of weeks ago we bought a few new plants to put in, including a lupin, which looked lovely when we bought it. Predictably, the slugs and snails have had a wonderful feast, and now there are only sad remains. And that’s what I can notice first when I look round the garden – the decimated lupin – instead of noticing the other things we bought that are doing well, or the wonderful sunflower that’s grown from a seed I planted as a sign of hope at the beginning of the lockdown…
We seem to be hard wired to focus on the negative – especially in other people and in ourselves – which means we miss the gift of all that is good.
My wonderful tutor when I was learning to learn to teach RE used to say that the point of this parable wasn’t failure and disappointment but the overflowing generosity of God, which never gives up. As he put in one of his songs ‘The man who was sowing just kept right on going’.
In the latest sermon posted by one of our favourites, Nadia Bolz Weber, she says much the same thing. This parable isn’t about the judgment of the soil, but about joyful generosity. ‘Again and again, in the middle of this thorny and rocky and good world, God still is sowing a life-giving word. Just wantonly and indiscriminately scattering it everywhere like God doesn’t know the rules.’
Maybe God isn’t too bothered, as it were, that one of his garden centre purchased gets eaten up – because he’s too busy growing everything else and rejoicing over it all.
Maybe he is less bothered about the faults that appear so huge when we look at ourselves – because he’s more interested in the places where we are growing – and helping us to do just that. I came across this prayer this morning:
‘May you learn to see yourself with the same delight, pride and expectation with which God sees you in every moment.’
When we look beyond ourselves, there is certainly plenty of terrible news to focus on if we want to, but that can easily take our attention away from the good news stories of growth and generosity and flourishing.
A couple of months ago I mentioned the amazing initiative started by Tom Herbert and others called the Long Table – volunteers cooking meals to be frozen and then delivered on a pay as you can basis across Gloucestershire. The people who pay subsidise the meals for others. From a seed of an idea, a network of kitchens has now provided over 31,000 meals – 81% given for free to those who would otherwise struggle to feed themselves and to NHS workers. Talking about his original vision, before the lockdown changed things, Tom said ‘I’ve known in my bones the joy and transformative power of gathering people around food.’
Joy isn’t the most obvious aspect of many of the news stories in the last months – but you can find it if you look. And joy isn’t necessarily about escapism – look at Desmond Tutu, a fearless opponent of injustice and a man overflowing with joy. The joy of generosity and giving is a much more positive motivation for service than a sense of duty or guilt – it means we can serve with a warm heart and a smile on our face.
There is an unstoppable movement towards generosity and growth in many of Jesus’ parables, echoing the words of Isaiah that he would have known so well:
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
What is this ‘word of the Lord’? Not necessarily something spoken by clerics and preachers, says Nadia. ‘I am persuaded that the word of the Lord is anything that brings good news to the poor, and comfort to those who mourn. Whatever heals the broken hearted. Whatever opens prisons. Whatever brings freedom to slaves… and former slaves… and the descendants of former slaves. And God’s word is scattered all around us… joyfully scrawled on protest signs and heard in newborn’s cries, and seen in city streets and county fairs and shopping malls. The word of the Lord is written on the broken tablets of our hearts, it is falling like rain in the tears of the forgiven, it is harnessed in the laughter of children.’
So let’s move our focus away from the lupin, and towards the sunflower. Let’s notice the abundant goodness and generosity of God all around us.
We can begin by spending a few moments reflecting for ourselves…
Where have we seen ‘the word of the Lord scattered’? Where have we witnessed the abundant generosity of God? Out in the world, or closer to home…
Where have we been part of the scattering, or the growing, in some way? How does remembering that make us feel?
And when have we had a sense of God generously scattering his word on us, despite of – or maybe through – our rockiness and weediness and slugs and snails – because God knows that underneath there is the good soil?
- Loving God, we thank you for your unbounded generosity, pouring out the word of life and the seeds of love into our world. We thank you for stories of growth and abundance – like the story of the Long Table. Help us to notice, and rejoice.
- Loving God, we thank you that you delight in sowing the seeds of life and love on the good soil of our lives. Help us to look beneath the weeds and the stones which block our vision, and to see all that is growing in us.
- Loving God, you call us to share your work of indiscriminately and wantonly scattering your good seed in the world. As we give ourselves to you – and to the people and the world you love -fill us with the hope of the sower and the joy of the harvest.