The Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”
And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid,
because I was naked, and I hid myself.”
It is hard for us not be drawn out of ourselves and reminded of the beauty of Creation over the past couple weeks as Spring comes upon us.
Last week we were reminded in our reading of the Creation of all things by the Word spoken by God. And if we speak the truth in love, we become like God, and we can create something good out of the chaos both in the world around us and within our souls.
This morning our readings are also about that act of creating, the Word of God is described as a seed dropping continually and, it seems, indiscriminately on the Creation to bring forth fruit.
If we understand this morning how this seed works in us and for what reason it doesn’t work, we can be more fruitful in our lives. Do you want to be more fruitful? Jesus tells us plainly how.
In the Gospel [St Luke 8:4-15] Jesus tells us a parable about a sower who goes out to sow seed. And then he tells us what the parable means.
Seeds, the Word of God, Truth is being dropped upon us in all sorts of ways continuously. In the Bible, we learn that the Word of God comes to us by observing the Creation itself [e.g. Psalm 19, Romans 1:20]. And truth also comes upon us simply by living in a family and society formed on principles of truth – we receive it even unknowingly just by being in that environment, we are formed and shaped by it. And we know that we can receive the Word of God more explicitly, the Truth, if we read the Bible especially the words of the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. And we can receive the seeds of Truth inwardly, if we listen intently, because we have been gifted inwardly with the Holy Spirit of Truth. In all these ways, seeds, the Word of God, is falling upon us.
But somehow the potential, the fruitfulness, of all those seeds can be held back.
We know that in the account of the Fall of Man, [Genesis 3:9-19], what was a garden of paradise, becomes a place choked with thorns and thistles…cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you. Something is amiss in the Creation.
Jesus says this morning that the problem of our flourishing is not that God is silent, as if there are no more any seeds. But, if there is no flourishing, it is because of how that seed is received. He states in the parable that the seeds of new life are being sprinkled continually everywhere, and he gives reasons why some do not bear fruit. And the implication is, that we can do something about it to enable the seeds to grow more abundantly in the soil that is our own soul.
And we can think about this as we prepare ourselves, in a week and a half, to enter into the season of Lent. What might I do in my life to enable the seeds of new life to spring up in me and bear fruit in abundance?
Jesus describes three hindrances to the growth of seeds: those that fall on the path, those that fall on the rock, and those that fall among the thorns.
So first, seeds that fall on the path:
The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.
Jesus is warning us that our world view must include a recognition of malevolent spiritual forces actively seeking to undermine our spiritual growth by removing the life giving and fruitful power of the truth. What does it mean that the devil “takes away the word from our hearts”? In Matthew’s account of this parable, Jesus says, “When any one hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches what is sown in the heart.” [Matt 13:19]
How might this work? If we hear something and don’t understand it, we might conclude it is worthless. Is that not our pride keeping us from admitting we don’t understand something – to conclude that, if I don’t get it, it mustn’t be worthwhile? Would that not be of the devil? There is something precious to hear in God’s Word, it has had profound effects on others and if we don’t understand it, we are encouraged by Jesus to ask that it might be given to us, to seek that we might find, to knock that it might be opened to us. [Luke 11:9] We ask, we seek, we knock on heaven’s door when we pray to God and we can seek other people out who might be able to help us to understand. We need to crack the husk of these seeds before they can grow in us and bear fruit. Without that, we will move on to other things, something easier to consume but not so spiritually edifying and that Word will not germinate. The Word of God is full of hidden and deep insights… but it takes effort to understand.
e.g. A scientific fact about the nature of reality, for example, of how electricity works, that is not understood is useless to the one who has knows the fact, but the one who really understands the implications, can create amazing things – look at our modern society? So it is with spiritual truths.
In preparation for Lent, could we bring up before God our questions or just choose one question that remains unanswered for us, and then seek in faith to understand and so plant it in our souls so that it may bear fruit? The Incarnation? The Cross? The Resurrection? The Trinity? Is there one phrase in the Creed that you are troubled by? Or a passage of the Bible that is still a mystery. Could that be a question to hold before your mind and seek to understand it a little better this Lent?
Second, the seed that falls on the rock:
And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.
Jesus is warning us that our worldview must include the reality that God is not here to remove all suffering in this life. We grow up with the idea that God loves us and that God cares for us and that is true – and our parents exemplify that by trying to protect us from all evil. But we need to also have a maturity of faith that will stay with us when we do suffer – because terrible things will happen to every one of us – the loss of loved ones, the betrayal by those close to us, sicknesses in our bodies, the cruelty of the world. These things will happen to us, and we are to be ready for them.
In the Epistle this morning [2 Corinthians 11:19-31 ], St Paul describes how his turning to Christ and seeking to be faithful has not resulted in a life of ease, but of deeper suffering. Comparing himself with false apostles, he says, Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Paul’s testing led him to a deeper and more mature faith – holding those sufferings before God, asking for relief, asking for understanding, and trusting in the midst of them. He learned, If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying.
If we don’t think we will suffer for being innocent, or if we are in the midst of deep suffering and we are questioning our faith, this Lent we could read through Job, and we could definitely be encouraged as we follow the Passion and Death of Christ, our ultimate example. Jesus warned us that if they do this to me, they will do it to you if you follow me. [Jn 15:18] God is good, but has chosen not to remove all suffering. We can fight against that fact or deny it, or reject God when we do suffer, or we can grapple with this profound experience of suffering and of Jesus’ example for us, and grow deeper in our faith and so bear abundant fruit. Think of St Paul, in prison, after being beaten, and in that prison writing the most beautiful and profound letters about love.
Third, the seed that fell among weeds:
As for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.
Jesus is not counselling us to reject the cares and riches and pleasures of life, but is counselling us not to allow these things to choke us. We’re to be aware that they can do this and prevent the fruit of God’s Word from maturing.
Lent is a time to scale back our activity, to open up some space for God’s Word to grow in us. I think we all have a sense of how we might recover a better balance in our lives – how is your observance of a Sabbath rest going? Have we left time in the day to pause and rest in quiet? Could our life be a little simpler? What is choking you? What is it that we are too attached to, that is hindering our progress in the spiritual life? This Lent let us cling less tightly to it and open ourselves to new experiences that God has prepared for us.
This morning we all desire to be the good soil… those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.
Honesty, truthfulness, with others and with ourselves, that prepares the ground. We can prepare the ground now through confession and faith, let God create an honest and good heart in us, and then let us plant the seed, the Word of God, even the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood given for us. And may it grow and yield in us a hundredfold.