Posts Tagged ‘Sower’

God’s wild abandon

July 15, 2017

Pentecost 6 – 2017

Matthew 13:1-9

Marian Free

In the name of God who with wild abandon, gives the gospel to all the world. Amen.

[To prepare, I made two copies of Matthew 13:1-9 in large print, pasted it on board and then cut out each word (a). I made another copy, cut out each word and pasted the words on card (b). Begin by introducing the gospel, and then toss one set of words (a) indiscriminately into the congregation. Call out: “catch! catch!” Conclude with “For the Gospel of the Lord”].


I’m sure that you’d agree that was most unsatisfactory and not the most effective way of sharing the gospel. If I were to present the gospel in this way every week it wouldn’t be long before you began thinking of me as reckless and irresponsible and you would be right. Today, as it happens, I have a copy of the gospel that I prepared earlier. It reads like this (read Matthew 13:1-8).

The discerning among you may have noticed a) that I haven’t read what the lectionary has set down for the day and b) that that means that I have omitted the interpretation of the parable. I’ve left out the interpretation for two very good reasons. Firstly – most scholars do not believe that the interpretation originates with Jesus. Secondly the interpretation throws a very different light on the way in which the parable is heard. The allegorical explanation focuses on the way in which the word is received. In other words, it takes the responsibility away from the sower and places the emphasis on where the seed falls. When we pay particular attention to the response of the seeds to their environment, or interpret the different types of ground as belonging to different types of people we overlook the miraculous growth of the seeds. Even though the seeds are sown indiscriminately they still manage to produce a crop that is over and above even the most optimistic of expectations.

You see, in first century Palestine the usual yield of a crop was a modest seven-fold increase on what was planted. In comparison even a thirty-fold yield is extraordinary. A, sixty-fold or a hundredfold yield would be beyond comprehension! Jesus’ listeners would have been absolutely startled by what they were hearing. They would have been stunned by the reckless and irresponsible behaviour of the sower who, through carelessness wastes precious seeds. Then they would have been completely taken by surprise by the yield – grain that has been sown with wild abandon, not only produces a decent yield, but a yield that exceeds their wildest imagination..

What then is Jesus trying to say? Jesus is reminding the disciples that God does not discriminate. God throws the seed in any and every direction heedless of where it might land and certain that there is good soil in which God’s gifts will take root, grow and produce abundantly. God is not careful or sparing with the gifts that God has to offer the world, but generous and reckless, confident that the response to God’s actions will be overwhelming – beyond imagination

God showers the world with love, compassion and goodness, confident that it will land and take root and reproduce those gifts in abundance.

We have no need to worry ourselves about the future of the church, God will ensure that in one way or another people will continue to respond to God and in this way, God’s love, compassion and goodness will spread throughout the whole world.


For the children – something like this

The Parable of the Sower (or God’s wild abandon)

I ask the children to come forward. Toss some glitter into the air so that it lands on everyone. Ask if they all got some. Ask if I was careful how I threw it (hopefully they will say I wasn’t). Did I try to make it land on the eldest, or the cleverest or the one who was the best behaved? (Again, hopefully they will say I didn’t.)

Wonder aloud how long it will take to come off. Suggest that they will sparkle all day – just a tiny bit of glitter will catch the light. Tell them that whenever someone sees the glitter it will make them smile.

Tell them that God’s love is like that. God throws love at everyone – the good and the bad, the clever and the not so clever, the old and the young. If we know that God loves us, we will love ourselves and everyone else in the world. Just like our tiny sparkles of glitter make people smile, our love will make other people feel loved and God’s love will grow and grow and grow until the whole world is filled with love.


How does your garden grow?

June 13, 2015

Pentecost 3 – 2015

Mark 4:26-34

Marian Free

In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen. 

For at least the last forty-five years I have been involved in discussions about the future of the church. In particular, I have observed and been party to a lot of navel gazing in relation to declining attendance on Sundays and a variety of suggestions as to how we might halt that decline. Numerous reasons have been offered for this parlous state of affairs – women returning to the workforce, television, Sunday sport and Sunday trading – to mention a just a few. The liturgy has also been blamed for a downturn in attendance. In particular, there are those who express a concern that our form of worship doesn’t appeal to young people. As a consequence there have been a variety of attempts to address this problem, ranging from Folk Masses in the 60’s to Twitter Masses in the last decade.

Focus on the liturgy has not been the only response to this perceived crisis in the life of the church. Programme after programme has been rolled out, each with a degree of optimism that suggests that this time we have the right formula and one that will bring people back to the church. Sadly, over time, these programmes fall into disuse and distant memory as they fail to live up to their promise. Church attendance remains at best static and worse continues to decline.

The cynic in me wonders whether our concern with church attendance has more to do with maintaining the institution of the church than it does with spreading the gospel message, more to do with us and less to do with God. At the very least it implies that without our help God will simply fade into insignificance, that without the church there will be no God!

A perusal of the Gospels reveals that, unlike us, Jesus was not concerned with the religious practice of the people – how often they went to the Temple, or whether or not they attended the synagogue on a regular basis. Jesus seems to be more concerned that the crowds understand the liberating power of the gospel. The Gospels record that Jesus set people free from their diseases and infirmities; he released them from the power of evil spirits and he liberated them from a false understanding of the scriptures and from the misleading teaching of the leaders of the church. Above all, Jesus was concerned that the people fully understood the nature of the Kingdom of God (or heaven).

Jesus himself proclaimed that the Kingdom of God had come near (Mark 1:15) and when Jesus sent out the disciples, he gave them authority over unclean spirits. The disciples proclaimed repentance, cast out demons and anointed and cured the sick (Mk 6:6-13). They did not concern themselves with filling church (synagogue) pews.

Jesus’ primary concern was the Kingdom of God and most of the parables relate to this theme. These parables begin: “The Kingdom of God is like – a sower, a seed, a woman, a shepherd ..”. From all of these images, his listeners were able to build a picture of the kingdom of God in which the lost are sought and found, growth is secret and more abundant than expected, weeds will grow together with the wheat, debts are forgiven and the first will be last. Moreover, the kingdom will be worth more than everything that we own and we will give all that we have to possess it.

The parables do not say or even imply that the Kingdom of God will consist of full churches or of dioceses that are financially secure. The signs of the Kingdom are much more subtle and unexpected. More than that the Kingdom, according to Jesus, is not ours to build, but always God’s. It is the Kingdom of God, not the kingdom of the church and of church-goers. We seem to have convinced ourselves that the Kingdom is entirely dependent on the existence of the church and lost sight of whose Kingdom it is and that we expend far too much time concerned with the survival of the institution of the church and far too little time announcing the kingdom of God as an alternative to the kingdom of this world.

This morning’s parables are particularly challenging in a climate that is focused on church growth. The first, the parable of the sower, is a stark reminder that the growth of the Kingdom is entirely determined by God and not by human effort (‘the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how’). The second, the parable of the mustard seed, confronts us with the idea that to an untrained eye the Kingdom might look like an insignificant herb or weed – nothing like the images that “Kingdom” usually calls to mind. In other words, whatever the Kingdom is, it will not be as we expect.

In the light of these parables, perhaps it is time that we, the church, stopped looking inwards, trying to tweak what we do on a Sunday morning so that it becomes more attractive to more people; time that we moved out from our beautiful buildings into the communities around us; time that, instead of trying to persuade people to come to us that, we found ways to set people free from the chains of individualism, consumerism, ambition, from oppression, injustice and violence.

Above all it is time to take a deep breath and to remember that it is God (not us) who will cause the Kingdom of God to grow and that in ways that we may not see or understand. It is time to recall that the Kingdom that will be unlike any other Kingdom that has preceded it. If we cannot imagine it, we certainly cannot build it. In other words, perhaps it is time to relax, to stop struggling for survival; to let go and let God and then to watch in amazement to see what God will do and then to go wherever God may take us.

Spreading the gospel with wild abandon

July 12, 2014

Pentecost 5 – 2014

Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

Marian Free

In the name of God who is not concerned with the where or the how, but only that the gospel is shared. Amen.

As you know, General Synod met last week. A significant proportion of the meeting – one and a half hours each day – was spent in small group discussion. There were three aspects to the process – getting to know each other across Diocesan and theological boundaries, bible study and discussion of the report of the Viability and Structures Task Force. The Report, which is available on the General Synod website, is an honest, hard look at the state of the national church.

Broadly speaking, the future of the Anglican Church of Australia looks bleak. Whereas in 1911 38% of the population identified as Anglican, today, according to the census, only 17% of Australians admit to being Anglican and these figures drop to 12.2% in the Northern Territory and Victoria. Of these a massive 62% of those who identify as Anglican are over 60. Changes in our culture over the past fifty to seventy years have dramatically changed the landscape in which we as a church operate. Many of you like me have rehearsed these changes over and over again – Sunday is no longer sacred, patterns of relating have changed to include Facebook and other online networks, Australian citizens now come from vastly different backgrounds and many of our younger citizens have abandoned the church in favour of other forms of spirituality. The days of huge Sunday Schools and full churches seem to many to be a distant memory.

Not only has the society in which we live changed, but we are hampered by other factors that are outside our control – not least of which is the vastness of our country. The Diocese of North West Australia for example covers an area as large as Europe with a population that is small and scattered. How do we offer ministry in such a situation? Changes in our rural areas mean that the populations are declining making survival difficult for rural Dioceses. Job opportunities in our major cities mean that the coastal fringes and especially the capital cities on our eastern seaboard are expanding at a phenomenal rate -so much so that it is impossible for our Dioceses to keep up the pace. Both in the country and the cities there are large areas that are not receiving ministry on a regular basis.

Given the situation on the ground it would be easy to become despondent. However, while the report is realistic, it is also hopeful and offers some suggestions for moving into the future. Using the report from the Church Growth Research Programme in the UK (which we discussed yesterday at our Synod), the report points out that there are places in which growth is occurring. The research team discovered that while there is no single recipe for church growth, there are a number of factors that are associated with growth in Parishes. These include a clear mission and purpose; a willingness to reflect, to change and adapt; freedom to experiment and to fail and intentionality in prioritizing growth and nurturing disciples. Added to these, good leadership and the culture of a Diocese/Parish are paramount. Prayer and vision are indispensable.

Doing things the way that we have always done them is no longer working. If we are going to take the gospel to a world that is vastly different, we will have to try new ways of doing things, we will have to take the gospel to the community instead of expecting the community to come to us and we will have to create an atmosphere in which those who have no experience of church are made to feel comfortable and are given opportunities to engage with the gospel.

Today’s gospel of the sower is very familiar and most readers or hearers will be used to hearing and interpreting it according to the allegorical interpretation that follows. However, it is the view of scholars that the interpretation did not originate with Jesus, but was added by the early church. There are a number of reasons for coming to this conclusion but perhaps the most convincing is this – in a country where arable land was scarce and land holdings were small, it would have been a very thoughtless or careless farmer who would scatter his seed so recklessly (or clear his land so inadequately) that his seed would fall on the rocks, the paths or in weeds. Any farmer would want the best return from his labour and his seed and would ensure that the land was cleared and that the seed fell where it was intended to fall.

The parable then, is not about where the seed falls, but about the extraordinary growth that follows[1]. A thirtyfold return would have been a significant harvest in that time and place, sixtyfold or a hundredfold would have been inconceivable. The parable then, is not about how people respond to the gospel, but to the fact that the sower spreads the seed recklessly and in every direction in the hope that it will fall on receptive ground, take root and grow. The seed is not measured out in small quantities and planted in limited and suitable places. It is thrown to the wind that it might fall where it will.

The kingdom of God then is like a sower who tosses seed on to good and bad ground with wild abandon knowing that whenever and wherever it does take root it will flourish and grow beyond anyone’s expectation.

If we would like our church, the church, to grow, we need to stop being timid and cautious, limiting what we do to the tried and true. If we believe in the gospel, if we really want to share the good news of Christ with a rapidly changing world, we need to step out in faith, to try things that have never been tried before and to go to places where we have never been. We have to have the courage to experiment and not to worry when we fail. Above all, we have to have the confidence to spread the gospel widely and wildly, allowing it to land in many and varied places – the expected and the unexpected. And we have to believe that we will know when it lands in the right place, because it will grow and increase in ways that we cannot even begin to conceive or imagine.

There is good soil out there – just waiting for us to sow the seed.

[1] An interpretation that is supported by two of the parables that follow – the mustard seed and the leaven.

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