The parable of the sower is so familiar to us and yet also so problematic. Not only does Matthew tell us what the parable means, thus leaving little to our imaginations but he divides us, the ground upon which the seed lands, into the good, the bad and the ugly.
Today I am continuing the sermon series on Slow Church. To be a Slow Church is to be a local manifestation of Christ, alert both to the diversity of gifts that are present in its members and to the particular place in which it lives. St Benedict’s is already a Slow Church and we are using this year to look more consciously at how we embody Christ within Los Osos and beyond. So today the chapter topic is Abundance.
The sower in the parable is a profligate farmer. He doesn’t seem to care where the seed goes. I confess that I rarely do any gardening these days (as those of you who have seen my yard recently will attest. ) But when I sow seeds or plant plants, I’m pretty careful to prepare the ground beforehand, or at least make sure that the seed goes into fertile prepared ground. I don’t scatter it on the path or on rocks.
If the sower is God, then this parable is not in my mind so much about how well we receive God’s word as it is that God’s word is available to everyone and that God doesn’t distinguish. This is a picture of abundance. There is so much seed that God doesn’t hoard it, God doesn’t keep it only for the special soil, for special people who do all the right things. No, God casts the seed out into the world for each one to use as they will.
In the process of creation and evolution, the plant with the most seed has the most chance of reproducing itself. It is quite amazing how much seed gets produced. I love little cherry tomatoes and last night at dinner I counted the number of seeds in one little tomato. 35. This tiny little tomato has the possibility of reproducing itself 35 times over. Now of course we know that most of those seeds won’t grow because they won’t get the situation they need in order to germinate.
You will have noticed how much yellow mustard we have growing on the property this year. There are several different varieties of mustard, including the one that the Spanish brought, the one that farmers use as a cover crop and the invasive Sahara mustard. All of them produce seed. Huge quantities of seed. Thousands of seed per plant. And they love the winter rains so this year there’s mustard everywhere.
Creation is profligately abundant. Not just in seed, but way beyond, just think of the stars.
The reign of God is abundant. We always have what we need to minister the love of God. Whenever we are following God’s dream and serving her in our community and amongst one another, abundance happens. That’s why we call our thrift store the Abundance Shop, because as we share our abundance of things and our abundance of caring with other people, so it multiplies and abundance happens. Yes some of our effort is going to fall on stony ground.
Yesterday a customer at the shop wanted to buy some napkins and didn’t want to pay one dollar each. This was the second day he had come in, probably hoping that he would find the person at the till to be more persuadable than the previous day. He did not need the napkins which were very good quality and I refused to reduce the price. Steve HIrahara kindly offered to buy them for him, but he didn’t want them enough and went away grumbling. As far as we can tell, our sharing of abundance and Steve’s generosity fell on stony ground. He was not the grateful recipient of our ministry that we like to see. But that doesn’t mean that we stop. It doesn’t mean that we don’t welcome that customer again. It doesn’t mean that we stop offering caring and attentive love to him or to anyone else who happens by.
God’s abundance does not depend upon the gratitude of the recipient. God does not stop offering God’s love even when the weeds choke the positive response. God does not stop sharing abundant life. In the household of God there is always abundance.
Which is in direct contrast to our human economy which is based on the idea that there are scarce resources. Resources are scarce and we want to make sure that we have enough – as our parents told us, look after yourself first because no-one else will. Yet we not only worry about whether we’ll have enough, we gather stuff around us in order to feel secure. And yet so often we don’t feel secure. It has always amazed me how the rumor of a shortage of a commodity can lead to a shortage. I remember a rumor that there was going to be a shortage of toilet paper. Suddenly there was no tp in the stores. Why? Not because there was less supply than usual but because everyone stocked up.
The feeding of the five thousand is a story of God’s abundance, a story of the reign of God breaking through. Instead of keeping food to themselves, and stashing it away for later, the people shared what there was and there was more at the end, after everyone had been fed, than there was in the beginning.
God’s abundance is manifest in the Slow Church when we share what we have, knowing that as we give so we join in the circle of energy which is the reign of God, and so we also receive.
There is a paradox here. We live in the reign of God and in this world. We have one foot in both places. That’s what Paul is talking about in the reading from his letter to the Romans. He uses “the flesh” as a placeholder for all that living in the world estranged from God entails, and contrasts that with living in the Spirit. Living in the flesh, we know that resources are scarce, there isn’t enough to go round and so we must get as much as we can and keep as much as we can for ourselves. Living in the Spirit we know that there is abundant love for everyone and all our needs are always being supplied.
We live in the tension of those two things. The abundance of the mustard is a wonderful sign of God’s profligate love, but the over-abundance of mustard uses up the resources that other plants need to grow and forces other native plants out of existence. When we use more than we need, we are preventing others from living simply let alone as comfortably as we do.
Our understanding of God’s abundance can be distorted. We can make wild and wonderful plans saying, well God will provide from God’s abundance. But if this is not a feeding of the five thousand moment, if this is not a time when God chooses to transcend the normal rules, it can easily become a human disaster.
This is well summed up in the Letter of James, where he says, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters,* if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (Jas 2: 14-17)
At the intersection of life in the Spirit and life in the flesh, is that challenging place where we live. God’s abundance is not manifest separately from us. We are the Body of Christ in this place. We are the ones through whom God’s profligate love is shown. We are the ones who have been called to be wise stewards of the resources that God has given us.
So let’s take about five minutes to think about two questions:
What are some of the ways that God has abundantly provided for our flourishing both as individuals and as a faith community?
Are there ways in which we as a church are hoarding resources and withholding them from members or neighbors who might richly benefit from access to them?
All Compassionate God, whose abundance is seen all around us in Creation, open our eyes to see your abundance in our lives as we share the riches of your blessing with those around us. Help us to let go of the things we cling to, knowing that you can only fill open hands. In your name we pray, Amen.