In this week’s Gospel Jesus says: ‘A sower went out to sow’. So begins one of the most famous of the parables by which he taught. It is a simple story of farming life, and though the agricultural world it imagines is long since gone, the parable still seems homely to most of us, thanks to its sheer familiarity. Yet this same familiarity may disguise its serious import, and lead us to miss its true meaning.
It is easy, and tempting, to think of the sower as scattering seed on virgin land. No doubt this is what Jesus had in mind, 2000 years ago when the Gospel he preached would have struck his first hearers as radically new. But in our world, the Gospel is no longer new, and this parable very rarely heard for the first time. To most people, non-Christian as well as Christian, this is an ‘old, old story’. The soil on which the seed must now be sown, we might say, has been farmland for so long, that both the sowing and the harvest are taken for granted.
Yet, if we look for it, the parable can still have radical application. The Gospel goes on being ‘sown’, week by week among regular as well as occasional church goers. Ordinarily, this happens in the course of every Sunday service. But the Word of God can be received in different ways – carelessly, half-heartedly, attentively, or reverently. These attitudes are not confined to the ever expanding secular world outside the Church. They are possibilities in the heart of the sanctuary also. Indeed, for the faithful there is this additional danger, that the story’s sheer familiarity will sustain an unspoken assumption -- that the Gospel has already found fertile ground in their own hearts. But has it? We could set ourselves a simple test. On Monday, without recourse to the weekly bulletin, how easy is it to recall the Bible readings from the day before, and especially the Gospel reading?
This simple test is not as easily to passed as one might hope. But the test is even harder when, as at the present time, there are no church services to attend. For several months now the question has been: Did you set time aside, in order, as Paul says, to ‘read, mark, learn and inwardly digest’ the week’s Gospel?
The alternative psalm for this Sunday, Psalm 119, contains a beautiful phrase: ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’. This simple image describes the way in which the Scriptures can accompany our journey through life. But it applies only if casualness, complacency, daily distractions, or worries and anxieties do not prevent the 'seed' of God’s word from properly taking root in our minds and souls. It is here that the great loss we sustain in being unable to gather for worship confronts us.
The real purpose of regular worship is to clear a space in the clutter of life, surround our attention to the Word with the shared experience of being the Body of Christ, so that we can hear the Gospel afresh. If only it can be properly rooted and regularly nourished, we can hope for life of a quite different order. As Paul says in this week’s reading from Romans “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.” The task of the Christian is to find in worship and liturgy the means to be this Spirit's dwelling place, and make them so for others. That is why the absence of public worship matters so very much, and why it is a task to which every Christion should be straining to return.
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Christ Church Morningisde
6a Morningside Road
Edinburgh EH10 4DD
Tel: 0131 229 0090 or
07718 278 145
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