Monday, July 10, 2017

PENTECOST V 2017 (Proper 10)

The Sower - Grigory Myasoyedov (1888)
‘A sower went out to sow’. In this week's Gospel, Jesus employs one of the most famous allegories ever used. This simple story is made homely for most of us by its familiarity. Yet it has a meaning we can miss altogether, just because it is so easy, and so tempting, to think of the sower as scattering seed on virgin land. Perhaps this is partly what Jesus had in mind, though his image of sowing seed, as his Jewish audience would have known, picks up on a passage from Isaiah which provides the thematic Old Testament lesson for this Sunday. At any rate, in the modern world the Gospel is not being preached and heard for the first time. On the contrary it is 'old' news, because the soil on which it must be scattered, we might say, has been cultivated farmland for a very long time.

Even so, the parable still has radical application. Week by week in the course of an ordinary Sunday service, the Gospel goes on being ‘sown’ among regular as well as occasional church goers, and the different ways in which it can be received – carelessly, half heartedly, seriously – are not confined to the ever expanding secular world outside the Church, but are possibilities in the heart of the sanctuary itself. Indeed, for the faithful there is an additional danger; the story’s sheer familiarity easily sustains an unspoken assumption that the Gospel has already found fertile ground in their hearts. But has it? We can set ourselves a simple test. On Monday, without recourse to the weekly bulletin, try to recall the Bible readings from the day before, and especially the Gospel reading. This simple test is not so easy to pass as one might hope. Professedly Christian minds, it may turn out, often lack any depth of soil.
Descent of the Holy Spirit -- Jean Fouquet (1472)
In a wonderful phrase the section of Psalm 119 set for this Sunday, says ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’ thereby beautifully capturing one way in which Christian faith can accompany us through life. But it applies only if casualness, complacency, daily distractions, or worries and anxieties have not prevented the 'seed' of God’s word from properly taking root in our minds and souls. The real purpose of regular worship is to stop them doing so, and thus allow us to hear the Gospel afresh. If it can be properly rooted and regularly nourished, there is 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 make worship and liturgy the avenue to be this Spirit's dwelling place.

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