St Stephen's Lewisham -  Year A Week 15

August 11th 2002

Isaiah 55:10-11
Romans 8 18-23
Matthew 13: 1-23

If we look at the first of the three readings this morning it teaches us one simple lesson.

Things are not always what they seem at first sight.

"Thinkof the rain watering the earth", says God to Isaiah. "When the land is parched dry and nothing seems to be going to grow and there is a sudden rainstorm, it doesn't seem to make very much difference, does it?

"The earth soaks up the rain and unless it continues raining for a long time it looks as though nothing has happened

"But it has...

"Under the surface of the earth the rain, now invisible, is making it yield and give growth to provide seed for the sower and in turn bread for the eating

"In the same way," god contiues " the word that goes forth from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do."

This lesson, that we have to be patient and persever if we are to reap the benefits which God has prepared for us is one which some people today find it hard to accept.

Perhaps because we have grown used to modern technology being able to make many things happen instantly we've come to the conculsion that everything ought to be like that or esle it's not really worth having.

So, for example, the fact that we can get instant light or heat at the flick of a switch instead of having to bother with flint and tinder and laying the fire and cleaning out the grate; or the fact that we can get instant intertainment by turning on the television set; or the fact that we can go out and get an extra loadf o bread at the local minimarked round the corner at almost any hour of the day or night without having to knead dough and bake it...

All these things conspire together to give the impression that anything we ant should be immediately available at our finger tips; or that if it isn't then we didn't really want it anyway because it's not worth having.

To see the falsthood of this let me give you three examples

Firstly, Learning: acquiring knowledge and getting skills are both worthwhile, but both require effort and time - going to classes, reading books, writing essays, practising the piano or the violin or the golf-swing.

Secondly, a Family; a family is worthwhile, but it doesn't come ready-made. A child takes 9 months before we can even lay our hands on it to give it a cuddlel; children take several years to develop before they learn how to play their full part in the extended family. There's certainly no instant and permanet gratification about that.

Thirdly, Relationships: think of our relationships with each other. They are worthwhile. But people don't simply "become our friends" just like that. It takes time for the relationship to develop before either of us can decide whether we really want to be friends with someone or just acquantiances. Was our attraction for each other something long-lasting or was it more superficial?

This lesson - that the best things in life are sometimes slow-growing is one to which the Bible comes back over and over again. Without patience it's impossible to be a good husband, let alone a good husbandman in God's vineyard

Let us now look at the third reading: the Parable of the Sower. How much of the seed went to waste because, so to speak, its recipients did not get "instant gratification"? those amongst thorns discovered that being a Christian interefered too much with their everyday life; those on stony ground found that there was a price to be paid for everything that's worth having, the price in their case being a certain amount of unpopularity and disapproval with their family and friends over their new-found relationship with God through Jesus Christ; whilst those on the pathside found that being instantly attractive to the birds was more instantly gratifying to themselves than the tedious business of growing up in Christ.

Is it any wonder that with so many lovely birds around that your average young male doesn't have much time for the things of God!

But supposing someone does make that leap of faith and does allow themselves, their souls and bodies to become a garden ground where the word of God gwors and multiplies.

Does it follow that, after a certain amount of perseverance they will be reawarded with everlasting gratification and never feel dissatisfied again?

Unfortunately not.

Yes, there will be periods of harvest when we share, so to speak, in the golry as yet unrevealed but which is waiting for us when the haverst has been gathered in. But meanwhile after this year's harvest, there is the bare field again, waiting the be ploughed up and have the seed sown all over again.

All of us who have taken up the cross to follow Christ have discovered (or if we havent yet discovered it we soon shall) there are going to be plenty of occasions when that paitence we spoke about earlier will be called for again. In the second reading St Paul talks at length about those sufferings from which we shall never be entirely free this side of the grave.

Indeed it seems to me that the most important part of some people's ministry (and this of course includes both clergy and laity) consists in helping our fellow-Christians to persevere in the faith which they have had entrusted to them to look after.

Of course there are the practical day-to-day troubles as well. People from St Stephen's often come to talk over something that is troubling them like their health, their money, their job, their children, their marriage; and between us we have usualy been enabled to discover that the problem in question which looke so huge at first sight was not nearly so massive as it appeared - indeed people sometimes wonder why they didn't think of talking about it before.

However, alongside those problems, which differ necessarily from one person to anohter, there is one problem which is common to nearly everybody nearly all the time. That's the problem we have been thinking about this morning. The problem of persevering patiently in the faith we have been given.

It has to be said that this problem, like the other ones, is easier to face if we talk about it with a fellow Christian; it also needs saying that the very action of talking about it may go a long way towards suggesting a solution.

But there is one big differrence between the two sorts of problems, the spiritual and what we might call for want of a better word the "material" ones.

Many of the material problems in life have a solution, however difficult it may be to put into practice and however long it takes to give results; the spiritual problem is an ongoing, never-ending one.

Just when we think we've got our relationship with God "taped", he will present us with some new challenge.

The form that particular challenge takes may be triggered off by one or more of the "heartaches and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to" - bereavement, illness, finance, unemployment or failure of one sort or another. But the particular sidekick which comes with spiritual problems is that they make us inclined to ask "Is it all worthwhile? what's the point in carrying on any longer?"

There is no simple answer to this question - other than the ones we have been already given. God's word is to be trusted; it will achieve in us what it set out to do; it will not return to him empty; the seed will bear a harvest 30, 60 or an hundredfold in God's good time.

It is worthwhile remembering that the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, saw the work of his lifetime apparently undone in the course of 24 hours between Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, between his betrayal and death upon the cross. Yet his passion was not the vanity is seemed. We should, as the writer to the Hebrews says "look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross despising the shame".

It is also worth looking this morning at our fellow Christians sitting alongside us in church. They are part of that great "cloud of witnesses" by whom we are surrounded.

Most of us have no idea whatever of what the person sitting next to us and the person two pews in front has had to go through in the course of remaining faithful.

One day we shall know. And the probability is that we shall be amazed, not just that we ourselves have seen it through to the end, but that we should have been considered worthy by God to sit and stand and kneel alongside those people whose heroism in the faith, unknown to us, has been so many times greater than our own.

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