An anniversary message from Mark 4: 1-9

A sower went out to sow.  Jesus offers this parable to a curious group who have crowded him off the beach and into a boat.  Mark’s gospel offers an interesting image; a crowded waterfront, busy with people doing what people do – an empty boat serves as an unlikely pulpit – and a puzzling message is offered to ‘those who have ears…’

For his students and friends, Jesus will later offer an explanation of this event – a starting point for the discovery of truth in all the parables that follow; analogy / allegory / metaphor – all these play a part in the understanding that is possible – and we know the standard explanation, don’t we…

The seed is the word, and it either takes root or it doesn’t; it flourishes or it struggles, all according to where it falls.  But I would like to take a moment to consider the utter carelessness that can be found in this parable – and I would like to thank God for such carelessness, especially on the occasion of the anniversary of this congregation.

Some of you will know that my vocational path took a turn through the farm equipment business – not as a farmer, but as a friend of farmers.  My high-school classmates and best friends worked the land in Southwestern Ontario; I worked closely with the technology that makes modern farming possible.  And from that perspective, I have to tell you that the carelessness of this ‘sower’ is almost criminal.  I don’t know anyone, ‘professional’ farmer or casual gardener, who willingly lets seed fall to anything but well prepared ground.  Even considering the more primitive (by our standards) farming practices of Jesus’ day, there is no excuse for it.

Seed is precious!  Seed is expensive!  Seed is a farmers life-blood – the guarantee of another harvest, and it only makes sense that you ensure none gets wasted.  So Jesus offers this curious parable – and I have some questions.

The Word is precious, isn’t it?  The Word – the gospel promise is life-giving and life-affirming, and shouldn’t we go to great lengths to see that it never goes to waste?  But still, this sower keeps on sowing – hard ground, thorny ground, good ground; it’s all the same, apparently.  Are we missing something?  Is Jesus giving us ‘answers’, or clues?   Perhaps, another parable will help.

A preacher went out to preach, and the word was a blessing, and soon, within this community, a congregation was gathered.  Funds were raised, and a building too – and all was as it should be.  But the community suffered hardship; work in the mines was difficult, and all too often, tragic.  The congregation survives a denominational divide, and then the loss of a new building.  members are welcomed, and members are mourned.  preachers come and go – and for one hundred and forty two years, the word has been a blessing.  Through the rough patches, the celebrations, the tragedies and triumphs, from invocation to benediction, God is present, praised and (served).

This is no invention of mine.  The ‘parable’ is one you yourselves told, not that long ago, in the profile that brought you a new minister – where you said (among other things):

“St Andrew’s Westville … has been, for many of us, a safe place to wrestle with our doubts. Worship and work together is more than just a habit – we find, in our congregation, a place of security borne in our long personal histories with this place…”

This weekend’s celebration is your reward for the ‘careless’ sowing of the seed!  And so it is for the whole church.  Not for us the perfectly prepared ground, or the carefully tended rows, straight and true, that are the envy of the neighbourhood.  No, we have been called to ‘spread the word’, with due respect for the important nature of the work, and the lively nature of the material, but also ‘without a care’.  Yes, we may take our turn ‘at the plow’, tending the ground, raising our children up in the way they should go,

but worship and proclamation are the main duties of the body of Christ, and that requires that we throw caution (and ‘seed’) to the wind more often than not.

The word of life – the gospel of grace – spread with wild abandon, offered in your work and witness – in playfulness and in more serious moments – that word entrusted to all who follow Jesus is bound to fall in some interesting places.  Perhaps it lays there only long enough to encourage one person; maybe it is faintly seen through the tangle of life’s troubles, and so one more battered soul is soothed.  And once in a while, it falls to fertile ground, where it bears fruit that lasts – fruit to feed a multitude – though no credit to the sower, for God’s is the growth, and the harvest, isn’t it?

No, we don’t look for credit, though this day I offer my own thanks into your celebrations; thanks for years of Christian witness, for years of your ‘carelessly faithful’ sowing of those seeds of hope and grace  – those nuggets of Christian wisdom – that will continue to bear fruit, God willing, for many years to come.

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