As we turn our thoughts to what the French call “la rentrée” (the September mass return to school, work and “normal” life after a long Summer), we find ourselves in a very different situation to previous years. Many of us are desperate for a return to some semblance of “normality”, others are less certain – anxious, even – and would prefer things to continue as they are for now. For yet others, everything has changed, and there will be no “return to normality”.
Where can we find God speaking to us at this time? It seems that our God, who is the same “yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8) continues to reveal himself to us, as he always has done, through his Creation, through his Word and through his Spirit, and in our reading this month these three come together to guide us…
Many of us have been able to enjoy our gardens, or walks in nature, in new ways this year. Many have commented on a heightened experience of colour, birdsong, and aspects of the natural world hitherto unnoticed. What a joy to see seeds germinate, leaves unfold and fruit or seeds form and ripen! With more time at home this year, I have tried to provide for my emerging seedlings – making sure they had good soil, water, light. In the time of Jesus (and in many parts of the world today), these were/are everyday concerns as people strive to survive on what they grow. Many of Jesus’ parables speak into this context, not least those we have been considering over the last few weeks at St Mary’s: oxen ploughing fields, sowers sowing seed, weeds growing amongst the wheat crop, are all images Jesus uses in the stories – or parables – with which he illustrates what life with him is like.
In one of these stories (Matthew 13:1-8), Jesus likens our lives to the soil in which the “seed” of his word can grow. What do you think is needed for the Word of God to take root and grow in your life? My garden has all kinds of ground in it – compost, stones, weeds. Sometimes I have to spend time picking out the stones and the weeds, or even taking up a stone slab, to enable my seeds to grow properly. We too are all a mixture of “soils” – what would have to happen in our lives to transform the “ground”? And what kind of “seeds” do we want to grow anyway? What kind of a harvest do we want?
Galatians 5:22-23 gives us a “shopping list” of fruit – what items are there? Many of us worry when we read this – we feel so inadequate and lacking in much of this wonderful fruit! We feel we must try harder, do better, strive to achieve all of this. Read v22 again – how does this “fruit” grow in us? I cannot force my tomato plant to make tomatoes – I can only make sure that the soil is good, that it has light and water. The tomatoes will come because that is the nature of a healthy tomato plant. Similarly, I cannot make myself have more love, joy, peace etc by “trying harder to be good”! But if I allow the Spirit of God to fill me and guide my life, making me like Jesus, the fruit will grow automatically – because that is the nature of a healthy follower of Jesus!
Which brings us to the image in Matthew 11:28-30 of being “yoked” to Jesus in a way that enables us to watch him (learn from him, model ourselves on him), walk in step with him (“What would Jesus do?”) and work alongside him (as the fruit grows, how do we use it for his Kingdom?)
And so, as we yearn to become “good soil” bearing a basket of wonderful fruit, let us not strive for perfection (impossible!) but allow Jesus, the “author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2) to pick out the stones and the weeds, nourish us with his Word and pour the life-giving water of the Holy Spirit into our lives, so that we reflect his image more and more.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. “
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.
By Helen Lambert