The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Online 10.30      12th July 2020
Being fruitful - or stony ground?
Jeremy Fletcher

Matthew 13 - The Parable of the Sower

When you heard the Gospel reading this morning, did you think “Oh lovely. The parable of the Sower. I know about this.” I studied it in depth at school: I could write you an essay on the broadcast pattern of seed sowing, the light and well drained soil of the ancient near east, which was fertile and full of nutrients yet unpredictable about enabling grain to flourish, the way things would spring up and then die just as quickly, and the open nature of agricultural land, where the ground would be worn hard by people making pathways. I know about the parable of the sower.
And yet I’m not sure that I do at all. If we think we know, it is all too easy for our minds and hearts to be like the soil worn hard by repeated walking. The word of God and we, the ground, come into contact, but nothing fruitful actually results. We know what to expect, the encounter happens, and life continues as normal. 
It’s worth remembering that, as Jesus tells it, the application of the parable is about the ground, not the seed. We have to ask ourselves what sort of ground we are. Gardeners World this year has kept repeating the saying: “right plant, right place”. God’s word is always the right plant…the challenge is whether we are the right place? 
In the parable the seed and the ground make contact in each case. But it’s the ground which determines what happens next. In terms of people’s discipleship, some don’t even start, some seem to flourish but quickly stop, some try but get overwhelmed, some just grow and grow. And of course we should take a good look at ourselves and see whether we are hard, or shallow, or cluttered, or fertile. 
There’s more.  It’s entirely possible for our discipleship to get worn hard by repeated use. The flourishing word of God can find itself struggling with Christians who know exactly how things should be. Over the last four months we have all be forced to reflect on how we can follow God when our old patterns have been forced to stop. We may have developed new patterns, and they are now under challenge too. Our soil needs digging over again. 
The parable is not just about the way we initially receive the good news of God. It is about the way we continue that receiving, and it’s about the whole church, not the individuals within it. During lockdown we have rediscovered our profound commitment to justice, to healing, to fairness, to inclusion, to mission, to love. Those things have had to flourish in a newly dug plot of land, and I am humbled by and proud of the way Hampstead Parish Church has worked immensely hard at being fruitful in times where we might just have been overwhelmed. 
As the lockdown lifts, and patterns of business and leisure and shopping and culture begin their re-connection, we must ask ourselves again what it is to be fertile and fruitful ground for the word of God. What should we say and do about racial injustice, about inequality, about the challenge to mental and physical health faced by so many, about the search for faith pursued by a quarter of the population online during the pandemic, about the forgotten and the unloved? 
Each of us faces those questions for ourselves, and we will ask them of the whole church. We can rejoice that there has been so much creativity and lively response to the challenges we have faced. We can allow ourselves to draw breath, and show compassion to ourselves and others. And then we can ask God for the capacity to continue to be fertile ground. May God give seed for sowing, and rain to make us flourish, for the Kingdom’s sake. Amen. 

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