Read Sermon


The insistent, consistent, and persistent love of God

Sexagesima BCP

11 February 2007 11:00 | Fr. Roderick Leece

‘On the good ground are they which in an honest and good heart hear and keep the word’. What is it to keep the word? Seeds of confusion and bitterness are being sewn throughout the Anglican Communion at the moment. My own understanding of keeping the word is to try to discern and follow the Word of God who is Jesus incarnate. Being informed and inspired by the words of Scripture, yes, but not making an idol of those words, for Christians believe not in a book but in a man who is Christ himself. Therefore in current controversies the important question is ‘What would Jesus do, what would he say?’

The intelligent and leading Catholic publication The Tablet has criticised the mishandling of their hierarchy in the recent debate on gay adoption, and I lamented the Archbishops of Canterbury and York weighing into the debate, apparently without consulting others, so that the Church appears discredited and perceived to be on the wrong side. ‘Lay Catholics know that in the past their Church has stood on the wrong side of the debate about the treatment of gay people, and spoken with a cruel and un-Christian voice.’ So said The Tablet’s editorial. Though you don’t need to be a Catholic to smell the whiff of inconsistency and stench of hypocrisy in the official positions of the churches.

Of course I understand why anybody’s sexuality is a sensitive and vulnerable subject on a personal level, but am puzzled why the gay issue seems to be so insurmountable in the public arena. After all, despite strong scriptural justification for the subordination of women to men, despite biblical presupposition of slavery, despite clear dominical teaching of Jesus regarding divorce, despite condemnation of usury…the Church has been realistic and changed her attitude, shown toleration and moved on. Though the Bible teaches one thing, the Church does or at least accepts another. Prompted by the Holy Spirit who speaks as much in the world as the Church. I guess even the so-called (by fellow evangelicals) Hizbollah wing of fundamental evangelical Anglicans has changed on many issues…but they have not when it comes to same-gender relationships.

There is a meeting of worldwide Anglican Archbishops in Tanzania this week that needs our prayers please. Virtually all commentators trail it as a crucial meeting that could finally see the break up of what is actually only a relatively recent construct – the Anglican Communion. I fear the Archbishop of Canterbury may have seriously misjudged and miscalculated what the people of this country (who are his primary concern) actually think about the presenting issue of homosexuality. St. Paul warned against causing scandal that might prevent others from receiving the gospel – the good news of Christ. In his time (and still in Africa) there might well be a scandal caused because of being gay. But in English society today, the scandal is not seen as being gay, but in being intolerant and anti-gay. That is because I guess every family in the land now has and knows lesbian and gay people within their number, or friends. Hence the official pronouncements (whether or not agreed by most adherents) and perceived intolerance of the Church is increasingly causing scandal in the nation. Therefore I cannot see how a consensus can be built around the kind of anti-homosexual strategy the Archbishop of Nigeria is advocating, and Rowan Williams contemplating, for the future of the Anglican Communion. It simply will not go down in England with the English. The gay adoption debate surely revealed that any notion of a sort of two-speed tolerance is, quite simply, intolerable to us. And so as people try with an honest and good heart to hear and keep the word, we pray that the mind of Christ be made manifest - what is his gospel, his good news for gay people?

And what about the soil? In our journey of faith we are perhaps mature enough to see within our own stories, the hand of God in all the various types of the soil of our souls…from the edge of the path to rocky stony ground, those choking weeds and thorns, and yes, the rich soil too. What a mixture we are. But, have you ever wondered why the sower was so wasteful in his sowing? Why didn’t he limit his sowing to the good soil? Was he a fool perhaps (even though we are told that the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom)?

Unusually to our minds, in Palestine, sowing came before ploughing. Typically fields were long narrow strips with well-trodden paths in between. The sower scattered seed here and there – this way and that – unable to see what lay underneath the thin topsoil. Stony ground, of course, was very common, and inevitably much seed was just wasted. And yet harvests came precisely because it was scattered so liberally, and with such lavish disregard.

Jesus’ parables had a limited purpose, and each one teaches a particular point about the coming Kingdom of God. So the focus of interest in today’s parable isn’t so much the sower, or the seed, but rather the various soils – all of which have the seed of God’s word sown upon them. The sower is Jesus the Lord, and the seed, the word of God’s kingdom. Jesus sows with prodigal liberality, not limiting his chosen soil to a carefully-prepared, ploughed, and manicured elite. There is always a temptation for us to limit our bearing of the Good News (in word, deed and lifestyle) to people who might seem potentially rich soil but this is not the way of Jesus.

At the same time, there is another important point to be made from elsewhere in the Scriptures: God can create a rich soil out of the most barren and stony ground so that wastelands rejoice and bloom (Is 35:1f; 41:18f). God’s word, his ‘living rain’, waters the earth ‘making it yield and giving growth to provide seed for the sower’, as we read in the prophecy of Isaiah. God’s word and purposes have already been, and most certainly will be fulfilled in the future. Jesus wants to impress upon us that the word, the love, he speaks has been the insistent message of the Father from the beginning of time.

The waters of chaos were transformed into the wonders of creation; the Israelites, placing their faith in the Lord, came safely through the waters of the Red Sea; the valley of dry bones came to life; and finally, death on the cross, death itself was transformed into life – Jesus raised by God who gives new life by His Spirit. Such is the insistent and consistent word of God whose steadfast love endures forever. Even prior to the Father uttering that first word of creation ‘Let there be light’, he was determined to make his home with us in the person of his Son, Jesus the Lord.

He who speaks to us here today in word and sacrament and in one another warns us against shallowness in our individual and corporate lives of faith. We are invited to be deeply planted and rooted in God – centred upon Him so that no other concerns stifle His life within us. Our commitment to Christ must be much more than just a passing craze or an emotional fling. We must ensure in our preaching and pastoral care that people are led into a holiness that is deeper than a shallow and rootless ‘faith’. We need to give God the space in our lives to create that rich soil which can produce His harvest, rather than one that we ourselves sow and reap.

The coming of the harvest will not be easy – indeed it will involve ‘groaning in one great act of giving birth’ (Rom 8:22-23), and though it is guaranteed, it does not come without struggle and much loss. We can expect opposition, attacks from the forces of evil, disillusioning set-backs and apparent failures…all kinds of disappointments. But the Great Harvest will come. Such is the insistent, consistent and persistent word of God whose steadfast love endures forever.
Cookies used on this website
New EU legislation requires that all web sites clearly specify the presence of cookies and their purpose. Cookies are used to enhance the user experience. StGeorges uses Google Analytics to track activity on its site, helping to keep the site relevant and easier to use, via the use of these cookies . For an enhanced site experience, consumers will need to consent to the use of StGeorges cookies. A preference cookie, that will become available to you when you choose the ‘I agree’ button, will be a long-life cookie that will not automatically clear when you close the browser window. If you manually delete this cookie you will need to re-confirm your preferences every time you next visit this website, unless you choose accept the long life option.