Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

Gardening with God
June 14, 2015, 5:24 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Sermon preached at All Hallows, Easton, July 14, 2015

On Friday my son John took me to see the allotment that he and his housemates cultivate, between Eastville Park and the M32, alongside the Frome. I was most impressed, because the last time I saw it much of the ground was covered with tarpaulins to kill off the weeds, and there was nothing growing but a few fruit bushes. Now there are rows of potatoes, peas, and other vegetables, and they have got hold of a recycled greenhouse in which they are growing tomatoes and courgettes. And the fruit bushes show signs of a good crop of gooseberries and currants. “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground,” indeed. As we begin the long march of ordinary green Sundays between Trinity and Advent, guided this year by Mark, can we detect any theme in this week’s readings, to help us on our way?

In the Old Testament reading, from Ezekiel, we have the image of God breaking off a twig from a mighty tree, and planting it on the mountain height of Israel, so that it will itself become a great tree, fruit-bearing and the home of many kinds of bird. Ezekiel was talking about the return of the Jews from exile in Babylon. The first tree is the Jewish kingdom, with its Temple in Jerusalem, that had been destroyed: perhaps the most traumatic event in Biblical history- indeed, in all Jewish history until the events of the last century. The prophet offers a message of hope: God can take a shoot from that old tree, and plant it afresh. This new kingdom will not only be fruitful in itself, but will offer refuge to birds, representing the other peoples of the world. All this would not be just the result of human activity- God himself would bring it about.

The theme of planting and growth is taken up in the Gospel. Jesus says that the “kingdom of God” (that is to say, the actual rule of God over the world) is like a seed sprouting and growing unobtrusively, apparently unnoticed by those who go about their work day by day. But at the proper time, the farmer goes out and gathers in his harvest. The hidden way in which God brings in his Kingdom is reinforced by a second image- the mustard seed which is smallest of all, but when fully grown offers shelter to the birds. There are resemblances to, and contrasts with, Ezekiel. A new Kingdom is coming, our Lord says, but not a political entity like the ancient kingdoms. The new Kingdom will be established quietly, without fuss. Its growth will not be measured by the usual standards. But all the same, like Ezekiel’s tree, it will be alive and growing, and “the birds” will still come and nest in it.

And at some point the growth will be complete, and the harvest will be gathered in (there are other parables on this topic). God who initiates the process also brings it to a close. Again, we aren’t talking just about human activity: God sows, God reaps. There are overtones of judgement- of winnowing wheat from chaff, and so on.

If you look at the Epistle reading, which we didn’t hear this morning, some of the same themes appear again. St Paul is writing about the ordinary Christian life, the often humdrum existence which is, in fact, the unobtrusive growth of the Kingdom. “The old has passed away, everything has become new.” What he means is that there is “an old way of life”- pagan, pre-Christian- and there is “a new way of life”, inspired by Jesus. And I do mean “inspired”, in that it comes from the sending of the Holy Spirit. As a Church, we are little by little called to transform the world- a slow and (it often seems) hopeless prospect! But we transform the world, little by little, by allowing the Holy Spirit to transform us. We are the seeds planted in the world, growing towards our harvest. We are the “green shoots” that show those who have eyes to see that God is at work in the world. What is more, we are conscious and responsible shoots- it is by our willing acceptance of what God wants to do in us, that it is able to come about. And the harvest is not that far ahead, as far as the individual is concerned. For the world as a whole- who knows? But for you and me, it will be at whatever moment God calls us from this earthly life.

Trinity-tide is this long green season of quiet growth, leading to thoughts of judgement at Advent. A parable of our lives. Day by day, we strive to put off the old, and put on the new. Can we say with Paul that we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord? Perhaps not yet, not whole-heartedly. Can we say that, whether here or there, our first aim is to please him? Perhaps not yet, not whole-heartedly. But here at Mass, week by week, we remember and celebrate what Christ has done for us, for love of us. It is the love of Christ that urges us on.

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