When the ground is not good, nothing will thrive. Perhaps you have experienced this in your own life, the joy and challenge of tending to plants either indoor or outdoor, it always comes down to the strength of the soil. The right Ph, combination of nutrients and air, compost mixes and tending can transform any patch of ground into a verdant glimpse of the lush Kingdom of God. Just as churches like ours are architecturally representative of the Kingdom of God, so too by extension is the property which surrounds it. It is one of the reasons why Churches come with such beautifully manicured gardens, because as we gather for worship we are encountering the kingdom of God in our midst in a physical way. It is this physicality of the Kingdom of God which is an important reorientation for us as we hear again Matthew’s parable of the grower, but this time with the ears of a covid-19 world yearning to recover a sense of normal encounter with itself.
Matthew's Gospel is one which tells us a lot about moving out and tending to what we see in Christ. From the great commission to today's gospel, we are to spread the seeds of the kingdom through our own lives with everything we do and are. We are able to spread these seeds because of the way each of our own gardens- our souls- have been tended directly by Jesus. Gardening however is not a one time, plant and move on, event- it is a constant tending and encounter with what it is that's growing and taking root around and in us. It is for this reason that I believe Jesus used parables to talk to us about the kingdom of God, because the mystery of parables require a constant tending too, revisiting of, and deeper nurturing to understand and see the sprout of new life which is brought forth from them in our lives. Like plants we are not built for a single encounter, we need constant connection in order to thrive, a connection we find together in Jesus.
Each of our readings this morning talk about connection and encounter. The encounter of our restoration from exile in Isaiah, and the freedom of Christ to all in Romans, speak of a life which is built on the direct encounter of God with you and I.Encounter is important because of what it builds up within us through revelation. As we continue to encounter God and God encounters us in the everyday experiences of our lives, we begin to slowly but surely see the places where Christ’s ministry is taking root and growing in our souls- our solus being the garden of God. So this makes the quality of our soil, the receptive nature of our soul to God’s vocation in our lives, all the more important. Why? Well because of the nature of who God is, and God's persistent need to be close to us in our everyday life. Just like how we tend our own gardens, watering, pruning, and planting on a regular basis to optimize growth and vitality for beauty and enjoyment- so too does God in us. God tends to our souls through daily encounters to set us free of our burdens, of our fears, of the things that hold us back, in order for us to be totally free to live a life full of his glory to convert this world from fear into the kingdom of his love. So how do we know what the quality of our soil is? We look at how the word of God has rooted in our lives.
If we think about it for a moment, when we say “the word of God” what is the image that comes to our head? Usually a book, called the bible, which is thick with many chapters and has some very confusing sayings, names, genealogies, and historical facts in it that sometimes feel distant from our experiences of life. This encounter with the word of God keeps it at a cerebral level because it is something that is read, accepted, and we move on- we don’t engage with it on a deeper level. We don’t even question it. Sometimes the bible is so hard to read that we just skip over it because it destabilizes our lives, confuses our experience of God, or as in the case of today's Gospel makes the reading too long. Yet, these words we read are more than just words right? They have to be in order for Christmas or Easter to make sense. The word was made flesh and moved into our neighbourhood, we hear at Christmas, isn’t just words- its a world altering moment in our history. Yet the word became flesh leaves me with a cartoon image of actual letters begging covered in skin and talking like some character of a human being, but that just unveils my own social bias in the meaning of “word.” The scripture we read in the bible, remember, was an oral tradition before the church began to expand and the disciples died meaning they needed to write it down so they could send the stories of Jesus’ ministry out with you and I as we scatter the seeds of faith in new places. Hearing the word would have, in an oral tradition, been a life giving encounter that changed peoples lives immediately. These words would not have been heard in private nor would they remain on the level of a social nicety- an encounter with the word of God had an immediate effect because of the way it churned people's souls into action. It was this encounter that planted the seeds of faith in the converts of this growing church despite the wider social pressures to conform to the controls of our world in order to produce abundance rather than the fairy tales of a dead messiah. But then again, we don’t follow a fairy tale.
Just like in our gardens, it's not about how much we produce that signifies success, but how what is planted germinates and and thrives. So too in faith the produce of God’s word planted within us is not the outward symbols of what we believe, but rather the way in which the word of God takes root in our lives and changes us into action. Hearing scripture continues to be an experience for me of being unnerved, challenged, pushed farther than I think I can go with the understanding of my skills as they are today. Following Jesus is a risk, speaking of Jesus is a risk, because of how it can make me unpopular or less attractive as a friend to those who don’t think Jesus is as big a deal as I do. It would then be easier for us to leave these words at the surface, use the pesticides of fame, money, attention, vain glory, and more, to control our lives and keep us feeling normal and disconnected from God’s growth, or we can start to question our discomfort with what we hear and begin the life long journey of growing into the image of God in our lives, by acting on the discomfort.
In following Jesus we are daily led to an encounter with God through his presence in our lives from the moment we wake till we fall asleep- God is with us. From the gas pump, to the office, our spouse/friends, bed and even church, God comes to us to tend our souls, to nurture our soil with his living word- which is Jesus- so that we may thrive as we begin to take root and grow into a kingdom people, which is a people set totally alive with the fire of the Spirit to serve God in breaking down the walls which divide us, loving every human being-without caveat, to be a people of reconciliation, and to gather together here in this parish as a lamppost of hope in the midst of unknown and change. Our world is full of questions right now about how we can be a people of Christ's image in a way never before seen in our lifetimes. Today Matthew reminds us that it is in asking those questions that lead us into action in our world because of our encounter with the seeds of the kingdom planted deep within us through Jesus' life, death, and saving resurrection. So church, what is God planing within you, and how will you nurture its growth this week?