‘the seed on good soil stands for those who hear the word, retain it,
and by persevering produce a crop.’ Luke 8:15
Brothers and sisters, in the next year or so, our church school (St George’s CE Primary) is likely to go through an inspection. Someone from the diocese comes and looks at the way we teach, at the way we love, and how we deliver worship to the children, to see if it is specifically Christian. I’m pleased to report that in the past both our schools (inc. St Michael’s CE High School) have received outstanding in these inspections. Inspections have become a routine part of modern life. Chances are that at some point if not at school then in your working life, you will have been inspected to see how you are doing. To see whether you are coasting in your job, or whether you are pulling your weight. To see whether you are producing whatever it is you’re meant to be producing, and whether that produce is up to scratch.
Our Gospel reading (Luke 8:4-15) is Jesus’ version of a school or work place inspection, and He wants to see how we are doing in our Christian lives. One of the things I love about this parable is that you don’t have to spend anytime working out what Jesus means, because Jesus explains exactly what it means in verses 11-15. A farmer - that’s Jesus, sows seed - that’s the gospel message, in a field -that’s the world. There are different soils, and the soil represents people, and they respond in different ways to the seed, the gospel message. The first part of the inspection, relates, then, to the sowing. The seed is perfect. You couldn’t want for a better seed, for the seed—as we’ve seen—is the Word of God. We have what every salesman in the world wants: the perfect product. This seed, this Word of God, does the work itself… all it needs is to be sown. So how is it sown? Well it's the word of God, so it gets sown by speaking. Jesus is modelling this right in front of us. Jesus is the sower—in fact as He speaks to the crowds and then to the disciples—He is sowing right there. The parable is not just being explained it’s happening right there as Jesus speaks. Not just there, though for we are listening too. Two thousand years later, we are listening in, and Jesus’ words are thus coming to us. The seeds were being sown in Israel and now also in Chorley. Where can you get this seed? Well anywhere you can buy a bible… in fact we probably all have this seed at home, for we probably all have a bible at home! ‘A farmer went out to sow his seed.’ So how do we get this seed out there? How do we sow the seed in the world? Well we have to speak. There is no other option than speaking. That’s why we have the Bible read in Church and why I try to help people to understand it. We start by sowing the seed here… but that’s only a start. We then need to go out and sow the seed. All of us! There are places which you can go… where each individual here can go which no one else can. You have the ear of your family and friends in a way no one else has. I can’t do this for you. I can help you to understand the word, I can help you to have confidence to sow the word, but at the end of the day, you have to go and sow it. Some of us might be able to explain and debate. Some of us might be able to sit down and answer every question someone has, but if you can’t you still have a critical job to do… and that is to pray and invite. Who around you isn’t a Christian? Who around you would you love to see come to faith? Pray for the person, and then invite them to church, or invite them to Christianity Explored (HERE) which is starting straight after Easter. Yes, they might say ‘no’; but they might say ‘yes’!. Pray and give it a go. For sowing the word is part of Jesus’ inspection.
Well the second part of the inspection is inspecting the plants. As the seed is a word, so the plants are the hearers, each one of us. Jesus outlines four different types of hearers. Which one are you? Some people respond to the seed like the soil of a footpath, where the soil is so compacted, that the seeds don’t sink in and the birds come and take the seed. We’re told in verse 12 this refers to the hard-hearted, to those who hearts, are not remotely interested in hearing anything which the Bible has to say, and quickly the seed is picked up by the birds, by the devil, and it’s gone. Could this soil be you? Some people, though are like the soil amongst the rocks. We are told this type of person verse 13 loves hearing sermons but as soon as a family member, takes the mickey, or a friend says following Jesus is for odd-balls, they drop the gospel completely and stop living like a Christian openly in case anyone sees. Could this soil be you? The third type of person is given to us in verse 7 and explained in verse 14. This person comes to church, hears the gospel but worries about money and about life in general and this distracts them from spiritual things so that this person never gets going as a Christian. This person feels too busy to pray, frets too much to trust God, and is too busy counting the pennies to help a person in need. Could this soil be you? The fourth type of person is the good soil—the type of person—I hope that you are. This person listens to the word, and contemplates it in their mind. They ask for help with bits they don’t understand. At home they read the Bible, and they pray that God would help them live it out. Which soil are you? Which type of person are you? The final part of the inspection, as Jesus looks at the harvest, looks for the results of the seed having grown. The harvest is clear and obvious, for the one who truly listens, truly repents of their sins, they grow in faith and love towards Jesus. Their lives becomes more holy, and they become more prayerful, more humble, more loving and charitable towards others, and more spiritually-minded. Are these fruits—is this harvest—starting to be seen in your life? It’s worth taking the time to inspect your life now before Jesus completes His inspection, because there is still time to grow a harvest. That’s why the Church gives us Lent. A time dedicated to listening to the word, watering the seeds by prayer, and weeding the soil by giving up that which distracts us from God. The diocese has produce a Lent Devotional called ‘That You May Know the Truth’ (HERE). It gives you a bible reading each day, and a short reflection, and then encourages you to pray. Why not this Lent plant the seed each day in your heart, water it with prayer, and see what God will grow in you? And then—having allowed God’s word to grow in you—go and sow; invite someone you know, to come and find out more.
So which soil, which person, are you? The inspector is coming, and will quickly and easily be able to discern which one each of us is. So let us pray that each of us would be like the good soil. That each of us—myself included— would listen to the word, and then work hard at putting it into practice. Amen (from Fr Mike).